Categories
a writer's life Publishing Short Stories

Proof positive

I want to heartily recommend Tess Jolly. Not only is she an amazing poet but she is also a fabulous proof reader. I asked Tess to proof a few of my short fictions which I am tentatively starting to assemble into a collection.

She found a fair amount to fix: including a regrettable promiscuity with commas and the odd toe-curling typo (including the classic patios when I meant patois) the odd tautology and so on. It was great to feel the MS was now more watertight.

Little bad habits, invisible to you as the perpetrator, being made suddenly visible was a little like having a writing masterclass. I fully intend to use Tess’ eagle eyes on my prose projects from now on. I can wholeheartedly recommend her.

You can find out more on her Poems and Proofs site here.

Categories
Fiction Planet Poetry Poetry

It’s uncanny – Tess Jolly and Krishan Coupland on Planet Poetry

Robin and I have just uploaded the latest episode of Planet Poetry. This one dabbles in the Uncanny, and is an overlap in the Venn diagram of my interests, with my interests in dark fiction and black comedy.

Tess Jolly has cropped up severally in this blog. I have always been a fan of Tess’s work — for my first glance at her earlier pamphlets see here and here on this blog, and I am delighted she has been snapped up by the excellent Blue Diode for her new collection Breakfast at the Origami Cafe.

Krishan Coupland is that rare thing, an accomplished editor with a particular vision. I have subscribed to his magazine Neon, and it has marked out a distinct territory for itself both in poetry and prose… And it looks great too.

Listen to the podcast where you normally would get podcasts, or simply click here…

Categories
Planet Poetry Poetry

Zoom launches, Planet Poetry, and a spot of horror

England is in its second day of its second national lockdown. The outcome of the US Presidential Election is on a knife edge, but I know readers of this blog will have lain awake at night wondering what on earth has Peter Kenny been doing?

Yesterday Robin Houghton and I — the Smashy and Nicey of poetry podcasting — released another episode of Panet Poetry into the wild. There’s a fascinating interview by Robin with Clare Shaw, who discusses and reads from her book Flood triggered by the flooding of her hometown in 2015. Robin gave me Flood recently, and I can heartily recommend it. In the podcast I also chat with Elizabeth Murtough the thoughtful and highly talented co-editor of  Channel, Ireland’s Environmentalist Literary Magazine. You simply get the podcast wherever you normally get podcasts or go here.

Robin and I have only met twice in person since Covid struck and we decided to launch the podcast in the first lockdown. A couple of days ago, we met up in Lewes, and ended up having a solitary drink in an empty open air terrace on top of a pub in Lewes called The Rights of Man, doing a bit of recording, drinking a couple of drinks, and eating crisps with freezing hands as the November sun sank and imaginary penguins, arctic foxes, polar bears etc. stirred in the shadows. We were outside and there was only one other person there, who left pronto when we started muttering about poetry. Lewes’s famous Guy Fawkes bonfires and fireworks had to be cancelled this year. For enthusiasts of explosions, 2020 was a damp squib.

That said, I am thoroughly enjoying Zoom poetry events, such as the launch of Tess Jolly’s Breakfast at the Origami Cafe from Blue Diode Press. Regular visitors know I’ve admired Tess’s poetry for a long time, and I am really pleased for her. (I have interviewed her for a forthcoming Podcast too). Tess read with Charlotte Gann, another of my personal favourites, who read from her new collection, The Girl Who Cried which is a tour de force — another launch I attended online this year. Also reading was Karen Smith, whose reading made me want to investigate more. Rob MacKenzie from Blue Diode, based in Leith, hosted — and is clearly an excellent and supportive Editor. I got to hang out with some friends in the zoom audience afterwards and talk a little to Ann Perrin who I only encounter in cyberspace.

As for my own poetry, apart from a stonking January 1st, when I had my 24 poem sequence published online at e.ratio in the USA. I have not written or published much this year. I had a small poem The Door in The Wall, which in part refers to the story of the same name by H.G. Wells, in London Grip, and I am very grateful to its poetry editor Michael Bartholomew-Biggs. I began scribbling again last month however, so maybe not all is lost.

As for my horrific side, a couple of days ago I was chuffed to learn that I have one of my new short stories, The Grieving, accepted by Supernatural Tales. As Skelton Yawngrave I also have been writing a sequel to my children’s book Magnificent Grace, but although I have made some progress, I find my elevated anxiety levels, always pretty high at the best of times, makes the prospect of holding a larger project in my head quite challenging. I had been going into schools before the first lockdown doing readings and selling books by the boxload, to try to get momentum going for this self-published experiment. But sadly Covid stubbed that toe too.

All the best to everyone reading this. Stay safe and keep smiling!

Categories
Poetry

Between beauty and terror

Thus the blue hour comes by Tess Jolly, Indigo Dreams Publishing 

I love Tess Jolly’s poems, and I posted my look at her first collection Touchpapers here. Her latest, Thus the blue hour comes  from Indigo Pamphlets confirmed the promise of her first pamphlet with what is, in my view, a beautifully coherent and even stronger collection.

I saw the collection before it went to print, and was asked for a quote for the back cover. I still stand by what I said then, which was:  The mysterious, almost unnerving, quality of Tess Jolly’s poetry carries a cold fire into recesses of the imagination — and when we dare look with her, we glimpse treasures gleaming in the dark. For, as I noted with her first collection, Tess Jolly’s poetry contains magic. In her poems you will find yourself stumbling into wonder. Frequently too, you’ll encounter a mood of genuine gothic creepiness, where objects are supercharged with a magnetic significance.

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In this collection, Tess Jolly employs some traditional symbols, but in a way that makes your hair stained on end. The moon, a symbol freighted with associations and often traditionally associated with the feminine, fertility, and the subconscious mind, is here compared to bone.

                        Moon is no longer moon.
It is a spinal cord of light pulsing dark water

in which the counting sheep have drowned.

(The Night Light)

Bone-shadow, skelton moon,
echo of the beat breaking through me

she settles into the eiderdown –
a bird on its nest – opens
the ragged canopy of its wings.

(Thirteen)

The ‘She’ of the poems takes on many forms, she observes the act of vomiting,

Her favourite view
is of the back
of my head
as seen from above.
Something about the way
my long hair
parts at the neck
movs her
and the sounds I make
when bowed like this –
acidy, guttural –
mothlight catching
the dark little hairs
on my nape
which shines
like cut glass.

(The back of my head as seen from above)

She is intimately aware of changes in the body.

She strokes the bloom of hair on my back.
Praises the absence of blood.

(Little Gannet)

This accumulation of physical details and gaunt, skeletal imagery, strongly suggest that we are dealing with the experience of anorexia. The word anorexia never appears in the collection, however, and the poems achieve a kind of universality in their depiction of a battle for survival and control over a subtle enemy. For there are temptations of this gaunt other:

She throws me diamonds, pearls,
glittering scraps.
Teaches me the art

of make-believe

(Jewels)

The poem The Cliff Path, which I quote in full, is chillingly brilliant. The temptation to follow the path till the end is so evident.

The Cliff Path

She tells me it’s my turn.
I follow her down long corridors
past scapula, clavicle, pelvis, rib

woven into wreaths hanging
on every door, through the trees
onto the cliff path.

Shadows lengthen before us:
creatures disturbed in magic mirrors,
genies summoned from bottles.

I can see the house in the distance,
the ghosts lingering
like breath on its windows.

In my opinion Tess Jolly is one of the UK’s most exciting poets, writing in a way that is full of otherworldly beauty and terror. Her poems remind me of Rilke’s lines from the first of the Duino Elegies:

                                                   For Beauty’s nothing
but the beginning of Terror we’re still able to bear,
and why we adore it so is because it serenely
disdains to destroy us.

(Tr. J.B.Leishman and Steven Spender)

In my view, Tess Jolly walks the tightrope strung between beauty and terror with absolute bravura.

Categories
Poetry Reviews

A poet between worlds

Touchpapers by Tess Jolly, published by Eyewear Aviator 2016 Series

cover_jolly_print_1024x1024There is a magic and darkly fairytale quality in Tess Jolly’s work which I greatly admire. The poetry is the product of a powerful imagination.

In several poems a brother is depicted as a magical other, and their sibling relationship seems closest when dressing up, or playing imaginative games.

my legs swinging, his anchored to the floor –
one of us would shriek the code name

and we’d both hunch knees to chests,
pretend to be scared as the ground gave way
to glittering blue and silver carapaces,
giant razor crabs screeching and rattling scales
in rock-pools of pavement or lino.  

(Crab Water) 

In The Gingerbread House, where ‘I follow crumbs through the wood to find him’ the recurring brother and sister theme becomes filtered through a nightmarish lens:

He wants to show me around. We feel our way
along the sticky walls like children learning the dark.
Licking sugar from his lips he tries to hoist me
onto his shoulders as if he hasn’t realised I’ve grown.
I admire the toffee paving-slabs, butter-cream roofs.
He opens wide. Mice are nibbling his tongue.

(The Gingerbread House)

Having establishing that their realest connection was through a kind of make-believe, Tess Jolly’s poems function as acts of magical reanimation. As long as the imagination is alive, the relationship still exists. This is something I personally find very moving.

The poem Prayer is starker and uncloaked. Rigorous critics tend to resist biographical interpretations, but I find it hard not to draw the conclusion that the brother figure is also the same person featured in the two extraordinarily powerful end-of-life poems, Prayer and We’ll talk about this when it’s over.

If I prayed at all it wasn’t when I thought you were dying,
when children and dogs oozed from pavements
to gawp at you: a falang with shrivelled limbs and jaw
hanging, eyes dragged deep in their sockets.

(Prayer)

Touchpapers moves from such harrowing desperation to moments of beauty. At the end of Prayer the poem’s narrator is momentarily absorbed by looking out at the stars and moonlight on the sea. Tess Jolly’s imaginative leaps can make me laugh out loud too. Take the start of Frog:

Frog and I sit opposite each other comparing belches.
Obviously Frog’s are louder.

(Frog)

I’m not sure why this works so well. Maybe it’s the deadpan matter of factness. We are instantly there, with no necessity to suspend disbelief at this manifestation of the magical other.

… I have to be careful because Frog’s secretions
can be toxic, and there’s the danger his skin will dry
if we spend too long between worlds like this
mostly conversing but sometimes just squatting in silence.

(Frog)

Between worlds. That pinpoints it for me. Tess Jolly’s Touchpapers brings an otherworldly beauty, which stimulates the reader’s sense of wonder. Tess Jolly’s book is a tour de force of the imagination, and of course this quick look has only scratched its surface. But I highly recommend you read it for yourself.