Blowing my own trumpet Poetry

Weird to win


I won the small Happenstance poetry competition about dreams, with a short poem called Formication. I don’t win competitions: fact. So it felt weird to be contacted by Helena Nelson at Happenstance, who publishes my pal Charlotte Gann among others, to be told I’d won a small competition. It’s made me have all these wild thoughts. If I could win a small competition, maybe I could one day win a bigger one.

What was extremely valuable to me was the feedback I got from J.O. Morgan in his blog post. To know someone has given your work enough attention to unpack the poem is everything a writer can ask. And when it is a poet of J.O. Morgan’s stature (he was one of the poets in last year’s TSE shortlist) then this made me even more chuffed.

I have written about two dozen shorter poems in a new style this year (two dozen is loads for me) and Formication is one of them. This thumbs-up for a new approach couldn’t have come at a better time. So here’s my wee poem. Formication, by the way, is the name for the feeling that insects are crawling over your skin.


The Dictionary for Dreamers says insects
are worries, at least in dreams. Therefore
all those ant poisons, the Raid and Nippon
under the sink, are there to calm me.

I loathe their collective mind, the purposeful lines
that trickle from my ears onto my pillow.
I hate how once you get one, you get more,
lofting bitten dreams in their leaf-cutter jaws.

Peter Kenny

Poetry Reviews

The darkness is real

Noir by Charlotte Gann published by HappenStance Press9781910131350_1793727299.jpg

Noir is a word with a freight of associations, but in the title poem of Charlotte Gann’s first full collection the protagonist enters what seems to be a cinema where ‘I only ever catch a moon-thin glimpse /of the projectionist’s face…’ This fits happily with the film noir atmosphere in many of these poems. The cinema (or what seems to be a cinema) is the place ‘where my life and the darkness meet’.

But what the ‘I’ of the poem is watching, or how she feels about the projectionist, or the liquidly tangible darkness with its ‘deep thick folds of milky black,’ is another matter.

Darkness leaks into the poems, a darkness impossible for the trained eye of the protagonist to miss, but perhaps unnoticed by others.

                                        …I can’t not see
the cold dark water, can’t not feel its oil
seep through my boyfriend’s jumper.

(The Black Water)

An atmosphere of spy-like surveillance pervades these poems. People peer at each other’s apparently mundane lives and catch glimpses of darkness and impending catastrophe. In Tunnel, ‘She and I, two farmers’ wives’ are shown drinking ‘giant frosted lagers’ but soon we are in territory that reminds me of filmmaker David Lynch: ‘The darkness is real, she says, leaning towards me’.

When we are hunting for clues, we see this is a world where windows take on an unusual significance, offering portals into other realities, or presenting us with choices to be made.

Where are you getting your information?
My walls are papered with newspaper
cuttings–black and white on deep-red
plaster. Through one window I see
the red-brick houses I grew up in. Through
another, cliffs and sea and wild woodland.
(Column inches)

Sometimes this choice is evaded, the world outside to be hidden from.

We’re at the small high window.
You stand. I kneel, rest my cheek
on the window sill.

You’re reaching for the letterbox
of blue, I’m ducking down low.

One of the cumulative effects of all this is that it begins to supercharge Gann’s images. We are in Gannland as soon as we notice that the woman sitting alone in a pub is wearing a black jumper. Something’s not right:

She sits alone, swaddled
in a boy’s black jumper
unravelling at the cuffs,

(The King’s Head)

Noir provokes all kinds of questions. There is an inherent seriousness to this work that I find thrilling. In the angst, the curious interplay of observed and observing, and the sense of near-palpable danger, there is a dark magnificence to these poems.