Friday, 28 December 2012

Sudden Prose Reprints: "Inside the Yellow Dress (1)" by Mary Ann Samyn

Inside the Yellow Dress (1)

          --It got worse and worse until I couldn't put two words together: for example, pony tail, each part rearing up, wanting to be the main thing. But the main thing was the ribbon, which I wanted but didn't mention for fear of angering the other words. Also the scissors, which lay on the dresser, admiring themselves in the mirror. I better not became my theme. As in childhood, when I was easily bribed by a little candy: the slightest nod or lemon drop.

Mary Ann Samyn
Inside the Yellow Dress
New Issues, 2001

Friday, 21 December 2012

Sudden Prose Reprints: "New Neighbours" by Ian Seed

New Neighbours

Three men moved into the flat on the other side of the landing. They seemed a friendly bunch and would always greet me with smiles and loud helloes when we squeezed by one another on the narrow staircase. One of the three men was divorced and had a small daughter who would come to visit him. At first it seemed that the father and daughter had a special relationship. I could hear her calling ‘Daddy’ excitedly and his voice responding in warm, yet measured tones. I would watch through the window as she ran round the small lawn at the back and he stood there smiling proudly in his rolled-up shirtsleeves. But over the weeks I noticed his voice becoming harsher and more impatient. When he wanted her to come back into the house, he would take her hand and tug it roughly. I began to wonder if he was abusing her. It was as if he could sense my suspicions, for he would glare at me and say nothing whenever our paths crossed. Now the three men would shove by me on the stairs. They were always laughing at some joke that only they understood, but which I was sure was obscene.

Ian Seed

Ian Seed is editor of Publications include Sleeping with the Ice Cream Vendor (Knives, Forks and Spoons Press, 2012), Threadbare Fables (where "New Neighbours" first appeared; Like This Press, 2012), Shifting Registers (Shearsman, 2011), and a translation from the Italian of Ivano Fermini, the straw which comes apart (Oystercatcher Press, 2010). He is currently working on a full-length collection of prose poems.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Friday, 14 December 2012

Sudden Prose Reprints: Somerset Letters 5 by Frances Presley


Unpruned prunus.  The banging of doors, his.  Let’s not have too many of these frills.  Soon I will fold up my mother’s clothes and take them to the Red Cross shop, where, in February, she sent me with clothes that were not good enough for the bring and buy. More than nine inches of rain fell during the 24 hours following the evening of 15 August 1952, one of the heaviest rainfalls ever recorded in the British Isles.  Mrs Ellen Jenkins grasped Dilys’ hand and nightdress so hard in order to retain her hold on her daughter that her hand remained clenched for three days afterwards: Harriet Bridle. That series of abstract paintings is just exactly the clouds above the estuary until a seagull gets in the way on the sea wall, which must be a relief for the readers, as they have got it entirely.  Someone asks which are the clouds and which is the sea, and obviously the sea is up there and the clouds are down there.  They are so neatly folded that there is nothing to fold up, nothing at all, only things to take out of her handbags.  She kept everything.  Holland after the war.  All the old pens.  I am not really moving these objects around like a chess game, because then I would know their identities.  They have increased the land drainage level to allow for the flooding, and the Sedgemoor beef farmer lost 40 acres in the summer.  He thinks that without hunting we lose touch with ourselves, with nature, and our place in the food chain.  The new type of jig saw puzzle is a three dimensional mansion.  He’s been up there all day in his room with it and he’s got as far as the first floor.  The speed of discussion on the net is always a problem, but more than that is the anxiety that not enough has been said.  Perhaps it is better to go away and think about it, and remember this crossroads and a place to pick whortleberries.  A gorse bush had fallen across the narrow cliff path, and it was difficult to climb round it.  On the second day it was still there and I pushed hard on its prickly thick stem until the root shifted in the soft wet earth, and it stayed against the bank and did not whip back.  There was a pervading smell of earth and the lightning revealed 40 foot walls of silt. My father wants me to write in the memorial book and I resist and think only of clichés, who loved these woods.  But I imagined my mother seeing these oaks, and say that I will write something 'poetic and original' and he is glad that someone will.  He praises her calligraphy and she says that the entry can be as long as we like.  Those are the scars that were her eyes, on the tall slim trunks of the silver birches, up into a blue sky.  Always prune the rose bush so that the eyes are facing outwards.  The paintings are called 'Broken horizons: shattered dreams', but I think that she liked the yellow in it. 

Somerset Letters was originally published as a book by Oasis Books in 2002, with selections, including this one, later included in Paravane: New and Selected Poems 1996-2003 (Salt, 2004). Presley's last two books were published by Shearsman; to learn more about her and her work and read selections, please see her Shearsman author page here

Friday, 7 December 2012

Sudden Prose Reprints: "Like Owls" by Tania Hershman

"Like Owls"

Someone died. That was the whisper down the line. The line, that stretched, that snaked, that wound. Someone died, they hissed, pass it on. And we did, we bent towards our neighbour, our hot breath in their ear. Who, who, who? Like owls, the sounds came back. Who died, who died, who died? But nothing was returned, and no-one could see, no-one could see the front, although every day we shuffled some, we moved one foot and maybe the other. We hoped, we hoped and hoped, we clutched our numbers, shuffling.

Inside our heads we wondered if we were it, the dead, the expired. Perhaps we had all passed on but why the shuffling then? If we were dead, we thought, we'd rest. If we were dead we'd lie around all day, in sunshine if it still existed. Lucky dead, we thought, lucky not to have to queue, to eat, or breathe, or sigh or sweat, or love or curse. Lucky, lucky, lucky.

The next day and the next, we stood, we inched, we stood. And then: a runner. A runner streaking, from behind straight up, towards the head, the start, the finish! Go go go go, we cried, clutching our numbers, our shuffling feet thrilled to the chase, thrilled to the bravery. Go go go go go! The runner vanished, far far ahead, and we strained to hear, to hear some cheers, some acts, some violence, some thing. But no, the runner's run was done. Bones broken, came the whisper, hissed from one ear to the next. Truncheons, batons, zappers, chains and stern commands. The runner won't be running now, or ever, and we giggled, laughed and cackled, foolish runner, stupid stupid stupid, no not brave, not brave. Queue we must and queue we did, no breaking free, no gaining ground.

Someone died. That was the whisper down the line. Who who who? Like owls, the sound came back. 

Tania Hershman is the author of two story collections: My Mother Was An Upright Piano: Fictions (Tangent Books, 2012), a collection of 56 very short fictions, and The White Road and Other Stories (Salt, 2008; commended, 2009 Orange Award for New Writers). Tania's short stories and poetry are published or forthcoming in, among others, Five Dials, Stinging Fly, Tears in the Fence, PANK magazine, Smokelong Quarterly, the London Magazine, and New Scientist, and on BBC Radio. She is writer-in-residence in Bristol University's Science Faculty and editor of The Short Review. 

Friday, 30 November 2012

Sudden Prose Reprints: Section 10 of "Torso in the Window" by Ágnes Lehóczky


Then spot the city in the making. You have been up there before. Your routine attic-trip. Climbing up the timber boards of the wooden vaults. You say you are good at spotting fictitious city walls of unknown capitals. Carved in the highest vertex of the geometric solid, just above the choir: geography of an imagined home. You say your eyes are drawn to it. You have been up there on many occasions. The ceiling. The city. Stretches out like fishnet made of braided fibres, robust like ribs, or bridges. On the curvature of the vaults, diagonally, transversely, intermediately, slim figurines walk across in haste…shadows of circus animals march across the arches, camels, laden, caged-in monkeys, agitated, acrobats, fire eaters, hand in hand, no doubt, there is a world up there, perpetually changing, dependent too on the position of the sun, a non-stop preparation in dusk, you say you can spot clear outlines of builders, masons, bricklayers, all in the process of building. No. Knocking down. Yes. Building. To get to the core of the place they have been travelling to for so long. They travel to settle, you say. You say you see them arrive, slow rows of caravans, departing. Unclear. The difference. Between departures and arrivals.

Ágnes Lehóczky is an Hungarian-born poet and translator. Her first full collection, Budapest to Babel, was published by Egg Box in 2008; her second one, Rememberer in 2012 (Egg Box) includes "Torso in the Window". Her collection of essays on the poetry of Ágnes Nemes Nagy, Poetry, the Geometry of Living Substance, was published in 2011 by Cambridge Scholars. She currently teaches creative writing at the University of Sheffield.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Sudden Prose Reprints: "Seeing Oaks" by Frances Presley

Seeing Oaks


Her love of her mother. Her mother’s gift of language.  We were looking at dead or almost dead trees today, trying to decide where we could plant trees for my mother and what kind.   Mr Carslake offered two yews, but I don’t really fancy yews.  They were always in church yards.  There’s a very practical reason for that ....  to keep the cows away for their own protection.   And it was a very useful wood.   Not that they are really poisonous.  I remember Hanley, was that his name in Ruskington?    Hanwell     Yes, he ate a few berries just to show that they weren’t.  Because there were yews at the bottom of the school garden.....  Or walnut trees, he said we could have walnuts.  I’ve got nothing against walnuts, I suppose they’re native.  But I was thinking more of oaks, or maybe ash.  Don’t you think, oaks?  He examined  the branches of a great tree in a clearing that looked almost dead, snapping off some twigs.    They could clear this away.


pine needles
wish bones
these two must be separated
not in the same house
skin flurries
wind or the furies
sleep creases

he said that the two oaks will grow
and if they die
they will be replaced

and I imagine my mother
watching them
my eyes her eyes
these gaps of sunlight
between the shifting oak leaves
and that is true of any oak tree

"Seeing Oaks" comes from Somerset Letters, originally published as a book by Oasis Books in 2002, with selections, including this one, later included in Paravane: New and Selected Poems 1996-2003 (Salt, 2004). Presley's last two books were published by Shearsman; to learn more about her and her work and read selections, please see her Shearsman author page here 

Friday, 16 November 2012

Sudden Prose Reprints: "A Loyal Friend" by Tania Hershman

"A Loyal Friend"

Most people considered Jacobsen a loyal friend and so they invested everything, every cent they had. When Jacobsen failed to appear at the time they had agreed, no-one worried. Jacobsen's a friend, they said to each other. He is probably delayed, they said cheerfully, and helped themselves to nuts.

Several hours later, when attempts to contact Jacobsen had failed, they started talking in a different way. This is the point where you smile, they said to one another, and you say, We should have known. This is the point where you call the police.

Jacobsen was never found. It was never even determined where Jacobsen had come from, so to work out where he went was a lost cause. For a long time, his friends, the ones who had considered themselves confidantes and intimates, would meet and talk about him. One by one they began to confess their ignorance. What was his first name? they whispered to each other. What was he really called?

Tania Hershman is the author of two story collections: My Mother Was An Upright Piano: Fictions (Tangent Books, 2012), a collection of 56 very short fictions, and The White Road and Other Stories (Salt, 2008; commended, 2009 Orange Award for New Writers). Tania's short stories and poetry are published or forthcoming in, among others, Five Dials, Stinging Fly, Tears in the Fence, PANK magazine, Smokelong Quarterly, the London Magazine, and New Scientist, and on BBC Radio. She is writer-in-residence in Bristol University's Science Faculty and editor of The Short Review.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Sudden Prose Reprints: "Five Hundred Pound" by Tony Williams

"Five Hundred Pound" by Tony Williams

My growing up began in a pedalo at Carsington Water, when Granddad said to me, ‘I’ve left you some money in me will. Just so you know. I won’t be going for a long time yet, but when I do, there’s something for you. Five hundred pound.’
  We churned round among the swans without speaking. Drifting in near the bank we went under an overhanging tree, and I felt tiny insects or flecks of sap fall on my head and shoulders. I couldn’t speak; my head was full of five hundred pound.
Granddad was sitting there, his leg warm next to mine, the smell of his hair and coat. But I was thinking: Playstation. Mountain bike. Year’s supply of Haribo.
All through dinner all these ideas were tumbling through my mind. ‘You’re quiet,’ said Granny. It was sort of exciting but sort of painful too – how would I know what to buy? What if I chose the wrong thing?
He hadn’t known he was about to die. It was just chance that on the Monday I got back from school, mucky and cross after Games, and Dad was there, home early, in charge, and Mum was crying and hugging me. They sat me down and told me, and the first thing that came into my head was, ‘Digital camera. Playstation. Portable DVD.’ The second thing was, ‘Granddad’s dead,’ but the damage was done.
On the day I was wearing this dark suit. The collar chafed my neck, and I was glad. I wanted to cry. I looked out of the window of the black car at the rain. My fingers were drumming in my pocket, though. It felt like I had a secret.
At the crematorium I sang along although I didn’t know half the words. I tried to listen to what everyone said about Granddad, but all the time I was thinking how sad I had to be, and not thinking about the other thing. Then I found out I was crying, and it was OK.
Everyone went outside and stood about. Boring. Some of the men were smiling, and then some of the women too. They were talking about drinking. I knew there were tables of sandwiches and sausage rolls waiting at Granny and Grandad’s, and I really wanted to eat a plateful, but I didn’t think it was right. But Dad started rounding everybody up, and I went anyway, sitting in the car next to Mum, her cuddling me too tight.
It was the summer before the money came through. I’d twigged that Mum would make me save it, but she said we could go into Nottingham and spend some of it on something I wanted. We went and stood under the stone lions, and then to Dixons. I got an mp3 player. Then we had burgers at this posh ‘joint’, as Mum called it. They were massive, these burgers. I didn’t like the gherkins. When we were waiting for pudding I got the mp3 player out and had a go on the buttons, tried it out, looked at the instructions. It was OK, but I knew I’d failed.

"Five Hundred Pound" appears in Tony Williams' just-released collection of short stories, All the Bananas I've Never Eaten: Tales of Love and Loneliness (Salt). His stories have appeared in Flash Fiction Magazine, Horizon Review, Fuselit and Under the Radar. His most recent poetry publication, All the Rooms of Uncle's Head (Nine Arches), was a Poetry Book Society Pamphlet choice. He lives in Northumberland and teaches at Northumbria University.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Sudden Prose Reprints: Susie Campbell's "White Work"

White Work

'A form of embroidery worked with white thread on white fabric.' 

--Royal School of Needlework 

I am invested in plain seams, functional edges bound to prevent fraying, truthfully sewn. The facts. These loose threads hemmed around the commonplace for a purpose. It is pointless you arguing for the stability of satin cross-stitch, their disingenuous little histories. Nobody pays for gold and silver to be conservative.  I sicken at the floss of it, the twist and count, knotted in cerise, gimped in rose. And the slyness of your white stitch on white linen, the innocent excision of threads from the ordinary: here it is, you protest, my honest handiwork simple as your everyday stitches, perhaps just an accent or two in ecru or ivory. 

Susie Campbell

Susie Campbell writes in various forms for performance and for the page. She has a particular interest in cross-genre, collaborative work. Her work has appeared in various online and print journals, most recently Shearsman and Smiths Knoll,  and she has performed at Edinburgh and Brighton Fringe festivals. She has just started the Mst in Creative Writing at Oxford University. 

"White Work" appears in the current issue of Shearsman

Friday, 26 October 2012

Sudden Prose Reprints: section 3 of "Torso in the Window" by Ágnes Lehóczky


There are two confessionals in that baroque church, remember? He always queues at the one at the back, the one in shadow. He always disappears so quietly and diplomatically then reappears from the dark as if he was never gone. Into the dusk of the wooden, carved, ornamented box. Coarse coughing gives him away. The evening sieves through its grid between the forgiver, the forgiven. This Sunday morning, you say, one of them is out of order. There is heavy breathing, panting, snoring streaming out of the fissures of the wood. Attention flies out of the building. The priest’s words, disoriented, circulate like the bat’s flight we woke to one summer night, adrift in its circular voyage on our ceiling unable to find an exit. The vet says it might have nested in the invisible cavern behind the pelmet and perhaps by now brought forth a bat family. The ladder he uses is several metres long, he leans it upright, against his own reflection in the window. Directing it towards the sky. He requests silence. Gently tapping along the curtain rod centimetre by centimetre for something as soft, inept, dormant as a dream.

Ágnes Lehóczky is an Hungarian-born poet and translator. Her first full collection, Budapest to Babel, was published by Egg Box in 2008; her second one, Rememberer in 2012 (Egg Box) includes "Torso in the Window". Her collection of essays on the poetry of Ágnes Nemes Nagy, Poetry, the Geometry of Living Substance, was published in 2011 by Cambridge Scholars. She currently teaches creative writing at the University of Sheffield.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Sudden Prose Reprints: Somerset Letters 4 by Frances Presley


I need a grammar that will link the channel tunnel to the need for an extra groin in the sea wall.  I mean groin, depression between belly and thigh.  The minimum number and size of groynes necessary to economically contain the beach material is reassessed by the design architects who realise they will have to see things in the light of October’s storm, for which they were not prepared.  The park warden is urging the sea to break through the shingle ridge and create new openings and lagoons, which look lovely from above.  You cannot economically contain the beach.

Swallow the sun before it sets.  Short moment.  Yellow grass and mounds of sawdust.  The old life.

I am reading Brenda Chamberlain’s account of her life on Bardsey Island (Ynys Enlii), and the strong dark lines of her drawings.  She says that the nature fancier is the town dweller with a sentimental view of things.  Her sentiments are wild and believed to be archaic, but, like the boat to the island, they cannot always hold water.  Nature leaks through excess diction.  The seal’s nose is nobly aquiline.  She listens for a tongue still vocal in the dust of the island, when we know from a long way off that the dust is still vocal in the tongue.     

Frances Presley

Somerset Letters was originally published as a book by Oasis Books in 2002, with selections, including this one, later included in Paravane: New and Selected Poems 1996-2003 (Salt, 2004). Presley's last two books were published by Shearsman; to learn more about her and her work and read selections, please see her Shearsman author page here

Friday, 12 October 2012

Sudden Prose Reprints: Lorna Thorpe's "Eclipse"


At the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eighth months of the final year of the millennium, darkness fell.  And they left their homes and their places of work to congregate on the beaches and the sea and on the hillsides surrounding the city.  And for those two minutes the roads were still and business all along the south coast was suspended, even in advertising they left their Powerpoint pitches to gaze up at the wondrous spectacle.  But there was much disappointment throughout the land.  Because in the place where there was totality the sky was thick with clouds and in the place where the sun shone there was a partial eclipse, which meant only a very few saw Bailey’s beads and the corona and diamond ring, talk of which had excited many before the event.  On the beach at Brighton were gathered a multitude with their pinhole cameras and special glasses and they experienced not complete darkness but a strange and eerie light, the like of which they had never known.  It was cold.  A hush fell over the crowd as the sky darkened.  Even the mobile phone ringtones were silent.  Even the birds were still and then, as the sun moved from behind the moon, the pigeons and herring gulls burst forth in song, they circled over the Miss Haversham skeleton of the West Pier and dove through the broken windows of its concert hall.  And the crowds left the beach slowly for they had been moved by nature’s display and were reluctant to return to their keyboards and faxes, their to-do lists.  Even though they had set their videos and knew they would get a better view on TV.

Today's selection comes from Lorna Thorpe's second collection, Sweet Torture of Breathing (Arc, 2011). Thorpe was born in Brighton, where she lived for most of her life before moving to Cornwall in 2011. She has worked as a tour operator, social worker and barmaid. Her first pamphlet, Dancing to Motown (Pighog, 2005), was a Poetry book Society pamphlet choice, and her first full collection, A Ghost in My House, was published by Arc in 2008. Thorpe presently works as a freelance writer and has published features in The GuardianYou can learn more about Thorpe and her work on her blog.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Friday, 5 October 2012

Sudden Prose Reprints: Section V of The Book of Dreams by Vahni Capildeo


For JanaLee Cherneski

It was not a holiday but we were going to this house by the beach. Just my
mother, and a friend who had escaped from her family for half a day. There
were no tourist facilities and the house did not belong to a village. It had a roof
but no ceiling. The main room, hall-like, peaked at around twenty feet. The
trestle table inside was cheap wood but covered with a white cloth. The metal
folding chairs were stackable and chipped, oxblood paint under the gun-grey
paint. A few were set around the table. The house belonged to a man who
was tall. His curly hair, full of sea salt, almost made dreads. I did not like the
way that my mother and my friend both knew him and smiled at him. I had
not expected him or even the presence of his house in this place. Now it was
clear that if all went well perhaps I would marry him.
The dirt where anything could grow ran out abruptly. The rough tussocks of
lawn became skimpier and interspersed with bone-white sand. A graceful
curve of coconut trees huddled up to the house as if marking a garden
boundary. I had never seen coconut trees planted this way before. Their
normality was the wind’s wild punctuation. Planned planting belonged to
inshore mansions, tulip trees and (if there was room) cassia.
Still he was smiling at me and in his cutoff trousers he half-danced his way
into the very turquoise sea. Three-foot waves chopped up the tideline. He
turned around with his back to the horizon. The curls waved. His eyes were
I like the sea. I started walking into it.
He laughed and started walking backwards. Then the sea chopped at me and
laid rope after rope around my calves and ankles. I staggered on the spot.
He laughed and continued walking backwards. I felt drawn towards where the
sun sinks.
Anyone who has been knocked down by a wave in such clear Atlantic water
and kept their eyes open (accustomed from young to the salt) will have seen
the epitome of nothing. The force of the wave’s crash raises a sandstorm
beneath the sea. As the wave retreats, the undertow pulling the felled
bather with it, clouds of sand silently roar in changing formations. The desert
sandstorm advances as the wave retreats. The open-eyed bather feels all her
limbs being dragged under, some of the water chill with the chill of deep sea,
while her eyes are confounded by the utter and absolute darkness beneath
the stirring sand. It is a lightlessness like no other.
He stood too tall and too far immersed in the sea, looking like brightness. It
would be death to join him. Did the women expect it?
With the greatest effort I began to turn and found them looking appalled.
They called my name. I dragged myself upright to shore. Whether or not he in
the sea had vanished I do not know; his satisfaction was at my back and his
house was still in front of me. I felt he was many.
My mother and my friend welcomed me as if there had been no changes.
I asked to leave the seaside and start finding our way home.

Vahni Capildeo (b. Trinidad) writes both poetry and prose. Her fourth collection, Utter (forthcoming 2012-13) was inspired by her time at the Oxford English Dictionary. She teaches at the University of Glasgow. Learn more about her work here.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

First Years' Fifty-Word Flashes

In my taster lecture last week for students taking the first-year creative writing core module, I talked about what makes a piece of writing a story, showed them some fifty-word stories, and then asked them to write their own. I promised to post the best story I received, and out of over fifty entries, I've chosen one story and my partner has chosen another as the winners. 

Here's my selection, untitled, written by Hannah Crouch:

She carefully removed the bag from the box, shifted aside the dirt and measured the hole.
     She wasn't quite sure. Maybe she should have discussed this with her husband. But he didn't know anything about the other plants. He would be annoyed. 
     The baby was so small. Tree on top.

I can't say I understand everything that's going on in this story, but I understand enough, and what isn't entirely clear intrigues me. 

Here's the special judge's selection: 

"One Dog and His Duck" by Ben Halford

The dog came home one day with a duck in his mouth--a dead duck, but still a duck. I wondered how he had caught it so quick--the lake was ten miles up the road. I asked the dog walker, "Where'd he get that?"
     "From the butcher's," he replied.

Honorable mentions, in no particular order, go to Laura Kite, Scott Varnham, Duncan Drury, Bethan Reynolds, Trudy Williams, and Lucy Bushell.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Sudden Prose Reprints: "Antidote with Attempts at Diagnosis" by Jennifer Militello


They did the test of the body placed beside a flint-skinned nurse, the test for epidemics formed of mirrors, the test of the lethal pills hidden in the eyeglasses.

They did the flow of sodium ions into nerve cells, they did filth in each of the orifices, they did a gem, a pollen shape, they did a transfusion to the vein.

They kept evolving unpredictable results, found a vertigo of snakes and called it the mind, found time and called us its puppets.

They began to sense eternity and accumulate remorse.

They filmed the corrosion each touch would cause, test for hemorrhaging, test for poison, test for the memory of adolescent faith.

They found the secret room where all the genomes drape. They closed a hand’s palm made of images over all nomadic sleep.

They found a landscape in the eye, doing its quiet singing.

They mixed situations to administer with the full complexity of weather, mixed the plumage of unmade bones with their gutterless fray, with a thaw as raw as speech, to help them fracture like timbers or a dove’s cluttered voice.

They proceeded with medications, experimental embalming, anorexic restoration, therapeutic disturb. 

They admitted an inability.

They lost count of the dying. They fished infants from the creek.

They slept in proximity of the mouths of others to be somewhat like breath.

Jennifer Militello

This poem first appeared in Indiana Review and is forthcoming in Militello's second collection, Body Thesaurus, with Tupelo Press. 

Learn more about Militello's work by visiting her website, and/or purchase Flinch of Song, her first collection, from Amazon in the UK (I couldn't find it at any of the independents I tried) or Powell's in the US.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Sudden Prose Reprints: Laura Kasischke's "O elegant giant"

O elegant giant

And Jehovah. And Alzheimer. And a diamond of extraordinary size on the hand of a starving child. The quiet mob in a vacant lot. My father asleep in a chair in a warm corridor. While his boat, the Unsinkable, sits at the bottom of the ocean. While his boat, the Unsinkable, waits marooned on the shore. While his boat, the Unsinkable, sails on, and sails on.

"O elegant giant" is the opening poem of American poet Laura Kasischke's award-winning eighth collection, Space, in Chains (Copper Canyon, 2011); many thanks to the author for the permission to reprint this poem here. To learn more about her and her work, please visit her website.

In the UK you can order Space, in Chains from Foyle's

Friday, 7 September 2012

Sudden Prose Reprints: "Anya's Complaint" by Tony Williams

"Anya's Complaint"

Anya’s beauty was in her hair. She had it tied it up most of the time, sitting in The Plum Pie drinking a gin and bitter lemon, reading her copy of English Folk Tales with a faraway look. But everyone knew that when she let it down, for instance for the river-swimming at the summer festival, or at her father’s funeral, it reached down past her knees, almost to her feet. In that brown bough of frame her pale face, freckled and elfin, could not help but upset the young men of the village. She was a living rebuke, a medieval picture of innocence. In the water, it spread out in a vast circle so that they couldn’t approach her. It was like the stinging fronds of an anemone.
Geoff arrived and they fell in love. He had a job delivering veg boxes for the organic grocer’s. At first he smoked roll-ups, but he soon gave that up after he got together with Anya. His hair was the same colour as hers, but wilder. It lay in tufts over his shoulders. He had a bushy beard, and such a quiet voice that it was almost impossible to talk to him at all. But it was the right volume for whispering in Anya’s tiny white ears.
She took to wearing her hair down more often, and Geoff grew his hair too, and they walked in the fields outside the village, hand in hand. Anya’s hair fell down around her like a priestess’s robes.
One afternoon they went to a secluded spot amongst the beech trees. If anyone had been watching from the hedgerow he would have seen them taking off their clothes and walking, naked, on the crisp remains of last year’s leaves. He would have heard Anya say that her breasts were cold. She used that word – breasts – and the watcher would have reflected that that’s how it was when your girlfriend was ethereal. Perhaps he would have thought that they would put their clothes back on, but instead Geoff reached out his arms and drew her towards him.
He sat cross-legged in the clearing and sat Anya down facing him, then drew her closer so that their faces and bodies became invisible inside a tent of hair. Anya’s reached down past her buttocks and lay in pools on the grass and sticks, and she wrapped it round Geoff and over his shoulders, which were fairly well concealed already. (It had turned out, to nobody’s surprise, that he had the most tremendously hairy back.) They sat like for a long time. For a while Geoff talked about the seasons on a theme suggested to him by Anya’s complaint: natural materials he might use to warm her body or which were suggested by it; locations for a future paradise; and activities therein. Then Anya told him the most secret fears of her childhood, and described in detail the moments when, in her intimacy with Geoff, one by one, each of these fears had been finally laid to rest. Then they sang together for a while, in low voices which were comfortable in their slight tunelessness.
The watchers outside the hair-tent could hear only a low murmur, and none of what was said between Anya and Geoff. They felt ashamed, that they had gone there to see what was not meant to be seen.
In the beer garden later that summer, Briggsy set fire to them for a laugh. It wasn’t funny. Geoff managed to slosh his cider over his face and that saved him from the worst of it – it had to be shaved off later, but he wasn’t burned. But all of Anya’s fabled hair was gone in a second. She had to go off to the county hospital. That wasn’t the worst of it – the worst of it was seeing her suddenly bald head, a charred almond, the fear and humiliation and madness in those eyes. It was sickening to see her hauled through the centuries like that. They had to take off her blouse – that was burning too. And Geoff went and tried to hold her, but she was burned so they wouldn’t let him, and all he could do was to stand round with the others, crying and cooing. That white skin, marked with red burns.
Everyone condemned what Briggsy had done, and it was right that he went to prison. But we were a bit grateful too. We see Anya in The Plum Pie and ask how she is. She wears a scarf with her velvet jacket, but she doesn’t try to hide the scars. Sometimes Geoff’s in there on his own, and he’ll have a drink and a game of pool. He’s alright, a Thin Lizzy fan. We all saw what happened, we see what’s underneath now that the hair has gone. We pummel them with friendly gestures. And now they have to share the love.

"Anya's Complaint" appears in Tony Williams' just-released collection of short stories, All the Bananas I've Never Eaten: Tales of Love and Loneliness (Salt). His stories have appeared in Flash Fiction Magazine, Horizon Review, Fuselit and Under the Radar. His most recent poetry publication, All the Rooms of Uncle's Head (Nine Arches), was a Poetry Book Society Pamphlet choice. He lives in Northumberland and teaches at Northumbria University.

Friday, 31 August 2012

Sudden Prose Reprints: "The First Cut" by Helen Pizzey

The First Cut

In the womb we sucked each other’s thumb. As toddlers we curled together like kittens and rubbed each other’s earlobes. Thirteen years later, she sits in front of me dressed in a hospital gown. Her body is still that of a child, and her hair, which has never been cut, is braided into one long plait and draped over her shoulder. Her emaciated arms are discoloured by lesions. “You brought the scissors?” She extends her palm with a cold solemnity. I hand over the scissors and hold taut the tail of her plait while she cuts, cuts, cuts thickly at its base, close beside her neck. I am stunned by its weight when it falls into my lap. There it lies, measuring the distance that has always been between us.

Helen Pizzey

"The First Cut" most recently appeared in Orange Coast Review. Pizzey is Assistant Editor at PURBECK! magazine and appears in the anthology, This Line Is Not for Turning: Contemporary British Prose Poetry (ed. Jane Monson, Cinnamon, 2011), among other journals and anthologies in the UK and US. She received her MA in creative writing from Bath Spa University in 2005. 

Friday, 24 August 2012

Sudden Prose Reprints: Vanessa Gebbie's "Chameleon"


Ed’s wife changes colour depending on her emotions. He’s learned to vary his behaviour accordingly. In bed however, these changes are becoming problematic. All Ed has to go on is the sound of her breath. 

At parties - which she does not enjoy, being a private person – her neck becomes mottled, like the egg of a wild bird.  Then, Ed crosses the room,

“Suze? Get you something?”

She always says no.

She’s recently started shedding her skin, and Ed finds them draped over the bed, papery, delicate as aphid’s wings. He folds them, keeps them in a drawer. But they never quite fold neatly, and try to escape, like shadows. 

One, the thinnest, he has torn inadvertently. He hasn’t told her. The thought is ever-present: What if she needs it later?


Vanessa Gebbie is a novelist and award-winning short fiction author. Author of two collections, Words from a Glass Bubble and Storm Warning (Salt Modern Fiction), her novel The Coward’s Tale (Bloomsbury) was selected as a Financial Times Book of the Year and Guardian readers’ book of the year. A collection of illustrated short-short fictions, Ed's Wife and Other Creatures, is forthcoming from Speechbubble Books later in 2012, in collaboration with poet and artist Lynn Roberts. You can learn more about her work at her website.
'Chameleon' was first published by the Australian journal, Etchings, and a version was Editor's Choice in The Binnacle Ultra Short Competition. It will appear in the collection Ed's Wife and Other Creatures