Tag Archives: Nine Arches Press

Ways to Build a Roadblock by Josh Ekroy (Nine Arches, £8.99)

Ways to Build a Roadblock is well titled. There’s hardly a poem in it that doesn’t demonstrate, with admirable craftsmanship and economy, how poetry can act as a focused and unflinching distillation of its subject and stop the reader in their tracks. At the heart of Ekroy’s debut is a controlled but palpable fury at corrupt politics and pointless war-mongering. In ‘Lord Hutton Reports’, ‘The Trojan Enquiry’ and ‘Orange’, he calls out bullshit by aping the bland language of officialdom and plausible deniability. The former has a touch of knockabout humour, taking the nursery rhyme Humpty Dumpty as its starting point:

I am satisfied that this is not a case

in which the Crown could have had any knowledge

that a notoriously unstable egg would hurl itself

from the wall it was ill-advised enough to sit on.

‘The Trojan Enquiry’ ups the ante, leeching away some of the humour and replacing the broad whitewash of an official report with the mealy-mouthed question-hedging of a witness appearing before a board of enquiry, while ‘Orange’ spoofs the semi-urgent attention-shifting speciousness of government press releases, spoofing them into absurdity by casting oranges and lemons as antagonists in some kind of citric sectarianism:

Growers insist on a patrol-base

and lemon security is handled seriously.

Downing St issued a black on white statement

which promises that our involvement

will soon be on the ground.

That Ekroy recognises no sacred cows is obvious from the opening poem, which compares the courtship rituals of the Empid fly with Blair visiting Bush at Crawford in 2003. Here’s a poet who not only identifies politics as a grubby business but isn’t afraid to get his own hands dirty; the ‘roadblock’ as an act of resistance.

Even when he turns his attention to more rarefied subjects, an earthy and unpretentious aesthetic remains present. Classical music links ‘78rpm’, which ends with its titular slab of vinyl, scratched and unplayable, hurled over a patch of wasteland (“the Vienna Boys’ Choir was stung / into silence in the nettle patch”); ‘Musical Vienna – a Guided Tour’, where the tour in question is of the sewers; and ‘Shostakovich 5’, which manages to simultaneously exult in the power of music and generate the tension of a thriller in ten brilliantly cadenced lines.

Elsewhere, he uses set forms – the pantoum, a scattering of sonnets, a specular poem – with an almost conversational ease. Accessibility is key to his work even at its darkest or most experimental, such as in ‘The Restroom’, a textbook example of the via negativa where fifteen broken and scattered lines avoid the subject of political torture and leave the reader more unsettled than if Ekroy had tackled it head-on.

Ways to Build a Roadblock doesn’t offer any comfort zones or safe havens. Poem after poem challenges, pushes, provokes. Ekroy is like a boxer, ducking, weaving, never still, coming at you from different directions and with wildly divergent subject matter. Sheep, owls, goldfinches. Politics, warfare, paranoia. Memory, surrealism, propaganda. If there’s anything missing from this astounding first collection it’s probably because it isn’t terrifying or corrosive enough to merit inclusion.

Neil Fulwood

Do Not Pass Go: crime stories by Joel Lane (Nine Arches) and Crime (NWS)

Do Not Pass Go by Joel LaneI read this collection of short fiction by Joel Lane the day after his funeral. I knew Joel slightly and he was a good friend of others I know in Birmingham. His sudden death at fifty was a shock. Joel was starting to make a reputation as a writer of dark fantasy, moving on from his previous work as a poet and a crime writer. His poetry and crime has been published by several good small publishers, this collection coming from the West Midlands’ Nine Arches. Save for the rather utilitarian cover, Do Not Pass Go is a nice pamphlet-with-endpaper production, part of Nine Arches Hotwire series of pamphlet fiction – a series that deserves to succeed.
This collection of five stories is set in the seedy underworld of Birmingham; a place of run-down pubs where one-night-stand pick-ups are best avoided, where blues clubs can give you the blues big time, where builders’ yard tarmac is used other than for road surfacing, where the Gents is awash with drug-dealers and little mercy is given on jobs that could have come from the annals of Murder Inc. And it is always raining. Joel presents the literary equivalent of a what you fear might happen on a late night wait for a long-delayed train on one of the more obscure and badly-lit platforms of Birmingham New Street station.

NWS CrimeNottingham Writers Studio has produced its first sampler – Crime – featuring short fiction by several of its members. The stand-out story is by Alison Moore of Lighthouse fame, much less noir than her usual fare, but a rather tender story which leaves you wanting to know more. It opens in the wake of a minor burglary. As so often with Alison’s stories, her attention to domestic detail creates the atmosphere.

Both collections cost a fiver each.

Ross Bradshaw