Featured Publication – This Fruiting Body by Caleb Parkin

Our featured publication for November is This Fruiting Body by Caleb Parkin, published by Nine Arches Press.

Caleb Parkin’s debut poetry collection, This Fruiting Body, plunges us into octopus raves and Sega Megadrive oceans, in the company of Saab hermit crabs and ASDA pride gnomes. It’s a playful invitation to a queer ecopoetics that permeates our bodies and speech, our gardens, homes, and city suburbs. It reintroduces us to a Nature we’ve dragged up until it’s unrecognisable.

This Fruiting Body is an exhilarating book that fractures categories by showing the reader what thrives beyond the prison of the human self. The queer filaments between its poems form a compassionate brocade that holds together all living creatures, the dreams of ants and mould allowed to ‘billow and spore’ alongside deep-fried skyscrapers and ASDA pride gnomes. The stakes are urgent, the days ‘trembling like antennae’ but let’s think like a dung beetle, one poem whispers, and ‘roll the sun together’. Generous, monstrous and inspiring.” John McCullough

Unwriting and rewriting our myths of ‘nature’, This Fruiting Body is a thrilling collection of queer love songs for the earth. Parkin’s femme earth mother may be on an IV drip, but she wears her artifice with joy and audacity: this is mother earth, drag queen of the universe, a body aching from harm but still devoted to pleasure. Parkin’s poems are infinitely lavish and full of wit, morphing human and more-than-human bodies in a post-human lyric disco lit with ecological thought. I felt better and wetter after reading it: more open to the press of language, life, and the strangeness of the earth. Samantha Walton


garden

All the chipshops I have ever been to

are stacked up, a deep-fried skyscraper,
somewhere on the East Anglian coast. This tower
of bubbling fat concealed beyond Clacton-on-Sea,
Walton-on-the-Naze, casts shadows near the shibboleth of Aldeburgh.

In the blue-black-grey around Cromer’s ingrown pier,
an undrownable orange buoy invites me in, to swim.

Still, enveloped food shifts across their miles of steel
counter, papers shaken through with white plastic
bollards of salt. The North Sea lingering in flesh,
mushy peas copied and pasted until no longer green.

Meanwhile, Sizewell B is a puffball on the horizon,
domed as a worm moon rising, eye with no iris.

In the steaming museum cases of the tower’s counters,#
the crispy sarcophagi of battered sausages, preserved
remains of Cod: body after body, dredged up in silver cages;
hundreds of Pukka Pies in their capsized foil crowns.

At Dunwich Heath, the oyster-catchers are on strike,
curlews are threatening to straighten their beaks.

The tower wavers like seaweed, shimmers – a candle,
its unknown postcode defined by the scent of
second-hand oil, slicked through wardrobes. Chips
in the toes of socks, fishbones catching at collars.

In each of those chipshops, the radio plays
the creak of a sign, rush of a wave – then static.

After the Section 14

‘Police have banned Extinction Rebellion protests from continuing anywhere in
London, as they moved in almost without warning to clear protesters who remained
at the movement’s camp in Trafalgar Square.’ – The Guardian,
October 15th 2019

The morning after the news, I pass Oxford Circus where giant screens
order me to Taste the feeling, but when I arrive at Trafalgar Square,
all I can taste is the bitter aftermath of extortionate coffee.

All I can taste is regurgitated water, rushing from the beaks of these dolphins,
chins restrained by metal hands. All I can taste is the feeling that these tourists
are grey ghosts, that I am a ghost, on this stone grid. All I can taste is the sickly mess

in the jaws of bin-raiding wasps. The lights on police vans flashing like migraines.
The sign keeps demanding, in thousands of diodes and fast-cut swirly edits to
Taste the fucking feeling. But all I can taste are inedible scraps pecked at by pigeons.

All I can taste are three police overseeing one flip-flopped man. Then, megaphones
descend from the gritted teeth of the National Gallery; the lasso of high-vis tightens,
each jacket clutches their own hands, formal, blank-faced; eyes flit and ears await

instruction from elsewhere. By the rented Thames, Big Ben reveals its new face –
features rusted, commanding. We crowd in and nearby a cracked voice demands:
Are you affiliated? Then again: Are you affiliated? It’s a simple question. A simple question.

Caleb Parkin is the third Bristol City Poet. He won second prize in the National Poetry Competition 2016 and the Winchester Poetry Prize 2017. Poems in The Poetry Review, Poetry Wales, The Rialto, Under the Radar, Butcher’s Dog and Molly Bloom. Wasted Rainbow (tall-lighthouse, Feb 2021). This Fruiting Body (Nine Arches, October 14th ). Tweet: @CalebParkin

This Fruiting Body is available to purchase from the Nine Arches Press website.

Clapham Rick – Marc Woodward

Clapham Rick

When Clapham Rick stayed with us for a week
we hid our little silver knick-knacks,
those which could fall into pockets unmissed
until some days later when a lack of dust
would cough their absence from the mantelpiece.
We felt rotten – as if we’d breached his trust.
He said he’d dumped the junk and kicked the horse,
was clean as snow but for the booze, of course.

He said our farmhouse with its bird-pulled thatch
made him feel uncomfortable, spooked by bats
outside the window, the only night sound
the scrabble of house mice. He couldn’t rest
without a traffic lullaby to drown
out the darkness. It was probably best
he didn’t come to stay in January –
when vixens scream like injured babies.

Devon based poet and musician Marc Woodward’s recent collections include Hide Songs (Green Bottle 2018) and The Tin Lodes – co-written with Andy Brown (Indigo Dreams 2020). His new collection Shaking The Persimmon Tree will be published by Sea Crow Press in April 2022. Find more at: www.marcwoodwardpoetry.blogspot.com and  www.facebook.com/marcwoodwardartist  and @marcomando 

The lettuce – Nora Blascsok

The lettuce

Waits for the day
Of reckoning
Snap after snap
Blanket on cheese
And ham
You will never
Get to the core
Of the problem
By peeling away layers
It will reveal itself
When you least expect
Throw away plastic
& crunch the stub

..

Nora Blascsok is a Hungarian poet based in the UK. Her work has appeared in a variety of online and print publications. A selection of her poems titled ‘Headspace’ is out with Broken Sleep Books imprint Legitimate Snack in September 2021.

The Ultimate Task Master – Sidrah Zubair

The Ultimate Task Master

I am a stupid prawn except I am not really stupid
but neither am I really hot you know the kind of hot that makes
you want to smash your toes with a hammerhead shark on purpose

or makes you want to swallow banyan trees until your intestines
say proceed with caution, please! I am a prawn without a tail
I cannot swim I drown in piles of hemp seeds I am prawn

with fire brown eyes and dodo brain I break umbrellas inside man-grottos
smelling cigarettes and Tom Ford I cannot afford my own habits
doesn’t that seem a bit ironic? I hate on David Foster Wallace

gleefully I fill ears with shit-hot discourse that tastes like purring
overnight oats soaked in acacia honey and blueberries so it is
slightly inedible but looks good from afar maybe 30 feet away

close friends forget to text me back but maybe the problem isn’t me!
maybe the problem is that my prawn is overwhelmingly prawn maybe
the problem is that I always carry a canvas bag full of stinky dxy orbitals

that want to choke throats and throw tantrums in uncomfortable situations
maybe the issue is that I am missing a z-axis which meanders into brains
to find out exactly what people think of me neurotic a solid 7 hairy ugh her again

I am not the ultimate task master I cannot compete with time my clock
visits me in my sleep red-pecking at heart like a neanderthal and I wake
with psoriatic itch I am prawn dreadfully in love but mostly toopuss to navigate

through it maybe the problem is that hopelessness is brothers with pity
and I have not acknowledged it because maybe I am also hopeless prawn
I am wasteman prawn I eat 55 gsm paper for snacks and die every night repeatedly

Sidrah Zubair is a poet and English teacher living and working in London. She has previously been published in PERVERSE, bath magg and Poetry Birmingham Literary Journal among others.

The wind is not yet awake – Anna Milan

The wind is not yet awake

Patience, eyas. The wind is not yet awake.
Wait for its breath to rise and turn

till you can scoop the air
under pointed wing.

Your eyes are not windows, but walls.
Enamelled with anger,

watchful, siege-ready; mistrust
kept safe behind ashlar and buttress.

Although the frosts snap at your feather buds
the spathes will grow curved and strong.

When the barbs lock firm to collar the wind
then, eyas, we’ll be ready to begin.

Eyas: a young hawk, especially (in falconry) an unfledged nestling taken from the nest for
training

Currently living in Hertfordshire, UK, Anna Milan’s poems have appeared in publications such as Under the Radar, Eye Flash Poetry, Black Bough Poetry and Ink Sweat & Tears. @annamilanwrites

Bird boy – Jennie E. Owen

Bird boy

You flew

and it seemed each wish, every desire
I had to see you go, had stitched a feather
one after another upon your back.  First black and lustrous,
then foxing, like the tidal stain
on my finger from your silver ring.

You flew

far above the horizon, far above every other animal
and its stretched out twin, blackened like bonfires.
You watched the land beneath you pass, a plead
in greens; the sun (a rare sight for you) flash-lighting
musical notes on every pond, puddle, muddy
muddled lane between us.

You landed

and I pictured you, with her, stretching.  Shaking me out
of your limbs, your wings.  Loose as a doll whose
elastic 
                snapped.  Her face is a plastic supplication,
a painted tight beak.

You shook

and I heard about the quake.  I felt it,
watched it on the morning news, called the presenter
a liar.  My teacup shivered its saucer
in my hands and the memories 
pink ringed my cheeks.

For a moment on the screen,
I thought I could see the yellow of your eye.

I wondered then

after all of this shuddering of us,
did the arrow I left in your side 
still quiver?

Jennie E. Owen’s writing has won competitions and has been widely published online, in literary journals and anthologies.  She teaches Creative Writing for The Open University and lives in Lancashire with her husband and three children.

Leftover Casserole – Nina Parmenter

Leftover Casserole

As the schedule decreed, I had  
leftover casserole for lunch. 
I de-tubbed it sloppily and warmed it, 
smelling yesterday 
and the day before.

But even in the first greyish forkful,  
the paprika had deepened, 
the mushrooms had infused, 
the meat had relaxed and softened. 
My mouth thought it was all new.

When you came home, I kissed you,  
noticing that you were more peppery 
than when you left. 
Later, over goulash, you pulled a new face 
and I laughed.

Nina Parmenter has appeared in journals including Ink, Sweat & Tears, Snakeskin, Light, Better Than Starbucks and The Lyric. She was highly commended in the 2021 Geoff Stevens Memorial Prize, and is a Forward Prize nominee. She lives in Wiltshire. Twitter: @ninaparmenter Facebook: @parmenterpoetry Website: ninaparmenter.com

Gradient – Alice Stainer

Gradient

A glorious day, Dad, as you would say
(that always made us snigger, did you know?)
……………Pull on your boots—you do still need them? —
……………army surplus from the funny shop in Hotwells.
……………We scoffed, but you said they were ‘value for money’.
Come on then, Dad—there’s a hill needs climbing.
Plastic-pocketed map bouncing on my chest—
I’ve learned its language as you did, and more:
zigzag up a slope,
…………..flex with the contours,
……………………….pick your way over hummocks.
………………………………….Skirt the bog
……………………….but don’t cry over lost wellies.
………….Vivid green patches have a forked tongue.
Heather helps you to hang on.
There’s one path I have yet to find, Dad—
but I will. I will.
…………..Right, binoculars slung round my neck—
…………..chance of a ptarmigan, wouldn’t you say?
…………..Those chubby boulders of bird.
Once, Mum and I saw a whole flock—
consolation, we thought, for a stumbling day
when the cloud came down.
I remembered, you see, what you said about the hills.
…………Now bog myrtle is spicing the air.
…………Hurry up, Dad! We have got all day but still,
…………this clarity of sky is precious.
…………Mete it out like Kendal mint cake in the high places.
My turn to lead the way—although in truth,
you’ve climbed this hill ahead of me,
…………and now will never leave it.

Alice teaches English Literature to visiting students in Oxford and is an active musician and dancer. She has only recently begun to publish her work, found in Poetry and Covid, Green Ink Poetry, Steel Jackdaw and 192 Magazine amongst other places, and won the 20/21 Gloucestershire Poetry Society competition. Find her on Twitter @AliceStainer

Cardiotocography – Flora Cruft

Cardiotocography

The noise overwhelms me

…………………………………………………………vibrations of your ocean drum

each note

………………………………………………………….plays a different frequency, each note

ululates a ripple

…………………………………………………………..only I discern.

This is how you speak to me,

…………………………………………………………….through the beat of your ripening heart

Dum-Da Dum-Da

……………………………………………………………..Mum-Ma Mum-Ma.

Below my bloated pressure stockinged feet

……………………………………………………………..sits a machine spewing out images:

a chain of dark mountains

……………………………………………………………..rough tumbles from the peak

the shadow of an eagle

……………………………………………………………..hung in empty air.

I hold tight to the hem of this blue

……………………………………………………………..checked gown but it’s no use,

my mind rushes

……………………………………………………………..as you contract the muscle of my blood.

You jump on my cord

…………………………………………………………….like a restless hare.

Behind us I hear the call

……………………………………………………………..of another, racing to catch up.

Flora Cruft is a poet whose work has been published in a variety of anthologies, magazines and journals. Her poems have been selected for publication by Jo Shapcott and Hollie McNish, with one shortlisted for the Exeter Poetry Prize. She is also an existential psychotherapist and a creativity coach in private practice, and has a popular Instagram page @poet.therapist.baker where she explores the intersections between mental health, poetry, creativity, maternity and nutritional psychology.

Unknown Unknowns – Graham Clifford

Unknown Unknowns

Viciously calm silverback, he
is moving gold spuds up
through the mud, his great hand
coming to the surface like a net.

Now he’s hosing them
as if water goes on forever,
an expansive act of cleansing, moving
new tubers around with the jet,
the trees restless around him, this
lump of nature, a pent force in the garden,
and the trees all but touch their toes
and transporter planes bring in
a fresh round of war dead, and
he takes it all in and defuses connection,
simply refuses thoughts to knot,
just cleans potatoes on the crazy paving.

At night dinner digests in the yards of guts we add up to,
water levels peak and
the gutter funnels a tapping
that gives our sleep a beat.
Something, not very much,
wakes the whole house;
you could hear us all silent
awake.

He was lying there full of potato,
remembering cleaning the potatoes, considering
lunch then dinner tomorrow, wondering
if this rain will smear his windscreen
and I wonder, does he get something right
I don’t even know needs correcting?

Graham Clifford’s poetry has been described as having ‘coolly brutal frankness.’ His fifth collection, In Charge of the Gun, is published by the Black Light Engine Room. Graham is also published by Against the Grain and Seren. http://www.grahamcliffordpoet.com