Here’s a poem from upcoming podcast guest Ramona Herdman. Ramona lives in Norwich and her latest pamphlet, ‘A warm and snouting thing’, was published by The Emma Press in September 2019. It is shortlisted for the 2020 East Anglian Book Awards.
How can we blame you for blurring life with alcohol and barbiturates, when we all want to rub our faces blind on your soft stomach, your breasts,
have you breathe sad bourbon fumes into our mouths, sing a song then sparkle a quip, tap a tune in perfect syncopation?
You were born with one bit of luck (your looks) and you used it like a mountain – years of work, snow-blindness, crampon hooks, and the whole of your life climbing.
They tell your marriages like a fairy tale – the boy next door, the sports star, the sensitive intellectual – like counting to three means happy ever after.
Holly Golightly was written for you: wild animal, living on change for the restroom. The mean reds, the blues. Poor slob, poor cat with no name.
Marilyn, you’re the ghost of trying. Snowfield face and sequinned sheath. Work and wanting and wanting in that white-out smile. You make me hold my breath.
I watch you shimmy, in clothes too tight to walk in – jello on springs, kissing Hitler – in heels that hurt, thigh sliding round thigh, down the platform. Hassled by steam and a wah-wah tune. Perfect.
John McCullough is the next guest on the podcast talking his Costa Book Awards shortlisted poetry collection, Reckless Paper Birds published by Penned in the Margins. Here’s one of the poems you can hear him read and discuss.
It’s true: there is a light at the centre of my body. If I could, I would lift aside a curtain of this flesh and demonstrate, but for now it is my private neon. It is closest to the air at certain moments, like when buttercups repair a morning’s jagged edge. Other times, a flock of days descends and my soul flickers, goes to ground. Without light, I’m all membrane; each part becomes a gate. I pour across each margin and nothing has enough hands to catch me, my teeth knocking so fast I daren’t hold any piece of myself near in case I start a banquet. I’m only eased by accident. On the drenched path, I pick up snails and transport them to safer earth then feel a stirring. I watch as rain streams from lopped-back elms, my face teeming with water and―hello stranger―my soul glides to my surface like it, too, belongs there; like a bright fish rising to feed.
John McCullough lives in Hove. His first collection of poems, The Frost Fairs (Salt), won the Polari First Book Prize in 2012 and was a Book of the Year for The Independent. This was followed by Spacecraft (Penned in the Margins, 2016) which was a summer read in The Guardian and shortlisted for the Ledbury-Forte prize. His latest book of poems, Reckless Paper Birds (Penned in the Margins, 2019) was recently shortlisted for the Costa Poetry Award. The judges said “This collection – hilarious, harrowing and hyper-modern – offers a startlingly fresh insight into vulnerability and suffering.”