New Year, New Book

Dear readers,

2017 has just begun and I’m thrilled to say my debut poetry collection, These Wild Houses, is finally here and it’s introduced by none other than award-winning poet Judith Beveridge.

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It feels like only yesterday I began my Thursday Poems segment on this blog, writing about a different poem I’d read that week, and it wasn’t too long before that when I started to write poetry seriously. Four years, in total. I am terrified about this book, and I’m excited, and I’m relieved all at once. Did I do enough work, is it good enough? Should I have waited another four years, since I already know what I’m writing now is so much better? These thoughts plague me. Then I remember I have a book, a real book with a real publisher, and I’m stunned into a kind of stupid gratitude that renders such thoughts meaningless.

I’m always worried about the quality of my work, I’m always more critical than anyone else is of it, and that’s as it should be. I remember where I came from, the violence, the drugs, the cousins killed on the street, the mates in jail, on ice, broke and broken; I catch up with them as often on the news as I do in real life. I feel always a pervading guilt that I got away, that I managed to survive as intact as I have. I feel always a need to return alongside a need to get even further away. When I think about these things I am left with a childish wonder that I should be so lucky, that books saved me and gave me a voice to speak, that most of my scars are internal, most of my issues easy to hide.

Today, friends, I am going to hold onto that wonder. I want to thank you, all of you who follow me here or on Twitter, for joining me, for supporting me. I don’t know where I’d be without the online community I’ve found, especially as my struggles with family have only deepened. What joy, what luck, to have your love. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

If you’re interested, you can purchase a copy here. If not, I look forward to seeing you around, regardless. Happy new year y’all 🙂

Love,
Omar

Poetry & Performance

Here’s how it went down.

I’m sitting at a table, drink in hand. You, young white guy, sit down next to me to talk to a mutual friend. You tell us you’re going to read tonight at the open mic. I think back to the last open mic I attended, when an old, old white woman (mid 70s at least) got up to read a long erotic poem about her clit. I think about the old, old white man (60s I’d say), who got up after her, zeroed in on where she sat, and read a long erotic poem about his throbbing cock. I tell the others this is why I don’t go to open mic nights anymore. Writing this now, I remember a different young white guy who got up after the elderly duo (a private school kid still in his uniform, tie askew, accompanied by his dad) and gave a frenzied performance remarkable for its incoherence and the repetition of the word rape. His thrusting motions.

I read that night too.

You, young white guy, laugh good-naturedly at this, tell us you’ve been doing this for a while. You have a notebook but you haven’t looked at it, and you seem remarkably calm. You tell me this is just a hobby, not something you’re invested in. You tell me you got addicted to the adrenaline rush, but you don’t feel it anymore. You want to be a journalist. Still, you put your name down on the list, to read for two minutes. Something bothered me about this, but I couldn’t put my finger on what. I’ve never heard anyone say that before, and it seems almost magical to me. You mean you don’t have to claw your way through a thorn-field of fear to get to the stage? You mean you don’t have chains around your mouth you need to unwind, link by clanking link, before you can speak?

I leave after the featured poets end, say goodbye to my friends, before the open mic begins.

At home I see poet Danez Smith post a link to a podcast, I click on it, listen in. I’m about to give up when I hear Paul Tran begin to speak. Here’s what he had to say, verbatim, from around the 22.5 minute mark.

…I think often times when I’ve seen people perform poems, there is an embodiment and vulnerability, a space that closes between the writer and the speaker of the poem. But I also feel like, some folks, for different ability reasons, or different relationships to audiences and being seen, like – I know folks who can’t go to poetry because if they were to write their stories and the people of their lives found them, they would die, right? And so, to never do an actual reading, actually keeps these poets alive. To write under a pseudonym keeps these poets alive, right.

And I think of war refugees who flee political conflicts, to see their face in a space, would endanger them, so they don’t actually have the opportunity for performance, right, and they have to find ways of expressing that same embodiment, that same vulnerability on the page, or on Tumblr, you know, wherever, that still protects them, right.

I’m including this in its entirety because a) I transcribe for a living and it’s ingrained habit and b) shortly after hearing this, I went to bed. Then I got up the next day, went about my business, and ended up spitting out a mangled version of it on Twitter. Which, let’s be real, is what Twitter was designed to do. I spat it out because you, young cocky white guy, were still under my skin. I think about how difficult it is for me to speak in public about my sexuality and my faith–recurring subjects of my poems, my prayers–how, even now, I still hear my mother’s words, ‘I’d break your legs if you turned out gay’ and my aunty, who went further and said she’d hang me. I can never unhear them.

And I still remember the day my older brother shouted ‘fuck you’ at my mum, how he turned and ran out the house, screen door banging behind him. How my mum turned to my older cousin and ordered him to bring him back. How my older cousin, with sad resignation, loped after my brother. How my brother came slouching back, shadowed by my cousin, a haunted look in his eyes. How my mother closed the space between them in a second, screaming, and beat at my brother. How he screamed, my aunty screamed, we all screamed, bodies colliding in the living room as if made of metal and magnetised to violence. I remember too, the sirens chasing the screams. The cop cars, the ambulance, the white neighbours watching from their fresh cut lawns, mouths agape.

Every act of violence, every bruise, every threat & scream echoes my present.

That was a long ass time ago, though, and it’s rare for those echoes to take on the fullness of the current. But even as faded memories, they still pack a punch, and I still don’t go out to gay bars & clubs, for fear of being seen. I still only perform my queerness in my writing, or online. Removed from my body, but still so important for it to stay functioning, these small recorded breaths. I realise I’ve gotten sidetracked, but listen, young guy, you’re not to blame for my pain or my shackles, my struggle to speak, or all the many times I refuse to get up. But you are occupying a limited space and limited time where so many who struggle to be seen and heard on a daily basis might have a chance to do so. And you’re telling me you don’t even care? That this is meaningless to you, or just a rush at best?

Meanwhile, what I said on Twitter is that, as a baseline, that’s messed up. You should give a shit about what you’re saying. Not that it needs to be an emotional rollercoaster, but that you need to at least care about what you’re delivering. And if you care, you’re going to be a bit nervous. Now I’m going to give way to Paul again, because, once more, he said it better:

I think what I am more interested in is these myths about the detached poet from their work, which creates the environment for these boring readings, or unemotional readings, as if sentimentalism is a bad thing or magic is a bad thing. So I think it’s both a training issue and a sensibility issue, where it’s like–one of my mentors, Laura Brown (*), always told me, it is a gift when you share your poem to strangers or even to people you love, and each time it’s a different gift. It’s a gift because you’re asking yourself to access that place where the poem is born, not the words, but like the magic of the poem is born, and to give that to someone who may not have wanted to hear your poem today, expected to hear your poem today, whatever, and so I think if, if that was in the tool kit for poets, if that was in the job description for poets, I would be so much more hyped for poetry. And like different kinds of poetry, but right now, it’s not the thing, so.

(*Not sure if I heard that name right)

To be clear, young man, I don’t care that you’re white or that this is a hobby for you. You could be the most privileged man on the planet, but so long as you cared about what you were going to share with me, I’d listen to it. Now I’m not going to tell y’all that only poets of colour, or broken poets with broken pasts like mine should be able to talk in these spaces, or that when you do speak, it needs to be meaningful and heavy–I’m saying when you speak at all, it is meaningful. It’s meaningful whether you want it to be or not because a room full of people are listening. And if you’re going to get up there just for the sake of being there and not give a shit about that, I’m going to walk away. And for the rest of you, if you deliver some wack words you care about, but which are racist, homophobic, or misogynistic, I’m going to walk too.

I am certain there are people who will disagree with me about aspects or perhaps all of this, and that’s cool too. I’m not telling y’all to read different things, I’m not telling organisers to change how they’re running these events, I’m just telling you what I value, and why it is, more often than not, you’re only going to see my back as I turn and leave.

Thursday Poem: Aubade With Burning City by Ocean Vuong

Hello again! It’s Thursday (in America), and I’m back to talk poetry. It’s been a long day of editing and revising my own work and I wasn’t sure if I was even going to be able to find a poem to talk about (I haven’t had as much time for my own reading lately).

Enter Twitter. I see someone has linked to a poem, I follow it, read it, it’s okay – I click on, find another poem by another poet, and it’s better. I check that poet’s bibliography, find a title that jumps out at me, and bam, read one of the best poems I’ve read all year. Not to hype it too much or anything, but I absolutely love it. And I love, too, how quickly I was able to find it. We have a habit of thinking things will be more difficult than they are, and when it comes to finding excellent poetry, I feel this is especially true. The truth of the matter is there is so much great poetry out there, it’s a wonder we’re not stumbling over it more often than we are.

In this case, the poem sending me into hyperbolic raptures is Aubade With Burning City by Ocean Vuong, a Vietnamese-American poet. I can’t reproduce it here because to do so would rob it of its movement, its dance across the page, and his use of enjambment is so stunning, and adds so much texture to the piece, that I just can’t bring myself to do that. You should absolutely click on that link and go over to the Poetry Foundation, however, to read this poem, which has its setting in Vietnam. Crucial context to the poem is provided at the beginning:

South Vietnam, April 29, 1975: Armed Forces Radio played Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” as a code to begin Operation Frequent Wind, the ultimate evacuation of American civilians and Vietnamese refugees by helicopter during the fall of Saigon.

You can see immediately what an incredible backdrop this is over which to project a poem, but it’s worth mentioning as well that its richness, its uniqueness, poses a challenge too, in that what follows must be truly sensational to rise above it – to be every bit as memorable as this moment in history. It’s a challenge easily met by Vuong, whose lyricism is nothing short of dazzling.

Lyrics of the song “White Christmas” drift through the staggered stanzas, the words which fall like snow, like debris scattered across a field of battle, and add a surreal touch to the absolutely fantastic imagery Vuong employs so masterfully, again and again. If this were all the poem managed to achieve — striking images and absurdism laced with lyrics — it would still be worth noting, but that it manages to also tell an evocative story, to bring the place, the moment, to life, is what really elevates this work to another level.

I could talk about it all day, honestly, and I so very much want to share its many outstanding lines, but I can’t be certain WordPress won’t mangle them, and I dare not risk such a tragedy. But enough rambling — go and read it!

It’s a poem I’ll be reading again and again for years to come, and if you read it, too, I’m confident you’ll say the same. It really is that good.

Twitter Fiction Short Story

It’s past 1am, and I’m only now slowly coming down from the insane high. My short story ‘Aftertweet’, officially selected to be part of the Twitter Fiction Festival showcase, debuted live just a few hours ago.

I spent most of the day in a state of anxiety. It was a distant concern, however, while I was busy in the morning and afternoon, but as the hours dragged on, it became increasingly difficult to distract myself. In the last hour, just before 10am, I actively felt sick.

It’s always this way, just before I share my work. Dreadful stomach-churning performance anxiety. Less like ‘butterflies’ and more like an active war zone. So with just 20mins left before I began to tweet out this story, I ran a weary eye over it yet again.

Now, while I’d always planned to incorporate ‘random’ Retweets as part of the story, (when the protagonist literally falls into the internet and spins out a mix of bizarre/mundane tweets from other people), I hadn’t decided on exactly which those would be.

As such, I’d actively been saving whatever took my fancy on and off for the past two weeks. Naturally, it was only at the last minute I saw I had way too many. And what’s more, the structure of the piece would have to change to accommodate it – so I started editing and rearranging it on the fly.

Thankfully, I think it worked out okay, though I went straight from an intense finish to tweeting the story. Which, in itself, was a very odd experience. With writing, there’s no such thing as instant gratification. I’m used to waiting weeks and months before my work is published, or even to hear back about its fate, and even then, receiving feedback or responses of any kind from the audience is uncommon (unless you’re famous, anyway).

Twitter, of course, is the exact opposite. Its catch-cry is immediacy; it demands that gratification and I could see immediately which Tweets were being favourited or Retweeted as I went. Could see the reactions. It was daunting, and distracting, but also incredibly exciting. The traditional walls between author and audience were gone, and the opportunities this affords us for storytelling cannot be understated.

Both in terms of digital writing, and interactive or participatory storytelling, as well as in terms of reading experience. Our first stories were spoken. Campfire tales. Words flung into the dark over fitful flames in order to capture and enthral the listener, to make sense of the world. This is, in some respects, a means of returning to that space through digital pathways.

I know for me, this experience will not be forgotten, and I’m so very excited to see where we can go from here. With all that said, if you’re interested, you can check out my story on this custom timeline. I hope you enjoy it!

 

Twitter Fiction Festival Selection

So, I have some exciting news to share. I’ve been selected as a Featured Storyteller for the upcoming Twitter Fiction Festival!

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This is only its second outing as an annual festival, and reflects the growing popularity and strength of  short stories, poems and other narrative mixes taking place on the micro-blogging medium.

The festival itself will be a round-the-clock live event taking place March 12-16th and will feature a mix of pre-invited authors/comedians/entertainers telling their stories as well as a group of 23 writers (like me) selected from a two-round submission process.

You can check out the range of projects here.

I think the field itself is outstanding in its diversity, from genre to the mixed mediums, to storytelling structure – using multiple accounts, using ‘found Tweets’ to compose a story a-la Teju Cole’s last short story, ‘Hafiz’, etc. Such inventiveness in the field of digital writing is incredibly exciting, and I say that not as someone who is (just barely) a part of it, but as a reader.

The tight formal constraints of Twitter, among other digital spaces, has already to wonderful experimentation – it pushes you to be extra creative, to be super-conscious of every word choice. One of the advantages to poetry, I’ve always found, over longer form writing, is its brevity allows you to feel the tautness in a line. You can almost pluck it in a sense, can feel and hear when it’s at maximum efficacy, which is much harder to do in stories spanning tens of thousands of words.

Twitter is, in many respects, synonymous with poetry. It’s why I find it so easy to create micro-poems on the fly; its boxed-in effect really allows you to feel every sentence, every word, and forces you to make each character count. With all that said, I make no claim to be pushing boundaries or breaking new ground, I’ll leave that for other luminaries. I will, however, have a great deal of fun telling an interesting story.

And you will, I hope, feel both entertained and provoked into thought that lingers beyond the reading, beyond Twitter’s often instant dementia. My story, if you want to follow along, will feature on the Twitter Fiction Festival website live on Friday the 14th, 10pm, Sydney time. Or around 7am in New York.

If Wishes Were Poems

I had an interesting interaction on Twitter with poet and spoken word performer Anis Mojgani today.

He tweeted, “Just realized my new favorite poems were translated by Howard Norman, whose book I Hate to Leave This Beautiful Place I been DYING to read.” On asking him which of those poems were his favourite, he replied with a link to the some of the poems of Jacob Nibenegenesabe.

Now, these poems are from the book The Wishing Bone Cycle: Narrative Poems from the Swampy Cree Indianswhich I absolutely must get my hands on. They are simply stunning examples of narrative poetry, full of whimsy and beauty and no small measure of mischievous joy. These stories are part of the “trickster cycle” narrative tradition, emphasising improbably magical pranks or situations, not unlike the kind you’re likely to find in modern magical realism.

The poem that hit me hardest (from the above link) is simply stunning:

There was an old woman I wished up.
She was the wife
of an old pond.
You could watch her swim in her husband
if you were
in the hiding bushes.
She spoke to him by the way she swam
gently.

One time in their lives there was no rain
and the sun began making the pond smaller.
Soon the sun took the whole pond!
For many nights the old woman slept
near the hole where her husband once lived.
Then, one night, a storm came
but in the morning there still was no water
in her husband’s old house.
So she set out on a journey to find her husband
and followed the puddles on the ground
which were the storm’s footprints.
She followed them for many miles.
Finally she came upon her husband
sitting in a hole. But he was in the wrong hole!
So the old woman brought her husband home
little by little in her hands.
You could have seen him come home
if you were
in the hiding bushes.

I was particularly struck by the wishing premise, I think, because only the second spoken word poem I ever wrote had a similar premise. I wished we needed hand-cranks to breathe, so we wouldn’t move through life on cruise-control. And if you ever lost your breath, someone else could you give an extra push, and you’d be okay. I wished we swam in the clouds and wore shirts of lightning and skirts of storm. I wished there were no walls, only doors, so the ceiling would forever be made of stars. I wished we didn’t hoard all our secrets, didn’t let them line our skin with ink and bury our eyes. I wished, most of all, that the dead could still speak just so I could hear my grandma sing one more time and in turn, I wished the dead could still hear, just so I could tell her, I’m still here.

That was the gist of it, anyway. Its power lay in its simplicity and the rhythm of repetition, each stanza containing the beats of ‘I wish’ and ‘that way’, to build momentum. It was this poem that actually made me fall in love with Spoken Word, and the power of using your voice. Of course, these Native American poems are examples of oral storytelling at its best, and the key difference is that my wishes were presented as whimsical hypotheticals, and theirs were a fabled reality. Here’s another, from Stopping Off Place:

Isn’t that fucking incredible? Good gods. My old spirit already has its shoes on. That line punched me right in the soul.

So I decided to try my own, just for fun, and because I really find these to be utterly wonderful.

What Comes to Roost

One time I thought I was clever
so I wished for wishingbones –
there had to be many I reckoned
with Old Nan turning the river
into a flock of birds
and Uncle Joe wishing
trees into women

(which didn’t work so well,
what with them being so tall
and hungry and wild) and damn near
everybody telling stories
and making change. So I said
I want all the wishingbones
in all the world

and next thing I saw was an ocean
of skeleton reefs, sharp-edged like
and not all white, and not all small
and I went down in there and soon
had cuts all along my arms and feet
and face, and the Sun was red
and I didn’t know up from down
or side from side

And all the bones from round the world
stuck their fingers in me and peeled
my skin back and my meat too
until at last, I had all the wishingbones
there beneath Father Sky’s watchful eye
and you know what I wished for then?

To not have any of it, to put it all back
and be home with my feet planted
solidly in sweet, muddy ground, not stuck
like some pig on the ends of everyone’s
wishes. Well, you know it turned out
all right, I’m here telling it to you
but I shoulda known better than
to wish so hard.

Now my feet are buried here,
and I’m growed up big and tall
and out the house. It’s not so bad
you know, thanks to Uncle Joe!
There’s some women to sing to,
whose songs I can hear on the wind
and my hands are always open
for wings to take their rest.

Week Two: On A Roll

This will just be a quick update, so first, a quick hello to the new followers – welcome! I got myself a shiny new theme just for you. Well, okay, maybe it was totally coincidental, but still, I’m glad you’re here to see it!

I don’t think I’ve ever been this consistent on the blogging front but I’m reaping the rewards, and having a great time in the process. I’ve mentioned previously how important it is to state your goals, not just to yourself but to others, and to keep track of your progress, so I’m happy to report that I more than met the 4000-word goal for this week.

I wrote a 2500-word non-fiction piece about dementia, essentially grappling with the question of what makes us human (you know, that old chestnut). Is it our memories? Our personality? Or is there a fundamental level of humanity, a well of emotion that remains regardless of what disease robs us of – be it memory, speech, or physical faculty.

It was eye-opening to even grapple with the question, honestly. I don’t have the requisite arrogance to claim I answered it – say instead that I explored it, as I’m sure I’ll be doing for the rest of my life. Even then, I doubt I’ll come to a satisfactory conclusion. Smarter, wiser, better men and women than I have tried before and failed. There is nonetheless a certain joy to be found just in the mechanics of thinking, of challenging your intellect.

Aside from that, I also revised and extended my post-apocalyptic, steampunk-y short story retelling of Red Riding Hood. That was an incredibly valuable experience on the whole; revision is everything to the successful writer, and as long as I’ve known that, I’ve also avoided that. How can I stay and work on and polish a world I’ve already created, a story already told, when there are hundreds more waiting to be born in fresh ink?

Unsurprisingly, I have a plethora of short stories with interesting concepts and half-baked execution. So it was great to finally sit down and fix a story draft (though it needs more work, honestly) and watch the world come into greater focus. That’s why you stick around on the already-done stories and make them shine, by the way. It’s like constantly watching a fuzzy TV when you could have high definition Blu-Ray quality.

I also worked on some poetry and some earlier blogs, which took my efforts this week to the 5000 mark and over. As far as the new year goes in terms of writing and productivity, I really can’t complain. I’m loving this.

Here’s hoping you’re doing all this & then some. I’ll leave you with this week’s Tweet Poems:

Left a candle
guttering in the wind
for 100 long years –
shielded by hands
aged with duty
it was undone
by a butterfly’s stray flight #poem

#

When it rains
the world becomes
a soft puddle to skip stones on
& false rainbows abound
& birds fly in Ys
& frogs philosophize #tweetpoem
#
Zero o’clock etched in moonlight;
the leaves a choreography of falling,
the night a fat song begging
for a throat to sing from. #micropoem
#
The false light of stars
brims over the limbs
of the freshly dead
& mangled roadkill alike
making of it a beautiful
wretchedness. #tweetpoem

Week One: A Bust/ Accidental Success

A week ago, I promised I’d get my writing schedule back on track.

I set a low minimum bar of 2000 words per week, with a goal of 4000. Well, as fiction goes, I didn’t do much of anything this week, I’m afraid. I did, however, write two substantial blog posts which easily crested over the 2000 mark. I didn’t plan on writing the blogs, as it happens. It just so happened I had things to say on certain subjects. Conditions in my cursed house (it traps the worst of the weather inside, be it hot, cold or deathly) were awful, too, but I persisted.

Typically, I can’t write in the heat. I cannot focus when it’s so hot my sweat is sweating, and I find myself somehow sinking into and slip-sliding across my leather office chair. And yet, I didn’t go to the blessedly air-conditioned library, I sat at home, and I wrote those posts with relative ease, all things considered. The difficulty with concentration is seemingly much easier to overcome when the subject of my writing is non-fiction, is journalistic.

Fiction demands more.

Or, it’s entirely psychosomatic, and I’ve built a big ol’ something out of a whole lotta nothing. Either way, my point is I got shit done. I wrote. Any writing is better than no writing. I also finally got started on a long-brewing, multimedia, multi-platform project. I was reminded, thanks to Teju Cole, whose work on Twitter remains far more interesting and thought-provoking than anything he’s done with conventional fiction*, of the power of micro-fiction on social media and utilising technology in interesting ways.

Teju is – to borrow a phrase from China Mieville – a bit of a literary DJ on Twitter, dipping into the “stream” of the timeline and carefully utilising the chaos to string a deliberate, ordered story throughout it. Like little stepping stones that can be grasped by powerful swimmers and the drowning alike, he decontextualises the building blocks of story and sets them loose into the vortex of Twitter as if daring you to build your own meaning around fragments or hook you enough to go find the rest of the story yourself.

So, seeing that reminded me of the story I wanted to tell, entirely based in Facebook/Twitter, and I’m happy to say I made progress on that front. I also re-started my tweet-poems. Every now and then I used to tweet little micro poems, but I hadn’t for the longest time, and having gotten going once more, I’m already reaping the rewards. Not just in more followers, which I don’t really care about, but in keeping my mind sharp and the poetic lens in focus.

I don’t want to just be a passive observer, a might-as-well-be-a-bot account, fading into oblivion beneath an unceasing tide of Tweets and Facebook statuses. I want to interact with it, to create, to poke around in the guts and see what makes it tick, what makes you tick. Don’t get me wrong, I’m often every bit as boring as most people, with gratuitous photos and mundane posts aplenty – I’m just sick of it. That spark in me always wants to do something more.

Something interesting, you know? Hell, I wrote a poem on this a few weeks ago.

That said, here is a selection of these micro poems to wrap up:

@tinylittlepoems My dreams leave footprints
on her pillows; cloud-shapes
to decipher in the morning –
a stray breath & it’s gone #tweetpoem

#

Skin opens beneath sun;
Drink in light, ooze memory
A photosynthesis of thought
& dream, wilting in tall grass.

A #tweetpoem for #Sydney.

#

Passing time
is harder & easier than kidney stones:
I lose moments with each breath.
Others lodge in my ribs
like fruit of bone #micropoem

#

If I could only open my chest,
spread red & white wings back,
I’d see just how small the fists
of rage are, how tinny its voice. #micropoem

#

Don’t cut into the heart of me
& spill books -other people-
poems and worlds
Out. You’ll only get lost
in the excess. Like I am #micropoem

Not going to lie, writing in such incredibly tight constraints is insanely difficult, especially for poetry. What I love about these is that they represent little fragments of my mind, floating thoughts, that would otherwise be lost. So while I’m sitting on the train on the way home from my dreary, mind-numbing job, it’s so very easy to just sink into that creative space and write the very first thing that comes to mind.

They may not be amazing; they’re not meant to be. I like them for what they are, for being signifiers of what would otherwise be lost. Now, as I start to exercise this muscle more often, I’m sure the quality will increase as well, which I’m sure we can all look forward to together.

All in all, as first weeks go, it wasn’t the best.

But it certainly wasn’t bad, either; I wrote, and that’s enough for me.


* Just a note that I should really give his novel Open City another go.
Didn’t make it all the way through the first time around.

Necromancy 2.0

It was 2pm when my cousin casually resurrected the dead;
he flicked a screen on his phone and up came a video
of grandma in her pink pyjamas
with the metal spider, her walker, in front of her
and her cobweb-grey hair spiralling up in wisps
and the sound of laughter rocketing out the speakers
and he said, ‘Look, your mum gave her a joint’, and cracked up
but I didn’t care, was stunned to see her alive again
so soon, so unexpectedly.

She never had a Twitter.
Never had a Facebook or Instagram.
She was analog; the world digital. Yet
here she was, snared in my cousin’s hands
a stolen moment from her last days. I wonder
if, deep down in her hole in the ground
she is aware of a gap in her memory,
a cut in continuity where that scene once stood
and if we the living have our own blank spaces
where the dead retain whole days
of our interactions in their cold, dirty hands.

Once, you had to eat the moon’s heart
and sacrifice to the sun’s wintry smile
and dance till your hips ached with forgotten grace;
you had to milk the stars and chant the old words
(the words of being and making, of love and hate)
you had to crack open the world
and pinch the Earth’s spread-eagled thighs,
you had to climb the mountains of yesteryear
and swim in the oceans of tomorrow
where the seer-salmons fly into inevitable jaws;
you had to spill your seed into a man and a woman
to cross the Great Divide, and still more
to make animate dead flesh, and now
all it takes is the click of a button.

We have torn down the veil between life, and after,
wrapped it into the spaces between us, strung aloft
by telephone poles and satellites spinning amidst scrapheap
suns and junkyard planets. We call it a Net and weave
careful ones and zeroes into replicas of our selves
to keep the greedy earth from claiming our bones;
we have virtual graves now, eternal and open
to the 3D-rendered sun and wind and our own personal God
to watch over us in our compartmentalised Heavens.

The living will never again be able to put us away;
to cover our eyes with soil and hide our hearts in boxes.
We will never be silenced in the brief span of their years,
and they will never again be at ease
knowing we might at any moment pop-up
in their newsfeed, resurrected by a Like
or Retweet, or casual, careless cousin.

Time For A Change

A poem I posted on my Tumblr.

 

Stop Liking what I’m saying; stop Liking
what your friend’s friend posts, stop
Retweeting your celebrity crush like
they give a fuck, stop Re-blogging
and hearting and noting and tumbling
or sticking things to a non-existent wall

just stop.
Stop the rot of unblinking eyes
and endless clicking fingers. Stop
sitting there in your squeaky chair
by the window with the shades down;
stop being an audience in your own damn life
stop slaving after someone else’s words
following their every ghostly footstep—

start taking your own steps—
don’t let Armstrong do it for you, fucking leap
for the stars. Start writing your own words,
start singing your own songs, don’t just click
and sit and stare down at your phone screen
while birds paint the sky with their wings
and the wind composes poetry on their backs.

And if your fingers are going to be stuck
on keypads for the rest of your life, make
it matter —share your life, share your everything
capture those birds and that poetry in words
and dance and song and art and translate
your heartbeat’s morse-code into a language
only your loved ones can understand
and then more—just make it yours.

There’s nothing wrong with inspiration,
nothing wrong with highlighting the sparks
of other ideas so long as your own blazes
like the sun beside them and you show us
how and why those embers fuelled your fire
so high and so wide it obliterated the night.
Take back the night—don’t just sweat
on your couch while the memory of stars
gleam on rain-slicked streets waiting,
just waiting for your bare feet

to drum across the asphalt
and broadcast your joy into the clouds.
Don’t just bitch and moan and laze
when your bones ache to create,
to stitch patchwork pieces into collages
of the universe, of your universe and others
colliding and the smile of a little girl watching
it happen. Don’t just be sad
when you read about awful things
when you see cruelty dished out in ocean-loads
and you feel like kindness is drying up

don’t just click on a link, don’t just tell others
don’t just share — ACT. Even if it’s just a line,
or poem or scribble on canvas, even if it’s a letter
you never send, even if it’s to weep for an hour—
do something. Let it take root in your chest
and flower on your tongue, let it inspire you
to create, to move, to stand up and shout
until your voice cracks and the window breaks
and the birds fall in a feather storm
to join the chorus.

Right now crickets are creaking in the street
and the road is exhaling & inhaling cars
in gusting breaths while the walkway lights
beep and clouds cover the skeleton of the sky
hiding the bright nerves of the universe’s mind
but there is a cool breeze floating through
the window and a dozen lamps in a dozen
other windows and a dozen other streets
looking back at me while I pour my hope
onto this page, onto your page

and every other fucking page in existence:
I will not sit still.
I will not be silent.
I will not hate.
I will not discriminate.
I will not ape –

I will create.