RED ROAR – 20 YEARS OF WORDS
Photo © Deb Jones
Ever since his first novel lit up the literary skies at the turn of the millennium, Niall Griffiths has been my favourite British writer by a country mile. At the time I read Grits I was living in a shared house very much like the one depicted in the book – a disparate community of bright minded waifs and strays brought together by disparate circumstance and a shared passion for hedonism under difficult circumstances. Like Colm and Liam and Mairead and Maggie, ours was a life scorched bright by a relentless succession of ecstatic highs and rendered dark by the resultant grubby comedowns. The characters in Grits and the turbo-charged prose that painted their inner and outer worlds in such vivid colours captivated me to such an extent that I fancied for one brief moment that Griffiths may have been peering through our window and taking notes.
The other works followed and I lapped them all up like a thirsty man kneeling at an oasis. To my mind, nobody else was documenting life in modern Britain with such an intense and unsparing eye for the telling detail. So much of the stuff offered up in the guise of new and vital modern writing was falling from my hands with a barely suppressed yawn. This, though, this was proper gear, the real deal. By turns harrowing, heart breaking, holy and hilarious, these books were like lanterns of truth in an otherwise murky landscape and they made my brain fizz with delight.
So it is with an enormous sense of pride and privilege that we present for the first time the collected and selected published poetry of Niall Griffiths. Red Roar documents a life lived raw, a mind that illuminates the dankest corners of existence and a voice that never ceases to ring anything but clear and bright and true. We have presented the poems more or less as they arrived, a continuous stream of verse scrolling across the pages, one long song of the heart written on the run, dipping in and out of a life lived hard and well if not always wisely.
As someone once remarked, Niall Griffiths is an actual literary star. To that I would add that he’s also one of the brightest and most beautiful of souls currently lighting up the pages of this gorgeous fucked up world with awe and rage and wonder.
Long may he burn.
“The Wrecking Ball has been wire-brushed and oiled. I gave it a little push this morning and when I last looked tonight it was still moving. I think we have momentum …”
Stacked on my desk are eight manuscripts. Very soon they will be primped, polished, printed and bound and sent spinning out into the world. Individually, they are among the most vital and refreshing blasts of poetry and prose you will come across in this or any other country. Collectively, they form the Wrecking Ball list of 2015. And what a list it is. From the swaying golden cornfields of Indiana to the prison cells of London, from a 10 am hangover in Aberystwyth to a swimming pool in the middle of the night in Hull, here are stories demanding to be told from voices beautiful, brutal and bizarre.
Brace yourself – the Wrecking Ball is swinging and it’s headed straight to you.
RELEASED IN 2015
Pete Knaggs – You’re So Vain You Probably Think This Book Is About You
Pete Knaggs’ poetic landscape is populated by the tender and the surreal, the deranged and the dislocated: quietly seething factory workers, domestic mermaids in bath chairs, foot fetishists in Scunthorpe book shops, exuberant van drivers blasting Showaddywaddy on the tape deck. Welcome to a world that holds a fractured mirror to the seemingly mundane scenery around us, a singularly slanted worldview that imbues the everyday with a deliciously skewed and subtle magic. All life is here. You may not think this book is about you – but it probably is.
celeste doaks – Cornrows and Cornfields
Cornfields and Cornrows is a heartfelt journey from the childhood fields of Indiana to the glittering metropolis of North America. Spinning together memory, popular culture and personal politics, celeste doaks makes words dance, weep, wail and sing – often in the space of just a couple of lines. This sublime collection of delightfully bold and vivid poems burn upon the mind’s eye long after the final page is turned.
Cliff Forshaw – Pilgrim Tongues
Dense, rich and complex this collection draws on a fertile heritage of myth and legend, evoking lands long forgotten and landscapes rendered new by this most modern and lyrical of voices.
Kath McKay – Collision Forces
This beautifully intricate collection betrays a gimlet eye for detail and a huge passion for the tiny dramas of everyday life. Kath McKay’s dense and fragmentary lines recount the quiet firestorms that fuel human relationships and the seismic reverberations that can often ensue.
Niall Griffiths – “Red Roar – 20 Years of Words”
A giant of modern literature, Niall Griffiths’ first poetry collection is every bit as exhilarating as his celebrated novels. Culled from two decades of notebooks, diaries and the sodden backs of beermats, “Red Roar – 20 Years of Words” celebrates Griffith’s journey towards ecstatic redemption through language. Here is poetry that strips the human experience back to its barest bones and exposes the raw and unflinching essence within.
Russ Litten – Kingdom
A stranger appears out of nowhere in a prison library and assaults a guard. Locked in solitary confinement, he relates his story to a listener over the course of one night. Kingdom, the third novel from Russ Litten, spins together magical realism and hard-boiled psychodrama into a heartbreaking urban fable of human awakening. Ghosts may not exist – but sometimes they are real. Do you believe in life before death?
Andy Fletcher – How To Be A Bomb
Fuelled by mind as sharp as a scalpel and a heart bigger than the Humber, Andy Fletcher’s poetry ranges from simple, stark, haiku-like lines to rambling dreamlike prose, by turn both delightfully surreal and as clear as a raindrop caught by sunlight. You will return to these words again and again and be rewarded with something fresh and arresting at each visit.
Alex Green – The Heart Goes Boom
Take a fortune teller, a has been TV soap star, a wise man and a writer and a silver eyed magician. Set them on a quest for true love and immortality. Make the road ahead fraught with mishaps and mayhem, with unforgettable characters at every turn. Make it funny. Make it really funny. “The Heart Goes Boom” is the most joyous, life-affirming story you will read this year.
Prince’s Rally 4 Peace Another Step Closer to One Baltimore
A multi-racial, multi-generational crowd donning grey sweatshirts, tank tops and even scarves greeted me as I entered the Royal Farms Arena this Sunday. And I have to admit I was doubtful (after purchasing my scalped ticket-shhh) as I made my way to the upper tier, that this venue would fill. However, to assume that Prince’s Rally 4 Peace would be poorly attended on Mother’s Day was a sad mistake on my part. As the floor began to fill up with energetic fans, I knew this day would always be fondly remembered in the hearts of Baltimorians. Just behind the satin purple curtain, Prince was waiting. He came to Baltimore attempting to do what all the marches and protests aspire to—unite a city struggling for justice.
Before I begin let me note that this was not the only event this weekend that was symbolic of Baltimore’s slow recovery. The Maryland Film Festival took place primarily in the neighborhood of Station North and received national attention. Writers and filmmakers such as John Waters, Ta-nehisi Coates, and Taylor Branch attended and it attracted a turnout well-over 20,000. And at $375 for an all-access pass, it provided a much-needed economic stimulus for the city. The festival showed both films of general entertainment value, as well as films that tackled challenging issues such as race and sexual orientation.
Despite the concert starting almost an hour late, Prince entered the stage cool, calm and collected in a matching gray, flowy pantsuit. This was apropos considering he instructed the audience to wear grey in honor of slain Freddie Gray. He and his band 3rdeyegirl, jumpstarted the concert with many vibrant classics that got the crowd riled up and up on their feet. And of course the crowd knew all the words to songs such as “Take Me With You,” “Raspberry Beret,” and “Let’s Go Crazy”. However, the first major highlight of the show occurred when Prince projected a “Breaking News” icon on the screen behind him and debuted the first live version of “Baltimore.” Erin Allen Kane performed a fantastic solo on the new track and Prince brought out Democratic State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, dressed in a sparkly black dress. She and her husband shared a brief moment on stage next to the purple one before returning to their special on-stage seats. While she received some negative push back from social media, her appearance seemed to please the already-roaring crowd.
Prince is no stranger to using his celebrity platform to draw attention to injustice. One of the first times he did this was in the early- to mid-90’s when he started appearing with “slave” written on his face. This was his way of showing his disapproval of his Warner Brothers album contract. But more recently as a presenter at this year’s 57th annual Grammy awards ceremony Prince was lauded for saying, “Like books and black lives, albums still matter.” So when he spoke to the audience and said “to those who have lost loved ones, we are your servants tonight,” it was no surprise.
Of course, a Prince without some heavy sexual overtones is basically a sin. A second major highlight of the night was when Prince did an outstanding rendition of a Muddy Water’s original, “Electric Man.” Lines like “when I plug into your socket, I can make you awful hot” made the ladies swoon, and their men shake their heads in surrender. The blues track was an attractive addition to Prince’s repertoire. And the steamy set had to include the classic “Little Red Corvette.”
The concert was chock full of surprises. One major surprise was when Doug E Fresh appeared on stage with Prince to perform “Kiss.” The Rapper/MC hyped the crowd up and became temporary side-kick to Prince. A bit later Prince brought out Judith Hill, another well-known female vocalist. Ms. Hill possesses a powerhouse of a voice that I can only compare to Prince’s old vocal companion Rosie Gaines. Hill has a gospelly feel that can melt even the most stoic patron.
Of course there are things that everyone expects at Prince concerts—his iconic symbol microphone stand, wardrobe changes, guitar playing femme fatales and infamous dance moves. Despite the fact Prince was wearing sneakers (and not his usual 3-4 inch heels) as he jumped around like a youthful teen, he hasn’t lost any verve as he’s gotten older. Even his vocal range is still intact as he transitions between tenor to falsetto with ease. With only two wardrobe changes, both of them having caricatures of the man himself on the front and back, the Purple One still managed to be fashion forward.
The fake ending was when Prince sang Purple Rain and disappeared off the stage. The audience stomped and cheered until the he returned and said, “ya’ll gone have to buy me a house out here. A brother could get used to this.” He returned for the “real ending,” his finale, to sing three more songs, including the groovy tune “Dance Electric.” This track was produced by Prince and André Cymone. In a final gesture of solidarity, Prince urged the crowd to chant “Baltimore” in the final moments of the concert.
I must mention that during one musical interlude Prince began to speak to the crowd like a preacher does his congregation. He said, “The youth is our answer.” No more than with his Grammy statement, I wasn’t taken aback by this suggestion. He also advocated for economic viability. He said, “One day I want to return and stay in a hotel owned by YOU. One day I want to be driven to the airport in a car service owned and operated by YOU.” Prince was urging young people to take the forefront both in protesting for justice, but also in changing the economic inequality that exists in Baltimore. In a city where too much of the population is plagued by unemployment, homelessness, and racial unrest this was a needed call-to-action. If you needed concrete evidence, you didn’t have to look far. “Stop Murder by the Police” signs, which were being handed out before the concert began, littered the ground right outside.
As I left the arena I happened to look up and see the American flag hanging from the top dome. How appropriate to see the symbol of American freedom flying above a stadium full of hard-working, hopeful people. And while many grass roots organizers and government officials have spoken, few have used the universal language of music to send an inspirational message to America. And in my heart I am hopeful that tonight’s concert will be another step towards gaining the national attention needed to rescue this American city. Financial stability and civic responsibility come both from within and externally. One day I know the city I teach in will really be able to lay claim to those iconic benches located all over the city which boast Baltimore as “the greatest city on earth.”
Celeste Doaks is a lifetime Prince fan, poet and journalist who teaches at Morgan State University. You can tweet her at @thedoaksgirl