New Poets Prize Reviews by Reece Merrifield

Ben Ray’s The Kindness of the Eel:

Exceeding already high expectations, Ben’s winning pamphlet is a treasure trove of niche historical detail woven together so superbly you come out of it with a much tighter-knit sense of community that spans across the entire European continent.

            ‘Interview with Female Members of the Solidarność Movement’ is a profound poem, tying five women’s experience of communist Poland into one cogently unified ‘voice of Solidarity!’. It is a linguistic achievement of the highest order that strengthens the poem’s narrative, a deft skill that defines Ben’s range and breadth of poetical expertise. You get surreal combinations, such as ‘their lungs / with rolodexes in our heads’, mixed in with brutal realities like ‘all of Warsaw was alight as if on fire again / I cried.’, covering all bases of the entire mood amongst not only the five women but almost all of Polish society under communist rule. It sucks you into that world so intimately, producing a tangible document of accessible worth that looks to smooth ‘each bump in the road’ of ignorance, becoming in itself ‘a small step leading to a better place’.

            Another example of unification – this time in the form of objects – is brilliantly put together in ‘Distance and Closeness: a tryptic’, specifically in ‘II. Inventory of the contents of my grandparents’ suitcase on their journey from Bulawayo, Rhodesia to Heathrow, England’. A mesmerising mesh of items that provides a strange yet wonderful insight of the immigrant experience, purposely bulging to outline how much is necessary to enter a whole new world. From the practical ‘2 pairs of custom-made sheepskin jackets’,  to the sentimental ‘4 small African masks’, the emotional ‘1 box of secrets’ and the political ‘1 original document of the Unilateral Declaration of Independence’, it is a thoroughly engaging poem with comments on colonialism, identity and memory, a list made to look so simple it is easy to forget how well honed and crafted a poem it actually is.

Each and every poem is a genuine delight and deserves to be a part of the New Poets Prize. You can read my review of Ben’s previous pamphlet – https://foxtrotuniformblog.wordpress.com/2019/09/27/review-what-i-heard-on-the-last-cassette-player-in-the-world-by-ben-ray/ – to get a further glimpse of his work, a lot of which is contained in this pamphlet also, but the additional poems in this work is absolutely worth getting a hold of. Ben is a very exciting poet and I’m eager to see what he has in store next time around.

Jay G Ying’s Katabasis:

A war-torn landscape pulled together into a devastating comment on the horror and helplessness of being in ‘the zone : From which no civilian returns’, Katabasis is an immense work that can be both complex and varied but also simple and uncompromisingly true.

            The opening poem, ‘Forwarding’, is an excellent introduction to the whole collection, fusing evocative and specific vocabulary to create utterly original images of noteworthy distinction. ‘I burnt War’s photographs over a grave by the fountain’s dovecote’ contains a multitude of meaning in one finely executed sentence; images of fire, water, death, peace, hope and violence creates an umbrella for the themes Jay explores throughout the pamphlet. There’s also lyrical beauty in an ironic ‘tender address to endless War’ and damning statements of ‘searching for a neck to hang from inside’ that makes it all the more impressive considering it is all contained within such a short poem.

The italicised collection of poems summarised as the ‘the great below …’ or ‘the underworld …’ holds no punches, providing thunderbolts of repetitions to hammer home the message of fighting, of escape and of defiance. There are harrowing similes, such as ‘She cries out in a voice that is as loud as the extraction of coal’, and images that linger disgustingly in the mind, ‘A carcass to be hung from a hook on War’s wall’, and threads seamlessly into one another as a powerful statement on the grim realities of war yet offering some form of hope and resistance, reminding the reader and character to ‘Refuse’ the so-called ‘gift[s]’ and ‘exit[s]’ of ‘War’.

A collection so tightly dedicated to its theme that never goes wayward and always produces creative surprises, Katabasis never ceased to pull me in and acutely made me aware of the injustice happening around us.

Abbie Neale’s Threadbare:

Sometimes subtle, mostly piercing and fiercely liberating, Threadbare is an honest account of poetry, encapsulating the problems of misogyny through deceptively simple yet much-needed ways of cutting to the heart of the problems.

            There are tender scars running through the current of this pamphlet, ‘winc[ing] at the thought of flowers’, ‘how it could take months to fold but seconds to fall’, unaddressed pain that needed an outlet, a balm not only to soothe but to heal as well. In ‘What the Women Wore’, there’s a crumb of redemption in a mother becoming ‘a little but smug’, getting a sort of one-over the previous man in reclaiming ‘a pink dressing / gown, long and loose, lined / with fleece for the winter nights’, not just for herself but for ‘the woman who came before’ and, you sense, for the women who come after. Towards the end, tip-toeing around the subject is thrown to waste in ‘Reclaiming the word’, bursting through taboo in ‘The forest where we fucked’, ending with a beautiful melding of nature and intimacy – ‘I suck the tips of the spreading purple perennial and serve / myself up, like the rain in the curved spoon-shaped leaves.’.

            The poem I had myself going back to was ‘Long distance’, a four quatrain pantoum that inevitably descends but, in its form, tries almost to tug itself back to the fond memories that come with ‘a nose bump and a bristly kiss’. The use of the pantoum perfectly fits with the theme, making not only the couple’s words but the words on the page ‘weigh on us like rain’, evocative for anyone who knows the weight of ‘another goodbye’ again and again.

            Threadbare is necessary for those who need an uncomfortable read, to reflect upon your actions and be aware what you can do to help unload the weight of pain that comes with toxic masculinity. More poetry like this needs to hit the pages, and soon.

Callan Waldron-Hall’s Learning to be Very Soft:

Callan’s water-filled pamphlet floats above the surface with some neat insights and allows its vulnerability to shine through in places, but I found myself flowing in and out of the poems unable to take too much away from it all.

            Chest Compressions starts us off with a clever usage of line breaks within lines themselves, giving us images starkly and uncompromisingly, a boy ‘coughing out water / the way he’d shudder’ doubly jarring with the break as well as the onomatopoeia that makes you ‘think of the past hour as practice’ chillingly more real. I Could Never Save Someone on a Full Stomach is a surreal narrative of a lifeguard’s thoughts, anxiously riddled with the fear of not saving someone from becoming ‘bloated / Any other day and I could have held the entire pool / in the dip between my ribs and hips.’

            Practice’s experimental structure gives the poem weight through the gaps between lines and words dropping quicker than they usually do. There is a nice back and forth between ‘Victim’ and Rescuer’, and also an interesting message of both learning and re-learning, going back to ‘fake drowning / when you can swim’, a back to basics in empathy allowing others to learn ‘how to save victim’. Something also catches you off-guard with the final line, ‘it is like learning to be very soft’, breaking down defences or barriers that once made you comfortable, but learning instead that to be comfortable sometimes means to be very vulnerable with others too, letting them take you in.

            Callan has obviously been able to unearth a wealth of experience and knowledge in the matters of water, and this undoubtedly helps his work on the page. It will be interesting to see if his next work delves into topics deeper than he has gone before.

Reviews for Live Canon: Lightfalls & Lovely Peripheries

Joshua’s Review of Lightfalls:

Lightfalls is the second collection by the Indian born poet Gillie Robic. It is a collection that explores the human emotion, systematically using the relationship between light and dark as a metaphor for life’s movement. Although, the collection is primarily about light, Robic evidently notices and acknowledges the fact that there cannot be light without first the experience of darkness. This conflict is playfully explored throughout Robic’s poetry with light falling through darkness (as in the title), or the dominance of darkness coming through when the devil is ‘scribbling on the light of God’.

               At first glance, there is a seeming sparseness to the poetry within Lightfalls. However, where the volume of words is light, there seems to be much weight in Robic’s poetry. Exploring questions of theology, memory, and love it is hard to escape the weightiness of the subject but in its execution the poetry falls through the page like the light it describes. Take for example, ‘And so I pray’, a poem that is actually one of the longer ones within this collection but at 15 short lines still manages to capture the existentialism of modern life. In the poem Robic explores love and death with seemingly everyday images ‘Peril paints the horizon…while I butter my toast’, ‘The sun turns a dirty London corner/ and conjures a luminous cityscape/ from cracks in the concrete’. It is in these beautifully illustrated everyday images that Robic’s strength lies.

Reece’s Review of Lovely Peripheries:

In parts humorous, in others surreal, Campbell’s Lovely Peripheries serves up moments of interesting introspection and conjures up some amazing images with his linguistic capabilities.

The poem that instantly caught my attention was ‘Beheading at a wedding’, which by the title alone promises to take you on the strangest of journeys, and lives up to the expectation. Beginning with wax dripping from ‘everyone’, an image strengthened by the structural line breaks, to the ‘father cuffed / to her wrist’ and a veil transforming into an octopus that eats the grain of the groom, the poem impressed me with its ability to become so vivid in my mind for such an odd set of circumstances.

Afterwards we get ‘Asunder on the metro’, starting off in the familiar experience of taking a nap on public transport. However, it wastes no time in taking us into a dream of apocalyptic proportions, where a bear the size of a mountain weeps in a ‘snowy landscape’, causing the snow to melt all around. But, just as swiftly, we are then taken back with a bang to the head to ‘new faces’ on the metro, disrupting for a moment the tired traveller until, once more, his ‘eyes close, the sound of the tram’s wheels fades.’ Thus follows even stranger images of Persian cats and small fluorescent orbs interspersed with yet more disruption that is both dizzying but deftly done by Campbell.

I think Campbell’s strength lies in his expansive imagination and his travel poems, with lines like ‘woollen wisps floating around charcoaled carcasses’ and ‘My neck wilts … the drop-down table creates dents on forehead’ both extremely creative and relatable to travellers and commuters alike. Overall, an interesting collection containing some worthful highlights.

Cobblestone Mystics – Our Latest Pamphlet

The incredibly talented Matthew Mullins is our next poet to trust us with the distribution of his pamphlet, Cobblestone Mystics, ready to buy now for only £2.50!

‘A epic poem in three parts that takes you on more twists and turns than than the headiest helter-skelter, Matthew’s Mystics enlightens the ordinary with dark humour and to-the-point imagery that will keep you transfixed with each cobblestone of verse’ – Reece David Merrifield, editor of Foxtrot Uniform.

Furthermore, Matthew is part of The Eskimo Chain, whose new album you should certainly give a listen! Simply click on the link below:

2019 Live Canon Pamphlet Competition – Reviews by Foxtrot Uniform

In January Joshua and I were approached by Live Canon to review the four winners of their competition. With intrigue we took to the task, and here are the results:

Reviews by Reece Merrifield:

Katie Griffiths’ My Shrink is Pregnant

A tightly themed poetical analysis on the intimacy between patient and therapist and its blurring boundaries, Griffiths’ pamphlet effectively explores the emotions involved inside the consulting room.

            The poem that stuck out for me came near the end, ‘My Shrink Brings Back Curious Souvenirs’, with the 2nd stanza reading like a Spanish equivalent of the French national motto but for the mind, giving constructive definitions for the words ‘Recalibración’ ‘Equilibración’ & Purificación’. Most of the poems also contain wonderful images that are likely to stick with you permanently, such as ‘Branches fork in endless possibilities / making endless bids for freedom’ in ‘My Shrink’s Window’, and lines that I can only imagine perfectly resonate anyone needing therapy, the most pertinent being ‘May she gently disturb my turf, / helping me to leave this room / not the way I entered’ in ‘My Shrink Asks Me What I am Hoping to Get’.

            I also find Griffiths’ blending of titles into the next line a subtle piece of ingeniousness, a clever piece of textual imagery that creates a neat contrast, one fine example being ‘‘My Shrink Has to Agree’ / that suicide is the final option’. I also found the therapist’s pregnancy as a two-sided metaphor – one of rebirth but also one of abandon, attending to the needs of another vulnerable being – an original take that offered multifarious expressions to the poems from beginning to end.

            Probably to give it its biggest compliment, Griffiths’ manages to speak not only directly to other patients who can sympathise with the narrator, but also opens up an understanding for those who are unaware of the process of therapy. Truly a read that can and should be had by all.

Tania Hershman’s How High Did She Fly?

There is much to ponder on in Tania’s pamphlet, especially her takes on The Crucible, a poignant play in these wild times.

            Tania exhibits deft technique through repetition, creating a whirlpool that makes the reader zero in on the crux of the matters she is aiming to portray. In ‘Mary Warren (1)’ she lays bare the advantages of peeping, and the knowledge to be gained from ‘a small way to look’, and in the end almost breaking a fourth wall by ending the poem with ‘which of us is the great one now, /and which of us is blind?’. Again, in ‘Abigail (5)’, she creates a bombardment of a poem from the simple line, ‘A wild thing may say wild things’ in Miller’s Crucible, giving punchy responses for those who indeed ‘never did wild things’, a clever counter-response with those without ‘wild words’.

            Although not as strong as a collection, the other half of the pamphlet certainly has its highlights. ‘Alone with Scissors’ is a harrowing poem whose line breaks create a wicked suspense, a narrator obviously in the grips of despair who ‘in the darkness, / cutting’ alludes to just more than cutting her own hair. Furthermore, ‘I am’ is an elegantly simple poem with a rhythm fully suited to a floating, weaving ‘part-leaf / part-lake’ that ends on a rather ambiguous ‘bank / you can never reach’.

            The collection overall has certainly made an impression on me, and wishing her further success with her recently released and what if we were all allowed to disappear, something I would definitely love to come across soon.

Reviews by Joshua Cialis:

Yellow by Miranda Peake:

Miranda Peake’s pamphlet Yellow takes seemingly everyday events and presents them in a rather surreal way: steering planes with ‘music and magazines’ or the unresponsiveness of winter. Peake’s way with imagery allows us to live within the pamphlet, forces us to take on its emotion but also its humour and realness of life. It may be for this reason that Miranda Peake has been published in so many high profile magazines such as Ambit, Under the Radar, and by the Poetry School.

My favourite poem within this pamphlet is ‘Dear Virgo’, the story of a day, of waking up, getting ready, travelling through the rain on ‘wet webbed feet’ and reading the day’s horoscope. The imagery of ‘Dear Virgo’ is so subtle that it cleverly builds the scene using sound and movement: a crowd is grown out of shoulders and knees and people ‘sliding towards sandwiches’. This poem seems to be a triumph of everyday action – or inaction whichever way we might look at it.

Why? And other questions by Robin Houghton

Robin Houghton’s pamphlet Why? And other questions successfully blends art and everyday life with poetry. As you might expect from a title including a question, this pamphlet asks many questions which makes this pamphlet moving in ways it wouldn’t be if we were merely told answers. Houghton also does something that lacks in a lot of contemporary poetry (and something that I personally would normally steer clear of), rhyme. Houghton uses rhyme in a strong and subtle way that hammers home his point quite clearly.

Something that I love about this pamphlet is the mention of art throughout the poems; there’s mentions of Rodin, the act of sculpture, photography, and even two poems dedicated to T.J. Cobden-Sanderson the co-creator of Dove typeface. The blend of art and poetry has always been something that intrigues me and allows the reader to build a better image using these well-known artistic motifs. One poem that so successfully manages to blend the line between visual art and poetry in this pamphlet is ‘I ask what colour is the sea’; a poem which is synesthetic in its approach to answering the question.

I find it greyscale of gull belly caught in a squint, a hint of gravestone.
Some days a sick greenish grey. But I ask the world and it says blue.

Some days I see a red horizon, its neat cut staunched by blotting paper,
a frieze of container ships like comedy castles, a spot of shadow play.

These lines successfully and beautifully answer the question posed while simultaneously regarding a certain annoyance at the simplicity of how others might answer ‘But I ask the world and it says blue’. The poem not only answers its question about the sea but also poses many more questions about the power of vision and of comparison.

I enjoyed reading Robin Houghton’s Why? And other questions, if you think you’d like to buy it go visit Live Canon Press’ website to order yourself a copy.

Review – ‘What I Heard on the Last Cassette Player in the World’ by Ben Ray

Words and Photograph by Reece David Merrifield

A cleverly, carefully curated collection that spans across a dazzling number of timelines and topics, Ben’s work had me mesmerised from start to finish.

            The interspersed ‘Knee Plays’ are an inspired addition that offer brilliant tongue-in-cheek relief, personal favourites including ‘Reasons to embrace the rising sea levels’ and ‘Listening to Hitler’s speeches whilst exploring Warsaw’. A brief explanation of what ‘Knee Plays’ actually are could read as a poem all by itself, such is the way that Ben is able to weave his inspirations into the collection, adding gloss via grit which does not go unappreciated by the reader.

            What also comes across is the watertight knack for word structure, where each syllable is like mini-waves coming off an untroubled duck’s back. The impressively specific ‘Meditation on three wooden barrels from a shipwreck found in Gdansk harbour, dated to the early 15th century’ is testament to it, and allows for seamless reading where one could otherwise become instantly lost to the Baltic sea.

            The underlying thread of combatting climate change is deftly tackled with in a flexible manner, with swift shifts from the epic seriousness to the deadpan one-liner displayed in ‘Greenpeace’s final strategy’, and to the utterly cynical yet pinpoint ‘And now we are inside the mind of Nicolae Ceauşescu’. A very prominent and contemporary talking point can easily drag poets down into the cliché pit, but Ben creates clever angles to position his poems in a satisfyingly disorientated manner, which is an apt description for most of this collection.

            A final note to Ben himself, who not only trusted us with his work in one of our previous magazines, but also to grant us this opportunity for reviewing his work. We thank you wholeheartedly, and truly has been a pleasure for myself to read his work in a wider context. It is only one direction Ben is heading in, and it’s not difficult to guess which it is.

All the chapters and the world present a central problem: The Art of the Cut-up

Picture by Burroughs and Gysin, Words by Joshua Cialis

The title of this essay comes from my recent experiments with the cut-up method of writing. Devised by Brion Gysin and made famous by William Burroughs, the cut-up method seeks to ‘deconstruct language as an act of spiritual rebellion’ (Ash: 1997, p.46). This article will give an overview of the history and method of cut-ups, and also discussion of its uses.

                Inspired by Tristan Tzara’s attempts to create poetry by randomly plucking words out of a hat, Gysin went one step further by cutting through ‘someone else’s rusty load of continuity’ in order to create new art and new ways of writing. (Burroughs: 2000, p.270).The simple method includes taking a page of words and cutting it into a quadrant (so that the top left tile becomes 1, top-right 2, bottom left 3, and bottom right 4); swap the positioning of the tiles so that 2 becomes 3 (1 and 4 will remain in their original position). Read along the joins of this new text looking for phrases or sentences that work together or jolt your conscience. These new sentences don’t have to make any real sense, they just have to speak to some greater hidden meaning within your mind. You could either leave these phrases as simple sentences, or pluck phrases and sentences that go together from throughout the text to create a paragraph. I used this method with Boris Johnson’s inaugural speech as prime minister and got some illuminating Prose:

The doubters and the doomsters don’t have to wait 3 weeks to get it wrong again. The people who lose their shirts because we are really going to the front line and we are going to fulfil their fear of people and come out of the cost of caring.

As we can see from the above cut-up, there is a random nature to the sentences produced but yet there is still a sense of reality to what they say. Burroughs actually believed that these new augmentations carry the true meaning of the original text In some cases, Burroughs believed the cut-ups actually predicted future events. In his essay ‘It Belongs to the Cucumbers’, Burroughs gives the following anecdote: ‘I cut up an article by John Paul Getty and got “It is a bad thing to sue your own father.” And a year later one of his sons did sue him’ (Burroughs: 2013, p.66). is this just coincidence or could the cut-up method really have psychic tendencies? Does this mean Boris Johnson intends to take the fight for Brexit to ‘the front line’? Until the evidence provides itself, we can only speculate. However, the cut-up method does seem to overcome the ‘control’ that words have on the reader. Burroughs believed that it is our addiction to words that controls us by terrestrial, political, religious, economic, and even extra-terrestrial means. He asserted that those who control both the supply and meaning of words can control those who are addicted to them. Deconstructing and rearranging words or thoughts, through the use of cut-ups, can start that process of decontrol. Therefore, by cutting up Boris Johnson’s speech – which is essentially an article of propaganda – I have taken away from the controlling notion that propaganda wants me to think or act in a certain way. I have taken possession of the words and thus taken the control out of the hands of government – if only for my own conscience.

In a recent cut-up experiment I cut an essay on language up into four parts; rearranging the tiles produced some interesting truths which may get to the central meaning of what the author was trying to portray. Or maybe cutting into an essay on the rules and techniques of language I was in fact cutting away at the control that language holds over our writing and communication:

All the chapters and the world present a central problem. When Plato handed the world naturalism deconstruction occurred. Deconstruction consistently engages literary criticism; metaphors actually hold the mirror to nature. This distinction is implicit considering that part of literary texts start from an assumed separation.

So why not take your own control of language, find what it is that needs to be released from a text. Hold a mirror up to nature by trying your own cut-ups, use this essay – cut it up into four parts and determine what I’m really saying as I waffle on.

Cited texts:
Ash, M. Beat Spirit: The Way of the Beat Writers as a Living Experience (New York: Putnam Books, 1997)
Burroughs, W. S. ‘It Belongs to the Cucumbers’ in The Adding Machine (New York: Grove Press, 2013) pp.65-74
Burroughs, W. S. quoted in James Campbell, This is the beat generation (London: Vintage, 2000)

Available Now!!

Both Foxtrot Uniform: 004 and Luke Scarisbrick’s debut pamphlet, I Bought a Skull called Francis, are now available to order from our website.

Foxtrot Uniform: 004 is a poetry magazine for our troubled times. Full of hope, darkness, and creativity FU spans several continents bringing us all together using fresh words. You can buy 004 for £3.00 (plus postage if living outside the UK).

I Bought a Skull Called Francis – an idle year in ten movements is the debut pamphlet by Luke Scarisbrick. The pamphlet charts a year in the life by mixing poetry with polaroid pictures.
The poetry is surreal and straight-up hilarious, but it is also tinged with darkness, which the polaroid pictures both exacerbate and illuminate. You can buy I Bought a Skull Called Francis for the amazing price of £2.50 (plus postage if living outside the UK).

To order a copy simply send the correct money along with your postal address to https://paypal.me/FoxtrotUniform?locale.x=en_GB then we will get your order in the post.

Please help spread the word so that we can share these amazing words even further and wider!

March Poems

Continuing with our monthly series, Josh and I have decided to share poems we have written to each other in letters over the past 3 months, entitled ‘Lines in Envelopes’:

I

Modernist monsters in the machine of night
pour beer on all our dreams
,no movement to surf on, all stragglers
in need of clarity, sober perhaps?

But probably otherwise.
The piano slips through changes
cleaning up the strain of doubt.
I don’t know a lot about music but

I can tell something’s off-beat
when we shuffle our feet
perpetually to someone else’s drum.

II

TV screens in hues of pink,
a plastic rose atop a radio

a whiff of hairspray
the death chambers are coming

A little too concrete for my liking,
dial it down to an unkempt sound
that looks like breakfast in the afternoon

or silver service on the streets
and the circus leaving town.

III

Filthy shoes and empty ferries
year of the pigs here already
will need something
stronger than a sherry

But a bottle of Perrier will not do
so I’ll sit here under a tunnel
etching my name into law and lord.

IV

Brutal buildings losing their shine
as the modern brute bullies the remnants
of a complicated century.

V

Just before

            Coffee

I

            Reveal something important

The Utopia

            Screaming at me to

Speak to strangers

I Bought a Skull Called Francis – Luke Scarisbrick

Cover art by Evan Gilsenan

It is a busy time for us here at the Foxtrot Uniform office. Not only is 004 on its way to you – we also have an amazing debut pamphlet by Luke Scarisbrick coming your way.

I Bought a Skull Called Francis – an idle year in ten movements is the debut pamphlet by Luke Scarisbrick. The pamphlet charts a year in the life by mixing poetry with polaroid pictures.
The poetry is surreal and straight-up hilarious, but it is also tinged with darkness, which the polaroid pictures both exacerbate and illuminate.

Luke has been a friend of Foxtrot Uniform since we set out in 2017. His poems, ‘Ian Didn’t Like My Rock Song (In F# Minor)’ and ‘Facebook ZuckBook’, have been published in previous issues of Foxtrot Uniform. Now you can buy a complete pamphlet of 10 pieces. Luke’s pamphlet will be available to order on the 1st April; you’d be a fool to miss it!

Coming Very Soon…

Cover art by Jessica Powell

It’s that time of year again: Foxtrot Uniform: 004 will be available from April 1st – only a few days away!

We have just finished going through the submission pile (which was full of amazing work) and are, as we post this, piecing together the final few touches. We were amazed by the quality and diversity sent to us, and we can only thank the creative community for being so very vibrant. We have poetry, we have prose, we even have a couple of collages for you to admire!

Thank you to everyone who has been a part of the process, and we hope the words keep spreading!