Just a Kid from Cortonwood

Mick Pettinger, Just a Kid from Cortonwood (Wild West Press, 2020)


Mick Pettinger’s debut pamphlet, Just a Kid from Cortonwood, is a raw portrayal of suffering and love. A punch-up between pain and healing, these personal poems are both confessional and vulnerable. Mick leaves nothing in the changing rooms, allowing his varied experiences to crash onto the page. From the death of his brother, to a childhood love of Ninja Turtles, to those people in the ‘photos in our minds and hard drives [which] slowly get wiped’ (‘Essence’), Mick pieces together all the ‘dates and times and dates and times’ (‘Chronology’) that make up a life.

We just wanna be normal
But what we really mean by normal
Is that we wanna cope

‘Finding Normal’

Mick’s authentic voice is heard in every line, swinging from angry to tender, at once bleak and life-affirming. These are poems that demand to be read aloud, narrated with Northern no-nonsense. Between conversation and monologue, the collection doesn’t hold back its punches. Mick knows he might get no reply (the opening poem, ‘Dear Steve’, is poignantly addressed to his dead brother) but this only makes him shout louder.

…without a care in the arse-backwards world!

Because today I am alive…

‘Cost Price’

Produced by Wild West Press, an independent South Yorkshire publisher, the pamphlet is beautifully made. The poems are also accompanied by a powerful and moving series of black and white photos by Mark Antony, featuring Mick and the South Yorkshire landscape.


Mick Pettinger, Just a Kid from Cortonwood (Wild West Press, 2020). Available here.

Fragments and forgetting

LOST FUTURES, vol. 1: ‘in search of lost time’ (January 2021), eds. Kieran Cutting & Christian Kitson


‘Go on a journey with me’ urges Kieran Cutting in the introduction of LOST FUTURES, a compulsion that grabs the reader and pulls them into its strange temporal and spatial worlds. If the first volume is a journey, we embark unsure of our destination, unsure if we will arrive and, by the end, even less confident we will ever make it back safely. We travel through time, space, memory and dreams on a journey ‘from out of the chaos’. The result is both enriching and enjoyable, disorientating and disruptive.

The zine’s vision is set in ‘two ghosts’ with the division (and disruption) of “real v imaginary” and “concrete v abstract”. The present-day “real” woman to whom the poem is addressed is absent for the poet; she is ‘a you’, one of an infinite number of possibilities for who she might now be. In contrast, ‘the you’ is a presence fixed in the past, but also a ghost, a non-existent entity who has ceased to be, and who is therefore painfully real. This rich poem hints at many of the tensions that resurface throughout LOST FUTURES: the rupture of past, present and future into an amorphous mess; the intricate balance between relationships held too long or relinquished too soon, and the search for ‘some shred, some tatter’ which is played out in the volume’s fragmentary multimedia work.

Daniel Bristow-Bailey’s wonderful title, ‘an excerpt from “the wholeness” (a work in progress)’ reflects on the impossibility of completeness. The seemingly autobiographical opening immediately complicates temporal linearity by starting before the author’s birth. The author narrates how his father escaped from a bubbling bar brawl in order to attend his birth, which he admits ‘may or may not be entirely true’. Of course, such a disclaimer could be applied to the past in general — history, myth, legend and fantasy are flexible categories that overlap more often than not. Regardless of how much truth is behind the story, the nascent brawl is a powerful example of a “lost future”: an event that may or may not have taken place, a mystery that doesn’t need solving. What matters for the author is that it became “a brawl” rather than “the brawl” when his father walked away to attend another beginning.

The rest of the story poses the question of parallel universes through the urban myth of Bob Holness’ sax solo on Baker Street. As well as the unreliability of the past — which is brilliantly expressed in the “imperfect perfect” construction ‘he used to have done’ — the introduction of ‘another universe’ raises the question of opposing spatial realities. This idea also forms a key part of Christian Kitson’s ‘parasite’, which contrasts ‘the reality of the moment’ of the reunion of lovers with ‘the simulated world I’d painstakingly built’ during their time apart. When these two ghosts collide, their incompatibility is destructive: ‘you, the stranger, collapsed my dream world’.

It is significant that imagery of orbits recurs throughout the volume. This reminds us that the basis of our existence is mere chance, that our environment (like time) never stands still, and that small bumps in the (orbital) path can set us off in a completely different direction. The collage built around the concept of ‘IF’ — a tiny word with enormous significance — is perhaps the best embodiment of our fractured and changeable existence. The dream of utopia is in fact a partial and messy reality, constantly reimagined and reframed to adapt to present experience. Meanwhile, in ‘new worlds’, language has the power to reinvent and reform our experiences. Do we taste and smell differently if we ‘hear waves of mint’? Can new wor(l)ds — or new combinations of existing ones — create ‘a future/ where we hold each other’s houses’? IF is both a powerful and crushing word: it communicates hope for something better and acceptance that reality is not how we would like it to be.

The collage’s screenshots of tweets and WhatsApp messages add a sense of fragmentation and ephemerality that characterise much of the modern age. This is, however, countered by the seriousness of the messages: imagine ‘if we reinvested in networks of care instead of surveillance’. Technology’s “lost future” had earlier been foreshadowed in references to MSN Messenger and CDs, examples of technologies that shaped (and, perhaps, continue to shape) our lives despite now being largely redundant. Likewise, Duunya’s powerful artwork ‘another day’ satirises both technology and modern jobs in its portrayal of a worker slumped at their desk. The figure has one hand on a keyboard and the other on a mouse, while the computer screen bears down on them from out of shot. As occurs throughout LOST FUTURES, absence makes the computer’s presence even more overpowering. In the background, frames of happier, more human moments dance out of sight, a potent contrast for an age in which many lives have been altered and many futures lost staring into cyber space.

This debut volume is a varied and skilful collection of work by Kieran Cutting, ‘some fantastic friends and some well-timed strangers’. Serendipitous connections are certainly appropriate for LOST FUTURES with its array of moments, missed moments, nearly moments, imagined moments and forgotten moments. The search for lost time — time lost to abusive relationships, believing something that was never true, or ‘holed up in a crumbling castle’ — is as paradoxical as it is imperative. These “lost futures” (‘the world-where-you-never-held-her-hand’, the space between IF and THEN, ‘missed connections, grey days,/ unescapable nights’) are neither real nor imagined, utopic nor dystopic, remembered nor forgotten. They are ‘possibility, nostalgia, regret’ all rolled into one.


LOST FUTURES, vol. 1: ‘in search of lost time’ (January 2021). Available here.

Absence, nostalgia and memory

Nigel Kent, Saudade (Hedgehog Poetry Press, 2019)


In Saudade, Nigel Kent traces lives and their losses, carefully threading themes of love, death and legacy to reflect on how we record and remember our existence. Art, poetry and the body’s demise all serve as frameworks, yet it is absence and nostalgia that dominate Kent’s debut collection.

Five poems are written after well-known artists, including ‘The Maids’, inspired by a 1987 painting by Portuguese-born Paula Rego. In this poem, hands are a powerful and ambivalent force, creating and destroying in equal measure. In ‘Lipstick Smile’, art itself is ambivalent: a father cruelly uses an artistic metaphor (‘like painting/ over flakes of rust;/ the past carries on/ corroding unseen beneath’) to warn his son about his choice of wife. The harshness of this message, as well as the father’s ability (or curse) to look beyond beauty to see what lies beneath, characterises the stark and poignant tone of Saudade.

In ‘Clearing Out’, a woman agonises over the objects that have shaped her life, unable to throw away such distinctive memories. Her insistent refusal, ‘Not yet! Not yet! Not yet!’, will later find an echo in the collection’s powerful non-ending (‘linger, linger, linger’). It is not possessions, however, but poetry that serves as the most pertinent evidence of having lived. The collection opens and closes with performances, which frame the sequence as a poetic memory. The speaker in ‘7.30 p.m. at the Art’s Workshop’ is inextricably bound to her creation: she has ‘iambs/ beating loudly/ in her chest’. Poetry is not the words she voices, but the marks they make on her body.

If poetry is necessary, it is also corruptible. Indeed, the innocence of ‘those naked words/ [that] shivered/ on the page’ will later be twisted into ‘oily opalescence’ by the smooth-talking speaker in ‘The Urban Shaman’. Here, the body (and our abuse of it) reveals the truth: ‘a city of a thousand/ cuts laid bare/ her sleeves ripped back/ to show the weeping wounds/ that she conceals’.

Diverse bodies populate Kent’s poetic landscape, many of which are in decline. In ‘Dignitas’, the subject is naked again, requiring assistance to carry out one of the most basic human necessities, his dignity washed away ‘like the dirt swirling and gurgling/ down the drain beneath his feet’. Another potent symbol for this degeneration comes in ‘Sweet and Sour’, where ‘frayed bags for life/ filled with Kilner jars/ of pickled strawberries’ reveal the layers of our existence. The poet contemplates how long this drawn-out life can last, the heart still beating while the body decays.

iambs
beating loudly
in her chest

‘7.30 p.m. at the Art’s Workshop’

Kent is arguably at his most poignant in the prose poem, ‘Bleak, dark, and piercing cold…’, which takes its title from Oliver Twist. Through a deceptively profound analogy between a homeless man and discarded piece of chewing gum, he shows how bodies can be turned into unwanted stains on a landscape: ‘They spit you out like gum that’s lost its taste, yet they complain it’s you who litters the city’s streets’. The problem won’t go away however much we try to ignore it: the politician ends up ‘irked by the sticky glob embedded in the tread of handmade shoes’.

A tension also exists with technology, which is brought out prominently in ‘Faraway’. In this poem, a worried father checks his phone in the hope that his daughter will have texted. The wait for this elusive message tests his patience, a virtue that continues to dwindle in the modern world. Although technology seems to offer an immediate solution to saudade, in the end it merely reaffirms the absence. This is reflected in ‘Saudade II’ where technology cannot resolve the poet’s longing: ‘I try once more/ to cut and paste you/ by my side’.

Ultimately, reading Saudade is an enriching experience. The reader will share characters’ frustration at an inaccessible past or evasive present/presence, as well as sadness at the body’s inevitable decline. But, more importantly, she will feel quietly invigorated. For Saudade is full of small moments of pleasure and beauty which give us something for which to yearn.


Nigel Kent, Saudade (Hedgehog Poetry Press, 2019). Available here.

Haiku A Day – Day 26

As we near the end of the Briefly Write ‘Haiku A Day’ Challenge, we really hope our prompts have inspired your poetic creativity.

Writing every day is a great way to develop and sustain a writing habit. The words don’t always come easily and sometimes we all feel a little devoid of ideas. But getting something committed to paper — a first draft, however rough it is — is always a good way to go. The old saying isn’t wrong: you can’t edit a blank page.

If you’re joining us for the first time: it’s never too late to get writing! And if you want a helping hand, why not check out out the Briefly Write Weekly Prompt Game?

The Challenge

At Briefly Write we’re firm believers in the power of well-chosen words. The haiku’s tight form will make you pay close attention to word choice and help you hone straight in on the most powerful images.

Here’s what you need to do: Write a haiku. Every day.

Following along with the ‘Haiku A Day’ Challenge for a month is an incredible achievement. It will help keep your mind active, hone your writing skills, and ultimately it will mean you have 30 poems — or seedlings — you can revisit, polish up and send off to lit mags!

We’d love to see what you create and hear how you’re getting on: tweet us at @BrieflyWrite or reply in the comments to this post!


glumly present – set
on rattling suns & drawn-out
quarrels – the demise


Our challenge is simple: write one haiku every day. Get inspired & join the fun on Twitter or in the comments!

Haiku A Day – Day 25

Photo by Francesco Ungaro

As we near the end of the Briefly Write ‘Haiku A Day’ Challenge, we really hope our prompts have inspired your poetic creativity.

Writing every day is a great way to develop and sustain a writing habit. The words don’t always come easily and sometimes we all feel a little devoid of ideas. But getting something committed to paper — a first draft, however rough it is — is always a good way to go. The old saying isn’t wrong: you can’t edit a blank page.

If you’re joining us for the first time: it’s never too late to get writing! And if you want a helping hand, why not check out out the Briefly Write Weekly Prompt Game?

The Challenge

At Briefly Write we’re firm believers in the power of well-chosen words. The haiku’s tight form will make you pay close attention to word choice and help you hone straight in on the most powerful images.

Here’s what you need to do: Write a haiku. Every day.

Following along with the ‘Haiku A Day’ Challenge for a month is an incredible achievement. It will help keep your mind active, hone your writing skills, and ultimately it will mean you have 30 poems — or seedlings — you can revisit, polish up and send off to lit mags!

We’d love to see what you create and hear how you’re getting on: tweet us at @BrieflyWrite or reply in the comments to this post!


balance on bottle
edges peering into dark:
time for the next step?


Our challenge is simple: write one haiku every day. Get inspired & join the fun on Twitter or in the comments!

Haiku A Day – Day 22

Photo by Brooke Lewis

After three weeks of the Briefly Write ‘Haiku A Day’ Challenge, hopefully you’ve written some tremendous verses.

Writing every day is a great way to develop and sustain a writing habit. The words don’t always come easily and sometimes we all feel a little devoid of ideas. But getting something committed to paper — a first draft, however rough it is — is always a good way to go. The old saying isn’t wrong: you can’t edit a blank page.

If you’re joining us for the first time: it’s never too late to get writing! If you need a prompt to get you going, why not check out out the Briefly Write Weekly Prompt Game?

The Challenge

At Briefly Write we’re firm believers in the power of well-chosen words. The haiku’s tight form will make you pay close attention to word choice and help you hone straight in on the most powerful images.

Here’s what you need to do: Write a haiku. Every day.

Following along with the ‘Haiku A Day’ Challenge for a month is an incredible achievement. It will help keep your mind active, hone your writing skills, and ultimately it will mean you have 30 poems — or seedlings — you can revisit, polish up and send off to lit mags!

We’d love to see what you create and hear how you’re getting on: tweet us at @BrieflyWrite or reply in the comments to this post!


day leaks through darkness
a suture spilling morning
like coffee, fresh starts


Our challenge is simple: write one haiku every day. Get inspired & join the fun on Twitter or in the comments!

Haiku A Day – Day 19

Photo by Kevin Menajang

We’re almost three weeks into the Briefly Write ‘Haiku A Day’ Challenge. Hopefully, our daily posts have been inspiring you to write great poetry.

If fiction is more your thing, we’ve not forgotten about you: in September we’ll be launching a brand-new writing challenge that aims to inspire outstanding micro stories.

Writing every day is a great way to develop and sustain a writing habit. The words don’t always come easily and sometimes we all feel a little devoid of ideas. But getting something committed to paper — a first draft, however rough it is — is always a good way to go. The old saying isn’t wrong: you can’t edit a blank page.

The Challenge

At Briefly Write we’re firm believers in the power of well-chosen words. The haiku’s tight form will make you pay close attention to word choice and help you hone straight in on the most powerful images.

Here’s what you need to do: Write a haiku. Every day.

Following along with the ‘Haiku A Day’ Challenge for a month is an incredible achievement; it will help keep your mind active, hone your writing skills, and ultimately it will mean you have 30 poems — or seedlings — you can revisit, polish up and send off to lit mags!

We’d love to see what you create and hear how you’re getting on: tweet us at @BrieflyWrite or reply in the comments to this post!


the end was near, salt
licked feebly at raw wounds &
the world kept spinning


Our challenge is simple: write one haiku every day. Get inspired & join the fun on Twitter or in the comments!

Haiku A Day – Day 18

Photo by Valdemaras D

We’re almost three weeks into the Briefly Write ‘Haiku A Day’ Challenge. Hopefully, our daily posts have been inspiring you to write great poetry.

If fiction is more your thing, we’ve not forgotten about you: in September we’ll be launching a brand-new writing challenge that aims to inspire outstanding micro stories.

Writing every day is a great way to develop and sustain a writing habit. The words don’t always come easily and sometimes we all feel a little devoid of ideas. But getting something committed to paper — a first draft, however rough it is — is always a good way to go. The old saying isn’t wrong: you can’t edit a blank page.

The Challenge

At Briefly Write we’re firm believers in the power of well-chosen words. The haiku’s tight form will make you pay close attention to word choice and help you hone straight in on the most powerful images.

Here’s what you need to do: Write a haiku. Every day.

Following along with the ‘Haiku A Day’ Challenge for a month is an incredible achievement; it will help keep your mind active, hone your writing skills, and ultimately it will mean you have 30 poems — or seedlings — you can revisit, polish up and send off to lit mags!

We’d love to see what you create and hear how you’re getting on: tweet us at @BrieflyWrite or reply in the comments to this post!


limestone wanderings
danger in jagged remnants
ravenous wolves wait


Our challenge is simple: write one haiku every day. Get inspired & join the fun on Twitter or in the comments!

Haiku A Day – Day 17

At Briefly Write our mission is simple: inspire you to write! And if your inspiration has run a little dry, our ‘Haiku A Day’ challenge is sure to get the creative juices flowing again.

Writing every day is the best way to develop and sustain a writing habit. The words don’t always come easily and sometimes we all feel a little devoid of ideas. But getting something written — a first draft, however rough it is — is always a good way to go.

Even if you think what you’ve written is dreadful — and it might well be at first! — you’ll have a starting point to revisit tomorrow. You can’t edit a blank page.

The haiku’s tight form will make you pay close attention to word choice and help you hone in on the strongest images. At Briefly Write we’re firm believers in the power of well-chosen words: a haiku doesn’t give you time to throw in anything superfluous.

The Challenge

If you’re joining us for the first time, here’s how it works:

You write a haiku. Every day. Easy right?

In each post, we’ll write one too to lead the way. We’ll also offer extra insights, advice and prompts from time to time to keep you on track.

We’d love to see what you create: you can either tweet your haiku to @BrieflyWrite or reply in the comments to this post!


bare bones push through mud
silhouetted skeleton
barren loneliness


Our challenge is simple: write one haiku every day. Get inspired & join the fun on Twitter or in the comments!

Haiku A Day – Day 16

Photo by Deeana Creates

At Briefly Write our mission is simple: inspire you to write! And if your inspiration has run a little dry, our ‘Haiku A Day’ challenge is sure to get the creative juices flowing again.

Writing every day is the best way to develop and sustain a writing habit. The words don’t always come easily and sometimes we all feel a little devoid of ideas. But getting something written — a first draft, however rough it is — is always a good way to go.

Even if you think what you’ve written is dreadful — and it might well be at first! — you’ll have a starting point to revisit tomorrow. You can’t edit a blank page.

The haiku’s tight form will make you pay close attention to word choice and help you hone in on the strongest images. At Briefly Write we’re firm believers in the power of well-chosen words: a haiku doesn’t give you time to throw in anything superfluous.

The Challenge

If you’re joining us for the first time, here’s how it works:

You write a haiku. Every day. Easy right?

In each post, we’ll write one too to lead the way. We’ll also offer extra insights, advice and prompts from time to time to keep you on track.

We’d love to see what you create: you can either tweet your haiku to @BrieflyWrite or reply in the comments to this post!


Here we go again:
cryptic message in stolen
paintings. Whisper: hide.


Our challenge is simple: write one haiku every day. Get inspired & join the fun on Twitter or in the comments!