Friday, 21 April 2017

The Wonderfully Weird Debut Poetry Collection by Genevieve Walsh

Flapjack Press have published The Dance of a Thousand Losers, the debut collection by Halifax-based poet Genevieve L Walsh, and it is a book as engaging, funny, at times hard-hitting, often deliciously dark and wonderfully weird as one might expect from the host of Halifax open mic night Spoken Weird, and long-time member of cutting-edge poetry collective A Firm of Poets, who has, for the past half decade, delighted audiences with her own particular brand of performance poetry encompassing such subjects as The moon, the English rain, music festivals, predictive text, and the dream of enticing American grunge stars to live in Sowerby Bridge.

I am very glad to see TDOATL contains a lot of poems I've enjoyed at readings, but also many poems new to me entirely.  Habitat is one of my favourites, its absolutely stunning and perfectly compressed: one of the best poems I have seen in any poetry collection this year:

Our natural habitat's behind
this camouflage
of concrete.
Countless forlorn savages
replete with our signature weirdness,
simmering lust
and an unabiding trust in what's to come.

The stanza above is not dissimilar to the deathly beauty of the slightly surreal Nightcrawler - a bleakly cut-up trawl through nuclear rubble, piss-drenched steps and Twisted steel in the breath.  Although very much original in vision and style, it puts me in mind of those post-Apocalyptic landscapes Brett Anderson conjures up romantically in many of the best Suede songs, and seems frozen in a kind of spiky glaciality, 50/50 malice and charity:

Three short blinks and a beatless heart,
a handless clock and a nuclear atmosphere,
no more nails on the hands of Venus

The Rainbow and the Wrench is another of my favourites - a dryly exuberant love-letter to Manchester:

C'mere Manchester. I've got something to say.
And I'm not saying it because I'm pissed,
not because of the Mondays or the Roses or the Smiths
or the timeless clock on my wrist,
I love you
'Cause you're the worst.

It is precisely this sort of unexpected, inch-perfect punchline which makes the stanzas of this poem so thrilling - as Genevieve conjures up a gallery of ironic epitaphs for the sarcastic mate at a funeral which embody precisely the kind of insult-as-affection humour so endemic to that great city of Manchester - that lonely dude on the bench.  Gen once lived on the same street as the original Factory Records HQ, and I was thrilled to see that she had quoted New Order in the book, a testament to the influence of the city on her writing, but there are also many references and settings that are unmistakable Halifax, and one of the best is the lovely Contradiction.  This poem goes down a storm at readings, and I don't want to give away any spoilers, but suffice to say it is not for nothing that its author celebrates Women who are walking contradictions ... sharp of heel and wit.  It is a smart, funny tour-de-force, and one whose readers will easily endorse the poet's declaration:

Women of Yorkshire, you have my salutation.

I first saw Genevieve Walsh perform at a packed Puzzle Poets in August 2013, and I remember the poems she read that night almost word for word nearly four years later - such is the power and precision of her saw-sharp vignettes of bleak electric throes, synth-driven melodies, klaxons in vacuums, and salt-lunged, tainted, Warhol-painted Technicolor misery. I love how she balances the emphatic or anarchic, with poems like Transparency and Lass Grenade, with poems of quiet emotion such as Rain, enlivening and comforting at the same time - especially the ending.   Reading this scintillating collection has been uplifting and has helped boost my faith in the current poetry scene, I feel we are in the midst of a very encouraging poetry climate (one of the few great things about the current period of human history!) and this collection is beautifully inspiring -  "a brutally affectionate hug" as Steve Nash splendidly puts it in his introductory piece.  I was also moved at the inclusion of an old friend - Gen's poem Hour of the Wasters, an Octolune first published on this site, which she wrote after the launch of Steve's Caterpillar Poetry collection The Calder Valley Codex -

Moon, ready yourself,
for now is the hour of the wasters.
Those who waste the hours
assigned to shortcomings
with long games
of Shag, Marry, kill. 

They who kill the headlamps, marry silence
and fuck to the sound your voice.

The Dance of a Thousand Losers deserves to be bought, read, and read again - a perfect anecdote for troubled and uncertain times. As Genevieve says in her fantastic Introduction, when reflecting on the kind of poetry and creative environments she likes, and the poetic aesthetic characterising the poetry career she has built up "during this depressing half decade":
We were holding an outdoor A Firm of Poets gig for an arts festival, and a passer-by shouted "Its not normal."  Damn straight its not.  Its one of the least normal things ever.  And in a world of abnormal acts of malice, its exactly what some of us need.

I couldn't have put it better myself - as with so much else in this honest, subversive, sometimes angry and yet ultimately triumphant and uplifting collection.

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