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“A poet of fantastic inversions.” Poetry London

“Multifaceted, mega-fabricated, louche architecture.” Magma

“Voraciously experimental, precociously accomplished.” Poetry International

Play Lists by Jessica Mookherjee

At first brush, it’s tempting to classify Play Lists as a document of an era, a window onto another time – the poems are fizzy with teenage love and fashion craze, tentative trespass and intoxication, all set to a pop/glam/alt rock soundtrack that you can access via Spotify. It has bags of atmosphere and a litany of callbacks: Lacan and Camus, Lydia Lunch and Logan’s Run, Melody Maker, Tin Tin Duffy, pixie boots, James Dean and Elton John – and Bowie, of course, ever ready to pounce.

But to my mind, the key to this book is a neat bit of wordplay in ‘Record Collection’, a tautly written ghazal that covers the arc of a relationship. Its first two lines read:

I hid my music from you, I didn’t want you to look, at my record collection,
I knew you could read me like a book, but you’d no recollection.

That slide from ‘record collection’ to ‘recollection’ betrays the fact that memory – and nostalgia in particular – has its own agenda, blending layers of reality and mythology, and Play Lists does a wonderful job of embodying the way we mould narrative out of a dizzy blur of emotional highs and indelible impressions. ‘Hero Worship’, for instance, is pointedly a mash-up of The Iliad, Grease and first-hand experience of stirring sexuality:

Achilles picked me up from school in his red sports car.
My spring term, buds out, shirt buttons
undone, skirt hitched up. Get in, he said, sounding American …

A character in ‘Smashing’, in even fuller flower, “mouths spells to Aphrodite, Dionysus, Tiaco and Pamela Anderson”, while other personae are possessed by the spirits of pop stars and pin-ups: “Animal boy, I never let on that night I was secretly Iggy Pop” (‘Broke’); “We acted like movie stars. Nothing was safe.” (‘Cracked Actors’); ‘Spoiled everything, as you strutted Jagger-lipped’ (‘Hell for Leather’). When they fly too close to the sun, their hairstyles catch fire (‘Some of Them Are Old’). And woven through these glitzy, eerie, familiar glamours are frightening glimpses of loneliness, betrayal, loss of self and certainty amid the rhapsody of impersonations.

There’s a lot packed in once you slip beneath the bubblegum sheen and start to unpick individual lines and scenes, and at times I found myself pulling away from a closer examination of what is being implied in some of the poems, not certain I wanted to be touched by what is most raw in them. It’s possible to keep to the shallows, enjoy the achy paeans to smooth trickster-boys and blissed-out nights, but Play Lists has an undertow as well, a real body beyond the make-up, from which it draws its heat.

Gramarye Issue 19

I have three poems in the new issue of Gramarye, a journal published by The Chichester Centre for Fairy Tales, Fantasy and Speculative Fiction. As you can see from the picture above, it’s a very beautifully designed publication. This poem, ‘Frog’, is in part based on the character of the same name from Chrono Trigger, a 1995 Japanese role-playing game, and so in a sense the poem works as a companion piece to my paper, ‘Frog Leaps In: Haiku and the Struggle For and Against the Natural World in Japanese RPGs‘, published last year (link to full download). But it also takes in other myths and stories, and is about a real frog, and is about a real way of being.

Kendal Poetry Festival

I’m appearing at three events over the course of the Kendal Poetry Festival, starting with the festival launch event this Friday, which is free to attend from 6.15. I’ll be asking audience members to participate in a brand new ludokinetic poem written just for the festival, titled ‘L and the Empress of Sand’.

Then, on Thursday 25th February, from 10am I’ll be running a two-hour workshop on poems that concern themselves with trivial or minor objects. This is unfortunately now sold out.

Finally, on Sunday 28th February, from 2pm, I’ll be introducing a full hour’s worth of ludokinetic poems of various kinds, some of which can be played as a group, some by individual members of the audience. Tickets for this are still available at £5 each.

I’m immensely excited (and nervous) about this festival, and the chance to demonstrate some of what I’ve spent the past few years working on. A huge shoutout to Kim Moore and Clare Shaw, KPF’s indefatigable organisers. Hope to see some of you there (albeit via the medium of Zoom)!

Hope Radio: The Ian Henery Show Interview

This is appallingly late notice, for which I apologise, but I’m being interviewed on The Ian Henery Show on Hope Radio, a local community station for south Birmingham, 87.9FM, from 7pm tonight. Ian is a very amiable presenter, and the format is rather brilliant: I get to choose the songs as well as read poems!

You can listen in live using this link.

‘A Revolutionary Calendar’ by Zoe Skoulding

I’m enjoying this book in slow sips. It has a short poem for every day of the year, so I read one or two of the poems in it every few days, usually looking up what poem corresponds to the current day.

I was rather delighted to discover that the material/object assigned to my birthday (last week) is limestone, the mineral to which Derbyshire’s White Peak owes its name, since that’s where my roots lie. My grandparents’ house, a place filled with so many personal memories, is made from it.

Olzhas Suleimenov Translation Workshop

On Tuesday December 1st I’ll be facilitating a workshop for the Poetry Translation Centre where, with the help of translator Assiya Issemberdiyeva, we will be collaboratively creating a new translation of a poem by Kazakh poet Olzhas Suleimenov – a poet who rose to fame during the time of the space race, later becoming an anti-nuclear activist. This is a great opportunity to get a glimpse into Kazakh literary culture and become actively involved in the fascinating process of translating a linguistically rich poetic work.

The event is online, via Zoom, and free to take part in. You can book your place here.

Online Launch: Poetry Wales Vol 56 No. 1

No, the ink isn’t wet; I’d just spent the afternoon picking berries when I took this photo.

The online launch for the latest issue of Poetry Wales is today from 7pm, and you can register for it here. I will be reading one of two poems of mine that are published in the issue: ‘The Mess We’ve Gotten Ourselves Into, Represented as Items on a Ledger’. It’s a list poem and I imagine reading it will be a little like reading a charge sheet.

Stonecrop Review #3: Sky

I have a new poem published in issue 3 of Stonecrop Review, a journal of urban nature writing and visual art which is free to download in pdf form. The journal is very beautifully laid out, not only with art from contributors but rich-texture illustrations accompanying the poems by Holly McKelvey. Some of my favourite elements of the issue: photographs by Uraguayan photographer Felix Mataitis; an account of Nashville bats by naturalist Joanna Brichetto; pigeons in watercolour and pencil by German illustrator Rana Voss.