“Grenade Genie” is a wry, dry humoured look at modern life in general. The book is split into four sections, ‘cursed’, ‘coerced’, ‘combative’ and ‘corrupted’, alliteratively satisfying. The first section looks at the hapless, those trapped in an underclass or simply finding themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. “The Evil Eye” casts its glance on social media users, “You’ve allowed yourself to get caught in a cobweb/ spun by a social spider that sucks you dry of information,/ then leaves your hollowed-out exoskeletal frame/ to rot on its website.” However, users are addicted and keep returning to post another selfie.
A refugee eyes up a journalist in “Carry My Eyes (Above and Across the Barbed-Wire Border)” (the poems within are double spaced),
“my dreaming-of-a-new-life blood-shot eyes
spy the approach of reporters in roving bands.
We’re here to tell your story, they always say,
How you fled civil war and want to be given a chance.
But I know they don’t care –
and I won’t talk to them, nor extend my palm
(which would reveal my cut and calloused lifeline),
just tell them with a steely stare:
Don’t hug me with your inverted commas,
nor touch me with your cruel chameleon hands.”
I get the message: trauma porn and the damage it does to those who tell their stories only to see their words twisted to serve another’s agenda because the journalist’s master is the advertisers who enable publication of the stories they write, not the truth of the refugee’s tale. Constantly telling your story to people who aren’t listening creates another layer of trauma. I’m not so sure some of the details add up: people in transit camps aren’t “dreaming-of-a-new-life”, but merely escaping the one they’ve left and trying to get through today as they wait either to be able to move on or for asylum applications to be processed. People stuck in uncertainty don’t make plans or think ahead. I think the parenthesized phrase loses its weight and needs to be taken out of the brackets.
Later, “The Greatest Poet” draws parallels with T S Eliot – the sharing of a first name, both worked at Lloyds Bank but is the poet of this collection destined to be forever in the more famous poet’s shadow. Or is that a question when “The Waste Land” can’t be condensed to InstaPoetry?
The ‘coerced’ section looks at employees’ security passes, how “we’ve all been programmed since birth/ to have nothing else but shopping on the brain?”, nightclubbing and being unable to remember someone’s name. The ‘combative’ section takes us shopping with a god, observing those selling copies of “The Socialist Worker”, militant pedestrians taking back pavements from cyclists and vehicles, the obsoleteness of cassette tapes and ends with the poignant “The Phoney War” where two boys play war in the lounge then run into the kitchen, “calling for Gran to serve us up our tea,/ and found her quietly sobbing at the stove.”
The ‘corrupted’ section has fun subverting clichés. In “The Surgery I Go To Has a Two-Headed Doctor”
“When Doctor Smith examines me with a stethoscope,
it’s in the left head’s left ear
and the right head’s right ear.
In other words, he makes a right pig’s ear
(and also a left pig’s ear)
of any examination he does.
However, when I once challenged him about it,
Doctor Smith’s left head simply said,
‘Can you breathe in a bit more deeply, please?’
While his right head shook morosely.”
This is Thomas McColl on surer ground and playing to all his strengths. “Grenade Genie” is a wryly humoured look at life, subverting normal expectations and asks readers to take a new look at the commonplace. Thomas McColl is at his best when he takes an idea for a walk an describes it afresh with a generous dash of humour.
Emma Lee’s The Significance of a Dress is available from Arachne Press. The link also has a trailer featuring the title poems and samples of some of the poems from the collection.