Posts Tagged ‘Foldback Left’

New Poetry: Chair, Lupercalia, California by Abi Curtis

Chair

Not the couch: that animal slumber
disguised beneath tapestries
Not that but the seat he tucked under
an expanse of desk
with its four, elegant insect-legs,
shaped as a man with a blank
totem’s head, arms curved out
to receive.

Dark, cracked leather the colour
of book-binding, or last days of a rose,
the cut nub of a cigar, its ember
catching in the rug, the inside
of my cheek where I chew,
or his. The flavour of Thursday,
a stained wooden spoon, bad luck.
Good luck. A blend of pleasure
and regret. That.
It smells of an Autumn stopped
from turning and swivels
only with effort

preferring to face a crowd
of statuettes: Greek, Roman, Chinese.
Tiny, petrified gods.
Captive audience.
Sit in his place and touch their heads.
Notice the Baboon of Thoth has a skull
smooth as soapstone, as skin. He looks
unlikely but his charge is writing.
Don’t worship; sit with him
and let them watch.
Sink back into the indentation,
ghost of a spine.
Let the arms enclose you,
take this paper,
start again.

©Abi Curtis 2009

Lupercalia

This is a night to go out
Dare the wolves to circle.
Beyond the fire their eyes
uncountable
Beyond those, breathing rolls back
to a forest of firs
shaped as the flights of arrows.

This is a night to go out
Put on layers and layers
Keep your own warmth close
Don’t envy fire in any window
Swivel your ears
to the noises you love
Keep low
Take your leave.

This is the night to go out
Your shoulders roll towards
the Prussian blue of later
the soft-spots of an old dusk
the tender fury of clouds
Follow this logic and

hours from now, you’ll witness
a marriage in the alley-way
six eyes telling you
Keep our secret, we have our reasons
You circle them
Lope to where there’s room
to view approving looks
from the moon.

This is the night you’ll end up
calling through the o-shaped valve
of the throat, long and loud
until everything’s connected
The night you won’t remember how
you made it home
or got like this:
smoky and besotted.

©Abi Curtis 2007

(Originally published in Humbug, Tall-Lighthouse 2007)
California

We dug our heels into the sand at Santa Barbara
and from the shore we witnessed pelicans drilling
down the air through a solidity of water,
breaking the blue skin of the world.

We couldn’t take our eyes from the diving bird:
a beak somewhere between a spoon and a saw,
wise-eyed and plump he targeted lunch,
floating back up with a catch swinging,
packed in the loose suitcase of his mouth.

The pier stretched on with our line of sight
into the haze.

©Abi Curtis 2009

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Abi Curtis recently won the Crawshaw Prize for Poetry and her collection Unexpected Weather is forthcoming from Salt. She won an Eric Gregory award in 2004 and published a pamphlet, Humbug, with Tall-Lighthouse in 2007. She lives in Brighton and lectures at Sussex University.

New Short Fiction: Do You Remember the First Time by Cathi Unsworth

“Would you like to do something special for a lot of money?”

It was nothing Sue hadn’t heard before. The man who was asking was dressed in a grey chauffeur’s livery, his cap in his hands along with a pair of black leather gloves. He had parked his Rolls Royce along the pavement by Embankment Gardens some minutes previously and made his way straight over to the bench where she was sitting. He obviously knew the score.

By the side of Charing Cross Station, on the banks of the Thames that glittered dark and dangerous in the sodium glow of the streetlights, was where you came when you had an itch you couldn’t scratch. Or, if you were like Sue, when you had nowhere else to go. She had first found herself here only hours after she’d arrived in London, the colonel’s £20 tight in her fist. Her introduction to the Smoke not perhaps the most auspicious; a pick-up on King’s Cross station, a man with military bearing who had spoken in a voice of decorum and privilege, offering her employment as his live-in maid.

One short trip to Bloomsbury later and that decorum had dissolved before her eyes. The colonel wanted to take parade. He’d had her strip naked and stand with legs and arms outstretched while he, wearing only riding boots, a Sam Browne belt and his officer’s cap, screamed “Fire!” and threw a handful of strawberry jam right between her legs. The direct hit splattered, the colonel’s eyes bulged and he spasmed like he was having a heart attack. That was Sue’s cue to make a run for it, snatching the money he’d laid out on the table as she fled, strawberries and cream forever struck off her personal menu.

Some deep-rooted instinct must have led her here, down towards the river where the trade was done, just as it was in her native Newcastle. The rest of the city’s flotsam and jetsam had washed up here too; she was only latest in a long line of lost souls who hung around the Silver Lady mobile canteen, dipping furtively in and out of the public toilets by the side of the train station, men and women with eyes that stared but saw nothing, mouths that never asked questions.

Those that came down here among them to do the asking, they always had the same clipped, refined tones as the colonel. The more respectable the veneer, the deeper the depravity beneath. Sue’s eyes lingered over those leather drivers’ gloves. She wondered just how ‘special’ this was going to be.

“It’s a birthday surprise for my master’s son,” he said, “who comes of age today.”
There was a trace of humour in the chauffeur’s eyes, but he wasn’t so coarse as to wink. “He’s a very shy boy, young Harry,” he went on, “and my master is anxious that he learns the ways of the flesh from a woman such as yourself, one who is both clean and yet well versed in these matters. He must learn from an expert, don’t you think?”

Sue did like to be asked her opinion, it didn’t happen often. She liked it even more to be considered skilled, which actually she was, in the ways of deflowering young men. This was an easier proposition than she had anticipated and it was about to get even better.

“Of course, my master is willing to pay handsomely for your time, to ensure that the experience is one young Harry is not likely to forget. Shall we say £25? Of course,” he rushed to finish the sentence before she could answer him, “if you feel your services are worth more then you only have to say, we don’t want any arguments.”

Sue had already got to her feet. “Canny,” she said. “I mean, 25 is champion, pet.”
“Well then,” the chauffeur took her by the elbow and guided her towards the waiting limousine, “we shall go directly to the house.”

The back seat of the Roller was all pale leather, more expansive and comfortable than any bed Sue had recently known and she breathed in the smell of it with pleasure. The chauffeur slid back the glass petition behind his seat and started the motor, heading down the Embankment towards Belgravia.

As the sleek machine glided silently down the moonlit river, Sue popped a handful of purple pills and prepared herself with a fantasy, one that she often came back to. Appropriately for the occasion, it was in memory of the boy who’d taken her own virginity, a black-haired, blue-eyed North country boy. His looks and prowess were embellished each time she recalled him so that now he resembled more closely Robert Mitchum than the apprentice shipbuilder who’d taken her down an alley, hot breath in her ear, hot kisses up and down her neck, pressing his stiff crotch against her as he pinioned her to the wall. She could still hear the strange, bird-like cry he made as he pulled down the straps of her rigid, black underwired bra, his hand coming up her legs as her own unfastened the buttons on his fly, knowing what it was to want a man inside her, wanting him right now, hard against the wall…

“Here we are, madam,” the chauffeur opened the door and Sue stepped out of her reverie and into Eaton Square. Whether Young Harry, with his pampered Southern ways, would be up to Bob’s muscular mastery was now largely irrelevant. However clumsy and artless his first lesson in love was to be, she at least was now ready for him in body and mind.

They walked up the steps of an imposing white mansion, between two tall pillars to the front door, where the chauffeur rang the bell and delivered Sue into the care of a butler. Not a word passed between the servants of the house, just a nod; this scene was well rehearsed and everybody knew their duties. The chauffeur faded back into the night and the butler led the way down the corridor, to the most luxurious room Sue had ever laid eyes on.

It was arranged almost like a Bedouin’s tent, with ceiling-to-floor drapes and what looked like a parachute silk dipping from the ceiling, diffusing the light from above it into a soft glow that fell across the four-poster bed, bedecked in similar white silks and huge French pillows. The walls were oak-panelled and had a number of doors set into them, the wall-to-wall carpet was thick beneath her stilettoed feet. Everything seemed to have been arranged for a sumptuous ritual deflowerment.

“Now,” the butler spoke in the same measured tones as the chauffeur. He handed her five crisp £5 notes. “If you’ll get ready, take off your clothes and wait for him, he’ll be along presently. Because he’s so shy, you won’t mind if the lights are out? You’ll be able to teach him in the dark, won’t you?”

The butler withdrew and Sue just had time to shove the beehives into her handbag and stash that under the bed before the lights went out. Hurriedly, she undressed in the dark. It didn’t take long; her profession eschewed rigid corsetry in favour of easy access bras and knickers. Memories of Bob raced through her veins along with the rush of sulphate as she laid back on the cool sheets in readiness for the young master.

Soft footfalls came across the deep carpet. She felt the weight of a man getting onto the other side of the bed. Sue tried to keep the image of Bob going as she softly encouraged her timid charge: “Over here, pet, don’t be shy.”
Her hand reached out in the darkness and touched… the strangest thing. Where she was expecting the hard flesh of a skinny young man, she felt only softness. A softness that enveloped her naked body, a softness that felt like… fur.

Fur running over her skin. For a second her body responded before her bewildered brain could kick in. It always had been that element of danger that had got her going; that had led her from that Tyneside alleyway to here in the first place. She squirmed under the downy touch and instinctively reached up to where the head and shoulders would be on a man. But her fingers raked only more fur; she could make out no recognisable features.

Her mind did a somersault and she tried to reason what it could be. A fur coat, maybe. It could be part of the kink, the strange form Young Harry’s shyness took. She didn’t want to think that this could be something worse than that, that she was perhaps not in bed with a man at all…
Well whatever it was had big strong arms because a second later she felt her ankles gripped firmly and her legs hoisted up into the air, then the unmistakeable hardness sank into her. Sue gasped. This was no demure virgin who held her legs open and pumped away with the strength of a sheet-metal welder, pinning her to the bed with effortless ease.

It was in this moment of shock that the lights came on and the air was suddenly full of the sounds of whooping. Sue looked up to see the parachute had been whipped away, revealing a minstrel’s gallery that was full of people, men and women, dressed up to the nines in evening gowns and black tuxedoes. One second seemed to stretch into infinity as Sue’s horrified gaze took in their faces, flushed with excitement, the jarring sounds of their laughter and cat-calls as they craned over the rail, punching the air with their fists, and the lights of the chandelier above glittered off their Champagne glasses and their jewellery.

Then, even more slowly and unwillingly, she turned her eyes down to whatever it was that was providing the other half of their entertainment and a silent scream caught in her throat.

It was a man, but it wasn’t a man. Covered in black fur he was, from head to foot, with a black mask across his face, a low, bulging forehead and thick nose, white teeth set into a rigid, fearful grimace and only slits for eyes behind which seemed to be nothing more than blackness.

In a house in Eton Square, for the delectation of the upper echelons of society one evening in the Autumn of 1960, Susannah Houghton was being fucked by a man in a gorilla suit.

Now that really was a first.

© Cathi Unsworth 2009

Author’s note: I stumbled across this story as part of the research for my forthcoming novel, Bad Penny Blues. It was a tale told by one of the unfortunate working girls who became the third victim of the so-called Jack The Stripper in February 1964. Like many of the other murdered women in this case, she had been part of an illicit scene involving kinky sex with the upper classes, in the same era and milieu as the Profumo Affair. In many of the true crime accounts of the Stripper story, her claims about the man in the gorilla suit are taken with a pinch of salt and indeed they do have the familiar ring of an urban myth in the making. However, if you take a stroll around Eaton Square today, you will find a blue plaque beside the door of No 1, the former abode of Lord Robert John Graham Boothby, friend of Winston Churchill and Ronald Kray, whose name will always be indelibly linked to the dark currents of the Sixties and the places where power and perversion met.

cathi-unsworth-c2009-allison-mcgourty

Cathi Unsworth is a writer, editor and journalist who lives and works in London. Cathi began her writing career on Sounds at the age of 19 and has written and edited at many music, film and alternative arts publications since. She is the author of the noir novels The Not Knowing and The Singer, and edited the award-winning book of short stories London Noir (all Serpent’s Tail). Her new novel Bad Penny Blues will be published by Serpent’s Tail in August.

Links

www.cathiunsworth.co.uk

www.serpentstail.com

Author Interview: Amanda Petrusich

petrusich-amanda-c-bret-stetka

by Guy Sangster Adams

“It just felt that the best way to tell the story of American music was to hit the road,” says Amanda Petrusich, whose debut full length book, It Still Moves: Lost Highways & The Search for the Next American Music, was published in Britain the week of Barack Obama’s inauguration and chimes with the current resurgence of interest in Americana music underscored by the success and Brit Awards nominations of Fleet Foxes and Seasick Steve and the BBC Four series Folk America and the accompanying Barbican concerts.

It Still Moves works on a number of levels mixing the highly personal account of Petrusich’s journey across key points on America’s musical map including New York, Memphis, the Mississippi Delta, Nashville, and Appalachia, with a sturdy history of the musical genres that have infused Americana music¾country, blues, folk, jazz, gospel, and bluegrass¾and the artists most redolent of those styles including The Carter Family, Elvis Presley, Robert Johnson, Woody Guthrie, Johnny Cash, and Bob Dylan. The duality aids the readability and accessibility of the book and was an intentional stylistic device as Petrusich explains, “some of my favourite authors have always done that really well, like Joan Didion or Truman Capote; it feels personal, it feels very authentic to the writer, but at the same time you’re learning a lot along the way and there’s a lot of factual information that’s being permeated through these personal narratives. That’s what I love to read and it ended up being what I love to write as well.”

It is absolutely her use of the personal that provides the reader an highly entertaining engagement with both the tactility of, and her passionate and thorough understanding of the history of Americana music; be it her description of leaving Brooklyn at the start of her journey with “my trunk heaving with plastic bags fill of clothes, two crates of mix tapes, three pairs of sneakers, and four family-size tubs of Animal Crackers”, her visit to Graceland where for “the first time Elvis has felt comprehensible to me; he liked monkeys and watching television in the kitchen”, her endearingly eccentric trait of taking elaborate and expensive CD (hand-crafted wooden) box sets back to their musical origins, such as The Carter Family: In the Shadow of Clinch Mountain to A.P. Carter’s grave in the Appalachian mountains, or her eroticisation of the open road and particularly Interstate 64, “giddy and anxious the entire time, blind to landmarks and history my whole body is craving the highway […] practically panting with anticipation, I evacuate downtown Charlottesville and nose toward the interstate”.

But Petrusich’s primary musical focus is not retrograde, as the book also offers her analysis of, and interviews with, the musicians who have re-imagined and reworked Americana into new forms through the 1990s and into the 2000s, such as Wilco, Freakwater, and Iron & Wine, under genres labels such as alt-country and its sub genres with, as Petrusich writes, “ridiculous names¾see twang-core, country -punk, insurgent country, lo-fi, roots, rock, desert rock, gothic country, and, a personal favourite, y’allternative”, and indie folk, free folk, freak folk encapsulated by David Keenan in 2003 The Wire Magazine cover story New Weird America.

Whilst with an understanding that American music reflects the landscape from which it springs, one of the key quests of her journey was to discover “how Americana music is transforming to accommodate the massive cultural and geographical shifts in the American landscape.” In that, two twenty-first century dates loom large over Petrusich’s theme: the attacks on the World Trade Center on 11th September 2001 and Barak Obama’s victory in the presidential elections on 4th November 2008, and the route that Bush administration took the USA on in the intervening years. As Petrusich writes, “in retrospect it seems almost inevitable that a film soundtrack [O Brother Where Art Thou?] packed tight with ancient American folk songs would soar to the top of the pop charts in a year when nearly everything ‘American’ was being challenged, threatened, and rearranged.”

Petrusich’s decision to undertake her journey came not only during a key time of national soul searching but also at a key time of her life. She turned 26 whilst she was on the road, and has just celebrated her 29th birthday; I suggest to her that the period between those two ages is often as much a transitional stage as between the ages 16 and 19. “I do think that’s a complicated period for human beings,” Petrusich concurs, “that stretch at the end of your 20s, and I think the book in many ways is a coming of age story and also a search for identity, identity as it relates to one’s country; what is this place I live, it’s shaped everything about me, what does it mean? I think also politically at that particular time living in America there was a lot of disillusionment, especially amongst people of my age group, thinking that we were being carried along by an administration that we all felt powerless to stop and at the same time felt very strongly was not making the right choices for this country, not making the right choices for the world, and I think it was a time when the words ‘patriotism’ and ‘patriotic’ were getting imbued with all kinds of meaning that I wasn’t comfortable with, and so it was nice to hit the road and really fall head over heels back in love with America at a time when I was otherwise feeling a little, you know, maybe I should move to Europe.”

The road trip has become an essential and mythical ingredient of Americana, from Robert Johnson, to Woody Guthrie’s road trip in a 1953 Model A Ford, from Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, to Bob Dylan, to Tom Wolfe’s account of Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test, via Easy Rider, to Larry McMurty’s Roads published in 2000. A long tradition that has hitherto been the preserve of a male narrator, as Petrusich writes, “the man on the road is the stuff of American legend, the woman on the road is the stuff of teenage fantasy,” expanding upon this in our interview she says, “the iconography of terrible 80s metal band videos; women wearing short jean shorts and a halter top being stranded on the side of the road and the man swooping in to save her.” Although a desire to right the gender balance had not initially occurred to her, as she explains, “I hadn’t really realised how entrenched that idea of the man as the driver is, it’s the default mode in many Western cultures, you see a couple get into a car and the man’s always driving, and I never really gave it much thought until I started working on this and I thought there’s not a ton of road stories that are written by women; you know it strikes me as odd because I know all these women who love to drive and to hit the road but it hasn’t been expressed in the same way, at least in literature.”

Petrusich’s quest and title were inspired by the lines from Donovan Hohn’s A Romance of Rust, “Where lies the boundary between meaning and sentiment? […] Between memory and nostalgia? America and Americana? What is and what was? Does it move?” Her response and conclusion is that It Still Moves, to which one might now add an Obama-esque exhortation of ‘Yes it does!’

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It Still Moves: Lost Songs, Lost Highways, & The Search for the Next American Music (Faber & Faber) £14.99

Links

www.amandapetrusich.com

www.faber.co.uk

New Poetry: A Loner in a Crowded Head by Salena Godden

I pressed my cheek
against the granite headstone
buried my face and howled
into my up-turned coat collar
tracing the lost years
with my thumb
and my own surname
etched in stone

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Independent Focus: Black Spring Press & The Revival of Literary Reputations

by Guy Sangster Adams

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This year, Robert Hastings, the owner of Black Spring Press, is celebrating his fifth year at the helm of the small independent publishing company. Originally founded in the mid-eighties by Simon Pettifer, the imprint has never had, Hastings says, “anything that you would call a mission statement; I don’t think it would want to have one”. The catalogue includes writer/songsmiths Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen and is, Hastings says, an “idiosyncratic collection of things that seem to be in the air and carry a resonance”. Which carries a note of charming disinflation that risks belying the fact that, under his tenure, Black Spring Press have also been at the forefront of restoring the literary reputations of two writers, Julian Maclaren-Ross and Patrick Hamilton, concurrent with introducing a whole new generation to their work.

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Word of Mouth: Performance Night Express Excess

“Spoken word,” says Paul Lyalls in defining Express Excess, the monthly performance night that he has hosted for twelve years, and which has just become bi-weekly, in the room above The Enterprise Pub in Chalk Farm, London. Though he goes onto quantify this further by saying, “The core of it has been poetry, but that’s quite a loose term” and that the night “blends and amalgamates lots of different styles”.

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New Short Fiction: Oh, You Should Have Been There by Salena Godden

As I slipped into silk underwear and dabbed perfume behind my knees, you should have been there. As I hurried to dress and skipped down the stairs, I remembered the first time you kissed me. I remembered us being sweethearts, my puppy love. How you surprised me when you contacted me on the internet after over twenty years. For months we wrote to each other, each teasing email, a little more flirtatious, revealing. Finally this provoked me to invite you to meet me, I typed: Saturday at 8pm at Trafalgar Square, meet me by the lions and wear a flower in your lapel.

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