by Carmina Masoliver

Whisky and Beards is a publishing house that works on a print-on-demand basis in order to ensure an equal relationship with each of its authors. Predominantly publishing poets from the local poetry scene in Thanet, Margate, I have chosen a selection of four of their publications, including writers hailing from York and Bristol. 

Dee Dickens – Fear of Drowning

From the first lines of Dee Dickens’ book, we are submerged into its thematic stream as she is birthed ‘Blue baby girl / with fluid on / her lungs,’ with the assonance carrying us through  to the ships we may assume to be from the International Slavery museum. It illustrates the gulf between the experience of being Black or white; ‘A temple to guilt. / I am the guest of honour.’ We return to roots, to birth, to the ‘baby born on / the crest of a wave’. Dickens shows the power of words, giving us the subtext between the lines in poems such as ‘Questions for the White People in the Slavery Museum Today’. By ‘Through It All’, there is a recurring image of the lungs, the fear of death and not being able to breathe. I can imagine many of the poems would pack an even harder punch on stage; they are unapologetically raw and honest, especially when looking at race. Yet the expanse of this collection cannot be neatly summarised; shorter pieces like ‘Playing Dress Up’ explore what it feels like to be from a mixed heritage background, and others like ‘My Friend Vince’ show the dangers of feeling isolated and like you don’t belong, looking at the intersections of being human in a white supremacist patriarchal society. 

Alex Vellis – I saw a bird once

From the onset, it is clear that the poems in this book were built to be a collection, from the organisation of the contents of Roman numerals, dispersed with decimal numbers, indicating prose poems, to the list of acknowledgements at the back. The opening poems are rich in imagery, evoking a sense of mystery. They conjure up sounds and smells like “lime blossom” that captivate the reader with their vivid specificity. There’s a running theme that sets in of not being seen or heard. At times, the prose jars without the context for the language and whose voice we are hearing. There seems to be a sense of nihilism that links the voice of the refuse collector to the office worker, which is underlined in a poem describing dashed dreams of becoming an inventor. The mystery of how these different characters connect to each other and the elusive ‘Char’ who we hear of through transcribed phone messages keeps you reading on, though at times difficult to read the language and extreme thoughts that seem to be an expression of the id unfiltered. 

Sven Stears – This is Your Tragic Back Story

Despite not having seen Sven Stears live, from the first poem I feel like I can hear it spoken aloud, with the use of rhythm and narrative propelling me through, filled with a nostalgia that was both specific to the poet, yet spoke to elements of my own childhood. In Cowboy, the text speaks of the perpetual summers that I often associate with those days:

‘Sunshine / it was bright all the time / the whole of 1999’. In ‘Berlin’, the poem is in five parts and is filled with wordplay such as ‘I was born a brick’s throw from here’, with connotations of violence and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Back in Britain, Stears examines the drinking culture that speaks to both the monopolisation of pubs, and the acceptance of binge drinking, which is explored further in ‘Drowning in Ether, Reaching for Matched Like Driftwood’, and in the extended metaphors of ‘Hourglass’. In each poem, there is a way of writing that shows Stears’ particular style, which is exemplified in ‘Give Them What They Want’, with the satisfying sounds of unexpected assonance, internal and near rhymes such as ‘protagonist / catalyst’ and ‘sequel… peaceful’. Often poets on stage can make you want to read their work on the page, but in this case, it is the other way around; as you read, you wonder what it would be like for the words to come alive on stage. 

Crow Rudd – i am a thing of rough edges

For one reason or another, terms such as ‘honest’ and ‘brave’ can be dismissed by some circles of poets, but I still use this as an accolade, and it’s not until ‘you don’t reply much’ that I truly fixed this badge of honour on Tom Rudd. Because to be honest is to be brave. Because I connected to the inequity of text dialogue in relationships with mismatched attachment styles, and the plain language of the poem was set against the painful sensation of ‘razors across lemon-soaked skin’. On the flip-side of this, in ‘cuddle drive’, as someone who relates more to the idea that ‘everyone needs to bone’, I’m given insight to a more asexual romance; a voice in the stereotypically over-sexualised LGBTQ+ community that often goes unheard. Many of the poems depict grief, and there is an anticipation in ‘come to terms’ that there will be a realisation that when someone is dying, it is a process that is not always linear for those that grieve the death, with the final ‘not yet’. The poems also allude to systematic issues, dealing with suicidal ideation and categories of risk. As a complete contrast, the poem ‘ode to a pigeon’ offers some light relief.

Whisky and Beards takes the words from the stage to the page, and offers a chance for these poets to hold something in their hands, for any fans to take a little piece of their performance with them. Although the work might seem removed from the live element, it finds its place within the pocket of poetry in Margate and beyond. 

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