Title: Keen
By: Lauren Gordon
Publisher: Horse Less Press
Published: 2015

Although these poems have a key link to children’s literature (Nancy Drew specifically) they are beautifully serious and adult in nature. However the innocence of a child’s eye is also frequently preserved; giving the poems a dual layered, haunted, quality overall.

The repetition and re-ordering of words which Gordon uses also gives the poems a demented nature- as if they are confused about their own identity. This is a good thing however as the poems then go on to explore this identity clash in detail- this aspect is what fuels the drama of the poems.

The poems are fairly short and spikey despite being split into “Chapters” in part one and “Articles” in part two. This gives the writing a clean and immediate sense, yet also allows Gordon to express complex themes to the reader through intense suggestion.

Overall Keen is an experimental poetry text that uses free verse to poke modern and adult features into well-known and predictable stories. The concept of the books seems at once strange and natural.

“Playing Up” night at Newcastle’s Northern Stage

Playing Up is an exciting new theatre company of emerging writers from the North-East. Amongst the preparations for their scratch night at Northern Stage I caught up with two of the writers involved- Lewis Cuthbert and John Harrison. They were both eager to talk about their new plays- Causeway and Deltic.

Tell me a bit about your play

Lewis: It’s a two-hander. Absurd comedy drama. It’s New Year’s Eve on a remote island. Old friends Colm and Nye meet for their longstanding ritual celebration (Jools Holland from 1996, Guess Who, blueberries, poems, sitting) and to put a brave face on things once again

John: Dave, a member of a local railway society ‘buys’ a Class 37 diesel locomotive and plans to put it in the rear garden of his suburban semi. Dave loves Class 37’s and feels its preservation is being neglected by the society in favour of the more prestigious Deltic locomotive they have recently acquired. Dave’s acquisition quickly brings him into conflict with his Wife, Melanie, his neighbours, the Council Environmental Health department, a vicious local scrap metal dealer and the Police.

Who is your favourite playwright?

Lewis: I’ve got plenty but I’ll go for Harold Pinter at the moment. For the vicious beauty of his language and the work he makes the audience do.

John: Ibsen, Arthur Miller, Shakespeare.

Which playwright has influenced you the most?

Lewis: Lots of people have called this piece Beckettian (which is fair enough given the absurdity and general air of desolation) but I think this piece was probably inspired by Martin McDonagh, if only for the fake Irish accents and repressed violence.

John: I admire how Ibsen and Miller used the theatrical form to critique contemporary society and its values. The controversial nature of their work provoked reaction that was sometimes personally detrimental, yet their dramas neither preach nor sacrifice character, plots, language or structure to political objectives

What compels you to write?

Lewis: I’ve no idea what compels me to write. It’s something I enjoy, a stress-reliever, something that keeps me sane.

John: It brings the reassurance that creativity can occasionally offset the tedium of existence.

Does anything else inspire your writing?

Lewis: Again, quite a hard question. I suppose life in general, snippets of conversation, relationships between people. I’m also reading through the back-catalogue of David ‘not Peep Show’ Mitchell and am very much buoyed by his mastery of different genres.

John: Overheard conversations, media articles, poetry, the writings of Raymond Carver, Haruki Murakami and Jonathan Franzen, and most of all, the love of language and the power of words.

Could you explain a bit about your creative process?

Lewis: Usually I get an abstract idea for a situation or, more likely, one or two characters. I scribble this down somewhere. Forget about it. Come back to it, think ‘ah, this is good’. Forget about it. Then build up a larger world that this character or whatever would fit into. Spend a lot of time sorting out the plot – but not too much or I’ll get bored – then set about writing it. Try to set a specific time aside each day, generally early afternoon, and follow my plan until I draw inexorably towards the close. There’ll generally be a point before then during which I’ll become disheartened with the whole thing, take a lonely walk up Jesmond Dene then get a ‘bright idea’ that sets me back on track. And finally, the rewriting. A terrible but crucial element far too boring to discuss here.

John: For plays, once I have the basic idea, I like to try and sketch out a structure. The aim is to give a story, consider characters and character development, identify where the problem will sit and how it is revealed and think about how that problem will be resolved. Once I have a structure I write to that structure to try and give a first draft. This never materialises in one go as I am often tempted into revision before I have even got a first draft down.

How did you choose the title of your play?

Lewis:The title came first. It was a nice peaceful image. I was originally going to write something set on Holy Island but then I thought the title may have Irish connotations, what with Giant’s Causeway in the North. And it also vaguely fits in with the underlying notion of ‘things are the way they are cause (that’s the) way they are’, which is the thought process of the two characters.

John: The play really about Dave’s love of class 37’s. Class 37 would have been a misleading title so I decided to name it after the more recognisable cuckoo in the nest, the Deltic.



Title: Eleven
By: David Lewellyn
Published: 2006
Published by: Seren

Eleven is a novel told entirely in the patter of a thread of inner-office emails. We experience the characters of the book through the emails they send; and some of the emails they don’t send (saved as drafts). It is an interesting way to structure a book and allows for many unreliable narrators to lead a mismatched series of events.

The emails are sent over one day, specifically September 11th 2001. We see the normal life in the office until the twin towers fall and then we see the shock that follows.

Yet even during the world-wide panic, the office workers continue through their day almost the exactly the same way as before the event. This seems to be a comment on how normal life can seem to go on, despite a massive global event that will have an effect on the world for decades. The book is also a comment on the general numbness of modern society, and the role technology plays in this. So no matter what happens on the news the characters remain mostly indifferent. Perhaps they have been numbed by constant dramatic reporting on even minor events.

The book is an interesting one- especially due to its layout. Unfortunately its layout can also be annoying in places and dampens some of the impact of the book.

Exodus in X Minor

Title: Exodus in X Minor
By: Fox Frazier-Foley
Published: 2014


Exodus in X Minor exists as a hybrid of mystical, highly experimental poetry; and a composition of classical music. The refrains that are also poems sometimes repeat the title of the book as their title; whilst others explore the past lives of a “Fox-haired girl” (presumably referring to an alter-ego of the poet herself- her name is Fox).

Amongst the magical aspects of the poems are highly un-romantic themes. Yet even these themes are explored in the style of the great romantics. For example the poem “For Maddy Learner, Age 6, Accidentally Killed at an Outdoor Firing Range in Upstate New York”. It is a bloody and horrific theme, yet still expressed beautifully. This intense sense of beauty and the darkly beautiful allows Frazier-Foley to look at our world and then create an intricate shadow of it. The world in her poetry relates to ours, yet is also entirely her own.

Frazier-Foley experiments within her poetry. She uses found newspaper headlines as titles. She also carries out experiments in the way she represents the words of her poems on the page. Like a painting, the arrangement of the words are as important as their content. Arranging the words like this allows Frazier-Foley to express the divided nature of her poetic voices.

Exodus in X Minor is vital reading for anyone who appreciates the link between music and poetry. It reminds me a little of Cloud Atlas in that way.

Lies My Mother Never Told Me

Title: Lies My Mother Never Told Me
By: A.F.Harrold
Published: 2014
Publisher: Burning Eye Books

The front cover of Lies My Mother Never Told Me suggests serious poetry. It almost looks like a Faber Faber cover. However I suspect that this in itself is an intentional joke- if you expect sincere poetry on opening Harrold’s book, you thought wrong.

For any reader Harrold’s style takes some getting used to. Yet slowly his style blooms and his odd sense of humour grows on you. His poetry is childish, but it thankfully never pretends to be “fun”. If Harrold were a clown he would be Twisty from American Horror Story. Instead his writing has the same child-like yet fascinating, brutal quality as so-called “primitive” art does. A prime example of this is the opening poem of the collection “My Mother”, which runs: “My mother/always encouraged me to talk/ to strangers//’You never know’ she said/ ‘When one of them might have some sweets'”

However it must be said that although Harrold’s obscure jokes are frequently funny, they also often aren’t. His rhymes are also occasionally pedantic rather than effortless. Still this doesn’t effect the humour of the collection overall.

I would recommend this book to anyone with time for some light and humorous reading (perhaps over the Christmas holiday!).

AF harrold

during my nervous breakdown i want to have a biographer present

Title: during my nervous breakdown i want to have a biographer present
By: Brandon Scott Gorrell
Published: 2009


Gorrell’s book is like an alt-lit flipchart. It moves amongst themes and styles on a page by page basis; teaching the reader a lesson on each one as it goes. Overall the book is an education in avant-garde literature.

Gorrell’s most frequent theme are the various aspects of depression. As the blurb states, he writes about “anxiety”; “low self-confidence”; and “alienation”. As he writes about these issues alongside self-referential moments about his own life as a poet and copywriter; the book has a quality similar to Knut Hansom’s Hunger. Gorrell looks repeatedly at the unstable and isolated life of the writer.

In places Gorrell writes with the intense rhythm of a rap; yet in other places he tells micro-stories or uses long enjambed lines. Throughout these he disregards traditional grammar. Instead he uses the language of social media to communicate- which is arguably the modern vernacular.

My favourite poem in the book is robosouthamerica and the immense future which looks at how the human race is doomed due to artificial intelligence.

Selected Unpublished Blog Posts of a Panda Express Employee by Megan Boyle

Title: Selected Unpublished Blog Posts of a Panda Express Employee
By: Megan Boyle
Publisher: muumuu house


Megan Boyle is sailing along the height of the Alt-Lit movement. Her collection of poems/blog posts are vital and immediate. In places the book reads more like a series of confessions than anything else. Xanax, poetry, identity and lettuce jokes all reoccur throughout the work.

The trademark of Alt-Lit is it’s complete disengagement with usual literary rules. Boyle refuses to use grammar, correct spelling, or even capital letters. However she clearly defines her life in her work, and links the two through her own brand of formality. Her stanzas are short- frequently one line long; and her wording is immediate. She does use metaphors, but her work is not metaphorical. This is similar to the way she uses rhythm, yet not any formal metre.

Alt-Lit has been rising as a key component of literature since the late 1990s. It has used the rise of the internet, following the patterns of social media as they come. Despite recent scandals regarding Alt-Lit and the objectification of women, the movement continues to grow, and influence other art forms. However, it is an almost entirely American movement right now, with American poets being the key members and American small presses being the ones to spread the word in print format.

Boyle’s other constant theme is sex. She lists her sexual liaisons in an act of Tracey Emin mimickery (mixed with the confessions of Sylvia Plath or Anne Sexton). She also describes sex with each genders, using matter-of-fact language.

Overall Boyle’s work is a major piece of Alt-Lit. It is also more accessible than some other Alt-Lit texts, and so is a useful way into reading the movement.