Anushna Biswas Reviews “The Elixir Maker and Other stories written by Ajanta Paul”



The Elixir Maker by Ajanta Paul is a compendium of twelve short stories. Each short story is written with contemporary sensibilities. The author leaves a nice caveat for the readers to note. Though art, in all its wealth, variety and boundlessness is grounded in life, in reality, the author considers art a part of that reality, as an embodiment of its essence by the human mind and thus is a certain sense actuality rising above reality.

Storm is a metaphoric digesis. Satyen, a man of Jadavpur, now living in New York. He is a geologist and teaches at the University there. He has recently visited the dense Peruvian jungle researching his latest project. He is a product of migration. In his recollection Satyen remembers crumbling arched-windows of his grandmother’s musty old house in East Pakistan by the side of Kirtan Khola river. .He and his youngest cousin sister Jhuma always accompanied their Grandma Shanti Devi. He has two aunts Lila and Khuku. One day women of the family were enjoying their afternoon. Suddenly a big gale lashed the house violently. Lashes of heavy rains and howling storms blew everything with its tooth and claw. Shanti Devi and others strove to save the crumbling house but instead lost one of her sisters, she being washed away by the dashing flood, never to be found again. This pathetic episode reached Satyen and with it came the bad news of separation with his wife and daughter. This pitiful state of his mind merges into the pathetic story of his defeated grandma.  In parallel, his tale smacks of his grandma’s fall and Satyen crumbles like that of their ancestral house in East Pakistan. The author shows the nature’s fury, remaining out of reach of man. The storm stands out as metaphor here.

Author Ajanta Paul in her story Glass deals with the ambivalence of marriage. In the story the author examines whether in reality marriage means equality, liberty and freedom between the sexes. The “Second Wave feminist literature” in the West has opposed marriage in their writings panning the discrepancy of the sexes that exist in marriage. The story has Sulogna and Indra who are happily married couple with a son. They are a upper middle class urban family living in luxuries. including holding occasional parties at home. The narrative displays “complete foundation of each self” and how much Indra and Sulogna’s marital life is cosy. Angana, Sulogna’s sister, a fashionable woman, lives life in her own terms. Incidentally, a party is arranged drawing a flock of people of various hues. Sulogna is face to face with the guests. When Manish offers drink to Sulogna, Indra’s faith on Sulogna falters.
However, for the first time one realizes women’s freedom of choice and integrity is questioned. Incidentally, feminist Critics argue that “marriage continues to remain “an institution which contributes to the maintaining of traditional gender roles, thus preventing women from achieving social equality, and reinforcing the idea that women exist to serve men, which in turn increases the abuse of women”.

The Silenced Bell is another engaging story explored with logical trains. The story narrates the tale of a Bell in an old temple in a village. Sasanka Babu  is the feudal lord of the old village. Nirmala is his wife who bears many children most of them girls. But Sasanka kills her girl children by thrusting “guava” into the children’s mouth which is caught by Nirmala. She protests against this brutality; since Sasanka Babu is a patriarch and feudal lord, he in a flare up throttles Nirmala. Following this ghastly event, the Bell of the old Temple stops ringing to the surprise of the villagers. The author takes a stand against “patriarchy” and notes the protest of time and Nature against the feudal lord making the Bell silent for ever. One gets a hint of a parable of sort, strong and ruthless.

In the story Fat Mamma, the author Ajanta Paul addresses the serious problem of “gendering” or gender bias in corporate sector with a touch of wit and humour. The story is a pointer to the fact that in Indian subcontinent gender discrimination is practiced not just in the family or the micro level of our society but such differentiation is also carried out in the society at large or to be evident at the macro level. The narrative of Fat Mamma not only fulminates tenebrous social parameters regarding women’s ability to compete on equal basis in social ambience but also considers it to be found in male bastion. In Fat Mamma’s office various male employees try and accommodate themselves mutually. Here the author reflects “boys will be boys”, despite the comfort and the fruit of their work that they enjoy. Manik is a catalyst out of the three main characters along with Mohan and Ashwin who can ballast topical reality in the narrative and make Fat Mamma look more humane and a person with empathy. The reader has a feeling that Ajanta Paul is writer with accurate insight and resilience and this makes her stories illuminating.

The next story Lawsuit brings us face to face to a crumbling of small family headed by Rana.  Rana works in a multinational Company and his financial position keeps his three daughters and wife Deepu in upper-middle class luxury, But this state of smooth sailing gets disturbed due to Lawsuit brought against Rana by the cartel of big Barons of the company as he refuses to side with the big bosses in their corrupt deeds. He does not capitulate to threats. Under legal pressure, Rana loses his job; at the same time his wife Deepu gets  alarmingly sick due to fluid in the heart. In the meantime, Rinki, Chumki and Mimi grow up and Chumki in particular graduates into lawyer and vows to help the poor being trapped in false court cases. Chumki in remembrance of her father Rana, takes up defense council to intricate the poor and helpless people trapped in false cases. Ajanta Paul as always stands by the defeatist and Chumki represents the author with ethics and legal insight that makes the Lawsuit a humanitarian tale of generation.

Author Ajanta Paul in her story Freedom upholds the tragic fate of people in partition between India and Pakistan and its cruel aftermath.  But when it comes to India the freedom came with lot of bloodshed. During British imperialism, freedom achieved at the cost of communal loss and gory bloodshed. However, when in 1947 India gained freedom from the British empire, little did people know that post independent India would have to see many other divisions, intercultural and inter-caste conflicts. This partition could be said to be the greatest political upheaval in the political history of India. The critic and author Butalia recounts her experience; “thus memories of Partition, the horror and brutality of the time, the harkening back to an—often mythical—past where Hindus and Muslims and Sikhs lived together in relative peace and harmony”.  Priti’s story falls in the same category. A quiet peaceful life suddenly succumbed to the evil forces of partition in the name of freedom and Priti’s personal loss of her son and brother-in-law while escaping from Pakistan to Delhi as refugees. Priti and her husband and daughters here confront a bizarre situation: In the ocean of milling crowd Priti lost her brother-in-law and her son Ravi. She is uncertain whether they could at all get off the train. She has strong surmise that mishap is in view and is tormenting, She happens to believe her accepted current life: “We settled in Delhi, made it our home..The girls grew up, married and now settled in the US”. The author traces the partition and its trauma with authentic tenacity.      

In the Wayfarers the author follows a quaint narrative with a theme of journey in a bus full of passengers headed to Nityanandapur..In a crowded bus seats are filled. Samar by fluke gets a seat by the side of a co-passenger. Suddenly Samar starts spinning out tales of absurd nature acting a a rich baron. He fabricates absurd snippets of possessing wealth, money, big business and factories etc. While listening the phantasmagoric tales, the bus suddenly faces break down in the dusk. The passengers get frightened and disperse for shelter. Samar gets down and the co-passenger being jolted seeks help from Samar. He follows Samar for a night stay.. Being convinced Samar takes him and ambles a zig-zag stretch in the dark and reaches his oldish, broken hut. The co-passenger now realizes what Samar has narrated is only a fictive reality and gets disillusioned. The author presents a cacotopian mental state of the protagonist that not only engages the readers but also reveals how a penniless man could manufacture illusory tales to amaze us in a ruthless reality.

The story Escape narrates  the life of Binu, a young boy. He assists his uncle Nandu in a tea stall on regular basis. It is by the side of Rly station at gate Seven.Trains arrive and leave as natural going of each day. The passengers arrive and many of them drop at the tea stall to sip, read newspaper and then drop out as always. Binu dislikes the job and often runs aways to travel in trains that arrive and leave. His uncle is not happy. One day Sarita, a teacher, arrives at the stall and she is requested by Nandu to give her nephew a fresh life. Sarita agrees and picks Binu for  a new abode, a school. Binu who enjoys journey to explore people, nature and sights of wonder suddenly feels caged and his freedom to journey is cut off. Binu's life freezes into still. The writer quaintly explores the green mind of a boy for wonders in journey, arrival and departure of trains, is shown finally chokes and his desires stifled. It hints at our poor social system where desire to fly or ride on a journey gets stymied.

In Elixir Maker we get for the first time a tinge of “magic realism” from the author  Ajanta Paul.  Alok, painter by profession, discovers in the market how multiple kinds of scented juices allure people and affluent. On picking scented juice of bizarre kind, Alok feels wafted to the old mythic era in a flight of fancy, an era of rich Zamindars. He is enthralled by the sights, sounds and smells and changes to a queer person. The painter as an artist provides to a chieftain’s daughter scented potion/juice to relieve her father. To the contrary, Alok often receives sweet and cold water that slakes his thirst and puts him on different terrain. As a famous painter his works decorate many quarters in social platforms. In an illusion Alok visualizes Era, his wife, to offer him water in his exhausted state of wandering, tired, distraught, clapped out, and breathless.
The story in its meandering blends physical and fictive realties making it true in form. The author subtly has used her intellect and artistic resilience to make Elixir Maker, a work of “stream of consciousness” to provoke her readers to get the drift of meaning as hidden in the structure.

In her story Misunderstanding, Sheena takes the centre of focus for her undue misunderstanding of her husband Ravi. She grows skeptic about Ravi as he is often found talking over phone secretly that Sheena deems a rupture in relationship. Her doubt triggers separation in marriage. Days go by. In such manky doubt lies a greater truth unknown to Sheena. One day, Sheena comes to know that their baby is alive with “Musculoskeletal” abnormalities known as Crouzon syndrome. Such baby normally lives short. But in her case, Ravi clandestinely handed over the baby to a hospital for care and medical remedy. The baby is still alive and the truth is brought into light through a search of medical reports kept hidden in Sheena’s almirah. Both Sheena and Ravi curiously turn alive to the big revelation and the couple gets united due to “misunderstanding”. The way the story is sketched, it heightens the suspense and finally a great relief. The author has used her sharp insight to reveal a strange truth, very topical and alive.

The story Shifting narrates a little complex life of Mallika who is fed up with her seedy, musty house that belongs to her late father. Being Claustrophobic for a long space of time, She decides to shift from the very old house as she is sick of rusty memories of the past that makes her nearly frozen. Mallika seeks a new vista in her life and hence gets determined to purchase a new flat which she does.

Shifting involves a lot of labour and toil in the shape of loading unloading old furniture, junk domestic uses and sundry other things making it heavy for Mallika. In the Shifting Sanwar, the painter friend, introduces his artistic eye, colouring Mallika's flat with absolute mastery.  Because of Sanwar, a painter of walls from village, makes the rooms look, vibrant, live and have a shade of chiaroscuro. All rooms breathe a fresh air and rhythm into Mallika's life. She is much enthused that she is able to accommodate Mahdi’s curlicued furniture made by him before he makes his departure for Middle East. Sharmistha and Mahdi friends of Mallika, separates after co-habitation for some time... While.Sharmistha goes to US to complete her PhD, Mahdi leaves for the middle East.
In a jumble of kicks, now Mallika re-discovers the meaning of life once she lost out of boredom and sticky anguish.

Chair is tale of multiple illuminating memories and nostalgic events, good bad and lustrous that hold the eminent academic institution ie the Women’s College its students of past and present are proud of. Incidentally, Chair represents the author herself, insightful, dynamic, innovative, creative marked by a halo of high, useful pedagogy; the process is that of teaching and learning. Nisha in her capacity sits in the Chair and navigates all official, educational activities, and governmental directives checking papers, documents, notices, letters of complaints and sundry other matters related to the College, Nisha presides over.

It may be mentioned here that this Chair has nothing to do with The Chairs by Eugene Ionesco, the famous French absurd playwright.

In the centre of focus stands out the Principal who is also required to guide the students to hold festivals galore: these are of various interests and being pursued till they pass out.  Women’s College may not have glossy peels or gorgeous surface yet its eminence out-tops many in the field. Chair made of teak wood and Mahogany accommodates Nisha and inspires her to confront all challenges including bouquets and brickbats with equal ease.
The structure is set in a nifty reflection of the author through whose eyes the readers feel a kind of identity and wisdom of enlightenment never to fade out. A powerful short story that harks little but suggests much.

Poetry Reviews from Broken Sleep Books: Simon Alderwick

Sometimes I write poems & sometimes I write poems is the first English translation of poems from the young Mexican poet Martin Rangel, translated by American writer, poet and translator Lawrence Schimel.

Aside from a few poems which have appeared in Spanish in the collection Luna Hiena, the majority of poems are new. As with all Broken Sleep translations, the original Spanish appears alongside the English translation.

The collection is at points pretty meta – the first poem ‘I translate to steal’, being read as a translation, is itself full of lines worth stealing (or at least be inspired by). “I translate to steal / and I let myself be translated to be stolen”.

Rangel’s poems read like a self aware dark night of the soul, bouncing from sharp insight to bleak truth, helped along by vivid images and killer line after killer line.

“My love dresses in black 
and goes out into the street 
with a pistol in each hand 
ready for everything” 
(life is prey)

“Of all things i’ve forgotten over time 
how to live is the one I miss most” 
(“time passes slower when you can’t sleep” science confirmed)

The title poem requires you to turn your head sideways to read it (if reading on a computer screen) and might just flip your mind upside down. 
“sometimes I weep when I write poems by hand but I only do so when I don’t like them / and I want the ink to blur.” 
If you wonder why some people (perhaps even you reading this) are drawn to write poems, Rangel has as good an explanation as anyone: “Sometimes I write poems about things I feel and sometime I write poems / in order to feel things”. 

Several of the poems are dark and introspective, almost depressing, but still full of insight “You discover that life doesn’t wait for you” laments Rangel in here’s a blood animal that snores within my chest before asking out to the sky to 

“explain to me now 
I shall die 
without knowing”
(birds like suicidal arrows)

“We keep writing poems” returns to the poetry about poetry theme that Rangel does so well. Having survived his dark night of the soul, lines like “we keep writing poems against everything” cut deeper. 
“We keep writing poems and find all the doors are closed” until “everything becomes poems”. 
Rangel is not afraid to expose himself, to show his emotion. He is proud to be a poet, to see poetry as a vocation, and keep at it despite everything. 
“While we dream / while we are alive… we keep writing poems” 

These are poems for poets. Poems to inspire poetry. Poems to translate and steal. 

Liam Bates’ Monomaniac features 20 poems, all of which have ‘mono’ in the title. The poems themselves sometimes seem a little removed thematically from the titles although I did find it helped my understanding of the poems to look up some of the titles in the dictionary.

Titles range from monosaccharide (any of the class of sugars (e.g., glucose) that cannot be hydrolyzed to give a simpler sugar) to monody (a poem lamenting a person’s death) but the poems themselves have several circular themes, including a huge monolith, daffodils and some kind of doctor prescribed pills.

Bates’ poems are accomplished and he has created a complex, believable world where things are not quite how he expects them to be. And for that matter the speaker’s behaviour is equally surreal. Indeed we are never quite sure if it is the speaker or the world that is at odds with the other.

As in all of Bates’ work, his use of enjambment is at the top of the game, giving double meaning, causing uncertainty and raising a smile.

“I’d like to leave my own body
of work beside these giants
of toilet wall artistry”

Monosyllabic, as the title suggests, is a poem made up of one syllable words. For some reason I particularly enjoyed this piece.

The acknowledgements name Andrew McMillan, Caroline Bird and Roger Robinson as having helped Bates develop his unique style. His poems inhabit a similar universe to Kafka, Simic, Ian Seed and Msilocz, but he undoubtedly has his own voice, which he uses to create a world that is definitely worth your time to explore and get lost in.

Dirt by Dominic Leonard was the hardest of these pamphlets for me to get into. But I’m glad I stuck with these poems that are full of rich language and hyper real imagery. These are well constructed, thoughtful poems to be savoured, and I’m still getting to know this behemoth of a collection.

Early favourites include O, Enemy of the State, Death Poem and Whether Mortal Men May Attain True Happiness.

Leonard is an Oxford graduate with a love of medieval poetry, inspired by the likes of Chaucer and Biron. Leonard is clearly a well read guy and it comes across in this work.

There is a lot of meat packed into each poem. The work inhabits a world of kings and empires, of bloodshed and magic, in which Leonard is a sorcerer with a huge canon of classic poetry and literature at his fingertips.

One of my early favourites in Dirt is O, where Leonard seems to speak directly to the reader; where the world of the poem seems more like our own, and Leonard himself seems vulnerable and searching.

“i know the rooms within a scar…

its nights like these that make me wish i could do your cold job

for you . keeping the sky upright , washing the heavy hills.”

Similarly, in Whether Mortal Men May Attain True Happiness, Leonard seems to be in the modern world asking timeless questions

“I bite ice-cream with my
 front teeth & collect badly
 bound books because danger
 I adore you”

Dirt encompasses a range of topics, themes and styles, each poem existing in its own universe with its own rules, which is partly why it was initially difficult to find an anchor whilst reading through. But slowing down and taking on the poems one at a time, coming back to them several times, has been infinitely rewarding and enjoyable. The more time I spend with Dirt, and with individual poems within it, the more I am getting from it. These are poems which reward repeat visits. Poems which are mysterious to the point of being esoteric. Poems full of history, blood and horror.

I’m sure I’m not the only person who will feel a buzz of excitement as they open Honey Monster by Bobby Parker for the first time. Following on from 2018’s masterpiece Working Class Voodoo, Parker delivers a whopping 132 pages of his trademark kitchen sink surrealist beatnik stream of hollowed out thoughts. Where Working Class Voodoo dealt with Bobby’s personal and domestic demons (divorce, fatherhood, addiction and mental illness), Honey Monster seems to take on a more ethereal and worldly view. The poems are still confessional, personal exorcisms and tales of the tilted, jilted and heavily sedated, but at points Parker elevates out of his own predicament to speak truths about the human condition, our society and our species as a whole. It’s not glamorous or hopeful but through the sheer brutality and unreservedness of the text, as well as the zany humour and the surreal otherness of Parker’s view on life, it’s as enjoyable and exciting as any other poetry being written today, and the truths Parker imparts are just as hard hitting and head shifting as any other poet, shaman or seeker out there. Rather than quote particular lines or passages, I thought I’d give a few sample of first lines – partly as they stand as great lines in themselves, particularly in terms of immediately drawing you in, but also as the beauty of the poems is how Parker leads you through his nightmarish altered reality – I don’t think quoting last lines or lines midway through the poems will really do them justice.

“Six months before my daughter was born, my doctor/ introduced me to Benzodiazepines.” (Floating in the Harbour)

“The girl who raped me had a really nice mum…” (Spooky Jeans)

“What kind of hell planet is this?” (Sticky Legs)

“Depression is a bit like Tom Hanks” (I’m Going Over the Fence)

“The sausage looked so lonely in the chip shop window.” (Come Down (Three Bad Dreams))

“The bus is on fire again. I watch it burn as I make tea.” (A Haunting in Kidderminster)

At 132 pages the collection could be a bit tighter, but the ‘filler’ material is in a sense light relief from the intensity of the more stand out sections, and more poems just means you get to spend more time in Bobby Parker’s head, getting more value for money.

It’s not often a collection includes helpline numbers and a disclaimer warning. I’ve not really gone into how serious some of the topics are – I’d be here all day if I listed them out – but these topics are dealt with by someone who has experienced them first hand, speaks from his heart, and somehow creates beautiful, chaotic works of art out of the darkness. I hope he finds some light in his life and I hope he continues to create beautiful poetry for a long time, that all of us can appreciate and enjoy.

A book review of S.J. Fowler’s “Sticker Poems” review by Samuel Strathman

Sticker Poems by SJ Fowler

S.J. Fowler
Trickhouse Press, 2021
Paperback, 126 pgs.

S.J. Fowler’s visual poetry collection, Sticker Poems (Trickhouse Press, 2021) is any childhood sticker fan’s dream.  The book is a compendium of our favorite stickers, as well as crafty new creations.  There are also many statements within the pages that are meant for humor as well as deeper thought.  A sticker book could not be a sticker book without repetition, but Fowler makes the repetition meaningful in the only way that a vispo (visual poetry) master can. 

The book has a lot of mixed media which helps to elevate the story told within its pages, and unlike his earlier book, Crayon Poems (Penteract Press, 2020) he keeps the mood light.  This is done through using bright visuals as well as different hypnotic mediums that help elevate his sticker world.  This would be considered an adult book by all accounts since there is cursing and violent language used in good fun, not to mention the grammatical errors which are not errors if they are done for creative purposes.  “for here. come I! to kiss arses” or “cuddliest & killingest…the great bear” being some of what is used.  These are short lines of text are oftentimes original as well as paying homage to many of the positive messages used in stickers.  “Make good use of Today” being one of them.  Many of the stickers like the menacing “Zero Medo” are rather menacing and add flavor and contrast to the child friendly stickers. 

Some of the new and exciting stickers that Fowler has created are new troll-like creatures, “Garbage Pail Kids,” colorful blot patterns, and other new and animal felt stickers.  Many of these images we would like to pick from the pages, and fortunately for us Fowler does allow us to take a few off the pages.

The trouble of being an amateur reviewer doing his second review is trying to decipher a storyline within “Stricker Poems.”  Visual poetry, like paintings or other artwork, is often more of a statement than a storyline to me.  After reading the essays by S.J. Fowler and David Spittle, I find that I have more questions and even less answers.  Besides using mixed media, drawings, and repetition I’m unsure as to the technique used here.  In the end, I rather not to try and evaluate the author’s school of thought.  It is better to sit back and enjoy the ride, and a wild one it is.  

Reviewer Bio

Samuel Strathman is a poet, visual artist, author, and custodian.  His poetry has appeared in Pulp Literature, I-70 Review, and Prole.  His debut poetry collection, “Omnishambles” is forthcoming with Ice Floe Press (2022).

Book Review of Let it Bleed by Nicole I Nesca (review by Ivor Daniel)

Screamin' Skull Press – Renegade Prose and Poetry

Let it Bleed by Nicole I. Nesca (Screaming Skull Press) reviewed by Ivor Daniel.

Bleeding  Authentic  Writing    Let it Bleed captures the feel of when you are young and need to run away from home    But you still want to be found

Hemorrhaging in the shower    The unwanted neon intimacy of medical examinations    Morphine sleep     Wake     Hemingway saying writing is like bleeding

Swerving between prose & poetry    The music of the times coming up on the radio then gone/past/static/interference   

     Interference     Predators   

         Road map of America      sticky separating from parents / founders  

Sticky Fingers    Sticky   long – distance   bus    rides               to look for America

Loving / Hating / Loving / Turning Into

         Your Parents

Elusive living up to Papa’s (and Hemingway’s) expectations

It all goes by so fast/life/a crystal/blur/outside the windscreen

And soon we are at now                       ‘solving the world’s crisis one ‘like’ at a time’

                   A tale of love and survival     (What else is there?)    

                  We aspire to humanity     Survive like emotional sardines   

                             It’s like a film    It’s like heroism    

            Not the masculine old  ‘I may be gone for some time’ heroism  

          The other sort        Writing that bleeds

Let it flow   

Nicole Nesca  –  you may be here for some time

Let It Bleed (1) by [Nicole Nesca, Screamin Skull Press]

Ivor Daniel worked as a street-based youth worker, then as a manager of youth work teams.

He lives in Gloucestershire, uk.

His poems have appeared in A Spray of Hope (@litscihub), wildfire words (the ezine of CheltenhaPoetryFestival), Steel Jackdaw Magazine, Writeresque Magazine,

iamb ~ wave seven, and Fevers of the Mind.


Ivor was sent a digital copy of Let it Bleed so he could write this review.  Thanks, Screaming Skull..

A Book Review of Daydreams, Obsessions, Realities from Matthew McGuirk (Alien Buddha Press) review by Matthew da Silva

A Review of Daydreams, Obsessions, Realities (review done by Matthew da Silva) for Matt’s book

Mixing poetry and prose McGuirk creates a space like ones experienced in childhood and there’re also speculative stories, such as ‘Imitating Dopamine’, a pessimistic prelude to the future of augmented reality corporates like the supposed Meta (Facebook, whatever) which will recreate something like Second Life, a now defunct arena where people would represent themselves with avatars and type conversations with their clacking keyboards (hands raised like Michael Jackson dancing ‘Thriller’ as they made words to communicate with other avatars among the strange planes and angles of virtual reality). Or they would teleport to digital houses in an endless landscape so that, unlike in the real world, they could inhabit dreams beyond diurnal imagining or nocturnal visions. 

Different personalities awaited their endeavour. But never fear, you can do far, far worse than reading such engaging stories as ‘In the Weeds’ and ‘Mac the Pirate’, garish and bold sorties into escapism. Some of this review was written on a Friday. Where would we’ve been, in lockdown, without Netflix? 

‘Just Leaves in the Wind’, a longer story in the collection, suggests McGuirk watches streaming TV in his free time, but when he’s not imagining a chemically enhanced future, McGuirk’s bursting imagination transports the reader to places everyone who’s had a happy (?) upbringing can relate to. When I was reading ‘Ray and the Frog’ I was back in the park beyond the back fence at 110a Hopetoun Avenue, the house I grew up in from when I was a waddling infant until I was seven years old. Down the back, near the gate, we had a swing set. From the balcony upstairs you could see, to the southwest, the trees galloping away over leafy suburbs where the houses sit right up against the welcoming hollows and bays of the harbour. 

If we went out the gate it was only a minute’s walk to the Rock With the Hole in It. McGuirk’s two friends are just as cruel as we were, or just as heedless. When us kids used to play in the creek that wended its way through the park we’d be watching the fish. They were tiny, no more than an inch-and-a-half long. I recall a delicious stab of pity and regret when I’d brought one of the little wriggling bodies out of the clear stream onto the bank where we played our games, it lay on the grey sand opening and closing its mouth as it tried to get the oxygenated water it needed to flow over its gills so that it could survive. I didn’t really understand how fish breathed in those days but I do remember the pathos of the sight of this tiny creature dying because of an action of mine. And the feeling of shame that came with it has rested among my memories ever since, a plunger over the drain of time.

You can see how this sort of feeling (I imagine McGuirk felt something similar to me when, as a child himself, he’d hunt) might transfer itself to a feeling of pity at what is to come.

An author finds a kind of salvation in writing, as though by putting words down, laying down letters one after the other in a dogged sequence – like ants out of the broken head of a dead man on a beach – you were able to process the world more efficiently, with more compassion (the word we all use these days is “empathy” but I’m not sure I endorse its antiseptic pallor) to make poems or stories to understand who you are.

In ‘The Day the Little Mermaid Died’ we’re once again ten years old. Walking over sand dunes. The beach has a competent chronicler in McGuirk but he also does well in suburbia, as in his story about the computer salesman who decides to get a digital implant in order to escape from life. SThe book ‘Daydreams, Obsessions, Realities’ is a hybrid and contains free-verse poetry as well as short fiction, but the idea of bionic implants is as trusty as that worthy TV drama, which screened in the seventies, ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’. I’d watch the show with my brother – who used to go with me also into the park to play at the creek – on the TV downstairs during the weeks when granny was at home.

My brother still reads sci-fi but I’ve largely moved on. Unless, of course, a book like this comes along. I see the appeal, though these days the number of dystopian fictions is almost like a set of waves that threatens to overwhelm Amazon and Netflix, Acorn and Prime, even Binge (who thinks up these names – are we being asked to do something?). 

It’s almost as though, to escape the deluge, you have to take time out by watching the evening news where you’re confronted with a rotating crop of senior police officers or the Minister announcing another spectacular, million-dollar drug bust in another crappy suburban street. The news crew interviews neighbours but where does the fiction stop and reality start? It’s hard to see much difference between the raid on the perpetrator’s hideout in the OTT police procedural and the raid broadcast on the 6pm news and that takes place in an outer-western suburb when police seized $20-million-worth of precursor chemicals. 

“Meth.” “Death.” We use our TVs – another box – to escape from the boxes we construct to contain our errant personalities. McGuirk writes about these boxes in ‘Walls that Make up Boxes’: “Aren’t we all looking for walls around us and / a box to keep us safe from those scary things, / the cold things, / the things that try to get in when the world is dark? / We all have our walls and our boxes, / unless we don’t.” 

The paradox is that the demand for escape is never ending. If you read McGuirk’s work you’ll find something more expansive. It’s time for a different kind of poetry to preside, one that asks you to think.

A Fevers of the Mind Quick-9 Interview with Matthew McGuirk

Bio: Matt McGuirk teaches and lives with his wife and two daughters in New Hampshire. He was a BOTN 2021 nominee, is now a regular contributor at Fevers of the Mind and has poems and stories published in 50+ literary magazines with 100+ accepted pieces. His debut collection, Daydreams, Obsessions, Realities with Alien Buddha Press isavailable on Amazon, linked in the bio and also on his website.Follow him on Twitter: @McguirkMatthew and Instagram: @mcguirk_matthew. 

Website: Daydreams, Obsessions, Realities:

Bio: Matthew da Silva was born in Brighton, Victoria, and grew up in Sydney. He has Bachelor of Arts and Master of Media Practice degrees from the University of Sydney and lived for just under a decade in Tokyo. He has two adult children and lives in Sydney.



Twitter – Main: @mattdasilva Writing: @bookchatoz Agriculture: @winningthefield

Instagram: matthewddasilva

LinkedIn: matthewdasilva