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.

Featured Publication – Dressing for the Afterlife by Maria Taylor

Our featured publication for November is Dressing for the Afterlife by Maria Taylor, published by Nine Arches Press.

Dressing for the Afterlife is a diamond-tough and tender second collection of poems from
British Cypriot poet Maria Taylor, which explores love, life, and how we adapt to the passage of time. From the steely glamour of silent film-star goddesses to moonlit seasons and the ghosts of other possible, parallel lives, these poems shimmy and glimmer bittersweet with humour and brio, as Taylor conjures afresh a world where Joan Crawford feistily simmers and James Bond’s modern incarnation is mistaken for an illicit lover.

Consistently crisp and vivid, these poems examine motherhood, heritage and inheritance,
finding stories woven in girlhood’s faltering dance-steps, the thrum of the sewing-machine at the end-days of the rag trade, or the fizz and bubble of a chip-shop fryer. And throughout, breaking through, is the sense of women finding their wings and taking flight – “and her wings, what wings she has” – as Taylor’s own poems soar and defiantly choose their own adventures.

‘Maria Taylor’s new collection is exhilaratingly bold. These imaginative poems strike at the edges of form and emotional experience to uncover glittering seams: ‘Winter made me a Wall-Street crash’ announces one speaker while another finds herself ‘ice-skating / into someone else’s life’. They are consistently surprising, a horse revealed as Dustin Hoffman, a married woman irritated at discovering Daniel Craig in her bed. It’s also a beautifully structured book, the film stars who people its pages forming a cohesive gossipy backdrop. By turns hilarious and stirring, Dressing for the Afterlife is a cinematic gathering I know I’ll replay again and again.‘ John McCullough

‘Taylor’s art is surefooted, with a quiet command of line length, a gift for choosing the right detail to illuminate her slyly weighty subject matter and an unsentimental but affecting directness of address. Her poems are firmly rooted in the day-to-day complexities of familial ties and duties, but her extravagantly vagrant thought paths lure us on to follow fancy into unsettling and exhilarating territory.’ Kathy Pimlott

I Began the Twenty-Twenties as a Silent Film Goddess

On the first of January I threw away my Smartphone
and wrote a letter to my beau in swirling ink.
I bobbed my hair, wore a cloche hat and shimmied
right into town for Juleps. I became Clara.
I became Louise. When I became a vamp, the boys
fell dead at my feet, I threw petals over their heads.
I dined on prosperity sandwiches and sidecars,
leaving restaurants with a sugar-rimmed mouth.
In summer I was a night-blooming flower.
By autumn I was a hangover. Winter made me
a Wall-Street Crash. Talking pictures were my ruin.
At last I had a voice but no-one wanted to hear.
Forgotten sisters. Oh Vilma, oh Norma, oh Mae.
A musty headdress of peacock feathers. Defiant silence.

She Ran

I took up running when I turned forty.
I opened my front door and started running
down a filthy jitty and past my parents’ flat.
I ran through every town in which I’d ever lived.
I ran past all my exes, even a few crushes
who sipped mochas and wore dark glasses.
I ran in a wedding dress through scattered confetti
and was cheered by the cast of Star Wars.
I ran through the screaming wind, rain and cloud.
I ran through my mother’s village and flew past
armed soldiers at the Checkpoint. I ran past
my grandparents and Bappou’s mangy goats
with their mad eyes and scaled yellow teeth.
I ran straight through Oxford and Cambridge,
didn’t stop. I saw a naked man in Piccadilly Gardens.
I ran through high school and behind the gym
where gothy teens smoked and necked each other.
I passed an anxious mother pushing a pram
and a baby that kept throwing out her doll.
Seasons changed; summer turned into autumn,
I couldn’t get as far as I wanted.
The lights changed. My ribs, my flaming heart
and my tired, tired body burned.

Loop

Maybe time moves like a figure of eight,
surging forwards then back on itself.

Light returns from exploded stars.
A grown woman could turn a corner
and see herself crying as a girl.

Newsflash: our world ends again.
The disappearing forests of childhood
disappear again.

……………………………………………The path curves.

It takes the woman back to a dimly-lit bar
where she meets the same lover again and again.
She risks everything once more.

They’ve already met
before they’ve said a word.

Unfinished Business

Like the ghost who never realised
he was dead, or the unending record
stuck in a groove, or the comedian
who forgot the punchline, or the bud
spoiled by frost, or the last Rolo,
or the half-painted living room,
or Beethoven’s draft of his tenth
chucked out by the cleaner,
or the bottle of fizz never opened
for a special day, or the rainy day
that rained all year. Who’s sadder?
The man waiting at the bar,
or the woman who won’t walk in?

Previously published in The North

Maria Taylor is a British Cypriot poet who has been highly commended in the Forward Prizes for Poetry 2020. Her poetry has been published in Magma and The Rialto, among other publications. Her latest collection Dressing for the Afterlife, is out with Nine Arches Press.

Dressing for the Afterlife is available to purchase from the Nine Arches Press website.

Featured Publication – The Healing Next Time by Roy McFarlane

Our featured publication for December is The Healing Next Time by Roy McFarlane, published by Nine Arches Press.

Roy McFarlane’s second poetry collection, The Healing Next Time, is a timely and unparalleled book of interwoven sequences on institutional racism, deaths in custody and of a life story set against the ever-changing backdrop of Birmingham at the turn of the millennium. Here forms a potent and resolute narrative in lyrical and multidimensional poems which refuse to look the other way or accept the whitewashed version of events.

‘Claudia Rankine’s ‘Citizen’ contains the following key exchange from a visit to the UK: “Will you write about Duggan? The man wants to know. Why don’t you?” Few rose to this challenge but Roy McFarlane’s distinguished new collection The Healing Next Time takes on a whole history of official abuse and killing here with powerful and technically various poetry. McFarlane traces our hostile environment for new citizens, particularly those of colour, into some ugly corners, but it is a book of great love too, even when he’s dancing with ghosts, as he does here in a wonderful poem of that name. I cannot recommend The Healing Next Time enough.’  Ian Duhig

‘The American poet Claudia Rankine has written: ‘poetry has no investment in anything besides openness. It’s notarguing a point. It’s creating an environment.’ Rankine is one of the presiding spirits of Roy McFarlane’s second collection, The Healing Next Time. The environment he creates is one where the lyric thrives, but in audacious and bold forms crucial for a new brand of poetry. McFarlane’s poems celebrate who he is and where he’s from, never forgetting the sorrow and anger that accompanies what it means to be black and British today. Most powerful is a sequence of modern sonnets that track the terrible roll call of wrongful deaths in custody – moving and graceful memorials to ordinary men and women. His ‘openness’, to quote Rankine, comes from his honesty, his love for humanity and his outrage at injustice – this is an essential book for our times.’ Tamar Yoseloff

TheHealingNextTimeCover

 

1999 – Parts of a broken man

………………….the more a man has the more a man wants
……………………………………………………………………– Paul Muldoon

i.
On Sunday, the preacher’s speaking of revelation and repentance,
the end of the world is on the lips of news reporters.
Cults are spreading and in the basement of a computer department
they’re preparing for the invasion of the millennium bug –
…………………………………………we watch for the skies and miss the stones at our feet.

*

The family man is shooting a basketball, graceful
in motion and everybody’s watching the flight of the ball
reaching its zenith, then beginning to fall. All things fall;
summer rain, falling from grace, the fallout
…………………………………………….of a sordid affair; the ball’s falling.

*

Breadfruit, soursap, plantain. A Saturday morning ritual,
roles changed, the son takes his mother to a Caribbean stall
in Bilston market. She’s not as strong as she used to be,
her breathing laboured, but she snaps the heads, digs out the eyes,
……………………………………………….yellow yam, sweet potato, dasheen.

*

A daughter will be born soon, an olive branch
for the family man treading water after storms ceased.

ii.
A nation hears no evil, sees no evil, speaks no evil. A son’s blood,
a father’s sweat and mother’s tears will lead a retired judge,
and three diverse men to inquire in towns and cities
of the racism that kills. And the rocks will hear and rivers speak
\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\………………………………of the death of Stephen Lawrence.

*

After hearing of the death of Grover Washington Jr,
the family man’s falling asleep with his Walkman headphones;
between winelight and come morning, memories are awakened,
whirl of cassette tapes beginning the re-wind of illicit love:
…………………………………………….just the two of us building castles in the sky.

*

Late meeting, lips kissing, hands feeling, fingers…
Her halter-neck top has been drawn over her head,
the night air touching her breasts, powdered
with a flurry of goosebumps, he’s sucking greedily
……………………………………………….and it all begins again.

*

A mother’s sharing roast breadfruit, ackee and saltfish
with a warning: please, set your house in order.

iii.
There are no purple skies but the prophet Prince lives
to see his words come alive, as people party like it’s 1999.
We could die any day. James Byrd Jr died the year before;
lynching-by-dragging, hate driving for miles in a pick-up-truck,
,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,……………….,……….driving from century to century.

*

He’s speaking at public inquiries, tongue heavy with injustice,
teeth grinding to the sound of another death in custody.
There’s a bitter taste he needs something sweet; later in a private place
her labia moistened by his tongue, she guides his erection deep
……………………………………………..and voices are lost in each other’s mouths.

*

He’s singing gospels, praying repentance into the early morning,
following traditions from sunny islands, avoiding the tears of his wife,
who’s dreaming of impending sorrows. The Millennium arrived
drunk with Hogmanay, midnight mass, Kwanzaa blessings and Prince
………………………………………………alighted from the heavens in a purple robe.

*

A new job, but the more a man has the more a man wants.
He leaves doors unclosed, doors that ache in the wind.

 

 

Their hands

Trying to fashion a world that will hold all the people
All the faces, all the adams and eves and their countless generations
………………………………………………………………..
For My People – Margaret Walker

Their hands loved and caressed, cajoled the fears out of lonely nights,
………….fed men with hope and washed the indignity off their faces
………….and in the cold morning would unwrap themselves from men
………….who’d venture another day into fogs of uncertainties.

Their hands worked too. Worked in mills and factories,
………….mopped floors, fed people, cut cords of the new born
…………..worked day and night for pay packets that weighed
…………..less than those called Mary and Jane.

Their hands knew change, change in their bodies, seasons
………….of blood that ceased, the beginning of life and in those times
………….found God, lost God, loved God, became gods bringing life
………….into this world and sometimes cried in the twilight of stillbirth.

Their hands have brushed the dust of hate from paths and doorsteps
………….scrubbed hallways clean of the ignorance of others but sometimes
………….bitter blood seeps from outside and anger boils over from generation
………….to generation turning hands into clenched rage on the eve of riots.

Their hands have lost the gloss of youth, are loose with veins like
…………tree roots bursting to the surface, some creaking painfully,
………….some twisted, knuckles thickened, others shaking violently,
………….others holding on to memories in the dirges of dust to dust.

Their hands are the hands of women who loved freedom. Hands
………….that tried to make a new world from patchwork quilts
………….soft enough to lay down and rest on, large enough to cover
………….all the people and strong enough to hold us all together.

 

 

A British thing to do

standing in queues; queues
appear out of nowhere
and disappear; queues
are filled with weathers
and gossip; queues bulge
ahead with best mates
and family; queues will have
the annoying kid screaming
and twisting; queues
will be colored with tuts
and intakes of frustration
and always I’m running late
conversations on mobiles.
Queues are always held up
by the man with change
scattered across the counter
or the woman with a list
of needs and one last
thought to share. Queues
may have the occasional
lovers lost in each other
or the lover walking away
lost in disbelief. Queues
of apologies of I’ll be quick
and the one behind shouting
what the hell is holding up this line?
Queues that begin on Boxing
Day and end on the opening
of New Year Sales; queues
inside and outside buildings,
straight around corners.
And there’s always is this
why we fought two bloody
world wars, to be over-
run by bloody foreigners?

 

Previous publication credits are Somewhere to keep the rain (Winchester Poetry Festival 2017) Freedom in the City National Poetry Day (Writing West Midlands 2017) and Why Poetry? Lunar Poetry Podcast (Verve Poetry Press 2018), respectively

 

 

Roy McFarlane was born in Birmingham of Jamaican parentage and has spent most of his years living in Wolverhampton. He has held the role of Birmingham’s Poet Laureate and Starbucks’ Poet in Residence, and is presently the Birmingham & Midland Institute’s Poet in Residence. Roy’s writing has appeared in magazines and anthologies, including Out of Bounds (Bloodaxe, 2012), Filigree (Peepal Tree, 2018) and he is the editor of Celebrate Wha? Ten Black British Poets from the Midlands (Smokestack, 2011). His first full collection of poems, Beginning With Your Last Breath, was published by Nine Arches Press in 2016.

The Healing Next Time is available to purchase from the Nine Arches Press website.

Featured Publication – Dirty Laundry by Deborah Alma

Our featured publication for July is Dirty Laundry by Deborah Alma, published by Nine Arches Press.

Deborah Alma’s debut poetry collection Dirty Laundry is raucous, daring and honest, drawing contemporary women’s lives and those of our foremothers into the spotlight. It voices bold, feminist songs of praise: of persistence, survival, adventures of sexual rediscovery, each reclaiming the space to speak its mind and be heard and seen. A perfect remedy for the heartsick and weary, Alma’s intimate and particular poems are resolute enchantments, a form of robust magic. The collection brims with poems which are unafraid of airing secrets, desires and untold stories. From growing up mixed-race and learning to survive as a woman in the world, to tales of the countryside and themes
of escape and finding joy, this book of poems is as vivid as it is frank and fearless. There’ll be no need for any tears, it’ll all come out in the wash…

These poems stand firmly on the page in torn silk stockings; they are voluptuous, defiant and hedge-witch earthy. Dirty Laundry glimmers with sequins; a speck of blood on a canine tooth; with bright new love after a season of showers” Helen Ivory

Here is a debut collection that will sweep you away in its generous, welcoming arms: poetry that bears witness to the twin faces of pain and pleasure. Dirty Laundry is a boldly poetic treatise that examines with a stern, clear eye the ravages of male repression and violence but refuses to break faith with the human capacity for healing, growth and love. Electric with metaphor, glorying in friendship, everyday joys and the sensual delights of sex and the natural world, this collection will ambush you with sudden and surprising epiphanies gleaned from a life well lived: immersive, thrilling and redemptive.” Jacqueline Saphra

This is a collection which glitters with keen observation: ruby slippers, bangles, sunlit, tender moments. The characters in Deborah Alma’s poems are uncompromising and unapologetic: a therapy client tramples over the eggshells of an analyst’s metaphors in Doc Marten boots. These are poems that invite you in and – when you’ve finished reading – invite you to walk a little taller through the world.” Helen Mort

Haunted by violence, yet refusing to be silent, rooted in the body as a way of experiencing the world and unafraid in their sensuality, these are poems that examine women’s lives in all their complexity, woven through with imagery that lingers in the mind and the heart long after you finish reading.” Kim Moore

Morning Song

An open-windowed church-belled morning
chimes of loss and mine; water pipes sing,

and I bring back to bed a blue enamel
pot of hot coffee, as silk as the slide

of skin on sheets, and rough hot bread
warmed in an oven kept in overnight

and bite into a grape and lazy eyed
the women I have been no longer fight their corners;

cocks-crow, black throats thrown back with old songs,
flown back to all of these edges of me,

they stay and stare, these women, across the hazy
sun-strewn wooden floor of my dreams

and my ageing; the mirror crazed
and hung with beads, the pink and the red

and the purple of the stocks I have grown
and the white of the daisies.

 

Nearly Love

I nearly fell in love once.
He came round and found the list on the fridge,
leant over to read it carefully, winked,
picked up a pencil, and ticked and ticked
and ticked all the boxes.

After I told him it wasn’t working,
my friends and family, astonished,
pointed to the list. But I said,

I will not drink from the cup
that comes up in small tiptoes
and black shoes, that sits
at the end of the bed, waiting;
its mouth an oh of ordinary;
comfort and safety and sex;
a drug of slowing, of rest, like death
already come.

They could not see this.
They knew what was best.

 

Roshan

Three quarters of the way into my name,
there’s Roshan, roshni, light; that seems to me right,

a silver of bangles on a wrist, round mirror chips
embroidered into the hem of my clothes,

my white skin seen tiny times over,
sequins sewn into my childhood.

This is my light; a cloth weighted
with five bright beads over an English lamp.

And me now, turning on these lights in the dusk,
move still with a shake of bells at my feet,

not quite heard, the light not quite seen.

 

Deep Pockets

I sit in the kitchen
in a yellow-striped dress
with deep pockets

thrusting my hands deep,
there is string, a pin,
garden wire and three sweet-pea seeds.

I sit sullen like a child.

On the table a rough grey
plate with flecks of blue and four
chocolate dainty cakes
and five of us in this house.

 

Deborah Alma was born in North London, and has lived on the Welsh/Shropshire borders for the last 25 years where she brought up her 2 sons and now lives with the poet James Sheard. She teaches creative writing, works with people with dementia and at the end of their lives and is the Emergency Poet in her 1970’s ambulance. She edited The Emergency Poet – An Anti-Stress Poetry Anthology and The Everyday Poet – Poems to Live By (Michael O’Mara Books) and was the editor of the landmark #MeToo poetry anthology, published by Fair Acre Press. Her first poetry pamphlet True Tales of the Countryside was published by The Emma Press. Dirty Laundry is her first full collection of poems. She is currently Honorary Research Fellow at Keele University.

Dirty Laundry is available to purchase from the Nine Arches Press website.