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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Snakes
 
And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. Mark16.17-18.

1
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.

2
Bangkok snake-farm.
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.
 
3
Long ago, in the sudarium,
strigils scraping off the sweat
while a hypnotic queen
mesmerizes herself.
Noblesse oblige - the sting within
the basket of bidden fruit.
 

4
In the Church of Jesus
With Signs Following,
the Lord has moved me
to take up rattlers,
copperheads, diamondbacks.

This thing accursed
above every beast,
condemned to go upon its belly,
eat the dust,
locked up tight
in my black ply box.

Downtown Babylon,
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.

5
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.

6

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.

7
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.

8
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.

Skinned back,
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.

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