iamhyperlexic

Contemporary short fiction, poetry and more

Category Archives: Uncategorized

Review: ‘An Otley Run’ by Joe Williams

  • Paperback: 76 pages
  • Publisher: Half Moon Books (9 Nov. 2018)
  • ISBN-13: 978-0995764293

This book is in an experimental format which works. It is not a collection of poetry: it is a verse novella. It is a story, told from more than one point of view. It has, for better or worse, a beginning, a middle, and an end. The inciting incident, I would suggest, is the premise of the book, itself. What makes this different from everyday life? The fact that people go out in togas and cowgirl costumes to drink at 14 pubs. Is that really an inciting incident? Does that represent a departure from everyday life? The reader has to decide.

I am a person who was conceived and born in Leeds, who grew up and went to school in Leeds, talking about a book by a man who is from the North East, but set in Leeds, about a cultural phenomenon in Leeds that I have heard of, but never experienced. The main reason I never experienced it is that, although I have a degree from the University of Leeds, it is a postgraduate degree. I did my undergraduate course in Liverpool, where, it should be noted, I never did the Smithdown Ten, because, in those days, I did not drink alcohol.

One of the things Joe Williams achieves is to describe an Otley Run from the point of view of a character who is not a student. The whole event may or may not have become a cliché. The way Joe Williams examines it is certainly against cliché.

All this goes to the heart of the work: Joe Williams is an outsider, observing an insider event, but with the insight of someone who is only just an outsider. Part of the point of this work is how we decide what is worth doing, which informs who we are.

The insight and clarity of the social observations is something that could never be outdone, and could only be equalled with difficulty.

If you want to know what happens, you are going to have to buy the book.

This is the kind of poetry that I argued with Kirsten Luckins about. I would describe it as “urban”. She said, “Does that mean it is rap?” I said, “No.” She said, “Give me an example of a poet who is ‘urban’ who is not a rapper.” I said, “Brian Patten.” You don’t have to come from Leeds, or have been to university in Leeds, to understand this verse novella. It isn’t fundamentally about Leeds, though Leeds certainly comes into it. It is fundamentally about our desperation to be appreciated and loved, about how we decide to spend our time, and whether what we do has any meaning or purpose.

This is, certainly for a work of this length, a very rare thing. It is narrated in recognisable voices, and written by a poet who has undoubtedly found his own voice, and hence the ways to adapt his own voice. It has a narrative arc. The social and historical facts are well observed. The underlying point to the story is built up out of minute details, not foisted on the reader.

I have never read anything like it.

Advertisements

Review: Strix #5

Strix is a magazine that features poetry and short fiction, published in Leeds, West Yorkshire. 

Issue #5 is the first one I have read.  I was surprised to hear that I get a free subscription to the magazine by virtue of gaining a place in the Northern Short Story Writing Academy 2019. 

This issue contains the work of 40 writers, approximately 19 of whom are female (going on the names, only).  The print version is in an unusual format.  The pages are the same height as A4.  When I spoke to Ian Harker, one of the editors, he told me that it was A4 folded in half, but it is wider than that.  It is still narrow enough to fit in the inside pocket of my coat, and so I have carried it around West Yorkshire for several days, to and from work, to and from pubs, on buses and trains, gradually getting to know it.  The pages are stapled, and placed inside a loose, brown paper cover.  The cover art is stylised, monochrome lino cuts. All good.   

The problem I have with nearly all literary magazines is that I don’t understand them, and they don’t understand me.  I understand most of issue #5 of Strix, and, more importantly, it understands me. 

Two of the contributors, I know personally.  A third is Wes Lee, who lives in New Zealand.  Since 2012, Wes Lee and I have been entering competitions run by the Grist venture, run by the University of Huddersfield.  In the short fiction competition in 2012, Wes Lee came first, and I came second.  I don’t mind coming second.  Except for the fact that Wes Lee’s story doesn’t have a recognisable narrative arc.  Be that as it may.  We were both published from the chapbook competition in 2014.  Wes Lee’s chapbook is called ‘Cowboy Genes and Other Stories’.  Mine is called ‘Escape Kit’, of which I have copies to sell. 

As to the content of Strix #5, I have not read every page, yet, but I have read most of it, and it is very good, indeed. 

The contribution from my friend, Joe Williams, I have heard him perform, live.  And so I cannot comment on it, except to say that it reads almost as well off the page as he performs it. 

Matthew Hedley Stoppard is someone that I have performed alongside.  I am still trying to make him out.  He is either a complete charlatan who is preying upon the working class, and the underclass, or he is a poet who is writing about people in marginal situations.  I have not made up my mind, but I incline towards the latter. 

What follows relates to writers I do not know, personally.

Arji Manuelpillai has two poems which articulate what it is like to be South Asian in the UK.  They are called Curry night at Brewers Fayre and Watching the game.  These pieces are succinct and hard-hitting. 

Rebecca Sandeman has a piece of short fiction called ‘Semiplume’.  That opaque title sits atop just about the most remarkable piece of writing of this short length that I have ever read.  I would describe it as an anti-fairy tale, but don’t let that put you off.  A piece of short prose which takes off with its own exuberance and never lets you know where it is going. I can generally tell when a classic story is being re-told (because I do it myself).  I know – only after having read it – what the story is, in this case, but I am not going to divulge it.  You will have to read the magazine, and decide for yourself. 

Review by Mike Harris of Something I Need To Tell You

I am indebted to Mike Harris for the following review, which he posted on Facebook.  He has spelt my name incorrectly, but that doesn’t matter.

On this occasion

I applied for a job on Monday.  I had to check a box that said I was eligible to work in the United Kingdom.

I applied for two jobs on Tuesday.  I had to check a box that said I had experience of working with the General Data Protection Regulation, and provide a scanned copy of my driving licence.

I applied for three jobs on Wednesday.  I had to check a box that said neither I nor any member of my family was currently employed by the Civil Service, provide a scanned copy of my passport, and compose a 5-minute presentation on the life-cycle of fleas.

I applied for four jobs on Thursday.  I had to check a box that said I had experience of managing annual budgets over fifty thousand pounds in value, provide scanned copies of all my examination certificates, compose a 10-minute presentation on the South Sea Bubble, and give an undertaking that I was willing to commute to Birkenhead, 5 days a week.

I applied for five jobs on Friday.  I had to check a box which said that I had no unspent criminal convictions, outstanding county court judgements, and was willing to undergo a full-disclosure search for my criminal record, provide scanned copies of my parents’ birth certificates, compose a 15-minute presentation on the life of Andy Warhol, give an undertaking that I was willing to commute to Folkestone, six days a week, and undergo a full medical.

I applied for six jobs on Saturday.  I had to check a box which said that I had never lied, stolen, nor made anyone cry, provide a scanned copy of everything I was thinking at that moment, compose a 20-minute presentation that would make every member of the audience enjoy every presentation they would ever experience again, as long as they lived, give an undertaking that I was willing to commute to Murmansk, seven days a week, undergo interrogation under conditions of complete sensory deprivation, and agree to go back in time and attempt to assassinate Hitler.

I slept in on Sunday, read a book, watched a film.

On Monday, I received a lecture at the Job Centre on the importance of undertaking job-seeking activities every day.

They terminated my claim.

Five dice into a teaspoon

I am an expert in metrology.  It was something that featured largely in my PhD.  Maybe this was a reaction against the stupidity of my parents, who should have known better.

When I was about ten or eleven, a discussion arose about the conversion factor between millilitres and cubic centimetres.  Even at that age, I had read several books on the subject.

‘1 millilitre equals 1 cubic centimetre,’ I stated.

To cut a long, repetitive, rambling story short, I will say that my mother had used a plastic spoon, graduated in millilitres, and had measured the capacity of the teaspoons in our cutlery drawer, and found that they were all 5 millilitres.  This, at least, was not in dispute.

I attempted to explain to my parents that “millilitre” meant “one thousandth of a litre”, and a litre was equivalent to a “cubic decimetre”, i.e. a litre was a cube 10cm × 10cm × 10cm.  Hence, 1 millilitre was a cube 1cm × 1cm × 1cm: a cubic centimetre.  That was when the trouble started.

My father presented the disintegrating element.  He protested that a 1cm × 1cm × 1cm cube was a “dice”.  You could not fit five dice into a teaspoon.  My mother agreed.

I said, and please bear in mind that I was ten or eleven at the time, that that was true as far as it went, but the assertion was irrelevant.  If you insist on an equivalence between “dice” and teaspoons, what you should do is to make five containers, 1cm × 1cm × 1cm, but open at the top, fill them with water from a pipette, and then transfer the water into a teaspoon.  You would then find that five 1cm × 1cm × 1cm cubes are equivalent to a teaspoonful.

The argument raged on.  I cannot deny that I became somewhat riled.

My father said he would check in various reference books (as if two authoritative reference books might say something different about this vexed and ambiguous question).

While he was faffing about, I exclaimed that I didn’t care what he looked up, 1 cc equalled 1 ml.  As soon as I had uttered the words, I knew I had made a mistake.  Not metrologically, but morally.

There then followed a joint lecture about keeping an open mind which went on for several years.

This was useful in one respect, because it demonstrated to me, with absolute clarity, that my parents were stupid.   They weren’t “having an off day”: they were STUPID.  They were both educated people, which proves that educated people can be stupid.  It has made me wonder about the extent of my own stupidity.  I do not claim to be able to avoid stupidity, but I do hope to know where it lies.  The First Battle of the Somme was caused by educated people who, while taking great pains, were being stupid.

 

Dear Mr Fascist

Dear Mr Hypothetical Fascist:

Why do you feel so vulnerable?  I get globalisation, and the constant changes in the job market, and I have to put up with all that, but it doesn’t make me hate other people.

I don’t hate gay people.  The fact that gay men exist doesn’t mean that they want to bugger you, personally.  You are probably nowhere near their league.  And, as for gay women – you might as well be building a base on one of the moons of an as-yet-to-be-discovered exo-planet.

Polish sausage in supermarkets, with the legend in Polish – this sausage is on sale AS WELL AS, not INSTEAD OF other sausage.

I have been to four universities, and I am unemployed.  But I am not trying to blame other people.  I listen to reggae and ska musik.  I cook South Asian food.  I converse using French and German quotations.  This cultural diversity has not yet secured me another job, but it has still done me a lot of good.

The concepts of Britishness/Englishness/Masculinity/Employment are all being challenged.  What else would you expect?  I would start by saying that you do not have to be British to be British.  You think that sounds like sophistry or gibberish?  The person I have in mind in Mayala Yousufzai.  She was born in Pakistan, but she is British.  And not just because she was treated at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, in Birmingham.  “Shot in the head for campaigning for female education?  Kept going?  British.”

So if you want to demonstrate how British you are, you are going to have to do something more constructive than merely being bright pink and wearing a silly, St George T-shirt.

Book launch: Something I Need To Tell You, Leeds Library, 11 July 2018

The launch of my debut short fiction collection, ‘Something I Need To Tell You’, will be at the Leeds Library (not the Central Library – the one on Commercial Street) from 7-10pm on Wednesday 11 July 2018.

There will be a small number of short readings.  Short, I said.

https://www.facebook.com/events/1882445795149897/

Refreshments, including beer and wine, will be available.

You can pre-order the book:  http://www.stairwellbooks.co.uk/product/something-i-need-to-tell-you/

The Leeds Library happens to be celebrating its 250th anniversary, this year.

Poem: Water Molecules

Water Molecules

 Each one is a little, spiky thing,
looking like something the police 
might scatter on the road to burst the tyres
of a stolen car.  They are in the exhaust 
emitted by the car.  They are in the exhaust
emitted every time you exhale. 

They suffer from bipolarity and are 
sick beyond treatment, unable even to admit
they have a problem.
This condition makes them stick to their neighbours,
faster than leeches,
faster than Triads, the Mafia:
faster than that chap you met at the freshers’ fair
who had seemed all right at first.

Seventy per cent of him was made of them.
They were trying to stick to you then, like they 
are sticking together now, inside you, 
in your blood, your bones, your brain. 

If it weren’t for the insane grip
of these little tetrahedrons, 
there’d have been no Pyramids,
no Hitler, no Internet,  no mobile phones, 
nothing carved into the Stanza Stones.

Matthew Fisher is a hero.

It was never my intention to allow this site to become dominated by sport.

However:

Matthew Fisher, age 20, 1st class batting average 14.33, Highest score 37, hits 24 off 8 balls to lead Yorkshire Vikings to victory. Fisher’s innings: 2 4 6 1 2 1 4 4. He scored off every ball faced, all of which were in the last 2 overs. Half of everything he faced went to the boundary.

Matthew Fisher is a hero.

Amorous mad-women

The phrase was coined by Paul, in the 3rd form, in 1981.  They were girls who would approach you and start to talk about emotional or sexual subjects, with the express purpose of making you embarrassed.  Sometimes they would hunt in packs.  They were terrifying.

The worst at my school was a girl called Christina Saul.  She was of Polish origin.  Paul and I used to refer to her as ‘the amorous mad-woman with the biblical surname’.

She was last heard of living in Spain, in a lesbian relationship.

I can’t speak for Paul.  Nobody apart from Paul can speak for Paul.  But I now converse on a daily basis with a right load of weirdoes, and it all seems to go remarkably well.

I have learnt that the embarrassment of the teenage era had two components.  The obvious one was that it was about something tense, smutty, or inappropriate.  But that was not all.

The rest was about the fact that what was being said was obviously not genuinely directed to the purported recipient.  Their basic tactic was to walk up to you, and say, “I really love you,” which might have seemed great, except for the fact that it obviously wasn’t true.

And you need to keep saying, “Thirteen.  Thirteen. Thirteen.”  There is a great deal of difference between a boy of thirteen years of age, and a boy of sixteen.

It was regular, if not systematic, emotional abuse.  Paul and I lived through it.

And now, I like to camp it up with the best of them, not because I am sublimating abuse, but because that is what I like to do.  I have learnt a lot of vocabulary since then, and a lot of manners.  My wife, Valerie, also does camp supremely well.