Shock of the New - Kevin Morgan
Belfast born poet and former abattoir worker
Shock of the New was a showcase for 15 new voices in poetry and prose held at the Pavilion Bar, Belfast. Caroline Magennis, president of Queen’s University English Society, which hosted the reading, said the aim was to ‘give people a chance to catch a glimpse into the future of literary Belfast’.
Here, CultureNorthernIreland presents a selection of work from three of those writers. The future of literature? Decide for yourself…
Kevin Morgan is a Belfast born mathematics teacher now living in Lisburn. His chapbook collection Woolgathering was published following his win in the 2001 Grendon House international poetry competition. This year, he won the ABCWriters’ Network competition, and the winning poem, Marriage Rite, will be published in the next issue of Black Mountain Review. His work has been published in CPR International, Current Accounts Poetry Magazine, Bank Street Writers quarterly and USA academic journal NILAS. He has also had a poem selected to appear in a National Trust Calendar.
Where ears ring to the grating
of cold metal thrown between hard walls,
and calls of butchers
strain to be heard above the mechanical din,
the short shrift of blade on steel
cuts a neat pulse through slaughterhouse air.
Second-raters would trace an envious eye
over the easy trick of a blurred wrist
honing the cleanest edge;
an edge to part even the tissue-thin,
fashion a pecking order,
and cleave just a little fear:
there was the story of the jibe
with too much edge
that cost a lesser an ear.
Meat, like a screaming funfair ride in some macabre funfair park
they prod you in with the electric sting of the twin bat teeth
of a vampire scenting the rush of your blood.
The only organ music here is the beat of your heart
that jars with the steel screech of restraining rails
and the pained wails of cattle for some far off green,
and now only your head and neck
cantilever out from your galvanised guillotine.
The chamber of horrors clamps your ribs jaw-tight
for there’s a fright to come
and we don’t want to see you fight.
No, Meat, we’re not done yet.
Roll up, roll up, the fun goes on.
Roll up, up … up and over you roll,
braced in your topsy-turvy very unmerry-go-round
that stops short when you are upside down
and hangs your head back towards the ground
till your eyes bulge like dark crystal balls whose red mist says,
Meat, you’re going down.
What next? … Enters the Clown, ritual skull-cap and gown,
drawing from the scabbard that perfect, so cherished blade,
made without blemish so that in one straight cut
without stop or hack it opens your neck
from front to back and spills out your life in gushing red,
but even now you are still not dead. O,
we can hear you gasping, no, more like rasping,
frothing, but not through your mouth,
that route’s out, it’s disconnected, vivisected,
your neck hung like a hinge, spurting, squirting,
but the clown doesn’t cringe.
Instead he pulls the lever, Please leave the cage, this ride is
now over. You slither liquid to the floor,
twitching, kicking, quiver fat like a jelly awkward with bones
as he homes in on your belly to cut a hand sized slit,
and then this clown with the twist in his wit
plunges in so far he’s right up to his neck in it,
moving this way and that searching out any blemish –
we couldn’t have that, we’re a trifle squeamish –
and why-O-why? Well, Meat,
you must be perfect for the clown,
to win the coconut at the shy
in this crazy fairground.
Perhaps there was a day
when the artlessness
of the first night
soiled vestal white
with its blood.
For slaughterhouse butchers
blood warmed freezing hands.
It coursed through life
and ritual: below
where stuck carcasses
hung and dripped their gallons
through vapours curling
off the bloodbath, young men
enjoying their last day
would be manhandled in;
groomed in red.
(c) Kevin Morgan