Our featured publication for March is A Man’s House Catches Fire by Tom Sastry, published by Nine Arches Press.
What to do when everything goes up in flames? Summon up A Man’s House Catches Fire, Tom Sastry’s debut collection of poetry with all its satirical and hurt-quenching power; here are nightmares and fairytales, museums full of regret, misenchantments and magic for dark times.
Whilst the accelerants of complicity and violence seep from these exacting poems Sastry’s wit and stoicism slake the bonfire of modern troubles. They defiantly ask us: why do “the great marquees of England” stand empty? How old is your heart? Why aren’t we listening to the sea and what it has to say? Funny, marvellously frank and often courageous, A Man’s House Catches Fire urges us to take a long hard look into the flames and avert the disasters of the heart, home and nations that threaten to befall us all.
‘Tom Sastry is a magician of deadpan. He’s kind of like if the Atlantic Ocean had a laugh track. Terrifying and hypnotic but also desperately funny. This collection is generous in both its clarity and mystery. Sastry’s lines about boredom and despair have the same counter-intuitive lightness and warmth as Berryman. His poems contradict each other, line by line. They have humour, vulnerability and anger in all the wrong places. His writing is so good it doesn’t even sound like it’s been written at all, and if you don’t think that’s a compliment, you’re trying too hard. And who doesn’t love a burning house?‘ Hera Lindsay Bird
A man’s house catches fire
I was suddenly uncomfortably hot
but I have always had these surges, and at first
I thought the smell of smoke
was just me going off my head
which I have learnt to expect.
I closed the curtains, undressed
turned the heating off and lay
in the last of my stillness
watching the shadow of a flame
playing on the wall
until the shadow reddened
and I could see no way out.
It’s been a month now
with the fire still raging
and me not dead
and no help coming
so today I stepped outside
smelling more than ever of myself.
My oldest friend was passing.
She said Is it that time?
Are the houses of men burning too?
I said You’re mistaken.
Nothing is burning.
and I stepped back into my house.
Commended in 2018 Bristol Poetry Prize and previously published on the Poetry Can website.
Thirty-two lines on loss
Everywhere, they are selling:
the sun in orange juice; the sex
in perfume; thirty pence from a box
of fishfingers, tasting of sea. I lost
my glasses. I left them on the table
in the café because I was tired of looking
at billboards and wanted some thoughts
of my own and because I liked the fog of it
but when I went to leave, they were gone.
It was Sunday and the opticians
were closed. I soon realised the world
is full of monsters travelling too fast.
One of these is time. I spent a lot of time sitting that day.
I drank a lot of coffee because that is what I do
when I sit. Perhaps I drank too much.
I did a lot of thinking
and I wanted it to last longer. But the sun set
and the sun rose and I called in sick
and got some new glasses. They filmed me
in the frames. I looked like a total dick
staring straight ahead like the world’s
toothiest convict. You always do.
You accept it. They said it would take an hour
to make them up, so I went out
into the fog and found a café. I just killed time
and checked my phone. When I went to go
I couldn’t get up. My body was a sandbag.
I cried like a doll. I must have really hated the idea
of functioning again. I hated it so much.
I hated it so much that for a moment
the surprise of how much I hated it
stopped everything, even the hate.
First published in the pamphlet Complicity (smith/doorstop, 2016)
Without the knowledge of her superiors
The bird, stiff, pinched between finger and thumb
drops into the food waste.
Somewhere, in the parliament of your conscience
a spokesman for a party
which denies direct links to your cat
calls it A tragedy.
At the next blink, you remember the eye,
tilted to meet yours by the neck’s unfortunate curve.
It was yellow-green, the colour of young wine.
Not beady, just a bead.
The feathers you sweep deny gravity.
They ride on a carpet of your breath
and settle in the unreachable corners of your day.
At the foot of the stairs, where she left the spoil,
the culprit waits. You call her by name.
She howls like a bereaved lover. You are loyal.
Whatever is said, you will not give her up.
At least this is nature, not death
machined into a packet. You tell her
to lie low for a few days. She yawns,
showing the depths of her appetite,
her boastful teeth. She remains capable.
Previously published in Prole
In Spring we open, like terrifying flowers
I want wild light without people.
I want to escape the places roads pass through.
I want to wake in a forgetful stupor
and fill my empty head with new and reckless thoughts.
When I return to the city
I want people to see me and call my name, ask where I’ve been.
I am writing this in the bathroom because I can’t face saying
that my love is hungrier than I ever told you
in case you say the same
and I am smaller than the ambition of your year.
Tom Sastry was chosen by Carol Ann Duffy as one of the 2016 Laureate’s Choice poets. His resulting pamphlet Complicity was a Poetry School Book of the Year and a Poetry Book Society pamphlet choice. He is the co-editor with Suzannah Evans of Everything That Can Happen, a poetry anthology about the future published by The Emma Press. This is his first full collection. An accomplished reader and performer, Tom has a growing reputation as a spoken word artist. A book of his performance poems will be published by Burning Eye Books in 2020.
A Man’s House Catches Fire is available from the Nine Arches Press website.