Featuring eight stories, 14 poems, one piece of non-ction & two interviews—with author Sjón & poet Zaffar Kunial
Structo is a uk-based independent literary magazine. It is published twice a year, operates on a not-for-prot basis and receives no grant funding. Submissions information, as well as subscription and stockist details, can be found at our website. issn: 2044-8244 (print) & 2044-8252 (digital) editor/designer: Euan Monaghan fiction editor: Keir Pratt poetry editor: Matthew Landrum copy editor: Elaine Monaghan proofreader: Heather Stallard editorial team: Will Burns, Dave Schoeld, Stephen Beechinor, Claire Hunter and Matt Cook Structo is set in Perpetua and Univers lt Std, and is printed with biodegradable inks on fsc paper by Calverts, a worker co-operative based in London. Unless otherwise specied, all content is protected by a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 uk: England & Wales licence. Nothing in this licence impairs or restricts the individual author’s moral rights. The photos used for the cover and endpapers were taken by Richard PJ Lambert, and released under a cc by 2.0 licence. This issue was powered by Sunn O))), damson gin and Pure Heroine.
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Broadcast of the Foxes
The End of the Weekend
Introduction to the Faber New Poets
from Empty Words
Spring Dawn On Mad Mile
Structo talks to Zaffar Kunial
Erin Morgan Gilbert
October 23, Celeriac
Tying the Knot
Dismantling the Cot
The Middle Way
from Nirat Phra Baht (trans. from the
Thai as ‘Part & Cross’ by Noh Anothai)
Structo talks to Sjón
diting a magazine is not always fun and games. Sometimes, when I’ve had enough of chasing invoices or wrestling software, I pull up on screen something that we are about to publish: a piece of writing so new that it’s not yet been committed to paper. Something only a few people have seen. And the excitement returns. I remember why I’m doing this— it’s because I want to share this feeling of excitement with the whole world. The writing we publish is really good. And it’s not just the writing that arrives during our submission windows. The folks at Faber have been kind enough to let us reprint poems from the latest batch of their Faber New Poets pamphlet series, including one by our very own Will Burns. Will chats with fellow-awardee Zaffar Kunial on the pages following this selection; it’s a fascinating and amusing dialogue about the art and craft of poetry from two of the uk’s most promising poets. Our main interview this time is with Sjón. Iceland is a country of stories and storytelling, and it was a joy to talk to the novelist about the landscape of his native country, about its folk tales and about his formative encounters with punk and the Surrealists. Sjón is also President of Icelandic pen, and although our conversation took place last year, his thoughts about the dangers of self-censorship are even more relevant today. Our ction editor Keir Pratt is taking a break from his regular column this issue. In its place we feature a piece of creative non-ction by Gary Budden. We’ve been following Gary’s writing for ages, so it was great to nally get some of it in the magazine. Finally, we say goodbye this issue to long-time staffer Tim Leng. We’ll miss you, Tim! But at the same time we say hello again to erstwhile staffer Matt Cook. Tim actually took over from Matt back in 2011, so the two of them might be operating some kind of tag-team system. Who knows. — Euan Monaghan
itting to write this preface, I found myself ipping back and forth through the poems looking for a common thread or denominator, somewhere to begin. It isn’t easy this round. They cover a wide swath of topics—high-tension lines and root vegetables, binding knots and letting go after a death, the weather outside and the nerves within the body. There are poems of color and collecting, place and displacement, language and time. And a bird poem has itted its way into Structo once again. Though they defy grouping by topic, the poems show a mastery of language that is at once a crafted control and a poetic letting go. Language leaps into itself through linguistic pirouettes and sonic pleasances. The muse comes, as Willa Carroll requests in ‘Appeal,’ to blow holes in vowels, / bum-rush the voice-box of larynx, / mouth-off consonants explosive, / sibilant, trilled…. Words are worth a thousand pictures when Karen Skoleld basks in colors: Brown and cream of it / made the world, the simple shapes / that line the path and might be trees…. And in ‘Dismantling the Cot,’ Philip Miller’s controlled language of mechanical task gives way to emotion at a close that opens up a future of acceptance, grief, and the specter of loss: Now in the night, no cries or calls for help, no tiny upturned palms, / just footsteps, a life of yearning, and the search for warmth in the dark. And there is so much more. This is issue 13, and I’ve thought more than once about superstitions surrounding that unlucky number. But these poems are proof against any hokum or mumbo-jumbo. What could be luckier than the chance to share this work with our readers? — Matthew Landrum
Appeal by Willa Carroll Muse, I’m all metal string, no strummer. All radio, no dial. Minus your juice, I go slack. Glitter these cells, volt brain to tongue. Amplify this body, vibrating habitat. Loose vector, hijacker of synapse, come blow holes in vowels, bum-rush the voice-box of larynx, mouth-off consonants explosive, sibilant, trilled—come show face, break strike, take back the mother-loaded, motherfucking night. Muse, I’m your zero, tank of no volume. Lend your glint, crank nervous circuits, recruit all seventy-two muscles of voice, neurons ring in chorus.
Nomads by Daniel Bennett And I have been a collector of stones: a thief of a place’s essence, hoarding pebbles selected from the sea’s edge. A disk of blue slate picked from the scree beside a turquoise lake. Limestone mudlarked from a Thames beach. A cube of chalk from a Spanish quarry walked to with my pregnant wife under a galactic sun, all of these trophies orbiting a passage through the world. Green jasper gleaming under resin. Oolite. Mica. Quartz shards. ‘A sky like a cross section of cracked opal…’ A chip of fudge-coloured int handed to me by my daughter only three years old and she possessed a look of such serious intent that I keep it in my pocket my ngertips wearing down the recesses that the sea once shaped. Always moving, not travelling. Stones rattling around a corner of a suitcase. A rock at the river’s centre the water peeling past spurning it, owing inevitably away.
Broadcast of the Foxes by David Hartley The fox has made a nest in your satellite dish and feasts on your children’s ngers. You can’t get a good signal. You can’t watch your favourite programmes. You can’t keep up with the news. The fox, still hungry, lifts his mighty wings, spreads his crackling feathers through a ripple of reds and greens, then splits himself into a million tiny pieces, like a rework of fur. Scattered, he seeps through the mortar of your house, seeks pathways in the cracks in bricks, nds damp to bathe in and mould to lick. But when he nds a rip in the wallpaper he peers through and he watches you. He watches you think. He watches your thoughts. He watches you cross the room. He watches you pick up the phone. He watches you shout into the receiver. ‘999,’ you shout. ‘999. I need the newspapers. 999. Tell the newspapers.’ The phone is dead. The fox chewed through the wire three days ago. He has eaten your children’s ngers. Upstairs, your children are crying. Your signal is intermittent. You cannot watch Great British Bake-Off. ‘999,’ you shout, ‘999.’ There is no-one there to hear you. The sun slips away as if scared. Twilight creeps out and reclaims the world. The fox rises from your bricks and reforms. He is still hungry. He leaves one eye behind to keep watch and stalks the streets for esh. He is nightame. Every step of his paw is another pothole, every swish of his paintbrush tail leaves a tag across shutters and walls. His stare beheads owers, his bark topples bins, his claws awaken every sleeper to sweats and shivers. He is your every complaint, your every inconvenience. He is your shame and your shadow. He is your simmering rage. You’ve stayed up late. You’ve given up with the phone, no answer. You’ve shut out the wails of the children and you’ve sat down to write a letter. Your anger swirls like lava. You grip the pen like a talisman. You carve the words so deep into the paper they will never escape.
The fox hears your scritching, hears your scratching. He hears every letter you etch. The message amuses him. He forgets his empty belly. He turns tail, heads for home. 999, you write, 999. Police? I need the newspapers. No-one will help me. Noone cares about me. 999. I need the newspapers. Get me the newspapers. His teeth shine in the moonlight. Your children pick at their wounds and sob. Your signal is weak. You’ve missed Downton Abbey. 999, you write, 9999999999999. You post the letter through your own letterbox, backwards. It lands upon the soggy pile on your doorstep. It will never be read. The fox has found a vixen. He has brought her to your home and they copulate in your satellite dish. They suck the last bits of esh off the bones of your children’s ngers. They watch you while you sleep. They snigger every time you squirm. The fox likes you. The fox nds you amusing and he feels sorry for you. You made tasty children and he promises not to eat too much more of them. A few toes perhaps, maybe an eyeball. And the vixen might need an arm to chew on, but just one. He likes you. He will tip the balance in your favour. He will keep you going for as long as he can. He will not make it easy for the others. The weather is on shufe. It burns hot one hour, spits hail the next. It rages through a storm and then settles to stillness. Each shift adjusts like a valve in your brain and you pop awake and fume your way back to halfsleep. You didn’t see the forecast. You don’t know if this was predicted. You missed the news. The fox and vixen don’t feel weather. Nothing disturbs their hunger, nor their licking of the bones. Nothing stops their barks and giggles, nothing distracts, nothing shames. The fox knows he nearly has you. The fox knows the time draws close. You wake and illuminate your face with your phone. You open metro. co.uk. You nd a comments box and press for the pop-up of the keyboard. 999, you type, 999. I need yous to help. I have a story. bring ur newspaper 2 me. 34 albion street. plz come now. police wont help. 999. i need the newspapers. plz help The fox impregnates the vixen. Your children bleed over the bedsheets and weep themselves to sleep.
There is no signal. The comment fails to post. You watch the buffer circle spin and spin until the phone blinks out and dies. The day breaks. The fox feels the morning crack awake like a sudden whip and he knows it is time. He knows the day has arrived. Phone, letter, internet. Your options are gone. There is nothing left. There is one thing left. The fox watches the tiny muscles of your face and reads your thoughts. They are as slow as lazy clouds, but clear. There is nothing left, there is one thing left. You stare out of the window. The day is here, the moment has come. The vixen slips through the oorboards. She spirits along woodgrain and nds your children’s bedroom. It stinks of gangrene, but she doesn’t mind. She will tend to them, look after them, she will resist the hunger in her belly. She likes your children, she means them no harm. You stare out of windows. You stare out of every window. You move from room to room, from window to window. The fox follows, your shadow, your ghost. He blows and blows at the walls, wills them to fall, urges you to make the move, screams at you to go. You stare out of windows. It looks cold outside. The fox leaps and lands on your back. He wraps his tail around your neck like a scarf and breathes hot breath across your cheeks. His heart thumps against the back of your head and the warmth washes through you like steam. You break out into a sweat. You open the window. You put a hand out and feel the air. It wants you, you think. It wants to take you out. You climb out of the window and emerge onto the street. The fox unravels and leaps to the roof, his heart like the pulse from a frantic star, his tail as alive as a newborn bonre. He leaps from spot to spot like cctv, every image showing you as you shufe down your street. You look at your neighbourhood. No-one around. No-one out to play. Mess everywhere. Fox shit, bird shit, teenage litter. Firebombed cars, shattered windows, gardens overgrown with strangle-weeds and ribcages. The sky is a sickening red, the clouds look ready for war. Everything is silent, nothing moves, everything waits, except you. You march and march, toes wrinkle in the mush, and you reach the main road at the end of the street. You look left, you look right. No cars,
no life, no nothing. Except one thing. A fox. Mangy looking. Sitting on top of trafc light stuck on red. It’s watching you. It’s grinning, you think. You take a deep breath and hold it. Every hair on the fox’s body rises. His tail stops. His claws ex. He is ready. He is your every grievance. Your every irritation. He is your shame and your shadow. He is your simmering rage. You are standing at the end of your street at the end of your time, naked, freezing, sweating and angry. You open your mouth and the stench of the world rushes in. ‘999,’ you shout, ‘999. I need the newspapers. Bring the newspapers. I need to tell my story. I need help. 999! Tell the newspapers.’ Across the land, the foxes hear your broadcast. Your fox barks and receives a thousand barks in echo. Your signal was strong. You don’t understand. How long will you survive? ‘999,’ you whisper. The foxes are coming. The hunt is on.
Zoological Catalogue by Nat Newman She’s restless. Feathers rustle. Restless. Another day cooped up inside. Nothing done and nothing doing. ‘Fuck it!’ – and she’s in her room tossing clothes out of her wardrobe onto the bed. A pair of low-slung pinstripe pants and a collared polyester paisley shirt. Why not be outrageous? A blue wig and some heels and she’s out the door. At the end of the street she makes a left. Start down the east end and see where you end up at 4 a.m. That’s the old route, what they always used to do. ‘Let’s do it!’ – and she’s heading east. Alone, looking crazy, feeling crazy, with a knife in her purse. ‘Are you packing?’ he used to ask her, back in the old days, before they’d go out. And if she wasn’t he’d give her one of his own knives. But she’s always packing now. Right now, she’s packing, and if you could see her walking down the street – I don’t know, maybe you can – if you could see her walking you might even say that she’s strutting. There’s a lousy nightclub in the east end. A good place to start. Cheap drinks, loud music, lots of sweaty bodies. Lousy with pop kids popping pills. Lousy with bartender chicks with low cut tops and abnormally large breasts. Something in the air, down there, in the east end; all of these beautiful people in beautiful clothes, with perfect faces and bones so sharp you think maybe you could get sliced if you rubbed too close. Just lousy with them. She liked that word. Lousy. ‘Lousy!’ – and the bouncer stares at her but lets her go by. ‘Lousy,’ and she’s walking down the stairs into the crush. Music makes their hearts pump and their glands pulse. Sweat pools in puddles and makes the walls slimy. She slides between lubricated dancers, feels her shirt dampen with other people’s sweat. She closes her eyes and feels her way through the heat for somewhere cooler. The beats beat her brain. I’m in bed with everyone, she thinks. The bodies writhe and she is in a pit of snakes. But they have no teeth, these snakes; they’re worms. She is a worm, too. Blind in the dirt she wraps herself around other worms. The worms are squirming together and it’s warm and dirty and dark and she has eyes in neither end of her body, and both ends are her head. The head on the oor is having
its ears stepped on, and the head in the air is having its ear breathed into. She opens her blind eyes and wipes the dirt off her face. There is another worm wrapped around her; a purple and blue worm with yellow dirt on its head. ‘Worm, squirm, worm, worm!’ – and she squirms out of the worm pit and onto the street. The air is cool and the streetlights feel natural after the strobe and uorescence of the worm farm. Down the street there is a pub where she can sit and have a beer. An older crowd. Reptiles. Lizards. ‘Lizard lounge bar!’ – and the bartender looks confused. She blinks at him, four eyelids closing over yellow eyes. She extends an arm out into the sun and is warmed by a cold glass. Everywhere is crowded; no rock for her to sun herself on, alone. She stays at the bar, listening to the clicks and noises around her. There is a lizard leaning against the bar, next to her. He leans sideways, so he can look at her out of his left eye then turns and looks at her front on; but he has no eyes in the front of his head. He icks his tongue out and catches a y. He has moved on and so has she. There’s no sun where she is. Down the street again, heading west. He used to bounce at a pub down here. The next pub along. A glass pub on a corner. She looks in and the goldsh look out at her. But their three seconds are up and they look back at their beers. She’s close to home again, but it’s not home time yet. A tiny little tucked-away place is just here somewhere, if she can nd it. There’s the front door, and she’s in the birdcage. She walks amongst them, slowly, smelling the sawdust and piss. They are so free, in their cage. ‘Squawk! Squawk!’ – and she ies away and everyone pretends not to notice. She’s strutting down the road; it’s been a grand night so far. Monkeys are further down this way, she thinks. And gorillas and chimps and apes. But she doesn’t like the primates: they look too much like humans. And further still are the big cats. The jaguars. He always liked this end. Always need to be packing, down there in the jungle. Go in for trouble head on. They might be animals, but honey, you and me – we’re men. Restless again. She slows down. The strut has gone. Maybe I should go home, she thinks. Alone. Again and again. The bed is bare. Even she doesn’t sleep in it anymore. Too busy falling asleep in front of the television, watching thirty-minute ads for the all-purpose-all-muscle-all-foldaway-all-yourcash exercise machine. No longer an animal: a vegetable.
The air is cool and she is awake. She goes up to the park on the hill. A bare table is illuminated on one half by the half moon; the other half in the shadow of a tree. She perches in the dark and looks over the city. ‘Hoot,’ – but she doesn’t feel very wise. Just alone and wide-eyed. The city beneath her looks alone and wide-eyed. ‘Hoot,’ she hears, but it wasn’t her. ‘Hoot,’ again, and she looks around her. Perched on a table a few metres to her right there is another owl. He doesn’t look at her, but at the valley below them. ‘Hoot,’ he calls out to the city, but it doesn’t answer. ‘Hoot,’ she calls out to the city, and she thinks that maybe she can hear an answer in the trafc and the trains and the boats. ‘Hoot,’ she calls out again, and this time there is an answer. Next to her, a rustling of feathers and he is sitting next to her. She looks at him, and he looks at her. She takes his hand, and she knows he’s not packing. They look out over the city. ‘Hoot,’ they call out. ‘Hoot, hoot, hoot,’ into the night, until the morning.
Safari Hours by Annette Volfing Seven is silver neither hot nor cold the earth a single grove that holds its breath at nine from grey to green you feel the ache of elephant and back again to dust at one it’s chardonnay the river blank and scaled to crocodile the air wraps tight at four there’s cake at six it’s g & t at eight a loitering pad they prowl and stare you wish that he’d drive faster then there’s food and upmanship and candles lit and joy and broken civet dreams and sweat and drums by six your gaze curves like a pudding bowl that’s tilted low and dun but open wide to carmine light to sausage tree to sky
Ten Seconds by Rebecca Hattersley We watched the clock, aware of the unremarkable pockets in our day the same as my granddad did in the home with the dead heads on living stems, crispy leaves on the windowsill and carpet below. The clock embarrassed us. We should have been outside, nibbling the foam from the belly of a jelly crocodile and self-harming black tights. Not sat in an empty classroom. My granddad befriended the clock. Its shaky hands amused him. They counted together and sometimes my granddad would get ahead and wait for the clock to catch back up. The old folk bored him. Ten seconds changed everything. I was preoccupied with a pomegranate, hands crimson. We ate fruit in public. Proper oranges and ddly fruit that suggested a healthy girl with overlooked girlfriend potential and who just needed to do a bit more exercise. We took inspiration from a pretty university student who worked in the coolest café in town. She was plump but forgivably so because she ate shiny green apples. The Boy sucked each of my ngers in turn, one second per nger. I let them dry and sniffed them all afternoon. Friends stood in line and had their hair playfully mussed. He said my hair was soft like he was surprised. The shampoo was yellow and came in a yellow bottle. It smelled like banana, only sweeter. The Lubricious were the rst girls to use the banana shampoo. We copied them because we wanted to be them. We continued to copy them even when being them was no longer something. Even now, when buying shampoo, I think back to the yellow shampoo and how using it in the evening made tomorrow hopeful. Our knees became the topic of conversation in the corridor, imperfect in knee socks. Our bodies had gotten lazy, recumbent with the buttered lid of a bread bap dangling above lips. We ate simple carbohydrates in private, legs heavy and ajar, like the sculptor’s bronze giants in the gallery we visited by coach on a Wednesday in June. We tugged down our skirts but this only heightened curiosity as to the mechanics of our thighs. Our hinges were stiff. The Boy silenced the other boys and listened to us creak as we walked. After the nger-sucking incident, I stopped blotting the shine from my nose with powder-coated sheets. I had read an article in a Sunday supplement about facial symmetry. Perfection was questionable. I had been dusting around a pile of magazines in the hotel where I worked. I
looked forward to dusting around the magazines because it was the last job before going home. The matt effect had been my attempt to blur my centre line, but the article stated it was a fruitless task because a symmetrical face actually resulted in a less attractive face. The photographs of three people had been included as supporting evidence. They looked peculiar in the before and more peculiar in the after. They had purposely used peculiar looking people so that when their peculiarity was mirrored it made for an undeniably peculiar looking person with no room for subjectivity, and you concluded that, yes, symmetry is not something to covet. We are not geometric shapes but squidgy human beings with irregularities. I think many people felt better about themselves after reading that Sunday supplement and transferred the shift towards quirky to other areas of their appearance, asymmetrical haircuts and dungarees with one strap undone, for example. The Lubricious were declared symmetrical. They opened too readily, their hinges greased with baby oil before weekly netball. Immediacy had exhausted its click, thumb and nger sweaty. The clicking was comparable to a ticking clock. It was just a matter of time before someone took the batteries out and attempted to lengthen the in and out breath of the world. People practised their breathing on the bus or in the toilet at work before a meeting, resisting the urge to tense their bottom and stomach. People were breathing properly for the rst time. People were breathing because of us. That felt like something. The clock was taken off the wall in the home. My granddad passed. We stepped up as contenders, raised a hesitant st to the sky and pinched our generous esh for the crowd. They didn’t take our photo. Someone smashed a cricket ball at us and we ducked. We assumed it was a vengeful Lubricious but it wasn’t. It was a kid in the year below. Breathing was taking over his life, he said, and everywhere he went he was thinking about his breathing and trying to improve its quality. Some people are so competitive. I suggested he picture a square, inhale and imagine that inhale moving up the left side of the square, the exhale across the top, inhale down the right and exhale along the bottom. And repeat, gradually increasing the size of the square. The next day he jogged up to me and said he was feeling more positive about the quality of his breath. My exhale was ten seconds! That’s good, right? He was asking my opinion. I counted ten seconds and was surprised how long it felt. I nodded. I didn’t bother to mention that he was actually drawing a rectangle with his breath, given his exhale exceeded his inhale. The Lubricious requested a sympathetic review, claiming they were as
irregular, or regular, as the rest of us, and that when they got on their backs and opened their legs, one knee would always hit the ground rst, proving they were not equally weighted and that their hinges were compromised. They sat there, hands in lap, smiling beatically. It was no use: they were wearing skimpy black panties, not even so much as a white bow. Afterwards, they climbed into big cars and I wondered if I would see them again. I felt sympathy for all but the girl with the purple car. Her dad had bought the car with his daughter’s popularity in mind. That’s how perceptive he was. Her mother was called Cindy. Cindy’s parents had named their daughter Cindy knowing that one day Cindy would have a child of her own and that child would succeed in life because her mum was called Cindy. I just couldn’t get my head around how a family had mapped out a seamless adolescence for one girl and that it was as simple as the colour of a car and a parental name. But I think what annoyed me the most was that I could totally see how a purple car and a mother called Cindy were powerful tools for a teenager and why hadn’t my own parents and grandparents thought of it. It took me all of ten seconds to work it out. I counted ten seconds and was surprised how short it felt. My child is fortunate. When she is older I will buy a car in a fashionable colour and collect her from school in it. Never will she watch a clock waiting for those ten seconds to arrive. She will be blissfully unaware that those shaky hands ever even existed.
The Sound by Pablo Otavalo beneath hightension power lines like swarms of electric wasps, like aluminum foil against your molars: milkweed, cowslips, prairie phlox, primrose, clover and crocus condense at the edge of wild grass as evening slips of light through branches of oaks tint mandarin evenly spaced houses curling into cul-de-sacs, even as the permanent dawn of distant cities upholds the stubborn conviction of standing still beneath shifting stars, even as the power plant furloughs night staff despite demand, even as dropouts down whip-its & hurl empties into the street, even as your belly aches, the hum cradles your body to electric sleep.
The End of the Weekend by David McVey We went to Rothesay at the May weekend with the Junior bb. We stayed at the Co-operative Holiday Camp. It was brilliant; we slept in chalets and played football and went for walks and climbed a hill where you got above the trees and looked down on a bay where there was a big yacht anchored. ‘It’s like something fae You Only Live Twice!’ said Davie McLean, and it was. You wanted to dive into the bay from a cliff and climb aboard the yacht and shoot the baddie. But we just followed the leaders back to the camp through the golf course and then played football. We were the 233rd Glasgow Company but we always went away with the 109th and 239th so that there were loads of us and it was great. The leaders made sure we washed ourselves but the place didn’t have normal baths – you went to a wee hut where there were showers! I’d not had one of them before. They were great fun, not like sitting in a bath. On the Sunday we went to church and then had bread and jam and fruit and later we got the ferry back to Wemyss Bay. In the lounge downstairs we sang songs for the other passengers and they clapped us and asked ‘Sing us wan ay yer ain songs, boys!’ So we sang the song that we always sang when the three companies went away; it was dead simple, just: We are the 109 233 and 239 to an old hymn tune we knew from church parades. We were still singing it when we got off the boat and it sounded great under the station roof at Wemyss Bay so we decided to sing it again when we got to Glasgow Central. The train went alongside a big fast road for part of the way and we left all the cars behind so we waved at the drivers and laughed at them until the leaders told us to shush. When the train pulled in at Central we all piled onto the platform and began to sing: We are the 109 233 and 239 It echoed back at us big and deep so’s nobody could hear anything else; just for a minute there was nobody there but us, our song lling the big station. That was the end of the weekend. We got to the end of the platform and there were loads of parents wait
ing to collect people. They’d all had a letter from our Skip telling them when we’d be back and which train we’d be coming off. Saying cheerio to me, Davie McLean added, ‘That was brilliant! See ye at school on Tuesday!’ I looked about for Mum and for her boyfriend Charlie who lived with us. But there was no sign of them. The group of boys and families got smaller and smaller and I got tired so I put my wee green suitcase down on the oor and sat on it to wait. I couldn’t see the leaders who’d taken us back on the train. The last few people went away, the parents giving me funny looks as they went and I was left sitting there on my suitcase in the middle of the station. There were lots of people about even though it was Sunday and some drunk men with bottles were arguing nearby. I watched the men up behind the glass screens putting up the wooden boards that told you where trains were going: Cathcart Circle, Ayr, London (Euston), Carlisle, Motherwell. A man’s voice would come over the loudspeakers telling people that a train was leaving for Blackpool or Stranraer or Largs, and then it all went quiet again. Some big boys and girls went past on either side of me, laughing; by now the drunk men had staggered away. I looked at the clock; I’d been waiting on my own for twenty minutes. I wondered about getting a bus. The one that went by our house and came nearest to Central was the 58, but I remembered I’d no money left. I saw a policeman, tall and thin and wearing his at cap with the brim and the black and white pattern. That’s what they told us to do in school if we were lost; go to a policeman and ask for help. Well, I wasn’t lost but I needed help so I walked over to him and he stopped and looked down at me. ‘What’s like the matter wi’ you, son?’ He had a big deep voice for somebody so thin. ‘I cannae get hame, mister. Naebody’s came for me.’ He asked me how I’d got here and I told him about the bb weekend and coming back on the train and neither Mum nor Charlie being there waiting for me. ‘Ah – so that was you lot singing away earlier on? Whit a racket, eh? We’ll want a word wi’ those leaders o’ yours for going away before you’d all been picked up. Dae ye know yer address, son?’ I did. I told him. ‘Dennistoun, eh? And ye don’t have a phone in the house, I suppose?’ ‘Naw, mister.’ ‘You just wait there, son.’ I sat back down on my suitcase and watched as he walked over, with his
hands behind his back like a policeman on the telly, to a ticket inspector at the end of the platform. He spoke with the man for a wee while then came back over to me. ‘C’moan, son. Let’s get ye home. Ye’ll be starving, I bet ye?’ He picked up my suitcase and led me to a door below the windows where the men were moving the boards about. We were in a dark lobby and then he opened another door and it was suddenly warm and there were three other policemen sitting eating rolls and drinking coffee and smoking and listening to Radio 1. ‘Who’s this? A master criminal?’ said one of them. ‘Just a laddie we have to get home,’ said the rst policeman, ‘Jackie, will you nip along to the buffet and get a couple o’ sandwiches for him?’ ‘Aye, nae bother,’ said another policeman who nished off his coffee and, with a wink to me, disappeared out the way we’d come in. ‘We’ll need to radio a car to go to this yin’s mother’s house,’ said the rst policeman, and then moved much closer to the other two men and spoke much quieter so that I couldn’t make everything out. ‘Away on a bb weekend… never turned up… fancy man… dunno where…’ The rst policeman and one of the others then left and the other one chatted to me about the weekend and football and the bbs until the one who’d gone to buy sandwiches came back with a couple of bottles of ginger and a ham and tomato sandwich. It was on brown bread but I was really hungry by now and I ate it really quick and then one of the policemen threw me an apple. I polished it on my jumper and ate it too. I began drinking the ginger and one of them said, ‘You can fair stack it away, son!’ I think I must have been there about an hour when the door opened and the rst policemen came in followed by Charlie. Charlie had a fag in the corner of his mouth and his Brylcreemed hair drooped, greasing his collar, the way it always did. He grinned and said, ‘How’s it gaun, china?’ ‘I’m all right.’ I said. ‘Aye, he’s been ne,’ said one of the seated policemen, ‘Been eating British Transport Police out of house and home.’ ‘Just before you take Andrew home,’ said the rst policeman, ‘could I have a word with you in private, Mr Ferns?’ Charlie looked surprised at this but followed the policeman into another room that opened off the lobby. When they came back out a few minutes later, Charlie wasn’t smiling like he had been. ‘C’moan,’ he said to me, jerking his head towards the door, ‘Let’s be getting hame.’ The policemen all shouted their cheerios to me and one of them shoved
a Kit-Kat into my hand as we went out. Charlie said nothing as we hurried through the station towards the 58 bus stop. When we got there, I asked, ‘Why were ye no’ there when my train got in?’ ‘We did go there,’ he said, lighting another fag, ‘but we had the wrong times. Ye werenae on the train we met.’ ‘But then ye went hame again?’ ‘Here’s the bus.’ As we rumbled through George Square, I asked Charlie, ‘What were you and Mum doing when ye went back hame?’ He seemed to be about to laugh, but stopped and turned and said, ‘Never you mind. We’ve got ye, now, that’s all that matters.’ When we got in my Mum didn’t say much to me because she was stuck in front of the telly watching Dr Finlay. I went to my room and began to unpack my stuff. The worst thing was that I’d been left on my own in a big railway station and it was Charlie who had got the ride in a police car. That wasn’t fair.
Faber New Poets
e have some very talented writers working at the magazine, and it’s always wonderful when they get recognised as such. Last year we learned that one of our editorial team, Will Burns, had been named as one of four Faber New Poets for 2013–14. Each recipient of the award, sponsored by the publisher Faber & Faber and Arts Council England, received mentoring, nancial support and debut pamphlet publication. These pamphlets were published in the autumn of 2014, and Faber have been kind enough to let us print a poem from each of the four. Will talks to his fellow awardee Zaffar Kunial on the pages immediately following this section. Each of these pamphlets is published by Faber & Faber, and costs a ver. We really can’t recommend them enough.
‘Trinity Hospital’ by Declan Ryan is taken from Faber New Poets 12; ‘ from Empty Words’ by Zaffar Kunial is taken from Faber New Poets 11, and was rst published by The Poetry Review in Vol. 104:3, Autumn 2014; ‘Kingdomland’ by Rachael Allen is taken from Faber New Poets 9; ‘Spring Dawn On Mad Mile’ by Will Burns is taken from Faber New Poets 10. Each poem remains copyright its respective author.
Trinity Hospital by Declan Ryan There was a gunboat on the river when you led me to your new favourite spot: a home for retired sailors; squat, white, stuccoed, with a golden bell. It could have been a lost Greek chapel, a monument to light, designed to remind the old boys of their leave on Ionic shores among tobacco and fruit trees. Just after rain, sunlight stood between us like a whitewashed wall. You were lit skin, gilt and honey, dressed in olive. No paper trail connects us. No procedure of law would tell you where to stand in your sleek black mourning dress if I die but as you turned towards me the golden bell rang to recognise that I, being of sound mind, will be delivered through orange groves to you, the white church of my days.
from Empty Words by Zaffar Kunial Meaning ‘homeland’ – mulk (in Kashmir) – exactly how my son demands milk. * Full-rhyme with Jhelum, the river nearest his home – my father’s ‘realm’. * You can’t put a leaf between written and oral; that rst ‘A’, or alif. * Letters. West to east Mum’s hand would write; Dad’s script goes east to west. Received. * Invader, to some – neither here nor there, with me – our rhododendron. Where migrating geese pause to sleep – somewhere, halfway is this pillow’s crease. *
Here we separate for the rst time, on our walk, at the kissing-gate. * Old English ‘Deor’ – an exile’s lament, the past’s dark, half-opened door. * Yes, I know. Empty. But there’s just something between the p and the t. * At home in Grasmere – thin mountain paths have me back, a boy in Kashmir.
Kingdomland by Rachael Allen At the rise of the moon bells fade out and impassable paths appear. – federico garcía lorca, ‘The Moon Appears’ The dark village sits on the crooked hill. There is a plot of impassable paths towards it, impassable paths overcome with bees, the stigma that bees bring. There is a bottleneck at the base of the hive. There is an impassable knowledge that your eyebrows bring. Beside the poor library and the wicker-man, there’s a man who sells peacock feathers on the roundabout, they scream all night from where they are plucked. The village is slanted, full of tragedies with slate. I am walking towards a level crossing, while someone I love is jogging into the darkness. Come away from there, I am yelling, while the black dog rolls in the twilit yard. Small white socks bob into the dark like teeth in the mouth of a laughing man who walks backwards into night, throwing drinks into the air like a superstitious wife throws salt; we all have our share of certainties. The glass and salt my petulant daughter, the glass and salt my crooked pathway; impassable glass and salt.
Spring Dawn On Mad Mile by Will Burns There is no weather yet to dene the day in those terms. No brightness or structural shadow has revealed the line or esh of anything – the wood, the river, the guest house. You could be dreaming of the curtain and the breeze across your back, of the outdoors, the heat. Or the birdsong that appears to be everywhere, reports upon a sense of the unfamiliar that this hour alone is burdened with. That spreads like leakage, that becomes a drone.
“If ever you get caught between two locked doors, frozen for hours without any socks on, it’s always good to have lines somewhere inside you – for company.”
Structo talks to Zaffar Kunial Zaffar Kunial has been both the most recent Poet-in-Residence at the Wordsworth Trust in Grasmere and a recipient of a place on 2014’s Faber New Poets scheme, which saw the publication of his rst pamphlet-length collection of poems. We met the rst time Faber & Faber brought the four 2014 New Poets together to read, and then spent more time together on tour in October 2014. During that time, we talked about his writing, his ideas and, probably more than we should have, cricket. I was also witness to his incredible powers of poetical recall on numerous occasions, most notably standing over Wordsworth’s grave. We discussed a few of these things in more detail for this short interview, although thankfully we avoided the cricket. — Will Burns
Photo courtesy Faber & Faber
structo: I guess we could start with an easy, and perhaps all too obvious question: how did you rst discover an interest in poetry? kunial: Hmm … not sure. Maybe with some of the things my mum would read or recite before I can remember – one of my favourites was a picture book of The Quangle Wangle’s Hat by Edward Lear. At school I didn’t pay much attention, but the rst poetry book I remember actively reading was something I found at home – my mum’s old copy of The Mersey Sound. It wasn’t till I was at university, studying politics, that I started to buy books of poems. It took me a while to get into literature and books. I was 19 when I read my rst proper novel. structo: What was the novel?
kunial: It was The Buddha of Suburbia by Hanif Kureishi … I thought literature didn’t really speak to me or for me until then – that poem in the Faber pamphlet about looking at Shakespeare’s portrait, ‘The Lyric Eye’, recalls some of my disinterested feelings at school in English classes … Various people kept telling me that Kureishi’s book featured a character who liked The Beatles and had an Indian dad and English mum and that I’d like reading it. I did – and still remember the rst sentence: ‘My name is Karim Amir, and I am an Englishman born and bred, almost.’ I loved that ‘almost’. I then went on to read The Outsider by Camus, again one of my mum’s old paperbacks from college, and loved that too. Since then I’ve bought a ridiculous amount of books. structo: Although I don’t think it’s the major theme of your poems, I’m denitely attracted to the way you explore ideas of family; in particular, the ways in which one’s family affects an individual’s identity. Do you think that’s something you are conscious of? And how do you think that affects a writer’s work in general? kunial: That’s hard to say – it probably depends on the kind of family a writer has. And as Tolstoy famously said, all unhappy families are unhappy in their own unique ways. My parents were very different from each other – not only in terms of language, religion, and so on, but also in things like class and education. For instance, my father didn’t go to school beyond the age of about seven – his school was bombed around then – that age is a guess as he doesn’t know what year he was born in. He’s from a more oral culture that didn’t seem to record or be aware of things like calendar years. His father, who I never met, died of a snakebite, walking barefoot to the river at night to fetch his buffalo some water. Dad had another family, from an arranged marriage with his rst wife. Visiting Dad’s remote village in the hills, with no running water, and the family effectively living off the land and the animals, always felt like going back in time. My mum too was from a small village although she went to grammar school and was bookish when younger and could quote long passages of Shakespeare from memory. There was one small bookshelf in the house which was mostly old books of mum’s – those she’d kept from her college days. She trained to be a French teacher. Dad’s story is that he learned to read English when he arrived in the uk by looking at the letters on shop signs. He worked nights in a factory, making car batteries. My mum was a primary school teacher. As I mention in the last poem in the pamphlet,
they met in a pub in central Birmingham, on a road called Needless Alley. My father would go to the pub every day of the week, and yet we’d go the mosque at Eid and so on – his heavy drinking was something we couldn’t mention. Meanwhile, my Scottish grandmother, who I never met, spent most of her life in an asylum for the mentally ill – she grew up in a pub and was ‘committed’ in the 1950s, to stop her drinking. She was someone we didn’t speak about much. I could go on and on about the various things I was confused or challenged by when young – but what crops up a lot for me is trying to reconcile things that seem very different – or even opposed. I think this theme of reconciling differences, and being in two places at once, crops up in a few ways. I’m often trying to put distanced things ‘on the same page’. Even in poems that have nothing to do with family. So to go back to what you asked about writing – yes, whether it’s about family or other things, perhaps writers are tied to questions or mysteries that are set up for them at quite a young age, long before they’re capable of articulating any answers. structo: That’s a great answer, and I suppose in one sense the idea of a family, rather like a poem, is a way of interrogating how the seemingly opposed two senses of ourselves (one as a single individual and then as a person linked, dependent and depended upon) can be balanced. kunial: Yes, perhaps poems are a kind of balancing act. But I never planned to write about family or selfhood. Or anything really. But as I say I’m often trying to reconcile things in poems, whatever the subject. structo: I also love the linguistic sense of play in your poems. Could you tell me a little bit about your feelings towards that? You’ve said to me before that you’ve always felt unsure around language. I wonder if that sense of uncertainty gives the poems their energy somehow? kunial: Thanks. Yes, I’ve always felt quite tentative and stand-ofsh around language. I was very quiet as a young child – and then later at school had periods where I remember consciously resolving that I wouldn’t say much if I could help it. I also developed a stutter that lasted a couple of years. I think this was a way of checking my speech. A kind of habitual hesitation. Plus there was a sense of sacredness or otherness around words and scripts. Especially those I couldn’t understand, whether in English, or
French, or Arabic, whatever. Books and letters were where truth and power hid. We had a dual-language copy of the Quran wrapped in cloth, kept on a wardrobe – at a respectful distance and height. We also had an old family Bible that was inherited and covered in cloth. I was taught to look up to words. And felt at a remove from them sometimes. The rst ‘poem’ I wrote was in a birthday card for my dad when I was learning to write. I wanted to make a rhyme and all I could come up with was ‘When you die, I will cry’. Next night I heard my parents arguing – my father was angry that I was talking about his death in a birthday card. I meant to say that I loved him, but couldn’t think of another way to say it that rhymed. I’d been misunderstood and my mum was paying for it. That’s one story, but for various reasons I still expect to be misunderstood somehow. Uncertain and also desperate to try and ‘get things right’. Perhaps my poems sometimes recongure this situation. In that poem ‘Hill Speak’, the word for ‘yours’ – tuwarda – I later picked up on in the words ‘towards’ and ‘in to words’. I doubt if that’s particularly noticeable, but I like it when a word pulls me in two or more ways. And when I say in the poem, ‘it’s the close-by things I’m lost to say’, it’s very much me that is speaking. This isn’t my father’s, or an immigrant’s, story at this point. It’s mine. Explaining how I feel, and getting those words right, sometimes seems like a hill that’s impossible to get to the top of. structo: I’ve been lucky enough to witness your incredible powers of poetic recall in the esh. Maybe you could tell me a bit about what importance you place on having poems in your memory like that? kunial: Haha, I’m not sure I remember as much as you think! It’s different with my own poems – the words just seem to stick through the editing/redrafting process. I rarely think: I’m going to learn this poem, completely from scratch, so to speak. The rst poem I had by heart was a sonnet by Keats – I kept returning to it because I thought it was beautiful. I think it was Frost who said that poetry begins in delight and ends in wisdom – that’s how a few poems by other poets have ended up being ‘learnt’ by me – mostly through reading and re-reading certain lines. I’m interested in the different ways poems can be memorable – in what makes them stick, and how they are screwed to that ‘sticking place’. Sometimes none of the words stick, but the atmosphere or feeling of a poem stays with you over time. Once, in London, I went to answer a
door to the postman and got caught in my pyjamas in the lobby, without the key to the door that had just shut behind me, or to the front door. I’d rushed out because my mum had sent a package in the post for what was going to be my rst Christmas alone. It was about eight in the morning and it wasn’t until four that anyone came back to let me out or in. It was snowing outside, and freezing, and I had no socks on. Apart from the socks, I also wished I had something to read. But that Keats poem, ‘Bright star…’ was something I repeated to myself as the hours passed. And a speech from Hamlet – ‘I have of late, but wherefore I know not, lost all my mirth …’ which I knew simply from the Withnail and I lm. Ever since then, I’ve liked the idea of carrying poems around with me. And if ever you get caught between two locked doors, frozen for hours without any socks on, it’s always good to have lines somewhere inside you – for company. A kind of inner Kindle. structo: I wondered if you read aloud a lot when composing your poems? I feel as if your poems really take on a different shape when read aloud as opposed to when reading them on the page, and I think of Ted Hughes in his letters saying how important it was for a poet to read aloud, how it allows the poem, the words, to exist in their fullest form, rather than simply as visual symbols? kunial: That’s interesting, the idea of a poem taking a ‘different shape’ when read aloud. I suppose it’s a mystery, the link between the visual and aural considerations in a poem, and how it all comes together, if at all. Maybe it’s a kind of ‘buttery soup’ – both types of composition happening at once. I have a little poem called ‘Buttery Soup’. It started as a nonsense poem, but the rst lines – ‘This buttery comes from a bud / they call the small cocoon’ – came, before I recognised it consciously, in the form of a ballad, while I was sat at my desk at Hallmark. The ballad metre and rhyme scheme is the one sentimental cards are often written in. That’s how that poem took shape. This is different from the kind of inner hearing that makes its own shapes. I was at work that day and not meant to be writing my own stuff, so I denitely wasn’t saying it aloud at the desk! I might occasionally mouth things out while I’m writing a draft, but usually I’m staring silently at the screen or a page. I’m sometimes partly led by how a poem looks, or rather what it’s shaping-up to look like. But there’s still a kind of inner speaking/listening going on, if I’m lucky.
Often it’s the ideas that preoccupy me in editing – once I’ve seen what I’m writing about – and then I can lose touch with the inner speaking/ listening part. I think there are lots of ways to put a poem together, and sometimes those ways are in conict with each other.
structo: I wondered what you thought of the Elizabethan poets? I’m thinking about the poem ‘The Lyric Eye’ [from Kunial’s Faber pamphlet], and August Kleinzhaler’s introduction to Thom Gunn’s Selected Poems, where he describes Gunn deploying a kind of Elizabethan, almost invisible, ‘I’ speaker in his poems, the kind of speaker who is somehow removed from the action. I wondered if those ideas or writers were an inuence at all? kunial: Yes, I’m sure they are, amongst many other kinds of poets and writers. I’ve tried to read as widely and openly as possible, even though I’ve never studied literature academically. I like how Donne, for instance, tries to connect things together, very distant things sometimes. How he needs to do this. How he’s trying to connect his heart and his
Photo of Zaffar Kunial and Will Burns courtesy Freddie Phillips
head along the way – the way being words. Donne obviously patronises women in his ‘love poems’. But he sometimes intertwines genders of his male and female speakers, and blurs the lines between speaker and subject, which is interesting. I think the real person he’s trying to connect with is himself. The title of that Shakespeare portrait poem, ‘The Lyric Eye’, was suggested to me by Ian Duhig who knows more about these things (and most other things) than I do. This poem, by the way, has had more titles than any other I’ve written. ‘Slow Reader’. ‘Shakespeare’s Opposite’. ‘Borders’. And a hundred others. It’s about lots of things, and I wasn’t sure which was more important. I was going to call it ‘Five Feet from Shakespeare’ at one point – again picking up on distance, and reading/speaking a line from a distance – so perhaps that relates to an ‘I’ that is removed … I didn’t know I was writing about these things till I kept seeing them in the poems.
Phantom Limb by Charlie Galbraith In our house beds are allocated to guests on a hierarchical basis and we think it a good system. When I say our house, I mean the house of my brother Benny and me. When I say guests, I mean anyone that ends up staying the night, whether invited or not; we use the term very loosely. We hope that these people we allow into our home are observant enough to note the quality of their designated bedroom – the softness of the mattress, the number of stains on the carpet, the presence or absence of a functional radiator, of a duvet and pillows, etc. We hope that they take cognisance of all of these little details, for if they do they cannot fail to get a sense of quite how welcome they really are in our home, and so will shorten or lengthen – but mostly shorten – their stay accordingly. Most of our guests have behaved in just this manner; in short, they could take a hint. Of course, no system is foolproof. One person invariably lets the side down and, in our case, that person was Algernon Irving – or at least part of him. Algernon last stayed here in the esh about six months ago. Having explained our system for dealing with guests, when I say that we put him on the fold-out sofa in the living room you will get an idea of how we rated him. When I tell you that he did not blow his nose frequently enough and that he had a truly terrible toupee that always sat slightly askew on the top of his head – whether by accident or design I don’t know – you will begin to understand why we rated him as we did. So, we put him on the fold-out in the living room. I was all for putting him in the dog basket in the kitchen, but Benny dissuaded me. He did not want to disturb the dog. When Algernon arrived looking sweaty and bedraggled, as he always did, he seemed a little put-out to be shown the fold-out. I don’t know what he expected after the way he wormed his way in at such short notice. He had phoned at nearly one o’clock in the morning, purportedly from the airport, complaining of a cancelled ight, a stolen wallet, shrewdly deploying phrases like ‘nowhere else to go’ and ‘last resort’. And after this spiel he paused. It wasn’t just that he stopped speaking; it was a scripted silence, expertly timed – a kind of malignant caesura, which he allowed to fester. In my sleep-fogged state of mind I simply could not endure it. He practically ripped the invitation from my mouth. So, as he stood there in the hallway, frowning at the fold-out, I told him
that all of the other beds were occupied by a raft of foreign cousins who had unexpectedly come to visit while he was en route. They were not. Benny and I had no cousins. The beds were occupied by little mounds of cushions that we had arranged into humanoid shapes and covered with blankets thicker than those we were to give to Algernon. I did not apologise for the inconvenience. Algernon said that he looked forward to meeting them. I told him that in all likelihood he would not have the pleasure, that they kept very strange hours, being from the antipodes. He seemed to accept it. Algernon was not wrong to view the fold-out with something like suspicion. When used as a bed, it is a remarkably uncomfortable piece of furniture. The mattress is laced with lumps of brous gristle that lodge in the muscles of the back like small, misshapen rocks. Furthermore, the folding mechanism is extraordinarily eager, prone to retracting of its own accord so that, even if a guest manages to fall asleep on the mattress, it is not likely to be more than a catnap. Six, seven, eight minutes later he will wake in surprise and alarm as he is catapulted into the bowels of the sofa. By the time he has extricated himself, reset the thing, and settled back down upon it – only to begin the terrible cycle anew – sleep will seem as fantastic a prospect as breakfasting on the moon. No one has ever managed two nights in a row on that bed, and we were counting on that immaculate record when Algernon came to stay. I should not have been surprised to be woken in the middle of the night by a knock at my bedroom door. Algernon, of course. Who else could be so astoundingly ignorant of guest–host etiquette? He was sitting on the oor with one leg stretched out in front of him and the other conspicuously absent; from below the knee the cloth of his pyjama leg was lying at and empty against the carpet. This was not, however, where my attention was drawn initially, for Algernon – rather incongruously – wore no pyjama top. All of his mass was concentrated in his middle, around his torso, which was round and bunched and covered in little coiled black hairs. He resembled a meatball that had fallen from someone’s fork and rolled across the carpet, picking up assorted detritus before coming to a rest underneath a dusty armoire. He uttered the obligatory ‘sorry to disturb’ and explained that his leg had been caught in the hinge of the sofa as it did its spontaneous fold-up routine. I refused to countenance any action until he put on a shirt, even lending him one of my own to spare myself the sight. Once he was suitably attired, I went down to inspect the damage. Algernon followed slowly behind me, shufing along on his arse. Even from the stairs I could
see the foot sticking up out of the fold-out, the toecap pointing down at a 45 degree angle towards the oor. Without a word I turned and went back up the stairs to fetch Benny, sweeping past Algernon, who was still making his clumsy descent. Together, Benny and I managed to pry the leg out with a golf club, leaving the jaws of the fold-out to snap shut. If it could have licked its lips and burped, I think it would have. We put the moulded plastic limb on the coffee table and stared at it, all misshapen and warped like a masticated wad of old chewing gum. Benny made to offer his apologies to Algernon but Algernon waved him away, saying that these things happen, after all. I was glad to be spared adding my own words of contrition to Benny’s. He has always been much more convincing than I. In the end we put Algernon in the dog basket and I allowed Popsy to share my bed for the evening – a rare treat for her, if not for me. The next morning we loaned Algernon the use of a pair of old wooden crutches Benny had found in the attic and we put him in a cab. The leg we recycled. It was melted down and remade into Barbie dolls or children’s lunch boxes or something along those lines. We quickly put the whole business behind us and gave no more thought to it until an incident that occurred some weeks later. I had just come in out of a thunderstorm, dripping wet, to nd Benny sitting on the sofa watching the 6 o’clock news. As I went over to join him, keeping my eyes on the screen, I dropped my umbrella into the umbrella stand beside the sofa. It was only when I heard it clatter to the oor that I remembered we had no umbrella stand. I whirled around and saw the translucent form of Algernon’s prosthetic leg shimmering before me. I shouted for Benny to look and he just caught a glimpse before it winked out of existence. Benny and I spent the next hour discussing what we’d seen. We were in agreement that the phantasm was of Algernon’s leg, the plastic one that had been crushed in the jaws of the fold-out, though it had seemed pristine and unmarked and, obviously, unattached. We also agreed that we could not have seen what we in fact saw. Benny thought that perhaps he had been watching television for too long and that the focusing power of his retinas had been temporarily retarded. It was feasible; he does tend to go a little overboard. In my case I considered the possibility that I had caught a cold in the storm and was delirious with fever. Yet my forehead did not feel warm to the touch and, besides a pervasive sense of dread, I did not feel in any way ill. Also, Benny and I thought it unlikely that we would both perceive the same illusion simultaneously. As brothers we are very close, but we are not that close. We were not left to stew in uncertainty for long. The
apparition manifested a week later in the very same place. It was a Tuesday, mid-morning. We were sitting in the living room reading the papers – I in the armchair and Benny on the sofa – when we heard a scream. We looked up and saw Ilsa, the Estonian girl who comes in to clean once a week, fall on her backside while gesticulating at the leg with a look of horror on her face. She’d made the same mistake I had, took it for an umbrella stand or some other incidental piece of furniture, and tried to lift it up to hoover underneath. I found this enormously funny and was actually quite well disposed towards the leg for a short time afterwards. I decided that, on reection, it was my favourite part of Algernon, particularly as it was no longer attached to him. Benny was all for moving the fold-out along by a foot or so in order to nullify the apparition, to have it materialise inside – out of sight and out of mind was his argument. I disagreed. I wanted to see if it would fool Ilsa again. She had always seemed a little haughty and I liked to see her discomted. So, we let it be. It was Benny who rst noticed that the leg was growing. He was sitting on the sofa about a month later holding a mug of tea in his right hand, his arm on the armrest, when he noticed that his elbow was protruding through the upper thigh of the spectral prosthesis. Though we had got well used to it by this time, Benny was startled, for the leg should not have had an upper thigh – Algernon’s original had been severed just above the knee. This was a worrying development. After some discussion I conceded and allowed Benny to move the sofa, but this only served to emphasise the leg’s mysterious growth. It now protruded up through the middle of the sofa cushions like a bollard. Our only recourse was to call Algernon. After ipping a coin with Benny, the task fell to me. He answered on the second ring, always desperate for conversation. I explained the situation to him and, to his credit, he took it in stride; that is, until I invited him to come and collect his property. Thanks, but no thanks, was the essence of his reply. He said that he had a new one that was much more comfortable and a consistent, tangible presence in this dimension to boot. I explained that leaving unwanted and troublesome things at a host’s residence was in principle as bad as pocketing valuable ones and making off with them. He put the phone down. Being resolutely secular, Benny and I refused to countenance hiring an exorcist. Instead, Benny put a large vase between the leg and the television to block its view and was disappointed that it wasn’t driven off by boredom, as if it were only a fondness for watching Hollyoaks that prevented it from crossing over. I began to worry about him. We both worried about the leg. We tried not to think about it and rarely mentioned it in conversation, but we were not blind to its development.
We watched out of the corners of our eyes as it grew up like a sapling, and then across, then down, until there were two legs standing beside the fold-out, bridged by a translucent beige groin, and everything you would expect to reside there. This only made it more uncomfortable to look at. By the end of the next week there were the beginnings of a torso. It took two months for the nished form to materialise: Algernon, replicated in moulded plastic, standing beside the fold-out in the altogether. We were never happy to see him at the best of times but in this uncanny guise it was an even more unpleasant sight, his moulded plastic toupee sitting awkwardly on the top of his head, like a teapot with an ill-tting lid; and his moulded plastic genitals jutting out beyond the armrest, the one eye seeming to follow us about the room. In moments of absent-mindedness we began to treat it like a resident. There was the evening that Benny poured out three glasses of wine instead of two, and dashed the whole tray to the oor when he realised what he’d done. The carpet in the hall still bears the stains from that episode. Another time, I passed it the newspaper after I’d nished reading. What’s worse, the damn thing took it from my hands, turned it over and began leang through the sports pages, perusing it back to front. These little incidents suggest a sort of burgeoning acceptance of the phenomenon, but that is not the case. There are some things that one can never accept and this is certainly one of them. But one can endure, up to a point. Standing sentinel-like beside the fold-out he was – is – a distraction during the day, to say the least; but we could live with a distraction. It is only more recently, specically during the small hours, that he has become a genuine torment. It began one night last month. I was awoken by a knock at the door of my bedroom and opened it only to nd prosthetic Algernon sitting on the oor outside, minus a limb, as the real Algernon had done those many months before. I tried to ignore him. I went to the kitchen for some milk, then out into the garden for a night-time stroll to clear my head, before heading back up to my room. He followed me around dumbly everywhere I went, always a few paces behind, shufing on his moulded plastic arse. Eventually I capitulated and fetched Benny and the golf club. Together all four of us descended the stairs in a grim re-enactment of the original scene. Benny and I pried open the fold-out as before, only this time we watched as the mangled limb dissolved into mist, along with the mute, plastic Algernon. Benny and I are not the most tactile of people, but that night we shook hands and went to bed believing that we were nally free of them, only to nd them reunited and standing to attention beside the
fold-out when we came down to breakfast in the morning. This has become a nightly rigmarole, and both Benny and I are beginning to suffer. Increasingly I view its presence in this house as an affront to me and everything I stand for. I seethe with rage whenever it comes into sight, my guts wriggling and thrashing inside of me like a nest of copulating snakes. Benny has worn his teeth down to nubs with grinding. Even Popsy has been affected. She has shed so much fur in the past month that she has become balder than Algernon, and she refuses to come down to the ground oor any more, even to relieve herself. This problem has been compounded by Ilsa handing in her notice. The oors are now carpeted with canine ordure and the air is thick with its stink. Only the downstairs living room is free of it and that, of course, is where Algernon keeps his vigil. Benny says he can’t deal with it any more, that he hasn’t slept in weeks. He wants us to get rid of the fold-out, to have it hauled away to the dump, to burn it ourselves in the garden – anything, as long as it’s out of the house. But I won’t allow it. Where would we put the real Algernon if he comes to stay again? So Benny gets to his knees and begs me to let the ghost have one of the nicer rooms, maybe even one of ours, in the hope that we might appease it somewhat – unnished business and all that. Just for a night. But I won’t allow it. If Algernon wasn’t worthy of anything more than the fold-out, I’ll be damned if I’m going to allow this piecemeal, scanty simulacrum anything more. I won’t give it the satisfaction. If I am forced to choose between my sanity and my principles you might as well start tting me for my straitjacket now, for I would rather be broken in half than bend an inch; and that goes for Benny, too, even if he would rather it didn’t.
October 23, Celeriac by Erin Morgan Gilbert Who can pierce such a tangled, dirty heart— buried in the earth, or dug up, washed, and tossed onto the chopping block? Obdurate, the passive storage organ gathers strength, equally mute under frost-splintered soil, as in warm hands in a fog of breath. Oh, how the knotted hypocotyl, dense as a stone, deects the spade’s blade and knife’s attempts. Woe to the wielder! Patience! Patience fed this wrested-root lump-of-a-thing, and patience now feeds you. The cook stabs, the knot splits, or else, half-starved, throws the whole shaggy clot into a pot of winter soup. And if, in spooning up the sky-clear broth, you pause at bitterness— a passing cloud, a dream, an old bloodshed forgotten in the soil— only wait, the taste will dissipate.
Tying the Knot by Rebecca Chamaa We tried the single sheet bend, The double sheet bend, The double eye knot, The sliding overhead knot, The round-turn shhook tie, The gure eight knot, The half-blood knot, The jansik special, The homer rhode loop, The improved clinch or pandre knot, The jam knot with an extra tuck, The clinch-on shank, The nail loop, The loop knot, The double loop clinch knot, The salmon hook knot, The overhead dropper tie, The perfection loop knot, The extension blood knot, The emergency dropper knot, The improved dropper loop. We tied them, tried them all and then cut each other loose.
Dismantling the Cot by Philip Miller The thread turns, gold lines twisting, as the hand curls, fastenings slip out in a steady brass coil and the joints loosen with a shake, the cot slips in the ngers, the screw unfurls and it all comes apart – the bed cracked, in ve weak pieces on the oor. Your rst, and the last we will have to unscrew. No need for slats and bars now, and this pale cage becomes new doors laid on the wall, with metal slewing in a jar for another father who will reach in and shush. The thread turns, time passing with each turn and roll, the fastenings slip and the threads are loosened and parted. Now in the night, no cries or calls for help, no tiny upturned palms – just footsteps, a life of yearning, and the search for warmth in the dark.
Birds by Sophia Argyris She likes to watch them it and y, gathers their colours like tastes, sweet honey, sharp greengages, red like blood in a steak. She dips a cup into a bag of seed, lets it run like wine over her hands, hears it call for quiet with a hushing sound, breathes its scent and carries it out into the frozen garden where she pours it on the table, like grains of salt to season winter. She leaves it lying in frosted whiteness, slips back inside to sit at the window and wait for them to come. They it and y, turn their heads, their steely eyes sharp-bright, uff feathers, rufe colours. She trembles at their lightness.
The Middle Way by Alex Christofi Before now, I have often joked about drunk me. I would come into the ofce to nd a package on my desk. Drunk me ordered a book I wanted but couldn’t afford. I would claim to nd this lack of self-control irritating, but of course I was pleased. It often seemed that no one knew me like drunk me. The gifts were thoughtful, modest enough, like a new lover waking up early to buy fresh bread. It was a sort of running joke in the ofce, albeit one that I initiated. My colleague across the low pinboard partition would peek her head over the parapet to ask, ‘What did he get you this time?’ But of course I didn’t believe in him. I just ordered things online when I was drunk. Some people watch porn, others start arguments with strangers or climb into places where trespassers will be prosecuted. We share a desire to become unfamiliar to ourselves again, to be shaken until we feel our bones ache and our mouth dry and our eyes sting in the light. We desire to bring ourselves back to consciousness. I would not say that I am an alcoholic, but the idea of never drinking again scares me. Imagine waking every morning to nd you have brushed your teeth and gone to sleep, the right way up in bed, with the curtains closed at a reasonable time. What if you never again felt the old familiar heartburn? What if you were stuck in a prudent limbo of considerate boredom? Never saying things you dare not say, always observing boundaries, keeping up with email correspondence, every day until the indistinct day that you quietly throw your toothbrush in the bin, pour the milk down the sink and lie down to die. No, drunk me must live, and someone had to feed him. God, I don’t know. Are you screening my calls? You’re never around when I call. And by the way, your greeting sounds stupid. You sound like an accountant. It says the 35 is due, but you know they always… Anyway, this was just to say don’t wait up. I’ll leave a pint of water by the bed. Drunk me was never violent. Sure, there are the petty victories. Knocking over trafc cones, that sort of thing. But never real ghts. I brought him up well. No, the problem was that I began to rely on him. It got to the point where my eyes were more brown than green.
(To explain: the inside rings of my irises are a clear grey green, like a young river. The edges are brown. When it is light, my eyes look green. When it is dark, or I am drunk, my inside irises contract, and my dilated pupils are ringed by brown.) It was as if I had a celebrity for an identical twin. People I didn’t know often stopped me in the street or tried to friend me. I would receive texts: ‘Mate you were hilarious last night.’ And they would try to explain to me – they would – but inevitably they would fall short of capturing the moment, and shrug, and say, ‘You should have been there.’ I would try to laugh it off, precisely because it mattered a great deal to me that I was missing the salient moments of my life. I would go back to my room and stare at pictures of drunk me with beautiful girls, free pouring mescal into their hungry chick mouths and belting out the lyrics to songs I didn’t like. I did, at least, have better taste in music than him. I am thankful that he never bought me gifts to educate me in his image. Never once, when opening a new package, did I have to endure the sight of a Killers cd. Somehow, as much as he channelled the party spirit, he would always come back to me melancholy, drink his black tea and eat his pasta and pesto. I picture him ordering me Chopin’s nocturnes, played with such moving grace by Vladimir Davidovich Ashkenazy, before turning his brown eyes to the dirty pan, running his nger along the inside for a last taste of basil and pine nuts, and shufing off to warm my bed. Drunk me slept deeply. He snored, though it never bothered me. I was never awake to leap the great divide between our selves; I always woke early the next day as if for the rst time, suddenly and screamingly conscious. Green eyes pinpricks. Anxious, bored. Boring. Incapable. His was the life of excess, one I had knowingly ceded; mine the life of laundry, clothes horses, ironing boards, whites, darks and colours. Someone had to lay the groundwork, and he was too carefree to wonder whether there were socks enough for tomorrow. He could only live his life free of burden because I supported him but, in return, he did his best to make up for my shortcomings and involve me in his ever-expanding social circle. Sometimes, he would arrange a brunch for me and put a little note in my phone. Sometimes, he would leave women in my bed and even, once, a man. I don’t want to be judged. But it’s important. He would leave women in my bed for me. I haven’t told anyone this. Every woman I’ve ever known, I have met in a looking-glass world where we begin in bed, and fall apart, and meet properly in the kitchen over coffee. I wake up, and she is already lying next to me, so close I can feel
the heat emanating from her skin, eyelids contemplating ight. If he was thinking ahead, he might have left me a post-it note, stuck to the underside of my desk, with her name written on it. Otherwise, I am on my own. She is never ugly, as the cliché goes; on the contrary, she is normally too beautiful to be here. She wakes, and the rst thing she sees is me. My nervous blinking, my green eyes. Most of them leave quickly after that, gathering up their clothes and covering their breasts with their forearms. What must have seemed like a fun idea in the night has curdled by morning. She followed one man back here, and has fallen in with quite another. It is an adulterated promise, a sleight of hand, and I have learned to expect their rejection. But some of them don’t mind, or even seem to notice, that I am a stranger. The only woman I have ever loved, for instance, opened her eyes to me, and her expression lled with warmth. She kissed me lightly on the mouth and gave a contented hum. She was lying on her side, and she fell now on her back, gently pulling me on top of her. She held my cheek and looked guilelessly into my eyes. We were naked, prelapsarian, born in the moment. We had no names, no histories. There was only the rising and falling of our breath. What do you do when you are not the only person to love somebody? What would I have done, if I had loved two people at once? You’ve got to meet this girl. She’s sat in the lounge. I can’t get my head round her. I don’t have the words, maybe you could describe her. She can’t see she’s too good for us, which makes me think she must have poor judgement. Hang on she’s coming. That morning, we turned the world the right way up and got in the shower together. Her dark hair clung to her temples and neck. We couldn’t stop smiling; fancy meeting like this. I washed her carefully, planing water off her arms and breasts. She was under the stream and I was out of it, shaking with cold and spent adrenalin. She laughed and shook me by the shoulders. We had not yet said a word. I didn’t know if we spoke the same language. What if she only spoke Spanish, or Russian? We held each other’s waists and stared solemnly. She grabbed my hair and dunked my face in the spray. ‘Quite a night,’ she said eventually, in a language I could understand. ‘Was it?’ I asked sheepishly. It upset me to think of drunk me taking her hand and running down the glistening tarmac from a bar to a club. I covered my face, pretending to wipe water from my eyes. ‘It was fun,’ she said simply. ‘But it would be nice to get to know you.’ I knew I was in love because I wanted to watch her even when she was doing something mundane. Her life was a solo, so that even tapping the
portalter to empty out used coffee she kept time in neat triplets, one stressed, two unstressed. I used to work in a café and, contrary to popular belief, most people like their coffee sweet, weak and milky; but I like to feel it course through me, sharpening the edges of consciousness, bringing me to a state of heightened sobriety. Anything but moderation. I opened the cupboard. ‘What’s this?’ I asked. She came up behind me and put her chin on my shoulder. ‘Oh, that.’ ‘Where did it come from?’ There, on the middle shelf of an otherwise empty cupboard, was a loaf of fresh-baked bread. ‘I went out earlier,’ she said. I picked it up incredulously. It was still a little warm. ‘I borrowed your keys. I hope you don’t mind?’ Minibar empties littered the place like bullet casings. When she turned away to make toast, I picked up as many as I could see and placed them without noise in the recycling. I didn’t trust myself with full-sized bottles, so I would buy them individually in 75 ml hits, but rather than being put out, drunk me would simply shuttle back and forth between at and offlicence, picking them up one at a time until he had drunk a litre and paid for two. The local 24-hour shop now had them double-stacked. It was a high price for a strategy that was more speed bump than barrier. The coffee had nished pouring and I turned off the machine. We brought our mugs with us as we walked around the park nearby, strolling like survivors or surveyors past an old well. We slid, hand in hand, down a bank into a wooded area, and took it in turns to smash our empty mugs on a boundary wall. The noise pelted birds out of branches, and they took ight, crying while falling, some of them swooping low enough to trouble the tops of ferns. We pressed on into thicker woods, jumping a barbed wire fence that warned trespassers would be prosecuted. Midway through the day we found ourselves lost in a darker part of the forest, the pathway having long since overgrown. ‘Do you know the way?’ I asked. Smiling mischievously, she took off her coat and threw it on the ground. I raised an eyebrow. She put both palms on the nearest tree and one foot on a low branch. I watched her climb. She was athletic and didn’t follow the route I had picked out from the ground, thrusting for branches out of reach so that she sometimes broke contact with the tree altogether. My hangover combined with the fear of watching her fall to make me so dizzy I had to sit. Soon, she had climbed so high that the tree began to bend. She had two
feet on one branch, clutching the trunk like a mizzenmast in a storm. ‘Come and see this!’ she shouted down. I stood and began to climb the tree, ignoring the acid climbing my throat. Onwards, I told myself. There is no other way. When I reached her, I could feel beads of sweat trickling down my ribcage. I stood awkwardly on the same branch as her, the whole tree now listing dangerously. The branch began to crack under our weight and in one lithe movement she wrapped her legs around the trunk, suspended. ‘I have to get down,’ I said. ‘No!’ she laughed. ‘I have to,’ I said. ‘But look.’ She pointed to the eld of treetops, gilded by the high sun. Ahead, they fell away. There was a large, solitary house, and beyond it, a church. We were nearly level with the spire as its clock struck decisively, once. Not far beyond that, neat suburban rows gave way to a crowd of buildings jostling into the city like commuters. ‘We’re so close to home,’ she said sadly. Some strong urge made me reach out to her but the branch snapped under me and I fell onto a lower, more solid branch, cutting my leg and nearly falling to the forest oor. My heart beat hard. She overtook me on the way down, dropping gracefully from branch to branch, as if the direction of travel was not her concern. Sitting in her at that evening, we bickered only half-jokingly when I refused to let her put a plaster on my leg. She got up and went through to the kitchen before I could absolve myself, the slight sourness hanging in the air. I contemplated sharing her. She was an innity, and half her affections were a whole. She was not divisible like me. On the contrary, I even dared hope she might reunite me. She came back with an opened bottle of red wine and two crystal glasses. The glasses knocked against one another, tolling like a faraway church bell. It was night. A gale rushed through my gut and up my throat, expending itself as a low sigh. She smiled knowingly and poured the wine. ‘Why don’t we have wine later, put on a lm?’ I asked. ‘I’ve poured it now,’ she said. I nodded slowly. ‘Will you sit with me?’ I asked wretchedly. When she saw the look on my face, she put down the bottle and sat, throwing her legs over mine, and pulled my head into her heart. ‘Of course I’ll sit with you,’ she said. She stroked my hair. ‘I’ll sit with you for all time. Now cheer up and drink your wine.’
‘I will,’ I said. ‘But not yet.’ We were supposed to be sharing. I was doing you a favour and now you’re trying to – what? You mean nothing to her. You’re nothing to me. You think I wouldn’t shoot myself in the foot if it gave you a limp? No one’s ever going to look at you again. I opened my eyes and the light came in. A wave of nausea rolled past. I looked across. She was not in bed with me any longer. My heart knocked like a bailiff at my ribs. I tried to rationalise. Maybe she was in the shower, or out buying bread. But my body felt the truth and wouldn’t hear words. Seized by terror, I checked under my desk for post-it notes. I went to my phone but everything was blank: no texts, no emails. All the numbers had been deleted except my own. The history showed one call at around 3a.m. I listened to the voicemail several times. There was nothing else to go on. I remembered nothing that had happened since around 1a.m., when we nished our rst bottle of wine. My body would have been moving, my mouth moving. Now, I had to live on as if I believed in my own continuity. I hit myself in the temples. I tried to retrace my steps. We had bickered a little, but only playfully. I was sure of that. Gentle teasing. We had not known each other for long enough to bicker. Only people who weren’t getting on bickered. But what had happened next? Without evidence or a witness, my night remained an unreported crime. Since I didn’t have her number, I decided to look her up on the internet. She was probably out buying bread. I looked over to my dresser: my keys were still there. I would look her up. I must have asked her name. I couldn’t recall it. My hand searched the underside of my desk again absentmindedly. Perhaps the post-it note had come unstuck. I got down on my hands and knees and felt a powerful nausea swelling up. Saliva came, and tears. I rushed to the bathroom and vomited a viscous, black liquid until there was nothing left. I stared dumbly into the bowl. It looked like crude oil, or squid ink. I couldn’t help but imagine I had nally spilled all the words I wanted to devote to her, that they were to be ushed away. I didn’t know her name. I had never known her name. I was incapable of xing this on my own. I pulled my jeans on, gritting my teeth as the denim rubbed against the gash on my thigh, and went out, half-dressed, to the off licence. The shop keeper looked at me wide-eyed as I walked in the door.
‘A bottle of brandy, please,’ I said. ‘A proper one.’ ‘You’re not getting anything from me, sir, you are barred.’ ‘I’m – what? Since when?’ I replied. ‘Since today. I will not be serving you again. Please go.’ The other shop assistant appeared from behind an aisle, staring grimly as he cradled a price gun. There must have been some misunderstanding. I would sort it out another time. I went to the local supermarket instead, and picked up a couple of big bottles. It was a long, unsteady walk and I didn’t want to have to go back. I also threw in a few bottles of red wine, in case she wanted a drink later. I went to the back of the shop, where the bread aisle was. No one was there. As I turned back towards the tills a young boy held his nose and mimed a smell to his mother. Then, at an unbearably loud self-checkout till, two of my cards were declined. The morning was dragging out. I wondered what day it was, and whether I was supposed to be at work. I looked up at the sky. The clouds were a white soup of altostratus, indistinguishable even from each other. For all anyone could tell, the sun was already over the yardarm. I struggled through my front door and down the hallway, where dust collected in iron-grey clouds. I put the bags down and exed my arms, hunching and relaxing my shoulders. I unstuck an old newspaper from the coffee table and put down the bottle of brandy. I sat and stared, wall-eyed, at the crossword. A North Pacic salmon in everything (7). I didn’t have the strength. I looked at the bottle. I was probably hungry. I went over to the cupboard and it was empty, the remains of the loaf stale and solid where it had been left out on the kitchen table. I didn’t open the fridge. There was a weird smell and I didn’t want to nd out more. Her fridge had contained neat rows of technicolour fruit, eggs arranged along an egg rack. I went back to the brandy. I needed calories from somewhere. My hand shook. If I had a little now, I wouldn’t have to think about it. Denying myself would only give drinking the dangerous romance of prohibition. A capful, like medicine. We need to deal with this. I’m going to wait up with a cup of black tea, and watch old lms until you come back. I want to warm your cold hand on mine. I worry about you. I wouldn’t know that we live in the same at if you didn’t sometimes do my washing up. I know that we keep different hours, but I feel as if – I know, I know, I’m drunk – but I think you’re avoiding me, because you know what it will mean to see me.
It is dark, and a bird is singing on a branch outside. I imagine it swooping low to build speed for its upward ascent. I am lying on my side on my sofa, saliva connecting my open mouth to the cushion that has been propping up my head. I am staring at a dvd menu which is playing a clip of music on a thirty second loop. I desperately need the toilet. My urine is dark yellow, almost brown. I must be dehydrated. I go over to the sink and look in the mirror. My left eye, which has been squashed closed by the cushion, is brown and dilated. My right eye, scorched by the glare of my laptop screen, has contracted to a clear, grey green, like a young river. I am no longer of the night, but not yet at the gates of the day, where I might hide in newspapers, coffee shops, trains. No, I am not there yet. I fumble for the switch of the oor lamp. My bones ache and my mouth is dry and my eyes sting in the light. I will talk frankly with myself, now, as I have meant to do for some time.
from Nirat Phra Baht by Sunthorn Phu วันจะจรจากน้องส บิ สองค่ �ำ รำ�ลกึ ถงึ ดวงจันทร์ครรไลลา ท ี ่ประเทศเขตเคยได้เหน็ เจ้า แสนสลดให้ระทดระทวยกาย ถงึ คลองขวางบางจากย ิง่ ตรมจ ติ ว่าช ือ่ จากแล้วไม่รกั ร จู ้ กั กัน
พอจวนย่ �ำ รุง่ เร่งออกจากท่า พ ีต่ ั ง้ ตาแลแลตามแพราย ก็แลเปล่าเปล ีย่ วไปน่าใจหาย ไม่เห อื ดหายห่วงหวงเป น็ ห่วงครันฯ ใครช่างคดิ ช ือ่ บางไว้กางกั น้ พ เิ คราะห์ครันหร อื มาพ้องกับคลองบาง
Wan ja jon jahk nong sib song kam Pho tschuan yam rung reng ok jahk tha Ramluek thueng duang tschan khanlai lah Pi tang tah lae lae tahm phae rai Thin prathet khed khoey dai hen tschao Ko lae plao pliew pai nah tschai hai Saen slod hai rathod rathuay kai Mai heud hai huang huang pen huang khran Thueng Khlong Khwahng Bang Tschahk ying trom tschit Khrai tschang kit cheu bahng wai kang kan Wah tscheu tschahk laew mai rak ruh tschak kan Phikhrao khran ru mah phong kab khlong bahng
Part & Cross translated from the Thai by Noh Anothai Written while journeying away from his wife, a woman named Moon, in February 1807 The morning when I left you was the twelfth of the waxing moon. When daybreak drew close, from pier and landing we hurried off. I tried glimpsing the Moon in between rows of homes drifting by, but those places where once I had seen you looked desolate now and this served to deepen my despair. When we reached Part, where a canal is set crosswise with the river, I throbbed even more: whoever thought such a name would be t for a village?—as if they meant to say at this cross lovers are parted, never to meet!
'Part' refers to the Bang Chak district in present-day Bangkok, where it is still considered unlucky for couples to register their marriage licences. Chak sounds like the verb ‘to part’ or ‘to separate’.
“I believe in literature of places. It’s always places having a dialogue.”
Structo talks to Sjón This interview was not planned. On a visit to Iceland last autumn I took advantage of a day in Reykjavík to visit Nordic House, an institute set up to foster and develop cultural connections between Iceland and the other Nordic countries. Gravitating towards their well-stocked library, I asked the librarian to recommend a local author. She suggested Sjón, specically his novel The Blue Fox. The suggestion was a good one; I was utterly spellbound. Three novels and a couple of days later, I got in touch with the author to request an interview. We met the next afternoon in a café near the harbour. — Euan Monaghan
Photo courtesy Magnus Fröderberg
structo: You write both poetry and prose. I’m always interested to know in these cases: does the poetry come from the same source as the prose? sjón: No. I started as a poet. My rst books were books of poetry, so you can say that I trained rst as a poet. I’m quite used to working with few words and writing bursts of images in poetry and shorter prose, but for me they have always been two very different elds. I’ve used as a rule of thumb that if a line nds its place within prose, I will not use it for poetry. For me lines of poetry are quite unique events when they appear in my brain, when they pop up. In this case [for The Blue Fox] I’m obviously somewhere between, and the reason is that I wanted to give the feeling of a place where you are in a very real situation, a hunter going after a fox, but because we have gone over the border of the human habitat we come to a place where reality is in question, and maybe poetry is the tool to describe what happens when we step out of the human habitat. structo: That’s a lovely phrase, ‘reality in question’. I was trying to think about the non-realistic in your writing. Words that immediately come to mind are ‘the fantastic’ or ‘myth’ or ‘folklore’, but thinking it through, because it’s tied to the reality so much, there is no break between what is
real and what is questionable. Is that something that comes through from the folk tales? sjón: Folk tales are always presented as true anecdotes, at least in the way that they are written down in Icelandic folk tale collections or the folkloric tradition here. You simply say, there was a man, and he lived at a farm near Hafnarfjörður, and one day he went out looking for a lost sheep. He did this and that, and then he meets someone who takes off her head and the head says something signicant to him, and he runs home. This is always presented very matter-of-factly; this is what happens to this guy. I read these as a child, and I think I really absorbed this realistic or could you say laconic presentation of strange happenings. structo: You said ‘as a child’. Were you introduced to these stories very early? Were you read them, or did you read them yourself? sjón: I read them myself, very early, because I discovered a collection of folk stories in the library of my grandmother. She had the scholarly edition of Icelandic folk stories, collected by Jón Árnason in the 19th century. I think it is ve volumes, ve heavy leather-bound volumes, that she had there, and I started reading this and became absolutely fascinated by this world. I think what fascinated me most was that, okay, this is presented as real happenings, and it took place in Iceland. At the same time I was reading Belgian detective novels. These were quite exciting stories about this guy, Bob Morane, a Royal Air Force pilot from the Second World War, who was going around the world ghting evil. I loved these books, but they always took place abroad: in the Himalayas, or in London or Paris, or godknows-where in Africa. But these strange [folk] tales of walking corpses and children being snatched by the hidden people, these took place here, in my country. I think this was my rst lesson in how to present strange happenings: you do it as matter-of-factly as possible. structo: Of the three novels that have so far been translated into English, they are either set in Iceland or are about Icelandic people. Is that true of your books which have not been translated, as well? sjón: There is one which is set in a small town in northern Germany in the Second World War, but the narrator is placed in contemporary Icelandic The hidden people, or Huldufólk, are elf-like creatures of Icelandic folklore.
reality. He’s narrating the story from there. It’s actually part of a trilogy; I’m working on the third volume now, 20 years after I published the rst one, and that takes place in northern Germany, in a tiny town called Kükenstadt. That was, in a way, my rst successful novel. I’d written one before that, which takes place in an undened Mediterranean town, but, again, it has Icelandic characters. Well of course I could try to write a story about a war orphan in Senegal, and from that character’s point of view, but I have problems with those kind of books. I really see that as a privilege, to be an author writing in a small faraway place. I have access to all sorts of things which are great enough to use as the basis for novels. structo: I read a bbc piece that gave a statistic which stated—and you may be the best person to ask about the truth of this since you’re head of pen here—that one in ten Icelanders will pen a novel. Or was it publish a novel? sjón: I am very happy to say that this is completely wrong. There are enough writers here as it is. [Laughs] I think it might refer to the fact that one in ten persons have thought of writing a novel, or feels that he or she can write a novel. But that in itself is quite remarkable, because it means that such a big percentage of the population feels that it is entitled to step forward on the literary stage. And for me it points to an explanation of why Icelandic culture is successful. I really think it is because we all feel welcome to try our hands at writing, playing music, choreography, painting…. Somehow we all feel that the eld is open to us, that we are welcome to the table. structo: Is that because of the size of the population? You feel like you’re sharing something? sjón: I think there are historical reasons for it. All of our great authors and writers and poets and visual artists come from very humble backgrounds. Kjarval—our greatest painter of the 20th century—he grew up on a tiny farm in the east. Þórbergur Þórðarson—a giant of Icelandic literature, very close [in terms of literary stature] to Halldór Laxness—he grew up on a very tiny farm in Suðursveit by Vatnajökull. And Halldór Laxness is of common people. It’s our history, our literary history; it’s a history of people becoming inspired by stories and poetry to start doing it themselves. And we know this. There is no story of people going to Oxford University or whatever. We really believe that poetry belongs to all, and just go for it.
structo: There was a line in The Mouth of the Whale: ‘It was the longest day of the year, my last night with Lá, and the prospects were good for poetry.’ [Laughter] I had to laugh when I read that because you’re clearly mining your experience for poetry, as if, this may be a horrible situation, but it makes for good poetry. A bit of a side note here: are there any literary magazines for Icelandic poetry or ction? sjón: Yes, there is one called Tímarit Máls og menningar, or tmm, which is published by Forlagið, the publishing house, but was founded by a publishing house called Mál og menning, which is still existing as an imprint, and the oldest surviving publishing house in the country. It was founded by, I think you would have to say, communist or socialist writers in the late 30s. ’37 I think. That’s a magazine which has been published for a long time. And then we have one more recent one, which is ten or 12 years old. So we have a few. structo: What is the main way of poets and writers getting their work out? Pamphlets? Or I suppose online now, or readings? sjón: Readings, yes, and self-publishing. Self-publishing is in Iceland the best way to start as a writer. I know that in other countries it is seen as the last resort, but here it is in many cases the rst choice, and it is through these self-published chapbooks that poets are discovered here. We have a long history of self-publishing. Halldór Laxness, the Nobel Prize-winning author, started by selling on the street.
structo: So that’s quite a good pedigree. sjón: Yes! And I started as a self-published poet— structo: You were very young. sjón: I was 15, turning 16 that summer. In a way I’m not so surprised that I started writing poetry at that age; many people do, but today I’m a little but surprised that I had the organisational skills to get it printed and take it to the shops and the newspapers, and I did all that. How sure of myself I must have been. Obviously I sold the book myself in the street, and on the bus and in the cafes, and everywhere I went. An older poet came to me, not so many years ago, and said, I remember the rst time I met you. And I said, Really? I don’t! He said, You stopped me in Vesturgata and you said, ‘Would you
like to buy a book of poetry?’, and I said, ‘My dear boy, I’ve got kilos, kilos, tens of, hundreds of kilos of books at home’. And I’m supposed to have answered, Well then, a few grams won’t hurt! [Laughter] And so obviously I was quite the salesman. And in the end he bought the book, so— [Laughter] he added those few grams to his collection. structo: Had you taken your pen name then? sjón: Yes. structo: There is a history of— sjón: Again, Kjarval is an Irish name that the painter Kjarval took, Halldór Laxness is Halldór Guðjónsson. structo: And musicians as well. sjón: Musicians as well. There is a long history of people here using artist names or pen names. And for me, a 15-year-old—I had started drawing as well, I wasn’t sure if I would be going into visual arts or into writing—but I discovered that this word, Sjón, was there in plain sight in my name, and I thought, Oh what a nice name for a poet and an artist. It means vision. structo:
sjón: It was perfect. I was already occupied with Surrealism and I remember I thought it’s a good name for both the visual arts and the poetry, because the poet is the ‘eyes of the world’. [Laughs] So it wasn’t a very humble mission statement. [Laughter] But it was there. structo: But it is a mission statement. sjón: It is, yes. structo: At what point did you encounter the Surrealists ? sjón: I think I rst encountered Surrealism through articles about Salvador Dalí in a weekly magazine. I was quite young when I saw and read about Sjón’s full name is Sigurjón Birgir Sigurðsson.
this weird Spanish guy who was being photographed with flying cats and beautiful women who actually were men and things like that. I thought, This is an exciting world, these are strange things. And there was an Icelandic artist named Alfreð Flóki, a visual artist, who was sort of the Icelandic Dalí. He was a draughtsman: ink drawings and charcoal drawings. He gave amazing interviews; absolutely crazy interviews. I remember reading them as a teenager. He was, in a way, my way in. He was my model. When I was, I think, 17, I met him and he practically took me in. He was so amazing. I went and visited him every week and we discussed things, and I always left with books, both art books and literature—he had an amazing library of the Weird—he was really like a mentor. He died in ’87, but I realise how generous he was. It was amazing that he took me in as a 17-year-old. Because I got to know him I think I sidestepped so many of the traps that the provincial Surrealists can walk into. He was so well-versed in the history of the avant-garde, of the macabre, and of Surrealism. From early on I got the best possible reading material, and he was corresponding with Surrealists in the US, in England, in Denmark, and was in contact with some people in France, and he just handed over those contacts to me. structo: Very generous. sjón: Yes. I think I was 18 the first time I went abroad to meet some of these people, and in ’83 I went to France and met people who had actually been in the Surrealist groups with André Breton. At the end of that journey I went to Saint-Cirq Lapopie, which is a tiny village by the river Lot, where André Breton had his summer house for the last 15 years of his life. And I stayed there for, I think, five days with Elisa Breton, his widow. It was just the two of us in this house and she gave me a bed to sleep in in a small tower attached to the house, and we just spent the days talking. structo: Did you dive into Surrealism, or did it just seep into your work? sjón: My great encounter with Surrealist poetry was through the poetry of the Atom Poets, as they were called; the generation that started publishing in ’48–’49 in Iceland. This was a small group of poets who changed Icelandic poetry almost overnight. There was a real culture war here about free verse because Icelandic poetry up until that point had been really traditional and alliterative, with rhyming and all that, and free verse was just an attack on everything Icelandic Literature was supposed to stand for, so they really fought a battle for the poetry, and I discovered
when I started reading this, I discovered—and this is what catapulted me into poetry—that even though I had read some Modernist poetry in translation and some Surrealist poetry in translation, I somehow hadn’t realised that this was possible in the Icelandic language; that we, in a way, were allowed to do it. When I started reading those amazing images they created, I thought, I want to be a part of it. I want to do this too. structo: It gave you permission. sjón: It gave me permission just to start writing. And then I discovered that [the Atom Poets] had actually been influenced by the Surrealists, that the main influence on them was the Surrealists, and that brought me back on track with the Surrealists. I had been introduced to them through the craziness of Salvador Dalí, who had been this media darling in the ’50s and ’60s—these had been magazines from the ’60s I’d been reading—and then through Alfreð Flóki… it just got me on track. Surrealism is of course the perfect cultural movement for teenagers, it’s got everything: it’s challenging, it’s dark, it’s erotic, it’s violent, it’s promoting rebellion and transgression. And then of course at the same time I was being exposed to punk, with its do-it-yourself message. Just go for it. So we were—my generation—we were also influenced by the spirit of punk; the rebellious spirit of punk, but not the nihilism. structo: This was early ’80s? sjón: This was ’77, ’78. In the summer of ’77 I went abroad for the first time I think. No, for the second time, actually. The first time I went abroad far away. I went to Moscow and the Crimea on a trip with a small group of Icelandic teenagers who were invited to the summer camps in the Crimea. And on the way we flew through Copenhagen and I bought some Sex Pistols records, and Iggy and The Stooges and all that, and brought that back here in the summer of ’77. So the first wave of punk was quite important, but of course we were living under completely different circumstances, and I was just 15. What we took from it was the energy and the spirit of just doing it yourself. Independent record labels translated into independent publishing here. structo: But you do write lyrics as well? Well, you write a lot of things, but I saw in an interview that you’re primarily a novelist. [Nods] But you’ve written librettos and lyrics. When you’re writing a lyric—or
something that has already been written musically, or a rhythm to t in with—what is the approach to writing that, as opposed to the way you approach writing your own poetry? sjón: The way I approach each poem includes discovering the form of that poem. How that poem wants to be shaped. Is it in three verses of ve lines with two words or three words each, or whatever? Writing that poem is the discovery of the form of that poem. I only write lyrics with Björk—it’s as simple as that. I do it very rarely. But we always work in the way that the music comes rst, and that means that the song dictates the number of verses and syllables and so on. [At this point I changed les on my camera—the only recording device I had to hand in Iceland—and so the beginning of the following answer is missing. I had asked about whether myth-telling had diminished in recent years and centuries. Sjón pointed out that some of the highest grossing lms from the last few years feature Thor as their protagonist...—Ed.] sjón: … so much grander than man. Cosmic forces or invaders from other dimensions. These are really grand, mythic tales. structo: So we’re just telling them in a different way? sjón: Yes. And I really think that these stories are ingrained in us. I don’t know where they came from, but it is amazing that every civilisation, from the grand civilisations to the tiniest tribes you nd all of a sudden in the middle of the Amazon, they all come up with the same cosmologies, just told in different ways, and based on the natural habitat they reect themselves in. It seems as if there is a blueprint for the myths that we carry with us; and these blueprints, they make us tell them. I was once asked, Why do you use folk stories and myths? I really believe they are using me to be retold. structo: But you subvert them as well. You say that they use you, but [the environment of Iceland] seems such a fertile ground for stories, which seem very rooted in this environment. Is that something that you think every culture has, in the same way that every culture has its own myths? Sjón was Oscar-nominated for lyrics he wrote with Björk and director Lars von Trier for the Dancer in the Dark soundtrack.
sjón: We all have access to these grand formats of human thinking: the great religions and the great pantheons of cultures near and far. I enjoy so much engaging with the different ways man has come up with to deal with big truths and the hard truths of existence, and you nd the language for it in religion, in myths, in folktales, in all the shared cultures. And then of course you’re inuenced by what’s close to you, the local manifestations of this phenomenon. I actually had a very interesting conversation earlier on today with an Italian woman who is a linguist; she is studying a particularity in the Icelandic sagas where the narrative constantly goes from the past tense to the present tense. Like every creative writing teacher will teach you: you stick to your tense. But in the sagas you are constantly moving. I said to her, Well I do it as well. I constantly move from the past tense to the present tense; for me it’s the most normal way of directing reader’s attention. Icelandic prose literature isn’t that old—we have the sagas, and then we have centuries of poetry and some annals and this and that, but the novel is quite young here, it’s in the late 19th century that they start trying to write novels. The novel is young. After speaking to [the linguist] today, I think that this great gap between written narratives means that we kept traits of oral storytelling which have inuenced the way we write prose narratives today. Moving from the past tense to the present tense is something we do very easily and it can also mean that, because we’re so new at this, it comes relatively easy to us to use folk tales and things that in many more established literary cultures is thought of as a eld for children’s books or fantasy or something like that. It’s still close enough for us to be used as a tool in real literature. structo: There’s this—probably quite boring for you—stereotype of the Icelandic people believing in the hidden folk, but it seems a lot more subtle than that in reality. It’s not a belief, it’s more like your idea of reality in question. An openness perhaps. sjón: It’s the belief that there is more to reality than meets the eye. Even though people will not confess to believing in the hidden people, they may say something like, Well, it’s possible that these are manifestations of nature. That nature is manifesting itself in these ways, and it has a reason to do so, you know? It wants to have an encounter with you in this way. structo: And is that partially because nature here is quite extreme? The volcanos of course and the extreme seasons…. You describe [the
environment of] Iceland in not the most favourable terms in some of your work: ‘a lump of lava in the middle of the Atlantic’. It’s not an unease with your landscape at all, but perhaps an awareness that it’s changeable. sjón: Yes, of course. And as we speak we have a volcanic eruption out there in Bárðarbunga by Vatnajökull. I have a very strong memory of the Hekla eruption in 1970. People went there—my grandmother came back with pieces of lava—so you are of course aware of this. Earthquakes and these things. That nature is, not unstable, but that it’s on the move. Of course there are people all around the world that live with disasters and the consequences of nature moving, but what I think is maybe more important is the simple fact that we are an island. You become quite self-conscious, being an islander. You realise that there are borders—you’re not just going to walk away and end up in another country, another culture—even though you sense the ocean as a road; things come over the ocean and things can go back over the ocean, and you can go with them. But it is a barrier, and it is a small society, and you are quite aware of this barrier; that you are here with these people and this nature. structo: I contacted you through pen. Can you tell me a little about your role there? sjón: I’m the President of Icelandic pen. We are a part of International pen, which is this great organisation which ghts for freedom of speech in general, but also for specic cases of authors imprisoned and persecuted all over the world. Here in Iceland we are more of a literary group, but we take part in different international campaigns and we hosted the international congress here [in 2013]. We work with different literary institutions here in Iceland. One of the things that we are interested in now is how to open the door for authors living in Iceland but who write in other languages than Icelandic. It’s always been a huge barrier for people who move here who write in other languages to nd a place within our literary community. So that is something we are quite interested in, because it is, at its core, a freedom-of-speech issue, because if you come to a place your voice should be heard in that place, and your experience should be something that contributes to that place. I became aware of these freedom-of-speech issues quite early on, through the Surrealists, because they had encounters with censorship because of pornographic material or violent material, or simply going against politicians or the government. So I became aware of
that quite early on. I had quite an important encounter at age 17 or 18, when I went to a talk that Nuruddin Farah, the African writer, gave here about living under dictatorship. It was really an eye-opener for me. Obviously during the Cold War we all grew up with stories about persecuted Russian writers like Solzhenitsyn and also with the Czech writers. These stories were all around you in the newspapers, so there was no escaping stories of the persecution of writers, but just being in the same room with this man, and hearing his story, really had a deep impact on me. And so when I had the opportunity of joining pen and later becoming the President of Icelandic pen, I did so very gladly, and even though here in Iceland we do not suffer persecution for what we write and say, I really see it as a duty to help out in the international community, because you never know when this will come home. And actually, after the nancial crash in 2008, we realised that one of the things that may have contributed to the nancial crash and things spinning out of control here, was the self-censorship of the media, the self-censorship of academics. Because all of a sudden the nancial sector became so all-powerful. They were contributing to the university—why would the social science department at the university want to disturb that? So all of a sudden we realised that we had slowly silenced ourselves: the academics, the media, and other writers as well. structo: Censorship can come from within. sjón: Yes. It comes from within because of an unspoken pressure from the outside. You never know when it hits you. structo: And so it’s worth having people with their eyes open? sjón: Yes. structo: I mentioned that three of your novels have been translated into English. The only book that I found with your poems translated into English was a beautiful leather-bound collection of modern Icelandic verse. Any plans for an English translation of your poetry? sjón: There was a small chapbook published in probably ’93 or ’94, which was printed in just 100 copies. It’s disappeared. It was part of an Icelandic arts festival in Essex in, I think, ’93 or ’94. There are no plans for a bigger publication, but there is an online literary magazine in the States called Spolia, and they will publish a chapbook of my poems quite soon.
sjón: Obviously I’m brought up on translations. That’s how you get to know literature here in Iceland, and we have been lucky enough to have great translators and translations as an important part of publishing here. The novel that had the biggest impact on me was The Master and Margarita, which I rst read in an English translation and then two years later we got the Icelandic translation. And Bruno Schulz, the Polish writer, who wrote—it’s called in English The Street of Crocodiles—it’s called Cinnamon Shops in the original, I read him also, in translation. So much of literature comes to you in translation, and that’s where you discover new truths to tell the stories from your little world. And of course literature is little worlds having a dialogue. I really don’t believe in National Literature, but I believe in literature of places. It’s always places having a dialogue. It might be a small village on the Faroe Islands having a dialogue with a small village in Poland, you know? Because there is a writer in the Faroe Islands who reads Bruno Schulz, and discovers, yes, this is a way I can write about my family history. So all of a sudden, a small place has contributed to the culture of another small place. Or cities talk. You can have a dialogue between cities, places big and small, but never nations. As soon as you start thinking about National Literature, that literature has been enlisted for the service of a national identity or whatever, then literature takes a second place. structo: That perfectly leads into my nal question! Do you think your writing has changed due to exposure to those different places, or has it reinforced your identity as an Icelandic writer? sjón: As I mentioned before, I see it as a privilege to be working in a small place, and to have at my service Icelandic history and access to old texts and new, and the peculiarities of this place and its people. I really think that travelling so much with my books as I do—especially with The Blue Fox, which has been sold to 30-something countries—it’s made me aware of that. I remember when I sat down to write From the Mouth of the Whale, I was faced with two or three choices, and I told my wife that I was looking at three options for novels, and she said Well, you should write about Jón Lærði, the model for Jónas the Learned, because the other two subjects are okay, but I know that other books have been written in other parts of the world, but no one
Photo courtesy David Karnå
structo: [Work in translation] is something we’re particularly interested in, because you can get so many interesting voices coming in through translation.
has ever written a novel about this man and his world view, so this is material that is unique to you. And she was right. And actually, I have only made things harder for my readers and my poor translators, being so tied to a place and a language of a very specic period of time, and things like that. So I think it’s pushed me to mine more local and more specic material, instead of trying to become global and accessible. For example, if I read a story that takes place in a remote village in Kenya, I don’t want it to be watered out and written with me in mind, that I understand it better or to conrm my ideas about what’s exotic about that place. All that stuff comes through; it will be exotic enough, and also if it’s local enough, it will become about a place, and as we all live in places it will be understandable. [Laughs] You know the lm Festen? The scriptwriter is a Danish man called Mogens Rukov. He was here some years ago, and I met him. He’s got a theory about why people who like world cinema like world cinema. He says it’s because we enjoy seeing people doing exactly the same things that we do every day, but differently. A lm like Volver, by Almodóvar, that begins with the women cleaning the tombstones, we see them cleaning the tombstones, you know they’re in a graveyard, and they’re doing something that is completely alien to us, but emotionally we are there. We know where they are. It’s places. It’s places having a dialogue. Actually, Mogens is an interesting case, because he was brought from the Árni Magnússon Institute in Copenhagen—the institute for studying the sagas and old Icelandic literature—he was brought from there to head scriptwriting in the Danish Film School. He became the teacher of Lars von Trier and all those people, with no experience in writing lm scripts, but plenty of experience in studying the sagas, which have, in common with lm scripts, that you only experience the characters from their deeds and words. Jónas is the main character in From the Mouth of the Whale.
Sally by Gillian Rioja The car ts in the garage like a corpse in a cofn. The lawnmower’s squeezed in one corner, a rake’s propped up in another although it’s years since I cared about the garden. On the back-wall shelf the history of our house decorating is contained in dusty jamjars of old paint. On the other shelf there are rags, a carefully coiled washing line, something on its side that could be a drain plunger and a piece of rubber hose. I pull the door down and it clangs shut with a shudder. I feel in my pocket for my mobile and slide a nger over the screen so it lights up like a torch. One useful function it’s got. “Dad, you’re a technophobe,” Emma said once, and she was right. When the company gave all us reps smartphones a few years back I needed Emma’s help to work mine out. I still wrote down notes and orders in a desk diary and preferred to print out the details of special offers and product changes rather than read the information to the clients from a tiny screen. It’s not an age thing; I’m only fty-two, like Karen, and she was always texting and e-mailing and on-lining this and that. Probably still is, although the last contact I had from her was a card at Christmas. For my forty-fth birthday Emma bought me a game to play on her video console, but I would go days without using it. Then, when I’d pick it up again, a sad little face would say in a robotic voice a week without seeing you is like an eternity, and I’d feel I had to justify my absence. Emma said that at school they’d been discussing whether articial intelligence could ever develop consciousness but personally she thought it was unlikely with a Nintendo ds. She was funny, even at twelve. But I did take to the satnav. You’d think, given the hundreds of thousands of miles I’ve clocked up over the years crisscrossing Hampshire and Sussex, I’d have the navigation instinct of a homing pigeon, but I haven’t. Then, for the camping holiday in Santander, I got a gps system. It was so straightforward I managed to work it out by myself and I loved how it gave directions as if it were making a suggestion rather than giving an order; the way it never got in a ap. If I made a mistake it just seemed to take a deep breath, collect its thoughts and calmly come up with a plan, or rather route, b. Karen wasn’t so enamoured. “We seem to be going an awful long way around,” she said suspiciously as we weaved down narrow lanes to nd the campsite.
“Mum, you make it sound like a taxi-driver who’s out to diddle us,” Emma replied. But then Emma got annoyed when we drove along a steep coastal path and at each sharp bend the satnav warned us Take care. Dangerous stretch of road ahead. “We know! Can’t you make it be quiet? It’s giving me a headache.” “She’s only concerned for our safety,” I said. “She?” asked Karen, and Emma said it was the Nintendo ds syndrome again. I didn’t tell them that in my mind I called her Sally and thought of her as a bit like a guardian angel looking down on us from heaven and keeping us safe in the car. Two days after we returned from that holiday Emma was killed in the Barnsclerk train accident. All that time − from hearing about the derailment on the radio, realising Emma might be on that train, Emma not answering her phone, the policeman at the door − was like being in a nightmare. But nightmares aren’t as bad as their name suggests because you are detached in dreams and when things get unbearable – identifying Emma’s body − you wake up with a start. No, the worst was when we realised there was no waking up. No more Emma was our reality. At rst the house was full of people and then it emptied and felt as echo-y as a room with no furniture. Karen and I would politely ask if the other wanted a cup of tea but mostly we made our own drinks. At night we clung to our respective sides of the bed and if we should accidentally touch we sprang apart like opposing magnets. Karen spent hours in the kitchen smoking and then, overnight it seemed, she became frenetic, meeting with lawyers and mps and journalists, determined to nd out who was to blame for the crash. A week after the funeral I went back to work. Most of my working day is spent behind the wheel and that’s always suited me ne. There’s an idea that salesmen are outgoing and pushy and have the gift of the gab but that’s not me and it isn’t really necessary in my job anyway. There’s not much cut and thrust in the hygiene products business and I just visit newly opened cafés and guest houses to deliver our catalogues or pop in on established clients to check they are happy with our products. The personal touch; you can’t do that on-line. I might not be considered chatty but I’m always talking in my head; thoughts come, one after another, like the endless handkerchiefs a magician pulls from his sleeve. Sometimes, when I’m at home, they are like crashing, pounding waves. Then I take the car and drive round and round the way we did with Emma when she was teething and nothing else could get her to sleep. And I talk to Sally who listens without judging, the way she never judges my driving.
I used to think she had a robotic voice but then I began to hear the warmth behind the staccato syllables. She always sounded calm but sometimes gently ironic and I noticed she had a slight Geordie accent. Continue over the roundabout and take the second exit was accompanied by the unstated We’re nearly home now, pet. You deserve a rest after your day. And the Warning, speed camera ahead also meant Take care, you don’t want to be given points. Driving with Sally is soothing, like being pulled along on a sledge. The rst time she came out with something unscripted was the day I was having a ploughman’s in a pub in Portsmouth and a middle-aged couple came in with their teenage daughter. The girl had the same blonde wispy hair as Emma and she squeezed her Dad’s arm and wished him happy birthday. It was my birthday the following Thursday and it hit me that I would never receive one of Emma’s homemade cards again. Such a silly thing but it choked me up and I ordered a whisky, and then two more. I went and stood on the beach and stared over the English Channel remembering our holiday in Spain. The wind blew up stinging puffs of sand which made a good cover for my tears. Then I got in the car but when I started up the engine Sally said You are over the limit and too upset to drive anyway. Have a nap. I reclined my seat and slept for a couple of hours, tucked in by her concern. By now Karen and I were rarely in the house at the same time. I was out working all day and she had meetings and campaigning in the evening and at weekends. Both of us thought the other was wasting their time and I wasn’t surprised when, after a one-sided quarrel during which all the shouting came from her, she moved out. People probably wonder what I’m doing rattling around in this house by myself but of an evening I watch a bit of tv while I eat a takeaway or something microwaved, and then to bed. The door to Emma’s room is always closed. At rst her bedroom was left untouched and Karen would lie on the unmade bed and cuddle Emma’s pillow. I used to gaze from the doorway, each object bringing back a memory, but I never went in. Then − and I don’t remember Karen consulting me although she said she did − Karen completely cleared out the room, except for the much-hugged Ready Teddy Go, and Guess How Much I Love You?, Emma’s favourite story when she was little. Karen took those with her when she left me a few weeks later although the photo albums are still in the house. I’ve been alone now for nearly a year. It’s one year seven months since Emma died. Karen got the public enquiry she was ghting for and she’s seeing a psychologist. She wants me to get grief counselling as well but I can’t see the point. My pain is like a wolf sleeping in my belly and I don’t
want to disturb it. The only time I feel normal is when I’m driving. I move the pedals, gear stick and steering wheel but I let Sally take control. A month ago the company said they needed someone to travel to the Avon area once a week and I was asked. It involved spending the night in Bristol and as I have no family to go home to… although, of course no-one said that. The rst night in Clifton was the rst time I’d slept away from home since the holiday in Spain and as I left the car in the hotel garage I felt slightly concerned, as if I were leaving a horse in the stables of an inn. After dinner in the hotel restaurant I went to the bar and got talking to some men who were also company reps. Mostly I just listened and put up with jokes about me being a bogroll salesman but it least it stopped me thinking. The same crowd of men are there most Wednesdays and they distract me the way the soaps and crime series do when I’m at home. Plus no-one shows any interest in why I’m separated and have no children so I don’t have to put up with warning glances I’m not supposed to see if the subject of families or trains comes up. Last night it was Paul’s birthday and he insisted on taking us – me and Rob − for a proper drink in the city centre. I couldn’t think of a reason to refuse and we ended up drunk in a lap-dancing bar. I don’t think about sex these days and I’m even less interested in talking about my lack of interest; maybe that’s one of the reasons Karen left. (Not that she wanted to make love any more than I did but she always wants to talk about everything.) Anyway, those dancing girls stirred something in me… so when the barman gave Paul the name and address of a private club I agreed to go. The brothel was on the outskirts of the city and the cab driver had trouble nding it. I had started to sober up by the time we arrived and attempted to ask the driver to take me back to the hotel but Paul bundled me out of the car and up the stairs of an end terrace to a at above a boarded up shop with the sign ‘Spick and Span Launderette’. “I’m not up for this,” I protested but Paul just laughed. “You will be when you see the girls. Little crackers.” This bouncer type showed us into a dimly lit lounge area where two young women in skimpy dresses were sitting on a large sofa. One girl patted the cushion next to her, inviting us to sit down. The other went to the minibar and asked: “What would you like to drink?” She had a foreign accent and she pronounced what as vot. They both had broad, Slavic faces and blonde, wispy hair. I remembered the newspaper stories about young girls being brought to Britain under false pretences and forced into prostitution; being threatened by what would happen to their families
back home if they refused. Did these girls’ parents receive smiley-faced texts saying their daughters were having a great time as au pairs or chambermaids or shop assistants? Or did the girls just disappear, as lost to their families as Emma is to us? I lashed out and knocked a bottle of whisky off the bar and kicked over a imsy coffee table; one of the legs snapped off. “You bastards,” I screamed and Paul and Rob were staring at me like I’d gone mad. I suppose I had. The bouncer bloke and someone else came and one punched me in the stomach while the other held me. Then they dragged me down the stairs out to the street and into a back alley where they pushed me to the oor. “That’s a taste of what you’ll get if you ever fucking try that again.” I was bleeding and aching but got up and limped off. I wandered round these deserted Coronation Street-like streets until I came to a main road where I agged down a taxi. In my room I packed and cleaned myself up before checking out of the hotel. Then I dialled 999 and told the person who answered that some girls were being kept against their will in a brothel above ‘Spick and Span Launderette’ and hung up. “Why did I do that?” I asked Sally as she directed me out of Bristol. Surprisingly she didn’t object to me driving even though I’d been drinking. “What good have I done? They might think the girls were behind it and punish them.” Sally was subdued as she took me home, just whispering the directions. So here I am in the garage. The rubber hose has stretched enough to go over the exhaust pipe and reach round to the window on the driver’s side. It’s supposed to be painless, isn’t it? Inside the car I turn the ignition key. The dashboard lights illuminate the garage like a child’s nightlight and Sally also comes on. For a second I think I see a face and I wonder if I will join her oating above the earth. I try to switch the engine on but the car won’t start. “Ring Karen,” says Sally. “You have not yet reached your destination.”
Vanishing Point by Karen Skolfield after Kay Sage’s I Walk Without Echo The world goes monochrome near dusk, monochrome goes, the world made simple. Brown and cream of it made the world, the simple shapes that line the path and might be trees or hedges brown and cream along this simple world but not for long. Dusk pushing the frame whole in its maw and what you see so clearly now will lose its simple edge. Oh world basking in what’s left of light, the shadows long and thick, reaching long across and seeking more of shadow. This is the time for hurrying before the light is gone, before the shadow world. Shapes, how strange they’ll go once dusk is past, those feet of yours remembering brown and cream, the path from which you’ve strayed.
Stop by Mark Poole The ustered woman is well dressed, in a navy suit and shoes that look like they probably cost more than £100. Maybe more than £200; Ron doesn’t really know how expensive expensive shoes are. Her dark hair and smart clothes clash with the garish pushchair she holds beside her as she leans in front of Ron’s bus to see if she can somehow pick her way through the trafc that’s blocking the crossing. Ron thinks maybe she’s French. You get a great view from the cab of the Enviro 400, a great view of everyone’s stress. Sometimes he feels like he’s spying on other people’s misfortune. Sometimes? Every day. She can’t get across; that long-wheelbase Transit’s right across the crossing, wedged beside that 87 that couldn’t clear the junction before all those bikes shot across at the rst whisper of amber. People are squeezing past each other, threading round the van. There’s no time to wait, and you wouldn’t want to hang around for the full cycle of light changes before trying again. But if you’ve got a pushchair, or a wheelchair, you just have to wait, and hope the same thing doesn’t happen next time. Or give up and try and nd somewhere else to cross. Ron’s never blocked a crossing. He’s never sat in the cross-hatch either, which probably makes him unique at the depot. He considers it a small point of honour. Not that he’d ever boast about it, and certainly not with any of the younger drivers. The woman lifts one hand into the air and exes her ngers as if she’s squeezing an invisible tennis ball, while she lets out a high-pitched sound. Her child – who has lovely curly hair, maybe slightly mixed race – looks round to see what his mum’s getting upset about. She strokes his hair and looks up, straight into Ron’s cab. He smiles at her, but she glares at him then looks away and shakes her head, before stepping back onto the pavement, where her heel skewers a McDonald’s wrapper. Ron hopes she hasn’t got special sauce on those lovely shoes. ‘Ron,’ he hears. He looks round. His passengers are all staring at nothing or at their phones. He shakes his head. The lights turn green. Horns sound while he waits for the junction to clear. The lights turn red. Pedestrians move to the middle of the road, huddled together between the lanes. It’s hard, being an impotent witness to other people’s misfortune. He’s
spoken to his doctor about how stressful he nds it, and she referred him to a specialist. The appointment’s tomorrow. Ron tries not to think about it, tries not to wonder how awkward it will be, talking to a stranger about his feelings. He’s not sure what good it can do, even though Dr Kaur more or less begged him to keep an open mind. She’d told him – although she’s no psychiatrist, she said – that it’s not healthy to worry about other people’s problems. ‘We each have quite enough of our own problems to worry about already, don’t we?’ she’d said. He tries not to worry about the attractive French lady, even though she’s not even at work yet, not even dropped her child off yet, it’s not even eight o’clock yet, but her day’s already stressful. It’s not your problem, he thinks. Try not to worry about it. It’s a thought that makes him feel heartless. Looking after number one, he thinks, Thatcher’s philosophy. He wonders if questioning the now-decades-established uncaring status quo makes him a dinosaur. And what’s the point of caring if you don’t do anything to help? He tries to distract himself by looking at the Metro folded on his dash. The catalogue of personal pain that he usually nds too casually distressing to read. But he couldn’t ignore today’s edition, not with Big Dave smiling out from the front cover. His oldest friend from the depot, the latest to suffer from this terrible oh-so-new sickness. The latest of the accelerating number of friends he’s lost to it. Does it count as some sort of epidemic? Can it, when so many doctors swear it’s not a medical condition, and no psychiatrists claim to understand it yet? He hears a horn. The lights have changed again. He waits for the junction to clear, trying to ignore the repeated hoots behind him. He looks in the mirror. Good rear view on the Enviro 400. A blue Audi. Ron doesn’t know why anyone chooses to drive in London. The junction clears. He pulls forward, checking constantly in each mirror for cyclists. Young Ashley killed a cyclist two weeks ago. All Ron can think about it is: that poor cyclist and poor Ashley. It’s his worst nightmare. Figuratively and literally. He’s lost count of how many times he’s woken up thinking he’s just taken someone’s life, and it’s taken a minute or two to register that it wasn’t real. Ashley’s been to the psychiatrist. Ron doesn’t think he’ll be back at work. Thirty yards later he stops at the back of another queue. The trafc’s worse than it’s ever been. He’d been putting it down to those roadworks, near the park, but they’ve stopped now, and it hasn’t got any better since they went. The number of passengers is just going up and up and up too. It doesn’t seem to matter how many extra units they put on the service. There’s no room on the road for any more units anyway. He wonders
where all these people are coming from. That’s a stupid thought, he thinks. They’re coming from everywhere. Coming to the city where the jobs are. They’re packed in this morning, like every morning. There’s a man just the other side of the plexiglass shouting into his phone. Another with headphones so loud it sounds like he’s wearing them inside out. There was an argument upstairs a few minutes before he saw the French woman. He couldn’t hear it, but he saw it on the cctv: two women, one white, one black. He didn’t know what they were arguing about, and is just grateful that they didn’t start punching each other. He hates it when people ght on his bus. All the passengers think you can stop it, just because you’re the driver. But what’s he supposed to do, a skinny 68-year-old man? Stop the bus and wait for the police? No one’s going to thank him for that. But it hasn’t happened this morning, not yet, anyway, so he tries not to worry about it. That was another thing Dr Kaur had said, to try not to worry about things that haven’t happened. Dr Kaur’s very sympathetic, but he wonders what the point of such obvious advice is. If it was as easy as icking a switch, he’d stop worrying about it all straight away. ‘You don’t have to put up with it, Ron.’ The same voice as before, condent but patient. ‘What?’ He mouths the word silently, hoping none of his passengers is looking at him, knowing they’ve all got too much on their plate to care about him talking to himself, talking to this voice that’s gatecrashed his mind. He doesn’t have the energy to question what it’s doing there, if the words are coming from his own mind or somewhere else. Stress, he thinks, that’s all, just stress. Something else to tell the specialist. ‘You can get out. Out of here. Out of this. Out. Like David. A better place. Better than this.’ He shakes his head, wipes away a tear that edges onto his cheek. Sensitive eyes, he thinks, always had sensitive eyes. The trafc edges forward. He approaches the stop. They’re digging up the pavement here now too. People step onto the road to get past the queue. A bike swerves to avoid a pedestrian and bangs hard into his front door, bounces away, wobbles, gets his balance and sprints off, disappearing into the narrow gap on the left of that 87. He checks for other cyclists, indicates, then stops. He knows he shouldn’t open his door, that he hasn’t really got room for everyone, they’ve been over the ofcial limit since the arts centre, but he doesn’t have the heart to stop people getting on. It’s impossible to check if everyone’s touching in; there’s too many of them, coming in two rows. There’s not enough room for them all, but they nd a way; they always do. Better to have your arms pinned to your side, your
face stuck in someone’s armpit and a stranger squeezed against your arse than to wait for the next bus and probably not get on that either. Twice a day, every day, Ron thinks. At least I’ve got my own space behind my screen. Fifty yards on, he stops at another junction. The light’s green but the junction’s blocked by trafc stuck in the middle, waiting to turn into a road with no space in it. He waits behind the line, while the blue Audi squeezes through a gap to nudge into the junction in front of him. The passenger in the Audi looks up; a young boy in an expensive-looking blazer, looking up from his tablet, looking straight into Ron, as if there are 80 years of experience behind his young eyes. Ron looks away, takes a deep breath, and leans forward to see past the passengers crowded next to him where they shouldn’t be. In his off-side mirror he sees the pedestrians waiting at the crossing, watching the trafc, knowing they might be blocked off, even on a green man. Some spill onto the bike lane then argue with cyclists who can’t get through. The French woman is there, with her pushchair, on the pavement. He instinctively raises his hand slightly off the wheel, to wave at this familiar stranger, then realises what he’s doing and stares straight ahead, just as she smiles slightly at this driver who she can now see has no intention of blocking a crossing. The lights turn red. The Audi’s through, stuck at the back of the queue on the other side. He hears a siren. There’s no getting away from all the noises nowadays. Last weekend he’d gone up town, to Sloane Square, thinking there’s not really much point in living in London if you’re going to spend all your time in Catford. From the moment he got off the escalator in the Tube station, everywhere he’d gone he’d been accompanied by the sound of at least one pneumatic drill. He’d wandered down Pimlico Road – half-intentionally, he knew – and eventually reached a spot where the noise was bearable. Outside the Peabody at where he was born. He’d rested his creaky old bum on the window ledge of a beautiful antiques shop under the ats, trying to remember what shop had been there when he was a lad – what had been there in 1957 – when a man with a red face, yellow cords and green suit jacket had come out and said ‘I’m terribly sorry, but…’. Ron had been half expecting to be asked to reminisce about this neighbourhood 60 years ago, but the man just wanted him to park his creaky old bum on someone else’s property. Ron had smiled at the man and stepped across to the other side of the road, to look back at the ats. They’d been digging up the pavement, so he had to squeeze against a plastic orange barrier. He couldn’t remember which at had been theirs. Which one they’d put up
with until they got allocated the house in Catford. Was it the one with the Chelsea ag draped from a window? He laughs. Chopper Harris. Seems like a long time ago. Was a long time ago. But not totally gentried round here after all, he thinks. Or was it the one upstairs, the one with the For Sale sign? He couldn’t remember. He’d passed the estate agent on the way back to the Tube. There was one of the ats, maybe the one that he was born in. More than half a million pounds. For a Peabody at. He shook his head. Another toot. A green light. A clear opening on the other side of the junction. He moves forward, slightly faster than the people crossing the side street, then accelerates more, then stops in the queue. He creeps forward. He stops. Creeps. Stops. Creeps. Stops. Someone rings his bell. He was hoping they wouldn’t. Hoping he wouldn’t have to open the back door at the next stop. A man’s voice from a van next to him, going the other way. Angry. Telling the man on the other side that he’s a wanker. Repeatedly. ‘Wanker! Wanker! Wanker! You’re a wanker!’ The other man answers: ‘Tosser!’ A tiny gap. Ron moves forward. He reaches the stop. He can’t open the front door. His bus is already dangerously full. He opens the back door. No one gets off. People are banging on his front door, banging loudly... ‘You know anywhere is better than here, Ron. Join us. Let…’ ‘…us on!’ A man is shouting through the door. Young, in a suit, tall, well-built, successful-looking, thick blonde hair apping over his forehead. ‘Let us on, you dopey old fuck!’ More of a mob than a queue outside, staring at him, banging and shouting at him to open the door, even though they can surely see why he can’t. Spittle on the glass. He can see people on the cctv, trying to get down the stairs, trying to get off, but people are standing on the stairs. He can hear a siren. They shouldn’t be standing on the stairs. He icks on his microphone. People are getting on through the back door. He knew they would. He hates it when this happens, and it happens all the time. The siren’s louder. He can see those two women on the cctv. They’re punching each other. They’re standing up and punching each other, while people try to avoid their swinging elbows and lm them on their phones. Ron wonders if everything’s getting slowly brighter, like a photo taken into the sun. The siren’s right beside him now. A re engine. Hemmed in. Nowhere it can go. Nowhere anyone else can go to make room for it. He can see the remen debating their lack of options. One of them leans out the window, a handsome young fellow, and looks behind them, his head almost touching Ron’s window, then turning to his colleagues and shaking his head, bathed in white light like everything else.
Ron knows he should turn off the engine and tell people not to come in the back door. He knows he should tell people not to stand on the stairs. He knows he should try to break up the ght. But then what? What after that? Picking his way through endlessly multiplying trafc to do it all again ve minutes and 200 yards later? He can’t. ‘A new start, Ron. In a new place. Away from here.’ He can’t do anything. He tries to move his hand down to the ignition switch. It won’t move. He tries to move his lips. They won’t move. He tries to turn his head, to see if he can see the French lady. One of the passengers is saying something. He can’t turn to look at her. He can’t hear what she’s saying. Her voice sounds unusual. He realises she sounds kind. The ambulance reaches him 20 minutes later. They take him to the new specialist unit in the old hospital, with the view of the South Downs. They strap a catheter to his leg, put him in a wheelchair and wheel him out onto the lawn with the others. This had never happened before 2016. No bus drivers, taxi drivers, policemen, remen or anyone else had just stopped. First it was Lenny, who drove the 14. It was three months until there was another. Just a year later, there are 20 of them. Five new ones in the last month. Big Dave was the last. Now Ron too. The second in two days. The French lady sees his picture in that evening’s Standard. She tells her husband that she saw this man this morning. She shows him the picture. Tells him she saw this man in the paper, this bus driver, the latest man who stopped. She remembers him because he smiled at her, she felt guilty because she didn’t smile back. Her husband doesn’t look up from his phone. She wonders if he’s heard anything she’s said.
Hollowshores words and photos by Gary Budden “Go home, go home,” says Captain Ward, “And tell your king from me, If he reigns king on all the land, Ward will reign king on the sea!” —Captain Ward and the Rainbow
top a second. Can you hear that?’ Ben puts his hand up in the air, signals a pause, listens. We’re standing by a bluish metal gate, one of many rusted punctuation marks along the Saxon Shore Way. ‘Hear what?’ Cold wind off the Swale bites my skin. ‘Sounds like a piccolo, someone playing a ute or something.’ I wonder if he is messing with me. The wind whines, cold and eyewatering, but the day is crystal clear, bright, the rst day of winter sunshine and blue skies in an age. Weeks of rain and ood have preceded today’s walk. The paths along the Saxon Shore are pocked with wet muddy wounds, slippery chances to fall arse over tit. Ben, I don’t think, has read MR James, so what he says, for a second, freaks me out. ‘Don’t say that! Have you ever seen Whistle and I’ll Come to You?’ ‘No, why?’ I tell him about the man alone in a landscape similar in many ways to this one, nding his ancient whistle unearthed from crumbling sandstone, blowing it, with consequences that still bafe and chill. John Hurt, Michael Hordern, spectral bbc adaptations, the power and durability of coastal ghosts. We laugh. ‘We’re denitely going to die now,’ I say, grinning. And it’s true; something does sound like a tin whistle, a piccolo lilting on the breeze. It’s the wind interacting with the gate, rocking it gently back and forth. Out here it feels right. The lonely sound of the piccolo caught on an eyewatering breeze. The kind of experience we expect and hope for in these environments. It’s Saturday morning. I’m meeting Ben at Faversham station, just after nine am. I set off from my home in Willesden Green, up at six, stretching out in the early inky-blackness. The cat purrs like a broken percolator, demanding a stroke.
I’m amazed, always, at how many people already pack the London transport system this early on a weekend morning, either buzz-eyed and alert from a night that’s just ending, or up and off to a day at work or a visit to the hospital. Or on a trip like mine. Coffee and an overpriced egg baguette at St Pancras, supplied by Italian baristas. I doze until I arrive, the train heading through Stratford (horror), Ebbseet (Ballard), over the Medway, and onto my destination, the market town of Faversham, where I’m meeting Ben. I’ve known him since we were ve years old, back in ’88. We can both retrieve fond anecdotes about our parents and remember places that are no longer there. There have been days, weeks perhaps, of bruise-coloured skies, wet air, endless debates about ood defences on the tv, muddy puddles. Now the sky is the colour of a blackbird’s egg, ecked with cloud, striated with wires that swoop from pylon to pylon. I realise the absence of light I was living in. Good omens. Ben’s waiting for me at the station with a hefty thermos of sweet tea in hand. We walk into Faversham, a place I know and remember (my brother lives so close, as teens we dive-bombed and ducked in Faversham swimming pool) but today I’m seeing it anew. Colours are bright and vivid, everything in high-denition and sparkling in this postdiluvian sunlight. Families are out in wellingtons, the children’s luminescent and brash, the parents’ muddy-green and subdued. We stand on Market Place sipping hot drinks, the impressive Guildhall dominating the scene. This is its third incarnation; an earlier version once entertained Elizabeth I when she visited the town in 1572. The journey from London would take days back then. Faversham’s ofcial website yields a tantalising piece of information about the Guildhall. In 1814, celebrating one of Wellington’s victories against the French, ‘local yobs set re to the Guildhall, and the upper oor and tower had to be rebuilt.’ The word ‘yob’ seems quaint outside of its natural modern habitat, the pages of the right-wing press. I wonder what the real story was here. Celebrating Wellington, sticking it to Old Boney, or something else? Kent and Sussex are littered with buried memories of the Napoleonic Wars, the Martello Towers that line the coast a forgotten fear of French invasion. This scepticism toward the continent remains constant to the present day. Civic and national pride manifested in ames and violence? It seems aptly English. There’s still a market of sorts here, Saturday sellers out plying a few wares in the open ground-oor arcade, a thin thread of continuity. We don’t stay and browse, instead walk fast through the town and on to our
true destination, Faversham Creek and the beginning of our ten-mile walk that will take us from the town through the at marshland approaching Oare; along the Hollow Shore following the Swale where the mainland comes so close to Sheppey; and onto Whitstable, the town where I grew up and where my mother still lives. The destination is a café where Ben’s girlfriend works, and then The Old Neptune pub, for Shepherd Neame ale. This early the town is still quiet. We walk through deserted streets, passing the shadows cast by the brewery (oldest in Britain, founded in 1698, family owned from 1864), its access roads and delivery points dark and brooding. The Shepherd Neame brewery owns 360 pubs in London and the south-east. Most of them are in Kent. A pub crawl to last nearly a year. I see a poetry in the names of lagers and ales, related to the stories locked within place names, enjoyable exercises in eccentricity. Bishops’ Finger, Whitstable Bay, Spitre, Dragonre, Samuel Adams, Early Bird Spring Hop, 1698, Master Brew, Kent’s Best, Hollow Shore. A host of images and associations before a drop’s been drunk. After the brewery, the town just kind of peters out. I see blocks of expensive-looking new-builds overlooking the beginnings of the creek, their occupiers just rising or possibly still asleep. We enter a boatyard, the public right of way snaking through it, lived-in vessels with names like Orient bobbing on the water. A few of the owners chop logs on this sunny morning. Boats in need of repair sit suspended, hoisted up on wooden beams exposing their mildewed undersides. Ben ducks under one, stepping over the puddles of rainwater and avoiding patches of gravelly mud. We pass another, green wooden planks forming a boat that’s either half-built or half-destroyed. I can’t tell which. I take a photo, noticing a white plastic statue of a heron (or perhaps a little egret, now common in Britain) propped up against one of the beams. The scene reminds me of the boat communities in London, the narrowboat dwellers at Springeld Marina and the Lee Navigation who I used to watch out of my kitchen many years ago, when I lived in the Lea Valley, before the Olympics, before the recession. We pass rusted pieces of machinery speckled with moss. Pumps and generators, wet rope, a sense of half-abandonment despite the obvious human presence. The recent storms have been hard, and it shows. This dripping and mildewy place has Maritime History. There’s heritage to be had here. People are trying; the future of the past is up for grabs. Those sparkling new ats suggest a common pattern being traced across the country. The scars in the land from days of industry, the rusted remains of watery lives, are heavy with heritage. The fretful ghosts have
an authenticity that can’t be replicated; it can, however, be bought. I feel no animosity to these new at dwellers; I feel the desire myself. Water, in my mind, represents a reality. Even in constant motion it’s more stable and concrete than the buildings I have called home. I watch a group of turnstones glide in along the creek, their chestnut and black plumage beautiful in the sun and I think: this is all right. In the city, my knowledge of bird species feels redundant but here those inert words are given life. I wonder if I am the same person outside of the city. Context is everything. Work is under way to try to repair and rebuild the heritage of the creek. That heritage can be rebuilt, managed, or reconstructed at all lays bare the inherent articiality of our heritage industry. Who decides what counts as history and what does not? We exit the boatyard, navigate a single-le path that’s been reduced to thick mud, and walk into the shadow of a large building, Oyster Bay House, what looks like some kind of converted warehouse. Faversham Creek was once a working place, remember, a place of employment. ‘All turned into ats. Pretty expensive I think,’ says Ben. When you start looking, you see the pattern everywhere. The informal beginning of the journey to Whitstable is a rusty winch that stands gallows-like at the entrance to a single-le wooden bridge that connects the boat yard to the marshlands. The sight is familiar to anyone who watched Channel 4 drama Southcliffe, its bleak landscape peopled with familiar British character actors whose names we can never remember. A murderous wannabe soldier stalking the salt-marsh, wintry British misery, critical acclaim. I look to my right, see the pattern once more; what I can only describe as a designer at rising out of the hull of a converted boat. It’s low tide, the mud ats shine silver, and all I imagine is Phil and Kirsty from Location, Location, Location delivering enthusiastic monologues to camera about the potential this area has, what an exciting project this houseboat of the future is, maritime heritage is big this season. Maybe the show has already aired. Then we’re onto the walk proper, where the town and the boats fall away and the scenery levels itself out in an expanse of at green, the creek winding eel-like alongside us as we squelch our way along the rough track. There’s no one else around, not a soul, such a revelation when only hours earlier I was on a packed Overground train, then dodging tourists and commuters in one of Europe’s busiest transport hubs. Perhaps it’s not healthy to perform such a rapid gear-shift. There’s a shock factor here: how can there be this space in a place so crowded? I know it attracts
those who need temporary respite from the world beyond the marshes; a cousin of mine, still a Kent dweller, tells me of illicit raves out here in the mid-noughties. Thumping sound systems vanned in for the night, a bit of freedom away from the towns and cities. He has done this walk himself, hungover, coming down, desperate for sleep and his bed back in Whitstable.
Walking matches the rhythms of our conversation. Ben and I talk, and talk, and talk some more. Out here, there’s little else to do. I’m saddened to realise I consider this a luxury, the opportunity to do nothing but put one foot in front of the other and talk (I take photos and notes of course). Ben’s an occupational therapist these days and he’s a goldmine of information about how landscape informs the psyche. Our environment, in his opinion, is the dominant factor in determining mood, how rising rates of depression and anxiety are inextricably linked with modern consumer culture, crowded metropolitan living, a culture of dissatisfaction and fear. I recommend he read Capitalist Realism. We walk through green empty land. Two cyclists pass us, the rst people we’ve seen since leaving the boatyard. We exchange greetings. Isn’t it such a nice day after the weather we’ve been having. They head off, brown water
Catherine wheel-ing off their tyres as they head toward town. They’re dirty beyond belief, the land laying a second skin over them. I peer down at my boots, already mud-slathered, abstract patterns working their way up my trouser legs. Pylons march from horizon to horizon. ‘Some people don’t like them but I think they’re just as much a part of the landscape as anything else,’ says Ben. They are, it’s true, strangely evocative, photogenic, completely at home here. In my lifetime they’ve always been present. We pass wire mesh fences, guarding buildings whose purpose I don’t know. I could nd out but the mystery is part of the appeal of being out here. I feel and hear the thrum of energy. The fences are hung with warning signs, a gallery of disincentives, these premises are protected by sight & sound security solutions, thieves beware – Forensic Trap Devices in Use. I ponder why this landscape feels so under-represented in cinema. Too much space for contemplation, too melancholy, too at and unexciting. Green and white Environment Agency signs present a comprehensive list of danger. Wasp-coloured exclamation marks everywhere. In the distance I spy a group of mobile homes, trailers in need of a wash, mud-spattered like my jeans. I know Kent used to home many travellers, both traditional gypsies and the New Agers who appeared in the 80s. Maybe it still does, somewhere. My dad, in his social worker days, had many tales of sixteen-year-olds bare-knuckle boxing on patches of Kentish wasteland. ‘Hard, hard people.’ A mate of my uncle’s, a mechanic, was Romany. My mum has worked in many schools across the county and has taught numerous Irish travellers who would ripple through a school for a few terms before moving on. ‘Lots of fun, to be honest, the gypsy kids. Caused problems though.’ A few months back at a gig in Tottenham, I spoke to the lead singer of radical folk band Firepit Collective. I was drunk and happy and eager to question him about the origins of the song The Pirate Captain Ward they’d just performed onstage. The song was an adaptation of a Kentish sea shanty going back ve centuries, based on the life of one John Ward (also known as Jack Ward, Birdy, and Yusuf Reis). His place of birth? According to the scant sources available, Faversham, circa 1553. He could have been there when Elizabeth visited the town two decades later. History tells how he became one of her privateers, hunting down Spanish ships and stealing their gold. The line between privateer and pirate was always blurry and ill-dened. When James I came to the throne, the war with Spain was over, and
so was the day of the privateer. Sources suggest that Ward came back to England, but not to Kent, to work on the Plymouth sheries. He was pressed into the Royal Navy at the beginning of the 17th century, only to steal a boat with a number of other sailors and break away. He was chosen as captain of this band, apparently through a democratic process, a piratical meritocracy perhaps. The boat crew went on to steal a French ship, sailing to the Mediterranean to acquire an even larger vessel equipped with thirty-two guns, wonderfully rechristened in English as The Gift. In a story that becomes stranger than any ction, a chain of events left Ward stranded in Tunis, having had his request of a royal pardon from James I refused. He ended up a Barbary corsair under the protection of Tunis, and converted to Islam; hence that other name, Yusuf Reis. In 1612 a Renaissance play about his conversion, A Christian Turn’d Turk, was written by the English dramatist Robert Daborne. It ends with our Kentish pirate anti-hero recanting his conversion to Islam and committing suicide (I guess Daborne had to please his Christian punters). Historic sources differ, however, suggesting Ward died in Tunis from the plague, a wealthy man from his piracy, at the ripe age of 70. ‘Captain Ward and the Rainbow’ is number 287 of the Child Ballads, an immense collection of English and Scottish folk songs, as well as American variants, compiled by Francis James Child and published in the second half of the nineteenth century as a 2,500-page work entitled The English and Scottish Ballads. In the ballad, the king sends his ship the Rainbow after Ward, only for the ship to be defeated and taunts sent back to the King proclaiming Ward king of the sea. It’s a great story. I fantasised about a young Ward working the sheries at Faversham Creek, guiding boats along the Swale. Being here, the thought was irresistible. The true truth didn’t bother me; the story, the folk myth that threaded through the ages, that was much more important. I’d come back to Kent to nd signs of life old and new, evidence of culture and cultures not entirely suburban, of the retail park and the out-of-town Tesco. The natural coincidences I felt had led me to Ward – connecting to my preoccupations with underground radical music, marginal cultures, and hidden tributaries of history – gave me a real buzz of discovery. I realised I could disassemble the world I knew and try and put it back together in a shape I felt more tting. I loved how I’d discovered this story by accident through my taste in music, had found this ballad being performed in a mutated form to punks and hippies in a dodgy venue on the Tottenham High Road. That night at the gig we discussed a few other things; in John Barleycorn
the three men either came ‘down from Kent’ or ‘from the West’ depending on which version you want to go with. The lead singer of Firepit Collective, it’s worth pointing out, is a traveller. ‘I spent many years living in Kent,’ he said. Later, at home, I typed ‘captain ward’ into the Spotify search bar and got a urry of hits. Ewan MacColl, The Demon Barbers, Golden Bough, Dr Faustus, and Tempest (to name but a few) had worked their own interpretations of the song: some good, some average, and in the case of Tempest, embarrassing folk-metal. But it proved to me one thing at least: Captain Ward, this pirate king from the Faversham boatyards, was real. And there’s life in him yet.
Looking at the caravans I feel this huge swell of desire to know; to know everything, to know who lives there and why, to know the story of the people who work in the dripping boatyards and the personal lives of those who put up the warning signs. It’s a desire so strong that it can derail me; I try and head down a thousand paths at once. For now, focus is needed. For now we’re following the Hollow Shore, between Faversham and Whitstable. The rest will follow. Ben gets his smartphone out with the best walking route up on the screen. ‘The sign says go that way, but we’ve gotta be counter-intuitive and go that way,’ he says, pointing. It does feel strange, some homing instinct saying you’re going to get lost nagging at the back of the mind, as we walk away from the town and follow the Saxon Shore Way and its jaunty walking stickman.
We pass a lone tumbledown house, a manic black dog barking at us in either excitement or aggression. This one is denitely real, no spectral apparition foretelling some grisly fate awaiting us on the Hollow Shore. Canine ghosts, I know, are ubiquitous in the British Isles, harbingers of doom and ill-omen. These days, the black dog is even the name of a micropub in Whitstable. The pub got into trouble for asking dog owners not to bring their pets in during busy drinking periods. I can imagine spectral hounds out here in the forgotten parts of Kent; the stories are enduring and popular. Historic Kent, discussing the numerous black dog sightings across the county, says: ‘although this would normally qualify as a haunting, there is little doubt regarding its truthfulness due to the sheer number of sightings’. Proof of this is thin on the ground. To our right are expanses of farmland, furrowed and waiting to grow as winter ebbs. In the distance a rust-coloured canine shape bounds along in full daylight, no other human eyes but ours to see it. A fox, in the morning sunshine, on an inscrutable daytime errand of its own. I look at two empty metal containers, sickly green and yellow and sitting in pools of water, disuse coming off them in waves. A ock of monstrous brent geese y in inky black-and-white over the Swale. I stop next to an information sign – green, white and black – from the Kent Wildlife Trust. The map of this marshland we inhabit is populated by giant gulls and spiny restharrow the size of giant redwoods. It reminds me of one of those imagined ‘here be monsters’ maps, blank cartographic space lled with giant and impossible beings. A red-breasted merganser occupies the space where Faversham should be, a pair of snow buntings the size of grifns pause on the ground as massive little terns ap over the Swale. This land does invite monsters. Some academics, such as Swale archaeologist Paul Wilkinson, have suggested that one of the founding British narratives begins just across the water from where Ben and I stand. In a 1998 paper, Wilkinson argues that a credible case for the Beowulf myth originating in Kent can be drawn from Old English names. In the end, despite the conjecture masquerading as evidence, he does concede what we’re really dealing with is myth, the life of the imagination: Published by the Faversham Society,‘Beowulf in Kent’ was co-written with local journalist Griselda Cann.
Mythology… is concerned above all with what happened in the beginning. Its signature is ‘Once upon a time’ and our English beginning could be a small island called Harty just off, but belonging to, the port of Faversham in Kent. It’s a compelling thought: the monster Grendel inhabiting the bleak marshlands of the Isle of Harty (part of what we now call Sheppey), just over the water from Faversham, separated from the mainland by the Swale. The island was once known as a ‘schrawynghop’, an area ‘inhabited by one or several supernatural malignant beings’. I know these tidal ats and malignant bogs were once drier and attached to the Doggerland landmass that connected Britain to the coasts of Germany and Denmark. My mind ows with ideas, potential stories chronicling the last remaining malignant supernatural beings that inhabited Doggerland making a last stand against rising tides of water and humanity in the Kentish marshes. We’re crossing from the Nagden to the Graveney Marshes and from there we’ll cross imperceptibly onto the Cleve Marshes on our way to Seasalter. We follow the marching pylons across the land. Out on the water, a shing boat shivers under a coat of rust. Behind it, the green and rotting remains of unloved vessels sink into silver mud. ‘There’s the Shipwrights,’ says Ben. He points to a white building in the distance, crouching among this dwarng landscape of pylon and warning sign. The Shipwrights Arms, a lone public house out in this blasted landscape. The Shipwrights is old, rst licensed in 1738, and believed to have existed in some form for much longer than that. The pub’s website claims that ‘originally Hollowshore was named “Holy Shore” by a Viking King’. This seems unlikely to me, unless the Vikings were Christian and spoke modern English. They throw out other tantalising scraps. ‘Come and meet “Hollowshore Harry” lurking in his own corner of the pub’. No explanation of who this might be. Ben says the pub is haunted, renowned for it. I’ve heard that story myself, I think, from my dad. The Shipwrights is, I concede, the perfect location for a good old-fashioned British haunting. At home, my hefty hardback tome Lore of the Land states that The Shipwrights, ‘in a lonely spot among the marshes, is haunted by the ghost of an old sailor, wearing a reefer jacket and peaked cap, and smelling strongly of rum and tobacco’. The story goes that his ship ran aground and sank in the Swale one night in the nineteenth century. Getting to shore somehow, he was refused entry by a terried innkeeper and found
dead of exposure on the doorstep the following morning. His ghost lingers. I could imagine the sailor playing a piccolo. Out here, in what was once known as the larder of London, danger from the unguarded culverts; from vengeful and hungry ghosts; from disgruntled sailors shivering in the reeds, is easy to imagine. I want it. Out on the mudats, the tide still low, I see a caravan sitting atop a wooden oat, waiting for the waters to return. In the sunlight the ats shimmer. By my boot, small rust-coloured mushrooms force their way up between the grass stems. Poison or sustenance, I have no idea. The concrete wall that separates the path from the shores of the Swale is rough and patterned with lichen. A rose-hip bush stretches upward toward the open skies, its bare branches hung with red winter fruit. Here, the wind is pure ice and tears stream down my cheeks. Ben and I hop over the wall, neatly slipping on the carpet of bladderwrack, kicking rusting cider cans out of the way, easing gently down the sloped sea defence to the shore. Low tide, islands of seaweed and slicks of creamy brown mud. Our shadows are cast long by the winter sun out to the water. ‘Hey, look at this,’ says Ben, pointing at a pile of clothing clinging to a rock. It’s a blue top, sodden and salt damaged, a gift to speculation. In the mud are the pointed prints of waders. The rotted wooden remains of breakwaters stick out of the mudats like a petried forest. What we’ve clambered over the wall and risked twisted ankles for is a few metres away. A small boat, submerged nose-rst in the sinking mud, abandoned and left for the tides to claim. Seawater trickles and sparkles through gaps in the wood. It’s what we came to nd, the prosaic and unexpected. Back stories we’re never likely to know. Again wasp-coloured signs abound, sticking out of the mud and draped in cloying green weed, their warnings now half-indecipherable. What I can make out says risk of soft seabed due to previous excavation. It feels like this place is rarely visited. Not unknown, but rough around the edges and unfashionable. The coast here is more rugged and bleak than further up in Whitstable, and taken away from the context of a town for it to mirror, it’s hard to imagine picnickers braving the icy Swale winds. This is a place for the odd sailor, dog walkers, searching walkers like myself. A place for ghosts, for black dogs, for the memories of corsairs. It isn’t pretty but it is beautiful. Still we walk. A bone-white shingle bank sticks out into the grey
waters, fenced off, grassy and isolated. Squinting to see, I read the no entry sign set so far back as to invite the curious to climb over and read it. I make out the pen and ink rendering of a tern. It clicks; this is a nesting area, protected, and as such we leave the place in peace. The further we walk the more signs we see, some readable now. The Castle Coote Bird Sanctuary. A while later where the beach becomes walkable we elect to hop over the wall once more and trudge through the stone and shingle, passing occasional debris: a plastic chair upside down and buried in pebbles, beer cans, a lone child’s shoe. Ahead of us I see tiny smudges of indistinct colour form into the shape of a town, our destination, Whitstable. The grey-blue asphalt factory that has stood in the harbour for generations is now clearly visible. Slowly the emptiness of Swale recedes and we trudge through a good mile or two of unchanging scenery before we reach the beginnings of Seasalter. Not a place my mother likes. ‘Too bleak for me,’ she says. Recognisable signs of human habitation appear: beach huts in various states of upkeep and dilapidation. What looks like an empty property with the name ‘Oyster Catchers’ hung on a cracked salmon-pink wall. Behind this building, close to the shore, stands a rusted pair of treads for heavy farming machinery. They look like tank treads, but can’t be, surely. The land becomes familiar, places I’ve trod many times over the years. It was in Seasalter, my dad says, that he rst realised he could live here, in Kent, after moving down from London. ‘I saw a pair of oyster-catchers ying into land. And I thought, yeah, I can handle this.’ We slog onto Whitstable, one nal push, and arrive at The Old Neptune pub. We buy the pints we’ve been craving for a few hours and have a sit down.
Rachael Allen was born in 1989 in Cornwall and studied English Literature at Goldsmiths College, University of London. She is the online and poetry editor for Granta, and co-editor of poetry anthology series Clinic and online journal Tender. Her poetry has appeared in The Best British Poetry 2013 (Salt), Poetry London, The Sunday Times, The White Review online, Stop Sharpening Your Knives 5, Dear World & Everyone In It (Bloodaxe), Night & Day (Chatto & Windus), and Five Dials. Her reviews and other writing have appeared in Ambit, Dazed & Confused, and Music & Literature. Noh Anothai was a researcher with the Thailand–United States Education Foundation (Fulbright Thailand) between 2011 and 2012. In that time, he translated programs and hosted cultural events for Thailand’s Ministry of Culture and College of Dramatic Arts. He has also written poems for the My First Book Project, which benets underprivileged Thai students. The winner of Lunch Ticket’s inaugural Gabo Prize for Translation and Multi-lingual Texts in 2014, Anothai has recently appeared in Silver Birch Press’s online Mythic Poetry Series and The Raintown Review, with work forthcoming in rhino. More information at imallthaidup.wordpress.com. Sophia Argyris was born in Belgium, spent much of her childhood in Scotland, and now lives in Oxfordshire where she writes, teaches yoga, and is a member of the Back Room Poets. Her work has appeared in various magazines, and her collection How Do the Parakeets Stay Green? (Indigo Dreams Publishing, 2014) won the Geoff Stevens Memorial Prize in 2013. Daniel Bennett was born in Shropshire in 1974. He is the author of the novel All the Dogs which Niall Grifths called “a compellingly written tract on the importance of nding a place on the earth”. He is currently working on a second novel and a collection of poems. Gary Budden is the co-founder of independent publisher Inux Press and works as ction editor for Ambit magazine. He lives in London. Will Burns was born in London and raised in Buckinghamshire. He didn’t nish his English degree, choosing instead to start a band with his
brother, releasing two albums. He worked in factories, cleaned windows and painted houses before settling in the music industry. He likes sports and ornithology and is proud to be Poet-in-Residence at Caught by the River and Festival No.6. His poems have been published by Structo, South Bank Poetry, Illustrated Ape and The Independent online, and he has appeared at the Glastonbury, Port Eliot, End of the Road and Green Man festivals. Willa Carroll is a nyc-based writer and performer. Her work has appeared in Tin House, 5 am, Free State Review, The Ilanot Review, Mary Magazine, Performance Journal, Stone Canoe, Tuesday; An Art Project, The Equalizer and Readings for Writers. She’s been a Pushcart Prize nominee, a semi-nalist for the Discovery/Boston Review Poetry Contest and the winner of Narrative Magazine’s Poetry Contest. Carroll’s worked as a contributing editor for Swink Magazine and The Bakery Poetry and has run poetry workshops in schools, colleges and writing centers. She holds a ba and an mfa from Bennington College. Rebecca Chamaa is a writer living in southern California. She has been published in Transition, Pearl, City Works, Voice Walks, and other anthologies and journals. Alex Christo was born and grew up in Dorset. After reading English at the University of Oxford, he moved to London to work in publishing. He has written a number of short pieces for theatre, and blogs about arts and culture for Prospect magazine. His rst novel, Glass, is published by Serpent’s Tail. Charlie Galbraith lives and works in London. He’s had a few stories published here and there and he hopes to have some more published in other places. Erin Morgan Gilbert’s essays, poems, and stories appear in publications such as agni, Bitch Magazine, and The Ilanot Review. She is an assistant editor at Asymptote, a composition instructor at Green River Community College, and a creative writing teacher at Huge House in Seattle. Born and raised in the Pacic Northwest, she grew up memorizing birdsong, eating berries, and learning the scientic names of evergreen trees in the forest that surrounded her childhood home.
David Hartley is a short story writer hidden in the cracks of the streets of Manchester trying to write strange tales about strange things and even stranger animals. His short story collection Threshold is haunted (probably) and available online with Gumbo Press. He blogs regularly at davidhartleywriter.blogspot.com and tweets occasional nonsense at @DHartleyWriter. Rebecca Hattersley lives in Brighton and is currently at work on her rst novel and a mildly sinister illustrated story about a tearful young woman and a vegetable. She also runs a small design studio with her partner. More at indyoucurious.co.uk. Zaffar Kunial was born in Birmingham and currently lives in Cumbria where he is the 2014 Wordsworth Trust Poet-in-Residence. His poem ‘Hill Speak’, at the time his only published poem, was placed third in the 2011 National Poetry Competition, and in 2012 he won a Northern Writers’ Award. A graduate of the lse, Zaffar has worked for the last ve years as a full-time ‘Creative Writer’ for Hallmark Cards in West Yorkshire. David McVey teaches Communication at New College Lanarkshire. He has published over 100 short stories as well as a lot of non-ction, much of which focuses on history and the outdoors. He enjoys hillwalking, visiting historic sites, reading, watching telly, and supporting his home-town football team, Kirkintilloch Rob Roy fc. Philip Miller is a journalist, writer and poet who lives and works in Glasgow. His short stories and poems have been published in Gutter, Valve Journal, Fish Anthology 2014, The Island Review, The Herald and Head On. His debut novel The Blue Horse will be published by Freight Books in March 2015. Nat Newman is an Australian writer currently living in Croatia. Learning Croatian is every bit as hard as it sounds but at least it gives her a great excuse to skive off from writing her novel. Nat has been published in Brittle Star, Headstuff, Literature Works, lotl, Opus, New Mardi Gras Short Stories 2011 and The Disappearing. She can often be found @lividlili. Pablo Otavalo lives and writes in Chicago with his partner Rachel and their inscrutable cats Sebastian and Dorothy Parker. He is a recipient of the 2013 and 2014 Illinois Emerging Poet Award and his work has recently appeared in rhino and Jet Fuel Review. He is a reluctant dancer.
Although born a commoner, Phu (1786–1856)—pronounced ‘pooh’— spent much of his life in royal service: rst as a page in one of Bangkok’s palaces, then as a favorite court poet, an instructor to young royals, and nally a court scribe. Although his magnum opus is the epic fantasy Phra Aphaimanee, Phu was also a prolic composer of nirat, or semiautobiographical travel poems, as well as of didactic, dramatic, and lyric works. Thailand honours him today as Sunthorn Phu—Phu the Eloquent— and celebrates his birthday every June 26th with recitals and performances of his poems. Mark Poole has lived in Glasgow, Edinburgh, London and the Lake District. His short story ‘Ham, Egg and Chips’ was published in issue nine of Structo. His debut novel, The Unkindness of Ravens – a dark comedy about politicians, vampires, journalists and the unseen side of Edinburgh – is now available on Amazon. On Pinterest, Mark’s Unseen Edinburgh board illustrates the setting of his novel. On Twitter, Mark is @markrpoole. Gillian Rioja was born in Manchester but has lived half her life in Spain. A few years ago she joined a local writing group and has had two stories published in Spanish magazines. However, she realised that to truly express herself she needed to write in her mother tongue, English. She is currently doing a distance-learning msc in creative writing with the University of Edinburgh. Declan Ryan was born in Co. Mayo, Ireland, in 1983 and lives in north London. His poems, reviews and essays have appeared in Poetry Review, Poetry London, The Spectator, poem, The Palm Beach Effect: Reections on Michael Hofmann (cb Editions) and elsewhere. He has an ma in Creative Writing from Royal Holloway where he is currently teaching and working on a phd on ‘perfect speech’ in the poems of Ian Hamilton. He co-edits the Days of Roses anthology series and is a poetry editor at Ambit. Karen Skoleld’s book Frost in the Low Areas (2013) won the 2014 pen New England Award in poetry and the rst Book Award from Zone 3 Press. She is a 2014 Massachusetts Cultural Council fellow and winner of the 2014 Split This Rock poetry prize. Skoleld is the poetry editor for Amherst Live and an associate editor at Sundress Publications, and teaches writing to engineers at the University of Massachusetts. This is her rst publication outside of the United States.
Annette Volng is an academic teaching medieval German literature at Oxford University. Her poems have appeared in a number of magazines, including Magma, The Interpreter’s House, Antiphon, The North, Other Poetry, Ink Sweat and Tears, Obsessed with Pipework, Neon and Snakeskin. She has been accepted on to the Poetry Business Writing School 2014–2016 and is working towards publishing a pamphlet.
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