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Bukowski, Work & Me …

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I’ve always been deeply unsettled by the idea of work. It seemed like a horrifying imposition to me, the notion of giving up your precious time on this bright and beautiful planet purely to make money for someone else; someone who would, more often than not, gladly work you to the edge of the grave and then skip merrily over your lifeless body in search of the next servile victim. This seemed like complete and utter madness to me. It railed against my most basic concept of human freedom.

   All through my childhood, the adult world of work loomed over me like the shadow of a malevolent stepfather. The message was etched clearly in the tired and grimy faces of the adults around me: work wore you out. It sucked the life marrow from you on a daily basis. Work wasn’t about doing the things you wanted to do. It was about doing tedious shit that someone else demanded.

   Then I left school and all my worst fears were confirmed. The offices and shops and factories were staffed by dull witted sadists who made you get out of bed when it was still dark and then barked orders they barely understood themselves for eight hours solid until it was time to go home.

   Like everyone else on the chain gang, I stepped into line, kept my mouth and mind shut and my sense of injustice quelled. This, it seemed, was how the world revolved. But I still couldn’t help thinking that the act of going to work was like queuing up for a daily punishment dished out by churlish medieval glove puppets. I acknowledge I’m not alone in this idea. Most people probably feel the same. But I couldn’t help thinking that there was an escape route somewhere. I would stagger home in the summertime, past packed pub beer gardens and wonder how the hell they managed to balance the time/money equation to their benefit.

   This attitude was probably forged by a recognition flash ignited from an early childhood book: Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer. I stood directly behind Tom when his spirit crumbled at the yawning length of Aunt Polly’s fence. And I punched the air with glee when he managed to shackle his free spirited peers into slapping on the whitewash. Work is anything a body is obliged to do, he said. Dead right, Tom. Only problem was, unlike Tom, I couldn’t talk anyone else into doing my graft for me.

   Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn were probably the first two books I read all the way through. They lit something up in me. I didn’t want to be part of straight and so-called respectable society, a set up that killed your time and crushed your spirit; I wanted to run away from the city and live the life of a carefree hobo. Which is all well and good if you live in the Deep South Of America at the turn of the century. You can pull catfish from the Mississippi and smoke a corncob pipe as your raft punts gently downstream. If you tried to live a similar dream in the North of England in the Eighties you were more likely to end up picking half-eaten kebabs out of waste paper bins.

I would scour Factotum when I got back exhausted from work, crashed out on the couch, afternoon TV on, volume down, the room heavy and blue with smoke. Its lines were so clean and simple and true. I rampaged through it, and then hoovered up every other bit of Bukoswki I could find.

   And then, when was in my late teens, I discovered Charles Bukowski. It came as something of a revelation to me, to find books like that: brutal and beautiful, simple and seemingly profound. Books about everything and nothing. Some bloke who was surplus to requirements who just stumbled around in a daze. There it was, the flashbulb in my head again, that light of recognition. I would examine Bukowski nightly. They became the most heavily thumbed books at my bedside.

   I’d first heard about Charles Bukowski via “Barfly”, the film with Mickey Rourke and Faye Dunaway. I thought the central Chinaski character was hilarious; W.C Fields with a dirty mouth and an oddly saintly mind, a tramp with poise, a piss-stained angel with attitude.

   I went looking for his books and found “Factotum” first. I was living in a crumbling manor in a sketchy area and Factotum chimed true with me. It was another one of those rare and precious times when a book reads you. I would scour Factotum when I got back exhausted from work, crashed out on the couch, afternoon TV on, volume down, the room heavy and blue with smoke. Its lines were so clean and simple and true. I rampaged through it, and then hoovered up every other bit of Bukoswki I could find.

   At this point, I was working in the wholesale food industry, i.e., I used to ride shotgun on a wagon visiting local grocers and chip shops and supermarkets, stacking their back yards and cold stores with cut-price King Edwards. It was one of the best jobs I ever had, especially in the summertime. It was like riding around the lawless trading posts of the Old Wild West. I encountered psychopaths and sweethearts in equal measure; there were enough characters in the fruit shops and fish shops to fill ten novels twice over. My partner and I struck cutthroat deals and pulled off outrageous stunts. We traded in bulk carbohydrates and other essential goods, and dealt in cash only. It was like being a pirate on a sea of grimy traffic.

   I’ve had loads of different jobs and I’ve tried to make the best of all of them. Puppet seller seemed quite a promising career. My pal Sean had an Uncle who had a job lot of “Huggy Buggs”, a Sesame Street style character who clung around your neck with the aid of Velcro paws. One mohair-encased arm formed the neck of the puppet and the hand would mouth the words, a pair of rolling cartoon eyes perched on your knuckles. When you were laden down with half a dozen Huggy Buggs you were like the Pied Piper of Withernsea Market. I sold dozens of the little buggers. The only problem came when you were down to the last one. Then people just assumed you were a wandering eccentric.

   Bukowski’s book seemed to understand the obvious insanity of situations such as this; the way what’s left of your brain gets pulped into strawberry jam by the endless grinding dismay of it all. Your body drained by day and your mind sucked dry at night. I still don’t think anybody has captured the relentless pointless horror of work as perfectly as Bukowski did in Factotum – although Fred Voss came close with “Goodstone”. Books like this can make you feel less alone if you ever feel like the world of work has got you by the throat.

   Now I am lucky enough to make my money by writing, which has never felt like work to me. But even so, old habits still die-hard. That last sentence took me four hours to write, in-between wandering off to make cups of tea and stare blankly out of the window. Maybe I should have been a Lollipop Man. They don’t have to start work until they’re sixty-five.

   Now that’s what I call a proper job.

 

Russ Litten 

 

(This article first appeared on Sabotage Times) 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PETER KNAGGS & ANDY FLETCHER – Highly Commended!

Two of our poets have had their work praised by The Forward Poetry Prize, who selected “Badger The Cadger” from Peter Knaggs’ “You’re So Vain (you probably think this book is about you) and “The Atlas” from Andy Fletcher’s “How To Be A Bomb” as being “Highly Commended”. The two poems will feature in Forward’s Book Of Poetry 2017.  DSCF1419how to be a bombyour-so-veinIMG_4842

Word On The Street at Kardomah94

Thursday June 9th saw Kardomah94 play host to one of the finest evenings of spoken word I have ever witnessed in this fair city. ‘Word On The Street” is part of the forthcoming Freedom Festival, and this was the first in a short series of tasters leading up to the main event in September, organized in alliance with A Firm Of Poets and Wordlife and, for this opening salvo, A Car Full Of Poets and Wrecking Ball Press. Our hosts for the evening were Matt Abbot and Vicky Foster.

The evening kicked off with music from Gudrun’s Sisters, an acoustic duo of fiddle and ukulele who sing songs of heartbreak and harlotry. They are gleefully grubby and quite magnificent. They only did four songs, one about Satan, a saucy number about an organ grinder, a murder ballad and a cheerful little ditty about heroin addiction and syphilis. I fell instantly in love.

Next up was Dean Wilson, the self-styled fourth best poet in Hull. How best to describe Dean for the uninitiated? The first time I saw Dean Wilson perform I was reminded of the night I saw Johnny Vegas in his very early stand-up shows. There was that same crackle of danger in the air, that sense of slightly unhinged hysteria. Was this fella for real? It was like a psychiatric ward outpatient had given his social worker the slip whilst on day release and leapt onto the nearest stage for an agonized bout of public therapy. Dean’s poems of love, loss and illicit liaisons with Emmerdale extras had the audience howling with laughter and gasping with disbelief, often within the space of one line. The brilliant thing about Dean Wilson is that he manages to be both heartbreakingly wistful and pant-pissing funny at the same time. His debut collection “Sometimes I’m So Happy I’m Not Safe On The Streets” is out in October. Do yourself a favour and invest in two copies – one for yourself and one for someone you love.

 


Dean Wilson book cover

 

The Freedom Fighter Poets are local wordsmiths who have been honing their work in a daytime workshop prior to the gig, and they delivered some beautiful stuff. Alyx Tamminen, Rob Eunson, Jody Russian-Red and Ian Winter were by turns poignant, powerful, audacious and commanding. Julia Corbett gave a wonderful eulogy to Muhammad Ali with “Floated Like A Butterfly, Stung Like A Bee” and a pause for reverie with her moving ode to Hull, “Daydream At Lord Line Building”. If their performances tonight are any indication, the future of spoken word in Hull is looking very bright indeed.

As well providing seamless links between the poets, Vicky Foster treated us to her brilliant “Why I Love Where I Live”, a multi-generational journey through the psycho-geographical ley lines of our fair city, celebrating the unique blend of guts, compassion and resilience that makes our people what we are. Superb stuff.

Helen Mort was superb as ever. She read from her new collection “No Map Could Show Them”, the follow up to the much-lauded “Division Street”. Helen has an unerring eye for the tiny crucial detail and her images stick solid in the mind like crampons on a craggy rock face. Her poem about Lillian Bilocca was incredibly powerful and deeply affecting. It was also very beautiful. Helen said afterwards that Hull is one of her favourite places to read poetry, and for that we can only be grateful, because the sooner she comes back the better.

And so to the headliner – Luke Wright. I’d never seen Luke perform before, not heard a single word of his work, but everyone assured me he was brilliant, which, in the event, turned out to be something of an understatement. Quite simply, he blew me away. He opened with a hilarious six-minute epic about a Georgian oyster guzzler that contained more killer lines than most poets manage in a lifetime. I was left breathless and reeling, but that was a mere warm up. For the rest of his performance Mr. Wright played football with our brains, juggling them effortlessly from toe to neatly chiseled Chelsea Boot toe, before flicking them over his shoulder and casually back-heeling the entire audience into an open goal before striding off stage to roars of delight. An absolute triumph.

Here’s to the next Word On The Street in Hull. Whatever you do, don’t miss it.

Back By Dope Demand

 

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It’s been a testing few weeks here at Wrecking Ball Towers, what with broken ankles, bouts of pneumonia and the death of Prince. But rest assured dear reader, things are now more or less back on an even keel. We’ve got a couple of superb novels lined up for release in the next couple of months. First off the blocks in Alex Green’s “The Heart Goes Boom” – a sweetly surreal adventure about the search for true love in modern day America, featuring a washed up Hollywood soap star, a silver eyed magician and California’s second best fortune teller. Next up is “The Bastard Wonderland” by Lee Harrison, a magnificent epic steam-punk fantasy that leaps over genres and pisses on them from a great height. Centred around a deeply touching father and son relationship, “The Bastard Wonderland” takes in war, religion, mushy peas and magnificent flying machines. It will make you laugh, cry and think – often in the space of a single page. And then, when summer finally shows it’s face, we have the debut collection from legendary Hull poet Dean Wilson. The title is still undecided, but current favourites are “If You’re Happy And A Poet Clap Your Hands” or “Sometimes I’m So Happy I’m Not Safe On The Streets.” Whatever we end up calling it, it will be a work of utter genius.  

So until these brand new titles land, celebrate the good health of your favourite independent publisher by heading over to our online shop and buying up all of our back catalogue. You know you want to. 

HOW TO BE A BOMB – LAUNCH NIGHT!

Andy Fletcher will be reading from his collection “How To Be A Bomb” and in conversation with Russ Litten on Wednesday 10th February as part of the Head In A Book series of evenings at Hull Central Lending Library. 

Free event! Starts 7:30pm. 

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A Bomb, A Boom & A Bastard – First Three For 2016

Our first three releases of 2016 are lined up ready to go. Excited? Just a bit.

First out the blocks is Andy Fletcher’s “How To Be A Bomb”, a sublime collection that takes everyday objects – an atlas, an overcoat, a piano – and imbues them with a sense of mystery and wonder. 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.

“The Heart Goes Boom” by Alex Green is one of the most original and heart-warming novels we’ve had the pleasure of reading for years. Take a fortune teller, a has-been TV soap star, a wise man, 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 popping up at every turn. Make it funny. Make it really really funny. “The Heart Goes Boom” is the most joyous, life-affirming story you will read this year.

Lee Harrison’s debut novel “The Bastard Wonderland” is a magnificent epic steam-punk fantasy that leaps over genres and pisses on them from a great height. Centred around a deeply touching father and son relationship, “The Bastard Wonderland” takes in war, religion, mushy peas and magnificent flying machines. It will make you laugh, cry and think – often in the space of a single page.

Release dates as and when we get them – stay tuned. 

Dan Fante – 1944 – 2015

This just in from Dan’s wife’s Facebook page:

“Just to put correct information out there. I hate displaying my heart on fb but this morning 11/23/15 am it shattered into a million pieces and Dan Fante died in my arms surrounded in love” 

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It is with great sadness that we learn of the death of Dan Fante. In the early days Dan gave us the opportunity to publish his work and this was an important moment in establishing the press as an international publisher. I can never thank him enough for this. He was a very generous man who gave his time to inspire and encourage other writers. Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this sad time.

Thanks

Shane

Wrecking Ball Press

 

 

 

celeste doaks nominated for Pushcart Prize

Wonderful news!

Our brilliant Baltimore poet celeste doaks has had her poem “For The Chef At Helios Whose Name I Did Not Know” nominated for a Pushcart Prize. The poem is taken from her acclaimed Wrecking Ball Press collection “Cornrows and Cornfields”. 

More news as we get it … 

 

Celeste in James Reckitt Pushcart Prize logo

 

 

 

 

ALL TOMORROW’S PUBLISHERS

We went to Peckham for the Literary Kitchen Festival where we met up Fiona Curran, the Poets For Hire and a whole host of other wonderful folk … 

 

 

PECKHAM ONE

 

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“The librarian is the first to notice him …” Kingdom Prologue

 

library prison

 

Her Majesty’s Prison

Library

8.40 am.

 

The librarian is the first to notice him. To suspect that something is amiss. He looks out of place, somehow, in a way that she cannot immediately identify. Not his face. An ordinary enough face; dark chin length hair, sun-starved pallor, five-day growth of beard. A face you’d find in any prison or public institution. His clothes, perhaps; plain and anonymous enough on the outside, but incongruous here; black overcoat and dark trousers, worn and shabby looking, but an expensive cut. Not the usual jeans or logoed-up tracksuit of the enhanced or the standard grey sweatshirt/green polyester trouser combo issued on induction. And shoes, proper shoes, not trainers. Staff, she thinks at first, a recently arrived tutor she hasn’t been introduced to yet, or a visiting civilian perhaps. But something about him is vaguely troubling. His bearing. Not for him the sullen head down subservience of the newly arrived, or the slumped blank eyed stare of the hardened. He sits bolt upright in the corner near the computers, set apart from the rest of the men, surveys their babble with a tightly wound unease, a contempt bordering on fury, almost. Tight knuckled fists gripping the arms of the chair. Heels hammering the carpet beneath the table.

   A voice raised in complaint at the desk, some angry squabble over an unreturned DVD. The librarian turns her attention away from the man in the corner and deals with the complaint, sends the aggrieved offender away with a list of available titles and his local paper. She returns to her desk behind the panels of glass and wood that serve as her office, but no sooner has she sat down then another offender is at the door, bugging her to chase up a certificate from a previous prison, his fifth identical query in the last two days. Another offender wants to know about Story Book Dads, is his CD ready yet Miss, the Gruffalo at Christmas, Miss, and if not why not? The first of the day’s minor dramas.

   The day’s major drama starts with a phone call; Control asking for a headcount. The librarian reads him the number from her tally and replaces the receiver, returns to her typing.

   Ten minutes later the phone rings again. The request is repeated and this time she stands and counts the bodies through the glass; relays the information, pauses, listens, nods.

   Yes, she says, yes, that includes Orderlies.

   Five minutes later the phone rings again and the request is repeated and then again, two minutes later, with an added instruction. She puts down the phone and signals to the assistant.

   Stand-fast, she tells her. Don’t let anyone out.

   A group of men at the door holding gym bags and beakers overhear, raise an immediate chorus of complaint.

   Aw, what, for fucks sake …

   Again? What’s up Miss, can’t they count?

   Useless bastards!

   Beyond a fucking joke, this …

   Gonna miss me fucking session …

   The head librarian looks at her assistant.

   One extra, apparently …

   Jangle of keys from the other side of the door and the men are forced to jostle back and stand aside to admit the two officers. They lock the door behind them and advance into the centre of the room. The younger officer carries a clipboard with a list and mouths one, two, three, four, as his eyes scan the men sat around the tables or stood at the bookcases. Radios in his count and looks at the librarian.

   What wing are these?

   B, she tells him.

   All of them?

   Yes.

   He scrutinizes his list, frowns, looks around the room again. Moves among the milling group of men, glancing from the names to each face.

   Keep still please lads.

   Fucks sake, guv … I’m missing Cash In The Attic …

   Stay still …

   The officer spots the man sat at the corner table near the computers. Walks across, looks at his list.

   Name and number please mate …

   Kingdom.

   Number?

   The man glowers up at him.

   Not got one, he says.

   The officer keeps his eyes on his list, pen tap-tap-tapping.

   Don’t be clever, he says, I’m not in the mood. Number.

   I’m a man, not a number.

   Sigh from above. Pen slotted into top pocket.

   Stand up, says the officer.

   Say please.

   Titters from around the room. The men have stopped moving and fallen quiet. All eyes clamped on the corner.

   The older officer takes a step forward.

   The younger officer tucks the clipboard under his arm.

   On your feet, he says. Now.

   The man’s eyes widen. A thin, mirthless smile.

   Make me, he says.

In prison, it is often said that time seems to stand still. This is such an occasion. Minute but perceptible shift in the atmosphere, a slight tensing and murmur, bodies braced. The man issues his challenge and time stands still.

   The younger officer has been in the job for three months. The older officer is six months away from retirement. The librarian has being doing this for twenty years. She has already made her way over to the wall, to the green panic button. She hears the words from the corner of the room.

   I said make me. You deaf as well as fucking stupid?

   Five seconds later the morning explodes in clamouring bells, a stampede of boots and a riot of raised voices.