From the cautious opening to the pixellated organs, there’s a lot in this issue.
I often wonder about the nature of curating these sections. Sometimes there are themes in common, sometimes a keyword will chime from one poem to another, sometimes one poem will seem like a response to another, sometimes the forms feel like they’ll rub up well against each other… There’s no set way to do it, but I’m always trying to match poems that will cohere as a set in the end, at least in my head.
I suppose the word “prose” helps to hang these pieces together in the most basic way, but I find something really lovely about the motion through all five: we start with the fear of “losing the meaning”, then hinge on the erasure poem in the middle, with Christian Soldiers and the Gospel hanging off it on either side, and it all feels to me if we are driven inevitably to the end Brandon Cronenberg and meeting the dead. These poems are lent an additional layer of shape and symmetry by their placement here, being forced into conversation with each other. “So terrifying when you think about it.”
I hope you enjoy the journey. Thank you for reading!
(FYI if you are reading this on a mobile phone, it may be best to turn the phone sideways. Some of the poems are displayed as images, so make sure you’ve clicked “show images” at the top of this mail. If you'd rather read these poems in a PDF you can do so here, in this archive of previous issues.)
from Terraces: a choreography
Cautious opening – your mercy is not my culture, scared of losing the meaning. The forum next to the river is your contagion, your excitement. Find your way to the floor and rebound. I paint a life preserver to remind me how to rescue myself, as if the only safe boundary is an open one.
last century: a poem
You want to boil a book in ink.
The book has to be a poetry anthology published in the 1920s.
To boil the book, you follow a recipe for boiling an egg from a cookery book published in the 1970s.
You push down ‘record’ as you begin to boil the book to the slowed-down sound of a children’s choir singing ‘Onward, Christian Soldiers’.
To record the other side of the tape, you take it to the seaside.
You present the boiled book, the retyped recipe and the audio tape on a cafeteria tray labelled ‘last century: a poem’.
The recording starts with heavy breathing as you are walking up on the hill, running down the steps and crossing the road. Then we can hear your footsteps in the shingle and finally the waves, which could almost be static or cars on the motorway. We can hear you restlessly going up and down the beach, at one point recording the sound of water running over the stones, at another point the cries of seagulls and a brief muffled voice.
The sound of the wind and the movement of the tape deck itself often interfere with the recording. A man calling his dogs: ‘Get out of there!’ A distant siren. More walking through shingle. For a while the sound of waves reaching out and pulling back the shingle is quite definite and strong.
Towards the end, it starts to rain and we can hear raindrops on an umbrella as you leave the beach. The man in the distance calls his dog, more and more insistently. Cars come by as you cross the road again, but they don’t sound so different from the tide.
Finally, we catch the end of a conversation: ‘You take what you can get’, says the old north-eastern man. ‘Mostly’, says the old woman, and then ‘God Bless’. We hear her say ‘Bye!’ as you walk away, back up the steps, the rain still coming down.
The tape cuts out.
You’ve been talking about Eddie
Dear John, Thank you for submitting your 21 chapters. We enjoyed your propulsive and vigorous opening – a terrific way to hook the reader’s attention. Its air of drama and mystery create an appropriate context for your main protagonist. We felt you might want to revisit his often repetitive and gnomic utterances, which do not always succeed in developing character or moving the plot forward. The great strength of your piece lies in its dramatic episodes. You briefly allude to the potential for many more such events appearing in your narrative, and we feel that their inclusion might help extend the reader’s understanding of your key themes. However, the surprise ending will no doubt find favour with a wide audience, so on balance we would like to accept your work for inclusion in our eclectic and ground-breaking volume.
Sam J. Grudgings
After Brandon Cronenberg
I’m wearing gloves until I touch something worthwhile. I keep the test by my bed, the alabaster augur of an alarm in pottery ears, the tinnitus of a modern flat. Is your fridge stocked with strictly regimented concepts too? The disease that’s really sold is a cultural one. What does it mean to deserve? Obsession is a group hallucination, they choose to come to us, lives much richer for the deformed almost. The face is a messenger rendered noncontagious. We can commodify your pain & copy protect your grieving. That’s what we mean when we say you don’t have a face. The meat market is highly contested. We can acknowledge disease, understand the fascination of an ideal, how overwhelming it must be to have anyone you want, biological communion. The fever should come on just in time for the long weekend. How do you carry infectious material in a way that does not give rise to symptoms? I’ve been trying to reach you, but my body is starting to turn on me. I already feel like a different person, I don’t understand how this isn’t considered cannibalism? I’m not some hobbyist, brickwork still exists in the bloodless future, a grin with its own house is a violent excision. These thoughts are beneath you. Selling the smuggled storeroom to the owner, let me know if you hear anything about someone eager to sell their fatality. Be tactful. I hold the license on the terminal, the harvesters have called in repine. Do you bloodlet your own symphony?
Blinded by luxury, a sacrifice is still a consummation & understanding between death & the becomer. Sketches of platelets, desaturated oxygen counts & bile. The tulips are signed off as a mark of respect. Tell the endless our skin contact is approaching & his reflection will be hewn in dialogue. The contraband mortality is a jail cell. We test our temperatures to see if we have been incarcerated. We excuse ourselves from experiencing that tender clinical grotesquery of illness. Staggered sanctuary & hope for healing. How we decipher this depends on our security measures. Anthroharuspex. Battery farm elocution lessons. The realisation of being realised. Check your skin to show willing, illuminate the countdown. If you love the Rosetta stone you do not ensure it finds its way into your body, it is enough that it is as is. You are not allowed to autopsy your reasons for being. You are not supposed to swallow the key to translating it all.
Do you know they are still growing the cancer cells of someone who died in the 50s? The afterlife perversity happens when you sleep. How do you communicate the orphan family into someone personal? You saw her last alive. Everyone is paranoid they won’t be able to understand the best work done by safe crackers. To our most honoured friends...One of my best guys is a plague doctor, he’ll sell you a screen to whore yourself through. Do you want to see my body? I have pixelated my organs. Dignity is an invalid currency. Built from old parts I can run your blood through mine to see if we are compatible. Don’t be a miser with your virus. I’m afraid you’ve become involved with something sinister. I’m far from a pornographer, almost an addict. Same as you.
Meeting the dead deals with curious etiquette. So terrifying when you think about it. It’s a modification of a lesser-known cure that we sold you some time ago. The death is a cover story. Even doctors without faith border on obsession. This skin graft is more than professional curiosity. This skin graft is more than appropriate trauma. This skin graft is largely a courtesy for our customers. We don’t expect it to take but if we can profit off it then we will. It’s only skin. It’s only skin. It’s only skin.
Scott Thurston’s most recent book is Phrases towards a Kinepoetics (Contraband, 2020). He is co-editor of the Journal of British and Irish Innovative Poetry and Reader in English and Creative Writing at the University of Salford.
Note on ‘from Terraces: a choreography’:
“This poem is part of a series of eighty poems which I think of as a kind of choreography. Composed during the conditions of the pandemic, the scale of each dance/poem reflects the constrained use of space under these circumstances whilst also finding new opportunities for embodied creative discovery. I’m currently realising a number of these poems as performances which combine words and movement. You can read more and see a dance realisation of one of the poems on Pamenar here.”
Ryan Ormonde has contributed poems to SPAM, Spoonfeed and Permeable Barrier and collaborated on a video poem with poet Karenjit Sandhu for Magma. Ryan’s collaboration with artist Madalina Zaharia won best film at the Bucharest International Dance Film Festival 2021.
Note on ‘last century: a poem’:
“‘last century: a poem’ is a document of the making of an assemblage piece of the same title, now lost. This might sound apocryphal, but it’s true! I found a transcription of the audio element of the piece recently and reworked it alongside a description of the process of making the original piece. In my opinion this text version is more effective than the original, so no FOMO please.”
Rowan Lyster is a poet and arts administrator from Herefordshire, based in Bristol. Her poems have recently appeared in SPOONFEED, Tentacular, The Rialto and The Scores, and her debut mini-pamphlet is coming soon from Legitimate Snack (Broken Sleep Books).
Note on ‘You’ve been talking about Eddie’:
“While browsing a second-hand bookshop, I stumbled across The Rules, a 1995 self-help dating manual by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider. It seemed like the kind of book that would be better if most of it was crossed out in permanent marker, so that’s what I did. ‘You’ve been talking about Eddie’ is one of the resulting erasures.”
Jill Sharp’s poems have appeared most recently in London Grip, Prole, Poetry Salzburg, Stand, The High Window and Under the Radar. Her pamphlet Ye gods was published by Indigo Dreams and her work is featured in Vindication, a six-poet anthology from Arachne Press.
Note on ‘Gospel truth’:
“Going to a C of E primary school made me familiar with the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, but I realised I only knew the opening of John’s, so decided to read the whole of it. I’m an atheist, but the New Testament has continued to have meaning for me. When I’d finished, I imagined John submitting his work in the way we do as poets, and this prose poem is the result.”
Sam J. Grudgings
Sam J Grudgings is a poet perpetually on the edge of collapse. Shortlisted for the Outspoken Poetry Prize 2020, & forever yelling sad poems at audiences. His debut collection The Bible II is out in November with Verve Poetry Press.
Note on ‘ANTIVIRAL’:
“The poem was written on Valentine’s Day as part of a larger dialogue with horror cinema that I’m currently exploring. Horror in poetry is largely undiscovered country but the themes in Cronenberg’s work & the construction of shots are arguably poetic forms themselves. I wrote the poem as an ancillary fever dream method of decoding the film; footnotes to subtitles & studies on the concepts & throwaway lines that deserved further exploration.”