Book Review: Grenade Genie by Thomas McColl


Grenade Genie, by Thomas McColl, is a close study of life in contradiction where the natural world and technology collide. The author bills this collection as “25 brief studies of the cursed, coerced,  combative and corrupted”.

Grenade Genie by Thomas McColl
Photo by Juliette van der Molen

A Blast through the Looking Glass

“We are all living lives more and more unnatural,
and in this messed-up world,
where buses are bison and people are grass,
it’s no longer shocking to find
that glass is air and branches are blades.”

-No Longer Quite So Sure, Thomas McColl, Grenade Genie

In this first section, Cursed, McColl puts his foot on the accelerator and speeds us through racing thoughts along a bus ride that could take place in any city in the world. The lines blur between sentient beings and our natural counterparts. Trees become otherworldly with thoughts of revolution as a bus speeds through the city to disperse humanity. We are connected, sometimes violently, with our surroundings and this poet is unafraid to look in the mirror, out the window and bring that truth to his readers.

A Question of Ego

“I’ve just been made permanent—
yet already I know I’m completely expendable.”

-Security Pass, Thomas McColl, Grenade Genie

This book is full of poetry that feels like I’m having a conversation with the author. Granted, he has no idea what I’m saying and his side of the conversation is already inked on the page, but it’s still a discussion. McColl inserts himself so deeply into the poetry that there is no question these are some of his innermost thoughts. That kind of openness and vulnerability has been rare, in my experience. The author isn’t going to shield himself from us, he’s giving it everything and I respect that.

In Security Pass, we’re having a conversation where I’m nodding my head. I’m thinking about my last job and the little badge that was my key to getting ‘in’. I worked for a major corporate retailer in the United States for thirteen years and that badge was the key to everything. In fact, getting a badge to the corporate office was some kind of special status. I’d dug myself out of the trenches of field retail and into somewhere that pressed numbers into a magnetic strip, where I was categorised in digital fashion- given access.

I also saw days of nail biting and mass layoffs, turnover at the highest levels. Our CEO resigned when he smelled the blood in the water (it was his) and upper management fell off the cliff like lemmings on a march to nowhere. Their security passes couldn’t save them. Their magnetic strips were deactivated in a heartbeat. They were erased.

McColl reminds us that as easy as this access comes, it is taken away. He leverages powerful language that sucks the breath out of egotistical thoughts. We are nothing, and we are everything. We are special and expendable all at once. I wait to see which one of us will blink during this staring contest, I turn the page.

Those Damn Gorgons

“‘Your mission is to enter their lair…’

‘Their lair?’

“It’s called Topshop:
locate and buy one pair of winged sandals
(make sure they’re the red ones),
and then straight away get out of there.
I would go myself, but I am three thousand years old,”

-Shopping With Perseus, Thomas McColl, Grenade Genie

Some of the best parts of McColl’s poetry are these dark bits of humour. He’s got some serious subjects to discuss, but I find myself filled with mirth that I suddenly feel conflicted about. It’s like someone whispering a joke at a funeral and being unable to contain laughter on a solemn occasion.  But, the poet has whispered it. And I’m laughing and sad all at the same time.

In Shopping with Perseus, we are treated to another landscape where McColl upends reality and remakes the landscape. Perseus is ridiculous and a stand in for too many people I know. Mannequins masquerade as Gorgons, even though the narrator assures Perseus that this is not true. Still, I wonder if Perseus got it right and I’m going to be much more cautious the next time I wander into Primark or Marks & Spencer.

In Conclusion

This collection layers heat until it is undeniably explosive. I don’t know Thomas McColl personally, but after reading his poetry I feel like I understand something about him. I feel like he understands something about me. Every poem is a pass of my hand over a flame, sometimes hovering to see how long I can stand it before I have to turn the page. This is unflinching poetry with a heavy backdraft. It is not a light read and it is all the better for it.  Some of the best poetry fills me with questions about myself and the world around me. I have a feeling that upon a second or third or fourth reading, I will only have more questions, which I welcome.

Grenade Genie by Thomas McColl is available here, through Fly on the Wall Press.


About the Author

THOMAS MCCOLL was born in 1970 and lives in London. He’s had poems published in magazines such as Envoi, Iota, Prole, Riggwelter, Atrium, London Grip and Ink, Sweat & Tears, and his first collection of poetry, Being With Me Will Help You Learn, was published in 2016 by Listen Softly London Press. One of the poems from the book, The Chalk Fairy, was subsequently included in the Shoestring Press anthology, Poems for Jeremy Corbyn, and ended up getting quoted in the Evening Standard. He’s read and performed his poetry at many events in London and beyond -including Celine’s Salon, The Quiet Compere, Birkbeck Writer’s Room and Newham Word Festival – and has been featured on East London Radio, Wandsworth Radio and TV’s London Live.

About the Press

FLY ON THE WALL is a social enterprise company and a not for profit publisher, based in Manchester. They publish high quality anthologies on pressing issues, chapbooks and poetry products, from exceptional poets around the globe, with socially conscious themes.

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