Mick Ferry – Interview

Mick Ferry is renowned as a fine purveyor of lugubrious surrealism and has quickly established himself as one of the most sought after comics on the British and International comedy circuit. One of the finest comperes around, Mick Ferry performs regularly at The Comedy Store in London and Manchester as well as headlining at comedy venues nationwide. He is also a regular member of the prestigious topical Cutting Edge Team at the Comedy Store.

On our TV screens, Mick has recently starred in BBC One`s Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow as well as Comedy Blue and The Comedy Store for Comedy Central. He made his big screen debut in 2009 in Ken Loach’s Looking For Eric – a hit feature film at the Cannes film festival where it was nominated for the prestigious Palm D’Or. A prolific writer, Mick was a writer on John Bishop’s Britain for BBC One and has also previously written for BBC3`s Smalltime.

Mick made his debut at the Edinburgh Comedy Festival in 2009 performing The Comedy Final at the Gilded Balloon. He returned in 2010 with a brand new show The Missing Chippendale (Body Issues) to great critical acclaim.

With lockdown sort of having been and gone, and now with it being on the horizon again, how have you been coping? Have you started learning Mandarin or begun baking?
There was a plan like a lot people to learn another language. I download the app and did fuck all of with it. I kept myself busy, doing little sketches. Writing material. The usual things you are supposed to do. As for the mood during lockdown, I was like, everybody else, one day, you’re okay, and the day after you sort of glad you’ve not got access to a shotgun because not sure whether you’d use it on yourself, or actually strangers. So, those kinds of moods.


Have you done any of that type of writing before? Have you explored writing sketches et cetera?
Yeah. I’ve done that before – I’ve done that loads of times. I have written for other people. It was something to concentrate myself and basically, you know, stop myself going insane. My job, the industry I work in (stand-up), has gone. It just disappeared and looks like it’s disappearing again. So, I think just to remain creative was important.


It looked like you had the family involved too, were they all happily on board?
They are sort of used to my idiosyncrasies anyway. They know what I am like. They know that I’m a bit of a loon.


You mention that you have been writing material, is much of it COVID related or have you tried to put some distance between yourself and that?
Of course, you would be a loon not to mention COVID. You don’t want to talk about it too much, but I would be quite worried if I met someone in the street now and we had an hour’s conversation, and they did not mention once, the things that have gone on this year. I would worry about that. I would worry about their mental health. I would actually be quite jealous that they have forgotten about it that easily. You have got to mention it. You have got to mention the circumstances you are in, and create your unique perspective for all of us, all of mankind really. Let’s be honest. It is something we have never been through before. And it is something we have all suffered at the same time, and are suffering!


Because it is in our collective conscience…?
Yeah. Exactly. Of everybody you ask around the world, nobody has been sleeping properly, have they? Experiencing weird nightmares, and all that bullshit. I imagine that’s all anxiety driven.


Quite possibly. Just being out of routine and not being as active has hurt people. You are right to document it. Although, as much as much as you can write about it now, your opportunities to deliver that material are limited
Exactly!


Have you anything that you would explicitly want to say to Johnson and those handling the situation?
Yeah, but you know what? What is the point? The man is a tool. The people behind the government are tools. Look, they have spent £12 billion on a track and trace system that does not work. That tells you everything you need to know! They have an advisor who broke the rules that he explicitly helped to lay down – he drove to Barnard Castle. So, anything that Johnson has got to say, I have no interest in whatsoever. He is just a haunted landscape! An ex-Eton schoolboy. Somebody better than me pointed out that PM’s that go to Eton, don’t make good leaders. It has been proven time and time again. They have no grasp on reality. He has ignored every piece of advice he has been given. At the start of it he suggested herd mentality and he went around shaking everybody’s hands and he got the disease – the daft sod. So, I have nothing to say to them. He is not a man I would talk to personally. Johnson has history – he despises the working classes – we’re treated, as usual by the elite as cannon fodder. As Andy Burnham said, when it comes to economics, the North of England has always been used as an economic canary, we are always the ones that suffer first. So, there is a disconnect and I am hoping the only thing that comes out of this is that we end up with a North West assembly. The idea was piloted in the 1990s. Anthony H. Wilson – God rest his soul – was well behind the idea but it didn’t happen. But I have a feeling that when we come out of this, if somebody mentions the North West assembly again and a bit of autonomy for our own region. Then we will go for it.


It is an interesting concept. I mean, there is a lot of bad blood between certain places in the North West – Liverpool and Manchester notably. But this type of thing draws people together. As much as it pushes others away – that is to say, as much as you do not want to speak to Johnson or anybody down in London, you are willing, to openly embrace those closest to you and work with them.
Of course, it’s the only way. We’ve got to realise that we’re the potential to be an economic powerbase ourselves, driven by Manchester and Liverpool. People have got to understand that. We have got a good economy ourselves, but we are totally controlled by the South. Why? That should not be happening. Let’s put borders up! I seriously would, we need autonomy. We need to be looking after our own affairs up here now. Andy Burnham was describing that, and the Mayor of Liverpool, who seems a good lad as well. I think it will happen, and I don’t think we’ll be the only region.


My wife is Cornish and they have been speaking about independence down there for an awful long time.
I think the Welsh will go for full independence after Scotland too. I can see a breakup happening. It’s because of constant cases of the bumbling of our economic affairs. It gives you a bit of a complex, you wonder am I being correct here? But if you look at history, it’s the North that gets a kicking before anywhere else. After we come through this, I think there will be changes, massive changes!


If you were to retrain as suggested, what could you see yourself doing?
I used to be an upholsterer. But I couldn’t go back to that. I am not physically fit enough to do that now. I mean, I am 52. I would have to get myself in shape before I could do that again. Retrain? I don’t know if there is anything I could retrain as. I have been doing this for 20 years now – I don’t know what I’d do, or what I’d be capable of doing.


You have such a natural demeanour onstage; I am surprised to hear that you ever did anything else!
The trick is making it look like you are not doing it – making it look easy. I think that is a skill in any performance art; to make it look like it comes naturally. It takes time for you to be able to do that. I don’t know what I’d retrain as, because let’s be honest, what industry is going to be left after this?


I would like to go back to point about autonomy in the North, because prior to COVID, the creative industry was flourishing. So, there is certainly scope there, for cities like Liverpool and Manchester and beyond to create something for themselves.
Definitely. It is a big, creative area. I have met people from all over the world, who have moved to Manchester because they want to make it in the music business. You do not have to be in London anymore. You come to the North West if you want to make it in the music business. That is something that has changed. You have only got to look at the success of both cities when it comes to music.


Indeed, we have BIMM in Manchester and LIPA in Liverpool that are well-established now.
Exactly and there’s well-established comedy clubs and a well-established comedy scene which is actually full of new comics. There is an established open-mic circuit in the North West too. It’s all there, for everybody. Even the BBC is in Manchester for fuck’s sake. We should make the most of that. We’ll have autonomy and we’ll hijack BBC! Get them to make unbiased TV shows, that would be quite nice.


Why not? Changing direction, I am interested in the discourse of stand-up comedy. What people are allowed to say on stage and whether they feel restrained by themselves, by society, by what country they are performing in even? How might comics change their shows accordingly?
Yeah. You do. I mean, performing overseas or in certain countries there are certain rules when it comes to libel, slander, and things dictated by religion and so on. So, you would be a fool not to break them. You would lose your work; you would lose your income. You are not dumbing it down. You are not sacrificing your integrity doing that. People talk about freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is still there. When people say, ‘you can’t say anything anymore’ – you can. But you have got to be prepared for the consequences. That is something we have always been responsible for. If you want to say something, you should have a think, ‘will this really upset somebody?’ – like a marginalized section of a society, you have to ask yourself why you are saying it, even if you really want to say it. Do not be saying ‘I can’t say what I want to say.’ – you just said it and before are angry with what you said. So, you either own it and accept that, or you filter yourself.


Would you agree that stand-up is a pure art form?
Yes. Of course, it is.


I am glad you’ve said that. You have been doing this twenty years now, is that purity important to you, beyond it just being a job that pays the bills?
Listen, things can be said off the cuff and, in the moment, there is something unique about doing it live, that you cannot get when you see recordings back. Things can happen in a room that a live audience then gets. It could be a bit of teasing of somebody, and because of something that’s gone on before, everybody knows exactly why I have said what I have said. But that can be taken out of context then. Somebody could just record that moment and show it, ‘Look at this guy, he’s a right fucking dick!’ Live performance, that’s where the artform is. TV does not come across as an art form. We (us comics) know we’re still not officially recognized as artists, but let me tell you something… Say a theatre is beginning to struggle and needs to raise money fast, the first night they put on is a comedy night. Why? Because it always sells out. But they can fuck off, them wankers. You either recognise it as an art form, or you don’t! I quite like the idea of being an underground art movement. Why not? Let’s be part of that, let’s be part of something. Getting back to the question though, stand-up is a skill, it requires ability. You get found out quickly if you can’t do it! It takes time and it takes practice, like all art forms. It takes commitment to reach that sort of competent level, you know. Just like acting – just like singing. It is performance! It’s much more than repeating lines.


I am sort of loathed to ask you about this, but maybe folk will expect it? What is your best/worst gig experience?
Well, I have had plenty of good gigs. But I will tell you this, the adrenaline rush gets shorter and shorter. A good gig does not live that long, and you just need to get back onstage again. As bad gigs go… This sums up the new world we are living in. During lockdown, there has been a few gigs I’ve done online as streams to an audience. For some of these gigs, people pay extra to be front row, so you can see them on your screen. Anyway, this happened to me during one of these gigs. You know doing live stand-up, I have been sworn at; I’ve been threatened on stage; I’ve had a gang of men wait for me to finish once, wanting to fight me; I’ve had an ashtray thrown at me at a gig in Plymouth. I have had all sorts – everything you can contend with, but it’s water of a duck’s back now. But, nothing prepares you for doing a gig that’s being streamed when you’re in your own living room, and you can see your front row, for watching a woman, get up in the middle of your routine to go make herself a cup of tea, because she’s clearly not interested in what you’ve got to say. That was devastating!


That is some heckle! I wonder, what do you miss most about performance? Is it that adrenaline rush? You say they are getting shorter and shorter, or is it just the interaction and being out and about with people?
It’s the interaction! It is being out and about. It is a social thing, stand-up. You are with people, and you are also with other comics in the dressing room. There is a camaraderie. If you take that away – well… Sure, it can be lonely travelling around, but you have always got that group of people in front of you, your audience for however long you are onstage. They are your mates. That is who you are with. So, that is what you miss – that social aspect.


It is only reasonable that you would miss that when it has been taken away from you.
What do you do on a night off?
I watch a lot of stand-up! I am a fan of it, massively. You’ll often find me on a night off in a comedy club. That is what I do!
What is the purpose of that? Are you wanting to be entertained or are you wanting to improve your craft?
Yeah. It is the different styles that we all have. A lot of comics are very different to each other. I have several comedian mates that that have always made me laugh that I’ll always go along and watch when they’re in town and I’m not working, and of course there are new people that are breaking through all the time.


I read recently that you had been compared you to Les Dawson. Do you think that is fair?
I got described once as being lugubrious. It’s because of my grumpy looking face. I am nothing like Les Dawson. I am not as good as he was either. He was a fucking genius. I think that it was just a physical description, and nothing to do with material.


You don’t even play piano, Mick?
No, I don’t even play piano. It can be annoying with all forms of entertainment. When people want to say what a band sounds like, and people do it with stand-ups as well. I think.


I know that you are reticent to be labelled, but for people who may be unfamiliar with your work, who might YOU compare your style with? Are you more than an observational comic?
Oh man. I don’t know. I can’t really answer that question. Describe what I do? I think I’m funny. I know I am funny! I know it works. I know that sounds arrogant, but to be a stand-up there has to be a bit of arrogance there. It is not just observational stuff I do. There is all sorts going on in my shows. I will do one-liners, surreal stuff, observational stuff, family stuff, anything really. If I am emceeing, I probably won’t use any material, I will just be working with the audience or improvising. I’m not sure I’m comfortable answering that to be honest, the only thing I can say is come and see me!


My apologies. I suppose, really, it is for other people to draw their own conclusions.
The only thing I would say is that people should come and see me and form their own opinion. I get laziness from people who say, ‘You’re like Peter Kay.’ And it is just because of the accent because I’m nothing like Peter Kay. My act is nothing like his. You know what I mean? That is just what people do. So yeah. I don’t know how I would describe myself. Come and watch me!


What was the last book you read or record you bought?
The last record I bought was on vinyl, a Northern Soul collection. Musically, I think I have quite an eclectic taste. The last book I read? You know, I don’t remember. I go through spurts of reading, but it has been probably a couple of years since I last read a book. I know that sounds ridiculous. But then, next year I might read fucking hundreds. Oh, I did read this book about The Smiths. Yeah, a book about the meaning of all The Smiths’ songs or something. I think that was the last thing I read.


I think maybe we will end with something a bit silly… when I interviewed Paul Foot, I asked him where he bought his ties. So, in that vein, I would like to know, where do you buy your shoes?
There is an online company called Delicious Junction. The guy who owns that used to be the chief shoe designer for a shoe company called Icon.


I had Icon school shoes!
Yeah? He is making his own shoes, they’re really good! Or, if you have got a bit of cash to spare, Loakes, they may brilliant loafers and brogues. I buy too many shoes, or I did do! cannot afford them now!


Mick, what’s next for you?

I’m lucky enough to be a part of a new Radio4 series called, The Likely Dads, hosted by Tim Vincent. Myself and Russell Kane are the regular guests and each week we are joined by other dads to discuss ‘being a dad’. Quite a few celebrity dads make an appearance. The show is irreverent and informative at the same time. The first show went out at 23.00 on Thursday, 29th October. There are eight weekly episodes.

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Godefroy Dronsart – Interview

Godefroy Dronsart is a French poet and musician currently living in the Parisian suburbs and maintaining a sense of self-teaching British literature. His work has been published in various magazines such as the Belleville Park Pages, PostBLANK, Lunar Poetry, Paris Lit Up, and others. He is a former host and curator of the Poets Live reading series alongside Malik Crumpler. His first chapbook, The Manual, is available now from Sweat Drenched Press. Part of his musical work can be found on Bandcamp under the name Ozone Grass

Twitter: @OzoneGrass

Godefroy Dronsart, by Sabine DunDure

Godefroy, can you define poetry? What is it to you?

Hah, a banging question right off the start! I don’t think I can define poetry, but I can say what it means to me. I think poetry is the literary space in which langage can be as free as we want it to be. It’s the place where the text as space, the word as spell, the intimate voice and the formal experiment are all possible. I like the fact that in poetry you can shed any sense of expectation. You can do plot if you want, but you don’t have to, you can be lyrical, but you don’t have to. It’s very much a playground, a magic circle. Everytime a poet sits down to write they chart the outside of the little temenos of this moment. And the reader is invited to sit down within it and to stay as long as they want.

If I were describing your collection, The Manual, I might use words like challenging, innovative, and creative. To what extent do you agree or disagree with these?

They’re all good adjectives, so I would be a fool to disagree with them! I don’t know how challenging it is to the reader, but it certainly is for me. I found myself a bit silly when friends would ask me ‘Oh you’ve got a book out? Cool! What’s it about?’ and my answer would be ‘I don’t know.’ Or someone asked ‘Oh great your first chapbook! Is it poems?’, ‘I don’t know.’ It’s a challenging work to categorise because although for ease of use we can present it as a poetry chapbook, it’s very hybrid. I cannibalised bits and pieces from other poems and drafts but you can’t really take a piece out. It’s the same kind of book a manual is. In a way it’s not very creative – I took a manual I was reading through at the time for an electronic instrument and thought what if I wrote one of these – only the manual has no object? And then of course past the first pages and the well-known rhetoric of manual-writing I had to decide on what kind of text it would become and it ended up being this.

Poetry, or more broadly art, provides ample room for originality, such as yours – but I am interested to know how you see this piece of work. Where would you place this text in literary history?

Well it’s very much experimental and doesn’t try to follow any pre-existing artistic guideline. But I can’t escape the people who made my writing what it is. My spouse said she found it to be a very surrealist text. I’m in love with prety much all of modernism so she can’t be wrong about that. All I know is that I liked the idea enough to push through it in ten days before the submission deadline for the press I wanted to send it to closed! I remember Zak, the editor of Sweat Drenched Press, emphasised the comedy of the book. Other people called it part game part civil disobedience manifesto. I think it’s fascinating how it garners these different opinions.

Can you give the reader some background? What was the inspiration for this collection?

Well a friend of mine sent me the website of Sweat Drenched Press. They had a submission call closing in ten days for an experimental chapbook series. I had poems and ideas for chapbooks, but looking at SDP, I didn’t think it would fit their aesthetic. And I loved their strange aesthetic so I definitely wanted to submit something. I had just started to play around with a small drum synthesiser from Moog, which comes with a great user manual. So one sleepless night the idea came – write a manual, but it’s only about itself, but not really. I was also getting really interested in a subset of tabletop role-playing games called the OSR – Old School Revival, which used (among a lot of other things) a number of random tables to generate events, characters, plots, items. The last pages of The Manual come from this. I thought that as a reader, I often receive an aesthetic experience. But reading this synth manual, I wasn’t just passive or contemplative – the text talked to me directly. Do this, be warned about that. Try this. Now try this and study the difference. And I wondered how would an art book reproduce that. How do you shift the position of the reader. But this is not a new idea: gamebooks do it. If you’ve played a choose-your-own-adventure book, like Fighting Fantasy, you’ve engaged in an interactive narrative experience. I wanted to see if I could take lessons from these pop forms and use them in a very different artistic context.

I think that your work in The Manual has a definite self-awareness, is this intentional?

I would say so. The book presents itself as a book and does not want you to forget that you are holding a book. The artist for the cover, Reverse Brackets, said when he read it that it was a hypnosis spell. I liked that. I think part of the ambition I had was to write something that wouldn’t take you out of your surroundings, nothing escapist, but on the other hand which you slightly maybe change your view of the surrounding reality. Sounds like a load of pretentious bollocks said like this, but I’d be lying if I were to say that the book wasn’t influenced by magical procedures and occult culture.

What would you say to somebody who might dispute this being called poetry? Indeed, you go as far as to write, ‘The purpose of this book is purely educational and/ should not be mistaken for any artistic endeavour.’

Honestly, anyone who might dispute this being called poetry would have a great point. It’s more poetry than anything else, I think? But it’s not a book of poems. I don’t even know if it is a poem itself. Some parts are more recognisably poetic than others, some are not. It’s as close to poetry as an installation is to painting or sculpture, in a way. As for that quote, well, you probably should trust what the manual says. Why wouldn’t you? It’s a simple manual.

You have made brave language and form choices, but there are discernible, perhaps more traditional, poetic elements to be found with the text, I particularly like the lines, ‘The ghost of a voice’ and ‘With eyes opened or closed, mouth open or closed,/ stick your hands deep inside the carcass of a deer or a/ bull’. With this in mind, how would you encourage readers to approach this publication?

I don’t know how they should approach it, it would be grand if people were to approach my tiny and strange book at all! But you’re right, and that connects to the previous question. I had never written anything like this before, and I come from a background of writing poems. So I could not do without these moments. They’re much closer to traditional free verse, for sure. Prose is a cool way to connect the book to what it isn’t – a simple way of conveying information – but right now I can’t write without the inkling that language is at heart an incantation. And that can’t happen without verse in my opinion. As guidance though, I would offer the idea of treating the book like a book you found by accident. Can’t hurt to open it. It’s only a manual.

What was the last book/record you bought?

That’s a particularly well-timed question considering the shopping spree I just went on … The two new books I just received are Portable Darkness, an Aleister Crowley reader, and the Myth and Metamorphosis Anthology from Penteract Press. I’m becoming a massive fan of Penteract. They’re a small press with a vision and their vision nourishes me greatly. Last records I bought were the latest Ibibio Sound Machine album, Doko Mien, and a dungeon synth release from Gnoll, Mörk Borg. First one is a super-fun mixture of funk, disco, new wave and rock, while the second is an ominous electronic album. Got a massive wishlist on Bandcamp though …

Is there a correlation between your writing and your music?

Inevitably there is, but while in music I mainly deal with improvisation or semi-improvisation, I’m much more of a control freak in writing. I come from an academic background and that can often sabotage the view one has of one’s writing. But the original impulse is often very similar. Usually a first draft will happen with a line or two, and it’s these words that guide the rest of the poem, through sound and meaning. I’m starting to consider these drafts like sound design sessions : they’re not automatic writing, and I definitely edit as I write, but more and more I don’t sacralise the writing. Whatever came out can become a poem or maybe will help the growth of a second text later on. Maybe it’s just a bag of images I can draw from later.

What is next for Godefroy Dronsart?

A lot, I hope! I’ve got at least three more book ideas in the works. All of them are pretty conceptual, but since I dont write individual poems with a plan, I found that starting with a clear idea of the organisation of a manuscript helps to track progress and to have ideas boiling in the cerebral cauldron. I want to play more with the idea of gamebook poetry, to use the tools given by text treatment software to a broader extent, and just to read more, write more and submit more!

The Manual is available now.

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Poetry Review: Martin Grey – The Pretty Boys of Gangster Town (Fly on the Wall Press)

Martin is an experienced and active Nottingham based poet and event organiser who performs extensively across the Midlands, the Edinburgh Fringe and Berlin, winning the 2018 Southwell Folk Festival Slam.

He has supported several nationally renowned poets, including Jess Green and Dominic Berry.

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In Bones, Grey writes, ‘Held hushed by her helplessness and the fear on her breath’. This is an evocative image that transports me, without hesitation, to a world I remember well from a previous life. This is truth. A tale of desperation, modern Britain one might say – ‘I don’t know how to be alone with her in the street-lit stillness’. Indeed, this poem makes me think about the shame of charity, ‘protect me from/ her pain and protect her from the cracks we let her fall/ through’.

Reading on then, Fish, Chips, Bread and Butter and a Cigarette – the first thing to note is the shape of the poem on the page and I cannot help but ask, what does it add? I hold that it endows the poem with something of a metronome, in that the text synchronises with breathing, in then out. With, ‘In my still-warm fish I’d taste his story’, Grey conjures up the everyday, and by extension, the everyman. This is deceptively simple. So many readers will be familiar with the bus-rides, the cinema visits. This could perhaps be described as an example of blue-collar poetry.

I Should Have Said Something makes for particularly painful reading. Questions are asked of us all, are we merely passive observers, or actors? It is said that the ‘only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing’ and this is encapsulated with the resigned eyes of the poet-speaker. What can we do? Rather, how can I make a difference now? Readers are vociferously compelled to step up to the plate and act – perhaps owing to the guilt that I carry personally, the final line, ‘I said nothing’ stings like hell.

If I can segue into the poem Focus, I will draw your attention to the line, ‘I’ll make a cup of tea first. Then I’ll focus.’ This is another intelligent poem, and the poet employs a more prosaic form, which expands on the theme at the centre, the meandering mind, ‘Does anyone like their kneecaps?’ – ‘I bet my housemate forgot to wash up again.’ Underlying this, is a darkness – fuelled by guilt and self-doubt and it bubbles to the surface intermittently throughout. This guilt is less concerned with the non-actions of the passive observer and more a sexual encounter, ‘I probably shouldn’t have kissed her […] she must have felt like she was trapped’.

Dancefloor stands out to me, for it speaks directly to men of a certain age, for whom music was everything. There is a nostalgia to be found in, ‘we’d always remember/ how to hit every note/ when we strum the air’, and this is advanced by the repeated wish that ‘Dave was here’. A poem about the unattainable then, that takes me to a simpler place and time, that brings forward the ghosts of lost friends. In short, this poem is incredibly powerful and evocative for a man like me.

In Museum, the ‘talk in depth about yesterdays’ continues and I am struck by the lines ‘in my bright rooms of empty displays/ I build your legacies on sorrow’. Time is important throughout this collection, but never more so than here where the text is concerned with, ‘yesterdays’, ‘tomorrow’, ‘future plans’ and ‘eternal spin’. I think it is particularly interesting how the poet uses the idea of the museum and all those connotations, ideas of preservation and our relationship with history and historiography. This is in no way accidental.

While Grey’s poetry is often lacking in lyricism, it retains a sense of character. This poetry, I feel, draws us closer to the poet, through memory and meagre flourishes – much like when a television detective shines a high-powered torch on a dark crime scene – Grey ensures that we only ever see what we need to, he gives us the focus he bemoans that he is lacking. In doing this, the poet’s words carry much more weight. This is poetry without frill, rather an enormous amount of skill.  

The collection is available here.

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Poetry Review: Lydia Unsworth – Yield (Knives Forks And Spoons Press)

Lydia Unsworth is the author of two collections of poetry: Certain Manoeuvres (KFS, 2018) and Nostalgia for Bodies (Winner, 2018 Erbacce Poetry Prize), and two chapbooks. Her latest chapbook will be released by KFS Press in 2020. Recent work can be found in Ambit, para.text, Tears in the Fence, Banshee, Blackbox Manifold and others. Manchester / Amsterdam. Twitter: @lydiowanie

The collection begins with Outer Play – a prose poem, where the language does not exactly excite, but is incredibly effective. Unsworth writes of ‘day-to-day demands’, ‘rustling newspapers’ and ‘nameless patches of housewear’. Consider the semantic field of the everyday on show here – curtain/mirror/bedroom/cupboard/coats/home and compare that to the title of the poems and this throws up a juxtaposition of sorts. What this poem says about the collection that follows is telling, they are not esoteric texts, but they are intelligent and purposeful.

'Yield' by Lydia Unsworth (40 pages)

Beget Each Other is perhaps more poetic, ‘don’t tell the gods I left a mess, tell them to send more clothes’ and ‘We’re growing faster than wild roses’ show a different side of the writer. One that has a philosophical edge and a raw beauty, ‘It teaches us about… a life in time, about letting oneself go.’

In Quiet Ambition and Strengthen Spine, there appears to be a blending of the poet’s own voice and that of the poet speaker, ‘I want to want nothing’. This poem signals a rejection, of sorts, of societal expectations/external demands; although it ends with that dangerous feeling of hope that we can ‘go on being beautiful’.

Untangle seems to tackle, more overtly, the theme of womanhood that has bubbled just below the surface of these poems to this point, ‘This is not the average time it takes a/ person of my age to get their body off the floor.’ Gradually, the poems become more concerned with femininity, or rather the poet becomes less interested in tiptoeing about the issue. In Much Talk we have the killer lines, ‘No one else could make me sadder than a line of you’, and ‘If you drop your/ wife in a car park, spin her round three times, and make a run for it’. Weighty topics handled with genuine courage and humour.

In Seasoning, Unsworth offers witty and valuable life advice, ‘Take what you need, not what you want’. The poet’s attention here turns to body image and which could be said to continue the thread of femininity. This is something which appears to be at the centre of Goat, which states that, ‘It is only because I have a body that I am seen’.   

As concerned as Unsworth is with issues of femininity, sexuality and body image, her poems also deal with environmental issues, ‘Stay empty or/ you will be rendered so: stripped of atmosphere, bland as punishment.’ – ‘We’re pitching our tent and leaving no trace by the/ side of the water.’; and consumer culture, ‘Fashions change’ – ‘Plastic-wrapped humps of landfill sprout parks’. In Yield, Unsworth shows herself, repeatedly, to be a poet with a conscience and a sharp eye, able to focus on the foibles of society in a way that engages rather than preaches, while at the same time she offers up introspective work. It is perhaps her blunt honesty, and diffident wit that gives her work its authenticity. Unsworth is an exciting voice that deserves your attention.

Yield is available here.

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Poetry Review: Serge Neptune – These Queer Merboys (Broken Sleep Books)

Serge   Neptune is a London-based merman, poet, and translator. He is a former Faber Academy student and his work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Lighthouse, Banshee, Brittle Star, Ink Sweat & Tears and Strange Poetry.

These Queer Merboys by Serge Neptune is a poetry collection swept in by the tide, that surprises with beautiful and striking imagery right from the off, ‘the sky is a ceiling of white paper cuts’.

What I find most affecting about this hoard of poems is the how they are brimming with the writer’s honesty and bravery, perhaps most evident in the title poem, which puts forward the truth that, ‘bodies have uses   other than swimming/ if caught in fishnets   things could happen’.

One assumes that there is no more a positive assurance in this text than, ‘the scars left were many and they burned for days’. The themes of sexuality and maturation are at the forefront of everything the poet does here. However, they are handled carefully throughout, ‘When we come of age, she imposed on us the burden of beauty’ – which is only furthered by, ‘freedom made them rainbow-feathered birds/ that leap from rose to lily without a care.’

As a whole, the poems serve as a extended metaphor for the difficulties surrounding sexuality. Indeed, these mermen come forth from the water to the land as those in the LGBTQIA+ community come forth from the shadows into the light. It is then, a display of courage and strength and calls to question non-believers and oppressors. As an ally, I felt a severe discomfort reading the line, ‘The telly blasting SINNERS! SINNERS!’

This collection delivers as a piece of social commentary as much as it does as a piece of art in its own right. I am personally drawn to art which has depth and encourages us to think about our actions in the contingent world. Consider the plight of those too afraid to be honest with themselves and the world for fear of the consequences portrayed in Last time my Lover came Inside me, ‘And the wife had warned him/ about the meremen that crept below the tide’ and those portrayed in Melusine Boys, ‘The bankmen, the office workers,/ doctors & lawyers/ have kissed their kids goodnight & come to find us.’

These poems then, pertain to the ongoing pains of attempted co-existence and the struggle for acceptance, and they do all this with a silky craftsmanship.

The book is available here.

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