Friday 23 April 2021

Five Stunning Prose Poems by Oz Hardwick


The Glasnost Legacy


In neat suburban semis, windows still bear the white paint of the Cold War, and “normal” has been a fairground mirror image of itself since the days of Ron and Maggie. Spies and tattooed ladies recline before bulky TVs, their feet lined up like weary protesters on glass-topped coffee tables, their trench coats buttoned high to keep the clichés in, as they sip warm beer from cans and leave cigarette butts burning in used teacups. The News parades contradictions, each statement a pratfall with a ladder and a bucket of water, and the rolling subtext has been replaced by a sealion with a beachball and a rack of car horns. There are Russians in our phones, Russians in Number 10, and even the skateboarding cat at the broadcast’s close is Russian. No wonder there are no Russians in Russia. A short break for commercials and propaganda, then here’s John Merrick, with his trombone and the weather forecast, impossibly loveable beneath that conspiratorial hood. The spies note down imagined codes, and the tattooed ladies redden in the knowledge of the hearts and elephants inked in their most secret places. For all anyone knows, the Bomb may have dropped in the 80s, but no one’s about to scrape away the paint and risk breaking the mood.



Tree shade. Paw prints in dried mud. Outlines of speech bubbles hanging empty over garden fences. When you speak, your voice is lawnmowers and the names of family pets, and your jaw aches like growth rings and dead leaves. On the doormat lie red envelopes with windows to break in case of emergencies. In the kitchen, an alarm repeats its electronic warning, though it’s not clear what it’s for. It’s probably just a test, but these days everything’s a test: What tree is this? What breed of dog? What exactly did you say? You know it would be easier if everyone kept to the rules, but you can’t remember what they are. When you speak, your voice is a scythe and the pet name of Plague’s horse, and your tongue settles like a new seed. In the garden, a fox nuzzles at the base of the fence, though it’s not clear what he’s worrying at. Maybe it’s new growth? Maybe it’s the scent of a dog? Maybe it’s the words you dropped when you warned your neighbour that nothing would be quite what it appeared.

The Evolutionary Urge


When we stopped wearing watches, our hands became lighter: a small point, but that’s the nature of evolution – one day you’re a fish, then before you know it, you’re shopping for trousers, considering colour and cut, the ethical sourcing of material. Or perhaps you are a lemur, developing digits to suit specific circumstances, whether that’s riddling out grubs from deep beneath tree bark, or forming barre chords to ease your way into a Status Quo tribute act. So when we stopped wearing watches, it wasn’t just our hands that became lighter, but also our spirits and the pigmentation of our eyes, until we floated above ourselves, timeless, observing the earth and its deep, disordered waters as if through a glass, darkly, our hearts strumming that good old 12-bar blues.



When the monsters come, we don’t complain, for all their slamming doors and stealing children. It’s what they do, after all, and if there’s one thing modern life has taught us, it’s that we should all be true to ourselves, regardless of cost or moral niceties. We have little remaining faith to speak of, and you only live once is as good a maxim to live by as anything else. It’s like making America great again or getting Brexit done; a box to tick before moving on to the next ambiguous short-term goal. So, when the monsters come, we relax in the satisfaction that we’re doing as we please, kicking through the leaves of sixty accumulated autumns, as if there was nothing ahead but a weekend full of bicycles and lime cordial, then maybe a lifetime learning to fly. The house is as untidy as my head, with papers piled like snow drifts and every window left snapping in the night. I’m not sure it matters. The monsters should arrive before morning, or perhaps they’re already here.



It’s not the torn flesh, it’s the torn hems that tie us to our ancestors; not the atrocities, but the inconveniences. It’s neither bullet nor fire, nor even treasonous cells undermining governance or decorum, but the gloxinia carelessly cut, the pipe tamped awry. There is our grandmother, purple-fingered at the oven, her brother a comet in her nightmare sky: which do we cry over – a toffee tin of mismatched buttons, or that which is stored unmarked in an underfunded museum? I have catalogued envelopes of coarse cotton, brittle hair, photographs that were never good enough for mantelpieces. Our grandmother brings a plate of spiced cake, too hot to eat: she has burnt the inside of her wrist, her floral hem hangs low.

Oz Hardwick is a UK-based poet, photographer, occasional musician, and accidental academic, whose work has been widely published in international journals and anthologies. His prose poetry chapbook Learning to Have Lost (Canberra: IPSI, 2018) won the 2019 Rubery International Book Award for poetry, and his most recent publication is the prose poetry sequence Wolf Planet (Clevedon: Hedgehog, 2020). He has also edited or co-edited several anthologies, including The Valley Press Anthology of Yorkshire Poetry (Scarborough: Valley Press, 2017) with Miles Salter, which was a UK National Poetry Day recommendation, and The Valley Press Anthology of Prose Poetry (Scarborough: Valley Press, 2019) with Anne Caldwell. A keen collaborator with other artists, his joint collection with Amina Alyal, Close as Second Skins (Indigo Dreams, 2015), was shortlisted for that year’s Saboteur Best Collaborative Work award, and he has contributed to performances, exhibitions, installations, and recordings with artists in diverse media. Oz is Professor of English at Leeds Trinity University, where he leads the postgraduate Creative Writing programmes.


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