A Book Review of Alan Parry “Neon Ghosts” A Review by Matthew da Silva

Many of the poems in this collection are very short and are designed to capture a single lived moment where memory and experience merge in the flux of consciousness. When I was reading I was trying to place the poet geographically – was he British? American? (he’s British) – and so had to search for his name online but the universality of these observations of life is what strikes the reader, the poet’s ability to reach inside you as you scan each short line, picking up the referents and passing them to the mental synapses in your brain.

If there’s a narrative set up within this fragmentary world it’s one of the night in a foreign place, such as we find in the eponymous poem (‘Neon Ghosts’) in which, it appears, a man and a woman are getting ready to go out for dinner. The man is in the living room going about his business and the woman is in the shower getting ready. The man occasionally stares vacantly at the TV, which is on, and catches brief sequences of segments aired for viewers throughout the city. A politician is caught up in a scandal. The politician is a neon ghost but what about the man and the woman? Are they, also, something like ghosts? It seems, as a reader, that they might be indeed – and then what about me who’s writing this review about a book which contains a poem with, embedded in it, like a flash of lightning, three particular, vivid neon ghosts? What’s real and what’s just a stray phenomenon like a thought?

Where is the boundary between fiction and reality? The ephemeral nature of existence is catalogued in this relatively long poem. In ‘The Scene’, which is much shorter, an almost fictional America is imagined by the poet, a place “Stuart Davis knew” with “skyscrapers in / technicolour” full of “gas pumps” and “rooftops” that is “in full swing”. As in the first poem I talk about, here Parry economically reaches into the reader’s subconscious and drags out images that “belong” to a particular place at a specific point in time. Stuart Davis, a painter inspired by jazz, is a signal referent that pulls you back to the middle of the last century, a time when America’s place in the world was still being negotiated.

Perhaps it was a more innocent time because it came before all of the struggles of the second half of that century, but because of the link to now-still-popular artforms, it was perhaps a time when the soul of the nation was nevertheless cemented in the global imagination. Or else it’s because of the struggles of the second half of the century that the achievements of an earlier age finally came to be celebrated. What’s important is that the ideas the poet places in words are also inside the reader. A brief, mediated connection is made that links minds. All of the special resonances evoked by the name “America” suddenly rise up like ghosts to inhabit the room where the reader sits, focused on the grey page.

The dark energies of humanity are also canvassed, for example in ‘God’ and ’15:30’ – poems that appear conveniently on facing pages. A theme opened in ‘Neon Gods’ takes flight in ’15:30’ where “young daughters in / green pencil skirts & / high socks / hold their knees close” while boys stand watching them on the opposite corner. The shopkeeper is like a guardian in this dynamic scene that is fresh as a bird’s wing and just as swift, being over almost before it’s begun. In ‘God’, the man who’s focalising the narrative is “watching women walk under speechless green trees” and because of where this poem sits in the collection – right opposite the one already mentioned – you’re left wondering what is given to the reader to contemplate without speech.

The underbelly of society is exposed and the position of America – almost as if the name had been tattooed on life – is a refrain the poet keeps returning to like a memory of a tune heard in a commercial that aired in a hotel room while he was waiting to go out for dinner with his girlfriend. Though he thinks about getting into the shower he knows that there’s no time for monkey business – they have a reservation – and so he contents himself with daydreaming. In his mind old jazz tunes mix with the neon ghosts that are his brothers and sisters.

A Fevers of the Mind Quick-9 Interview with Alan Parry

Poetry/Sonnet by Matthew da Silva : On my Way to New England

A Fevers of the Mind Quick-9 Interview with Alan Parry

with Alan Parry

Q1: When did you start writing and first influences?

Alan:

I began writing in my teens. I wanted to be a songwriter, I was a songwriter. A bloody awful one, but one all the same. Through my late teens I got into The Doors in a big way, I’ve now a bunch of themed, Doors tattoos. I really dug Dylan, The Specials, and Frank Zappa too. I liked the anger, the rebellion, the demand for justice that they displayed. My early work had a lot of that about it. It’s not very good and much of it has been lost (Phew). 


At school, I was very interested in the diasporic writers that were on the syllabus at the time, as well as Adrian Henri and John Cooper Clarke, who I met at a gig when I was fifteen. He just oozed cool. 

Q2: Who are your biggest influences today?

Alan:

Well, I’m heavily influenced by what I’m reading, and I’ve not read lots of poetry recently, save for a pair of Andrew McMillan collections I was gifted in April. 


It would be remiss of me to ignore the poetry community I’m a part of. Poets like Dave Hanlon and Eli Horan who write explicitly about personal experience have influenced my most recently finished collection. I wanted to mine my own life and be a little more introspective and reading their work and listening to them read helped that endeavour. 

Q3: Where did you grow up and how did that influence your writing? Have any travels away from home influence your work/describe?

Alan: I grew up in Southport, just north of Liverpool. Half my family are scouse musicians. The music they play and talked about helped me learn about phrasing and I think my best work has a musicality about it, which is owing to that grounding. 


I spent some time in Cuba which did much the same. I sat in the bar that Hemingway sat in, how could I not be inspired? Also, a lot of my more recent work is inspired by holidaying with family in North Wales, even if it is something as simple as the name of a hymn, or a jellied slate path I remember that finds its way into a poem.

Ernest Hemingway in Cuba
ernesthemingwaycollection.com

Q4: What do you consider the most meaningful work you’ve done creatively so far?

Alan:

Well, in terms of my own work, putting out my debut collection Neon Ghosts was a massive deal. I learned a lot from the process, and I feel that it lends me authenticity as an editor to have been through that process. I’ve had other offers for more recent collections that I have turned down, because they didn’t feel right. But that first one was always going to be the hardest. 


My forthcoming collection is more personal and means more to me, due to the people I write about, the places I go, and how I handle them. I hope I will be seen to have done them justice. 


However, my most meaningful work is probably the work I do with The Broken Spine, where we are trusted with other artists work, and we give a leg up to young and emerging artists. https://thebrokenspine.co.uk/shop/

Q5: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a poet/writer?

Alan: Yeah, a barbecue with a friend from school. We were going to write a hit sitcom together and put on a production of Macbeth after school. It never happened. He had gone to uni and started writing with somebody else, I’d gotten married and had children. I went back to education on the back of that night. I took a creative writing module, developed a monologue for the stage and started writing poetry again. That was the spur.

Q6: Favorite activities to relax?

Alan: I love watching live stand up comedy, and live music. I could go to a gig every night and never get bored. Visiting new places is cool, swimming in the sea is freeing, but I can’t escape my love for the arts. For me that trumps nature.

Q7: Any recent or forthcoming projects you’d like to promote?

Alan: I have a forthcoming collection of twenty something poems, but cannot really say much about that right now. It is with a small press, who have promised me creative control and that was hugely important to me. 


I cannot escape plugging what we do at The Broken Spine, it sort of defines me right now. Eating up most of my spare time, we’ve just released Stuart M Buck’s latest chapbook, Blue the Green Sky and reviews have been incredible.


I’m in the very early stages of creating a new series under The Broken Spine umbrella, with Stuart M Buck. BOLD Arts Zine will publish work that is centred on the theme of masculinity. It is inspired by my academic research and our mutual love of coming of age literature, especially The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and Andrew McMillan’s work. 

Q8: What is a favorite line from a poem of yours or others?

Alan:

Well, I think the best line I ever wrote is in a poem from a collection that is about my hometown, I worked with Paul Robert Mullen, Mary Earnshaw, and David Walshe to complete that project. It’s out for submission right now, that line is… 


‘cars, abandoned by amblers& twilight photographers,collect like dead flies on a windowsill’ 


It says a great deal about my Southport. 


My favourite line of somebody else’s work, well this is a toss up between this from Stuart M Buck’s ‘Maps’…


‘… the last time i saw guy taylor was yesterdayand my teacher says i will never see him againand if i am lucky i will be let back into schoolbut by god if i ever so much as touch anyonehe will throw me out and my mum is sad andmy dad is sad and i am sad because i do notknow if guy is sad…’


And this from Bukowski’s’ The Mockingbird’.. 


‘… yesterday the cat walked calmly up the drivewaywith the mockingbird alive in its mouth,wings fanned, beautiful wings fanned and flopping,feathers parted like a woman’s legs…’ 


Any artwork by Stuart Davis will excite me too! 

Q9: Who has helped you most with writing?

Alan:

Easy I owe all my recent successes to the advice of Matthew MC Smith and Paul Robert Mullen. They have helped me to create two collections I’m very proud of. Poetry & Interview with Matthew M C Smith & Black Bough Poetry Poems by Paul Robert Mullen in Fevers of the Mind Anthologies (2019)


Jay Rafferty, Lizzie Kemball and Dave Hanlon deserve special mention for the advice they offered via our small community of poets. And of course David Walshe and Mary Earnshaw for their help improving my work in that hometown collection. Books to Read in 2021: Spectrum of Flight by David Hanlon

Other Links:

https://panoplyzine.com/snowdonia-alan-parry/

https://academyoftheheartandmind.wordpress.com/2019/08/26/poems-by-alan-parry/

https://www.dustpoetry.co.uk/post/darkness-by-alan-parry

https://ghostcitypress.com/poetry-28/2020/10/17/alannbspparry

https://thebrokenspine.co.uk/2020/06/20/neon-ghosts-by-alan-parry/

https://www.wide-eyes-publishing.com/salt-vinegar-zine/here-lies-two-poems-by-alan-parry

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