Trans (The Collective Press, Wales 2005)

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Trans culminates in a rewriting of the Metamorphoses - Ovid meets a gross-out freak circus to chat about everything from bodily modification to virtual survival: Lord Rochester's monkey; Enigma's horns; the Reincarnation of Saint Orlan; Kevin Cyborg; sex changes and do-it-yourself surgery. It's myth. It's life, but not as we know it, Jim.

"There's a real sense of attack and energy here as Forshaw gets to grip with the physical stuff of the world and, in the best sense of the time-worn phrase 'makes it new'. He's clearly interested in what things look like, sound like and feel like, and has a highly original take on myth. Trans is also engaged in a kind of hyper-active dialogue with the sonnet form and with Classical and Renaissance writers as vehicles for invention and variation. These echoes highlight the constant flashes and sparkles of real wit, while Forshaw's zest and erudition combine to make his work stand out from the mass of vaguely elegiac anecdote that dominates large areas of contemporary poetry... The 'Trans' section itself reads very much like a bravura finale where everything comes together. It surprises me that no-one's though about writing about the likes of Orlan and Enigma before, but again this helps to set his work apart. Trans iis one of the most original collections I've read in a long time." David Kennedy, co-editor The New Poetry

"What do you look for in a book of new poems? A voice llike no other, incisive, musical? An imagination like no other, trans-forming the world you thought you knew? A word-hoard deep enough for the demands of a big spender? Look and listen here." Jon Stallworthy

“electrifying verse and swaggering craft […] the tumbling diction is typical of Forshaw who has an exceptional ear […] be grateful for such an electrifying vision conveyed so urbanely.” Will Daunt, Envoi

“Like Ovid, Forshaw has real wit as a poet… this is the work of a poet skilled in his art.” Michael Nobbs, The Welsh Books Council

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Three Metamorphic Sonnets with Horns
Enigma has horns made of coral, which the body recognises as similar to bone, embedded in his skull.

i. Self-Portrait as Satyr

Well, one weekend, I gave myself horns
and pointed ears; upon the chin
the goatish curl of a satyr or faun.

The canvas mirrored me as Pan.
Portrait of the Artist as Devil
Ah, the sheer humanity of the man.

Varnished the thing, had it framed,
stuck on the wall like a disreputable ancestor.
Toyed with the idea of a forebear’s name,

some patronymic for the music my head had heard:
a kind of meme in that background beat deforming words

back-engineered to genes I’d satyrized, defaced:
Please allow me to introduce myself,
I’m a man of wealth and taste…


ii. Phrenology

I am my own masterpiece – long surpassed
my prentice work in steroids and tattoos;
botox, collagen; lips bee-stung; ribs removed.

Meanwhile, nature sets dilemmas on my brows.
“You need your bumps felt, you do,”
my old gran said and I guess it’s true.

Feel here, where skin is stretched,
these puckers, bumps. Look XXX!
– these little white-knuckled stitches,

my surgeon’s missing-you-already kisses.
See how we both signed on the dotted line,
here, on the brow where the past is erased,

where now there’s no more room for frowns.
Here – touch! – where coral knits to bone.

iii. Enigma

The classical world lives on in me,
ancient as bread and circuses.
Forget Linnaeus, his taxonomy’s
a footnote to my metamorphosis.
To classify’s mere pedantry.

You want class? Try Life. Try mixing it. Try hybrid vigour.
I’m not here to be described.
Let’s just say I am Enigma.
I am surf. I am reef. I live Beyond. I thrive Outside.

I make a poem of myself, a satyr: make skin, coral, bone, horn, all rhyme.
I seize the only day I’ve got, and every fucking day’s my prime.
If I’m defined, then let it be by pagan night – nox
est perpetua una dormienda
– and I tick the box
marked Other every time.
 

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Pumpkin

1

All last week, the same old joke
cracked that face up. He swung for us,
the burning Bogey, this pumpkin bloke.

Hacked out chops, no arty fuss,
these little triangles for nostrils, eyes
weren’t meant to last or gather dust.

Set light, the kids strung him up high,
lynched him briefly from a rafter.
Little priests, they swung him like a censer;

the smell of burning wax wafting
up as air hissed through his sawn-off crown,
turned gallows grin to hollow laughter.

All Hallows, we cut him down.
Three nights he glowered in the dark,
then guttered, more malcontent than clown.

Now, suddenly, that gourd’s gobsmacked.
The bite that was incised in light’s
a gurning mouthful of gummy black.

That hackneyed grin hacksawed in white,
the one that made light of death’s
now toothless, gormless by Bonfire Night.


2

The candle inside’s dead, unlit,
but a visual pun still takes the pith
and disses us with living soot.


At first, I’d thought the kids
had blacked it in, felt-tipped.
Tipped up, inside’s a weird skid-lid,

foam-cushioned right up to the lip,
black padding where the casing’s holed.
But then the night sky seeps

through an opened fontanelle,
and you’re staring through a brain-pan
chinked with stars, a trepanned skull:

the nightlight waxed into a tinny moon;
or a metal plate countersunk in bone,
but inside out and upside down.


3

All perspective’s suspect. In Holbein,
the anamorphic does the trick,
a tangent turns formlessness to omen.

The Ambassadors’ world is fixed,
measured, ordered by degrees:
categorical, hierarchic.

Against these clear geometries,
the foreground’s strangely deformed, defaced
- soft and shapeless as a new disease?

or thin and hard, reflective as a blade?
What’s smuggled in’s your skull, of course:
(left-field) revealed obliquely in an aside.


4

... And in Acherontia atropos
you can read your future, make a book.
A flutter on this Death’s Head Moth


shows you how the odds are stacked:
an old movie of an ageless face
flickered through short-winged days.

This moth cannot know what’s on its back.
The sun has never seen its shadow.
Yours is everywhere you look.


5

Staring through this dark halo,
this tonsured hole in the head, to see
a Möbius pumpkin full of hollow,

some Zen monk’s memento mori,
or merely the fungus that has rimed
these lidless eyes, this lipless smile

with kohl. There’s still a mise-en-abîme
of further skins beneath the skull.
This close, the spores begin to seem

like droplets of commas, dots, ink.
Now powdered anagrams dismember
rictus, smirk, reek and stink.


6

Outside the season’s ash and embers.
Elsewhere, fruity gourds - watermelons
are sliced into lippy smiles. November.

On the Day of the Dead, in sun,
I got a sugary skinhead grin,
a skull with my name candied on.

These aren’t my kids. In another life,
words end with ‘ohs’ and ‘ahs’: Mexican
names sugared on by a dark-skinned wife.

What’s dead sometimes was never born,
or a belly’s swollen by another man.
Short days, dark nights, mud, ice, rain

- this wasn’t part of any plan.
These aren’t my kids, but without them,
how would I recognize this woman?

Tomorrow, somehow I know, the skin
will blister into tears - tiny, red.
Passing the piano to the bin,

this ex-hardcase, pithy kinsman, blokish pumpkin,
will give, then break - I feel it already-
mush up to my knuckles, as my thumb sinks in.

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