Trans (The Collective Press, Wales 2005)
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 is 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
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
... 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.
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.
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.
Through the dusty garden, dusk
and the trickle of snakes: serpientes,
culebras, víboras, cascabels.
Each sloughed skin leaves a caged tab,
hardened to a pea in the tail's husk.
Next morning, down by the well,
a tiny baby rattler, still dumb,
sunning himself: innocent,
curious, flicking a thumb's
up - an AOK to the day.
Elsewhere, peeled-off stockings nailed to trees.
Lost up some klong,
a man, one-armed,
teases while another grips.
Venom spat into a perspex cup.
Accomplished blackmail smile,
the twitch of muscle under the shirt arm
that's not pinned to his breast.
Long ago, in the sudarium,
strigils scraping off the sweat
while a hypnotic queen
Noblesse oblige - the sting within
the basket of bidden fruit.
In the Church of Jesus
With Signs Following,
the Lord has moved me
to take up rattlers,
This thing accursed
above every beast,
condemned to go upon its belly,
eat the dust,
locked up tight
in my black ply box.
I saw a whore
poured like gasoline
into a flame-red dress.
She wore snakeskin shoes
and a silver necklace,
its snakeshead clasp
coiled at her breast.
Put me in mind of the evil life
I led before
I went to the river,
took my new name.
Now when the combo crashes into stride
and Jesus speaks like its true backbeat,
I walk to my smiling Saviour
in tough and polished hide.
Open up my case, unknot
the nest of vipers,
and with an open heart
dance and sing as the spirit moves
to shake my body,
echo on my tongue.
And hope and pray
my faith’s right good.
In darkened houses,
Irish and Spanish, Italian and Mexican,
I’ve seen that plaster Virgin;
out of the blue,
her sandalled foot
bruising the head that tapers
like a coffin.
They pour themselves
as if through a spout.
I dam their flow,
pin them with a hook,
grab close and tight
behind their head,
guide them to the darkness
of my burlap sack
Once in a while, I take a bite.
Goes with the territory, I guess.
They can’t hear, but they can feel.
If you’re afraid wear big boots.
Stamp on the path and they’ll slither away.
To get them out of holes
I lower in this vibrator
tied to string.
A bough from the tree,
the whisper of leaves branched into promise.
It hung, testing the breeze,
curled along the rough bark,
leaving an ivy caress hugged tight as poison,
as it dripped from itself,
gave stuck roots the slip.
So many words made flesh,
but this verb is sleekness incarnate,
sloughing what it outgrows in itself.
Slick with confidence, it licks the world’s lips
with the gloss of possibility.
Slithering the grass between the industrial busy-ness
of societies that are all arms and legs,
it has stripped itself of the banality of work or care.
Pure ego, shimmering I,
useless limbs lopped.
Slick torso, liquid stave,
erectile pillar of vanity
completing the circle of itself.
what was secret as a glans
is now new mind,
sharp as peeled fruit,
a spiral of green skipping through the rope of itself,
wearing an inverted heart on its sleeve.
Three Views from Snowdonia
Wind busy in the kitchen,
ice curling under slate.
Moss, rug-thick up to the hearth,
nettles burning in the grate.
Snow scraps or dirtied linen.
A blouse, a wind-rolled underskirt
- washing fallen from the line -
thorn-frayed sheets, a rock-snagged shirt.
A henge of weathered slabs:
a doorway opens to the sky.
A lintel, neolithic, that can’t quite
frame the mountain; support
its freight of cold and light.
It shoulders past, barges by.
The five-bar gate
creaks an eight-bar blues
as its hinges whinge
and the bottleneck wind
skids along barbed wire.
It takes the beat of your boots
sodding clay from a field
to stamp another song
along the lonesome lane.
punked under the mohican’s flick;
rough sleepers’ dusty quiffs;
stringy tails, matty dreads,
newly flecked, dandruffed
with the first few flakes.
- Incoming snow.
Shaggy, stocky, sturdy
- running just shy of wild.
Something in their eyes
that keeps them in loose herds:
a nervy philosophy
of wind and moor and hoof.
And, hair-triggered, one hind leg
always cocked to go.
Mooning between outcrops, silhouettes
where the skyline disappears
in rain or mist or snow.
Or pounding down
to that dip of moss,
churning boggy ground
- away from sheep-bleat, slate walls, lambs,
the wind-crack of polythene, abandoned drums.
And the river, ever busy, letting everyone know
it’s wanted elsewhere, can’t hang about,
just getting on with it, pushing past those drums
marked in bright orange BIOPRO.
Old sheds, abandoned cars, the penned-in ram;
barbwire, some wind-puffed clouds - their speed mocked by
hillsides of placid ewes and fattened lambs:
kapok-y flocks of scattered cumuli.
Out painting: the squint of low but welcome sun,
next door’s washing on the line, blue sky.
Spatter red for berries; scratch out for thorns.
Smudge huge cow’s arses, brindled creamy-white.
Outline in black, a bull, moon-horned,
head rising in parentheses of light.
Dilemmas hinted at in chiaroscuro;
darknesses sketched, though paint’s still wet and bright.
Sun-spoked clouds. Swift time-lapse shadows:
a film condensing lifetimes on the hill.
Above, a hawk’s seen off by squawking crows.
This stuff you just can’t catch. It won’t stay still.
The sudden rumble... then whoosh from here to Snowden.
Harriers skip dry-stone walls. The sky’s ripped silk.
Cross-wires lock on something beyond the horizon’s
spirit-level. South, mountains; lights where east darkens;
north-west, sea curves like a slivered moon.
Down here it’s just spooked sheep, gro-bags, tin cans;
chipped slate, spilled paint, sawdust, a barking dog;
sump oil, engine blocks and rusting iron;
the ferret sleeping in his stinking cage.
Down by the sea, Bangor’s closed off - some joker
left a package in the public bogs.
The chickens are kicking up a fuss, the cock’s
beady, claws paused from scratching in the junk.
The drain is blocked by leaves. Sunday, the clocks
go (Spring forward, Fall back) ... back.
Shift the concrete lump, inch lid to check
how much coal’s still left in the bunker.
Looks like I’m staying on again, I guess.
See another winter out, shut in
by the tv’s fire, or listening to the rolling news
against the rain drumming on the extension’s
plastic roof, staring at the blanks
of these big canvasses I’ve stretched.
Or, the radio fading late into the night,
waiting for the first sniff of snow in the air,
- fresh primer in a bucket, floor spattered white -
the promise of a studio drenched in light.
Whichever way you look right now it’s dark.
You stumble into clouds, the fallen sky.
It skins its knees, it drags its arse
down thorn-raked paths, through gorse.
Mist shades to rain where last week’s gales
have splintered lanes with birch and ash.
A year ago, this two-faced month
was lower-ceilinged still - and dank - a cell.
Dark cottage: stone-walled, slabs harvesting damp.
And, as if a North Wales winter
wasn’t penance enough, tiny windows
dimmed the day right down to 20 watts.
Next door, Victoria was alive, if hardly well;
unamused and living on dry biscuits, beans,
a few weak lux of candle power.
Doorways into gloom, damp rooms,
black-beamed lintels hanging low and hard
to crack your skull against the dark.
And no TV. Under the mountain’s armpit,
incoming snow in Welsh was all a set would get.
Nights on all fours. Climbing up the ladder,
crawling into the crog-loft drunk
- broken headboard, duvet steaming when she stayed -
to crack the frost on a washed sheet’s crease.
Some hippie kid had stuck up stars,
glowing on the ceiling’s slope in dark.
Something to steer close by to sleep;
or puzzle over, on cold clear nights when Moon
looked in and licked a glisten over walls
where, at dawn, damp stood in for dew.
2. Fast Forward
Moody skies and muddy paths;
the other end of this road now but still
these same old horses in the rain, and sheep
- always the same eternal wet Welsh sheep.
Put tongue to fork and choose your road
then lick the miles of blacktop up.
Stick to this way, you’ll pick up speed
attain a virtual invisibility, moving with the light.
Or, cocked and double-bollocked,
reflect on feet, your own, rising from the bath, hinged
on steaming light like stubby wings
or ten-toed crabs, a foot-faced jack?
Check the two-headed joker in your pack.
The footpath’s swivelled signpost lies;
stay here and disappear up your own annus horribilis
or put some backbone into this month:
January finally spined with cold resolution,
this time, it might, just might, slip you a double-headed coin.
Pause at the crossroads, wind at your back
and smirking like coyote, calmly sniff the wind.
This is it. Who dares wins.
Take the coin and throw.
It spins. - And you with it.
This time you’ll really split
- get off your face or head off fortune at the pass -
You take both ways at once.
Red plastic, leaf-spattered,
salvaged from the pond months after the big wind.
Tipping out tannin stew, weed-slobber, twigs,
at the bottom of the bucket something moved -
a slimy twitch. Felt it shift against the gravid ooze,
saw it quicken, scramble back up on the lip,
kick out against a gob of falling green.
Bloat King in his winter palace:
Nureyev thighs, chest barrelling out
a brocade doublet nubbed with muddied emeralds,
gloved fingers medievally slabbered with rings, cuffed with filthy lace.
Out of last year's dark sloth, its crusty deeps,
eyes bulge, blink off silt,
the slow growth of crystals clicking into place.
That saurian grin slits a throat grown big
with the thyroid's retarded tick.
Cortisone Czar drunk with swollen glands, the seep
of time: a bomb which can explode the world in slo-mo.
The snot-blown leap
as vigour becomes the feasible miracle,
gone giddy, outstretched on the air's tremble.
He crashes through leaf-fug, chlorophyll,
drags his belly through rustle, bramble,
beats about the bush,
animates it with his transplanted throb.
.... All a falling dream: still torpid, alarm set for snooze.
In the dark,
he'll find his patch of dank.
Squat it out
until it's time to crawl to his stony throne,
match the moon's cold eye in his own.
In the crackly night,
he'll crank it up,
the creaking machine,
the old old song.
A frog in the dark's throat,
fields choppy with froglets,
sargassos of oiled princelings,
distant seas, dynasties of his kind.
He'll call and call new frog-queens to his kingdom.
Time out of mind. Out of mind.