Book Review: Muscle and Mouth by Louise Finnigan


Muscle and Mouth by Louise Finnigan is an absolute gem of a story. In this small book put together for Fly on the Wall Press ‘shorts’ series, we are treated to the kind of tight, rich storytelling that made me fall in love with literature in the first place.

What does it mean to be who you are? What does it mean to attempt to leave your home and ‘escape’ difficult circumstances? How much of ourselves would we lose on that journey?

Jade’s story continues to ask me these questions. She’s already doing the heavy lifting, by doing the living. It’s up to me to answer them for myself.

Far From the Privileged Crowd

“There are a few lines about personal circumstances on my statement, but I can’t be too reliant on that. I must prove myself. I must write until my shoulder muscles ache with all-night essays.”

-Muscle and Mouth, Louise Finnigan

This is our first introduction to the main character, Jade, where immediately we understand the road for her is not going to be (has not been) easy. Every bit of energy she’s putting out is meant to show she is somehow worth the opportunity of continued education. She’s done all the right things, pulled all the right grades. But, even that may not be enough. And why isn’t it?

Unlike some of the other students she’ll potentially brush shoulders with, she hasn’t come from a place where the assumptions always turn to things working out. What I love about Finnigan’s characterisation of Jade is that even though it would be easy for this character to appear weak or fragile by her difficult path, she isn’t. There are no complaints or moaning about how hard her life is and the obstacles in her way. She’s just getting on with it, which makes me feel less like giving her a hug and a cuppa and more like cheering her on from the sidelines. She’s going to make it somehow, or Finnigan and I are going to have a problem.

I’ve made this emotional investment by the end of the first page. And to be fair, since it’s a short story, the author doesn’t have much time to grab me. Finnigan snares me before I even realise I’m in the trap. I’m turning pages and the book I meant to put down so I could have some lunch has now become my lunch. I’m devouring it.

The Rough Life

“The path to Durham is all hard edges and humourless demands.”

-Muscle and Mouth, Louise Finnigan

It’s not until about midway through the story, that I find myself scrambling back to the first page to find this quote. Finnigan so quietly set this seed in the ground that I didn’t even realise what I’d read until later.

This story centers on Jade’s assignment, something she needs to score well on to further her education and get herself out of her current circumstances. For the assignment she is to record people speaking and write an essay about it. The conversation she records is centred around three men in their 20’s living in a housing estate in one of Manchester’s most deprived areas.

It’s the hard edges from that first page that haunt me as I read the conversation. Written as a sort of script between the three men, it jumps off the page and propels the pacing of the story forward at a breakneck speed. The men are talking over each other, interrupting, posturing and in some cases competing for attention.

Their mouths become the muscles chiseled by years of verbal and physical jockeying just to survive. As I read it occurs to me that the hard edges of the road to someplace ostensibly better (Durham) are just a continuation of roughness for Jade, but one with a potentially better payoff in the end. It’s going to be difficult no matter what, she’s just trying to choose the consequences she’d rather deal with and I don’t blame her.

Who Are We?

“Mrs Muldowney will get her essay and I will get into Durham. But I will lose this place and its sounds too. They will become alien to me. The muscle and mouth of them.”

-Muscle and Mouth, Louise Finnigan

What makes us who we are? The more I come to understand myself, the more I understand that “I” is really just a concept. I am just a combination of causes and conditions that come together to make the ‘me’ that I see, which is even different from what you experience when encountering me.

Yet, there’s no denying that language and culture play a big role in that condition of self. When I go back to visit family, if I’m there for a while I start to pull in this sort of southern twang that seems to be embedded in me from the place I grew up.  And that sound, the language we used sits on the edge of the vast landscape of my life. I can look back and see it, but it’s no longer really part of who I am now.

As the language changes, so do we. I think it’s impossible not to and the thing Finnigan really makes me ponder is, how much of our old selves do we lose as our circumstances and conditions change? This is just one of the reasons Jade’s story will stick with me.

In Conclusion

The muscle of the mouth of this story is book ended by conversations between Jade and Mrs Muldowney that serve as a reminder of how much distance can lie between humans in the same room. I felt like I was watching a short film as the recorded conversation unfolds and the encounter at the peak of the story was as shocking as it is revealing about the characters and the life they must survive. I’ve chosen not to discuss that in detail here for one reason only:


I’m not from Manchester and I’m still learning about this country as an expat. However, writers like Louise Finnigan bring to light important issues and expose those things that most people would much rather smooth over. The thing is, there are so many places in the world similar to the world Finnigan describes. There are so many people desperately fighting to come to better circumstances and opportunities.

Why should it be a fight? Does it have to be?

As long as we care more about capitalism than compassion and use money and power to oppress and exploit the vulnerable, there will always be a fight to survive. This story should be required reading in our schools. But more than a story meant to be read, it feels like an invitation for change.

Muscle and Mouth, by Louise Finnigan is available to purchase now from Fly on the Wall Press.

About the Author

LOUISE FINNIGAN lives and write in Manchester. Her work has been longlisted for The Mairtin Crawford Award and shortlisted for The Cambridge Short Story Prize. Last year, she was a finalist in The Manchester Fiction Prize. Her work has appeared, and is due to appear, in various anthologies and she has been published online with Storgy. Louise is interested in writing from the perspectives of working-class teenagers who are negotiating their identity in a world which requires them to change themselves if they are to ‘escape’. Her stores are set on council estates, in high-rise flats and failing schools and aim to present the complexity of situations which might be easily dismissed as non-literary. All settings are Mancunian or linked to the city in some way, and all characters are drawn with love.

About the Press

FLY ON THE WALL PRESS 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.



Book Review: Odd As F*ck by Anne Walsh Donnelly


Anne Walsh Donnelly’s debut collection, Odd As F*ck is a fearless triumph of poetic voice. These accomplished poems harness the gamut of emotions that make up a life. Each stanza plumbs depth of feeling with a sincerity that resonates, but also moves on to remind us of the impermanence of it all. Life is full of unexpected moments, trials and exultation, so too is this incredible collection of poems.

To Lean In

I didn’t rage, rationalise,
ignore or trivialise.
I just sat on the bath’s lip
and cried, knowing
I would not be swept away.

I Sat With Grief, Anne Walsh Donnelly, Odd As F*ck

In a world where life is curated via social media and we are assaulted with the toxicity of “Good Vibes Only”, it is refreshing to read such an open response to the emotion of grief. For me the brilliance in this poem is in the perspective. I can read it a few ways and either way, it still maintains the power of resonance. Donnelly opens by telling us: She came after the children/were fed and put to bed. This ‘she’ is so palpably real that I can actually imagine that someone is there with our narrator, being that shoulder to cry on or that person we can always lean into. But sometimes that doesn’t happen, for whatever reason. Being alone forces us to avoid ourselves and emotions or meet them head on. There’s rarely too much foggy in between time.

So reading closer, the ‘she’ could be grief. That’s the most obvious answer, I mean the clue is in the title. The most interesting part about the title is that it seems very passive, sitting with grief- but there’s nothing passive about this poetry, at all. In fact, grief is a gentle caretaker in these stanzas. Grief is doing all the things we’d like to do for self care but can’t be bothered with when the emotion is overwhelming. The juxtaposition about grief as a giver, when I’ve often viewed grief as a taker (taking loved ones, opportunities, hope, etc) is akin to a great reveal I never knew could exist. This is the kind of poetry that seeps into my bones, with details that pull me into the language and offer me something new.

The Things We Say (To Ourselves)

I lick seeds from passion fruit for breakfast.
It’s a bowl of porridge you should be eating.

I flick through the latest copy of Diva magazine.
Since when did you stop reading Good Housekeeping?

I write a poem about having sex at sixty.
You should be knitting scarfs for grandchildren.

Talk To Me Like Lovers Do, Anne Walsh Donnelly, Odd As F*ck

This conversation between narrator and the inner ‘self’ is so familiar to me. Oh, I have different specific conversations, but they often sound along the same chime. I love how even as we continue down the poem with the first line being our narrator and the second being that inner critic, the narrator just keeps pushing on. Every line of that dialogue punches with action: I slip/I clasp/I gaze/I button/I pull/I squeeze/I spike/I lick/I flick/I write. Our narrator is getting on with the things she wants to do in the way that she wants to do them and I find that empowering.

Sometimes it can feel impossible to stop that voice that tells us we are ridiculous/too old/not good enough, but this poem shows it IS possible to continue moving on and living the life we want to live. I had to go back to the title and really think about relationships. Over a course of the relationship we change, people are changing constantly. Sometimes these are in small ways and sometimes its much more fundamental. But all of our changes add up and we can grow closer through them or push apart. I think this can be true for our inner self, as well. I have a graveyard of self critics that started out by encouraging me and telling me I could do anything. We grew apart- like lovers do.

As I was reading this, I thought about the courage of the narrator. And I will admit, I was cheering her on. I think it would have been interesting to end the poem with the line from the narrator and not from the critic- but that’s a poet’s choice and it’s powerful either way.

This, Again

‘I’m sorry but I can’t catch every nightmare you have.’

‘Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do,’ I muttered,
hunting for a clean pair of knickers.

‘You had me working overtime last night,’ she said.
‘I’m not Wonder Woman.’

Dreamcatcher, Anne Walsh Donnelly, Odd As F*ck

Section VII of this collection, titled “Voices”, is absolutely my favourite part of the book. I devoured each poem and then went and read them again. Donnelly has a gift for telling me a story that makes me laugh and then pulls me up short with unexpected depth. Healing is not a linear process, no matter how much we’d like it to be. I feel like my survival and recovery from trauma is something akin to a spirograph that runs all over the page of my life. Sometimes I end up overlapping into old territory and I throw my hands up thinking, “This? Again?”.

This poem is funny and it squeezes my heart at the same time, because I feel the truth of experience in it. We can do all of the right things. For me, that was going to therapy and doing the hard work. It was engaging in mindfulness, meditation and treating my body better. It was having all kinds of tools in my mental toolbox to leverage when I needed them. But, I’ll be honest. I was kind of hoping I’d never need them. And so when something shows up that triggers my CPTSD, I tend to wonder why, when I’ve done all the things!

So yeah, I want to shake my fist at our narrator’s dreamcatcher for falling asleep on the job. But, I also get where the dreamcatcher is coming from here too. And that’s what makes me smile, because in the end the conversation with the dreamcatcher does help our narrator in determining a ‘duvet day’ is in order. Sometimes the tools we have work in unexpected ways.


In Conclusion

This debut poetry collection is stunning in its depth, breadth and humour surrounding the human experience. Anne Walsh Donnelly is easily a favourite poet of mine and this work just cements that opinion. She has the courage to say and show things as they are, instead of how we wish them to be. The truth is, we’re all Odd As F*ck. Donnelly knows that and isn’t afraid to say it.

Odd As F*ck, by Anne Walsh Donnelly, is available for purchase through Fly on The Wall Press.

About the Author

ANNE WALSH DONNELLY writes poetry, prose and plays. She is a single mother of two teenagers. Originally from Carlow in the south-east of Ireland, she now lives in Mayo in the west of Ireland.

Anne says, “I experiment, take risks, run wild on the page, always hoping my work will resonate with the reader. I write my emotional truth and bring my whole-self to my writing.”

She has been described by the Irish poet, Kevin Higgins as “a poet of exceptional bravery, a pretty sensational original voice. I hope the poetry world doesn’t tame her, though no doubt it will try.”

About the Press

FLY ON THE WALL PRESS 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.

Book Review: Feverfew by Anna Saunders


Feverfew by Anna Saunders is a heady operatic plunge rooted in the complexities of humanity and nature. Set to a score of rich lyricism and language that knows when to crescendo and when to whisper, these verses echo long after the last note has ended, leaving the reader both singed and refreshed.

We Are Nature

Surely these white stars will heal?

Their heady scent fills my rooms, like an animal
moulting musky fur.

I dreamt I pushed my petals into your mouth
to soothe your throbbing head.

My realms are sky, the moon is mine.

Feverfew, Anna Saunders, Feverfew

This poem is a perfect example of how Saunders stitches together what we often separate into categories. Many times I have said myself that I am going out ‘into’ nature. It has taken me years to understand that I am also nature, that there is no going out into it. We are a complex organisation of organisms that are meant to co-exist and work together for survival. Just as the smallest sapling struggling in a network of trees sends signals to its elders for assistance, here we see the same thirst for help through the mystery of dreams, calling out to natural counterparts and asking for assistance, begging for healing.

In these lines we are not merely observers, but are thrust into all of the senses and aligned with the mysteries of things we cannot see but only smell or touch or feel. Feverfew is given an active presence as it pushes and soothes with a healing that not only goes to its typical medicinal remedy, but cracks open the sky and embraces reflected light in an attempt to reach the source of pain.


Abduction Allegory

I laid out every flower from which he could feed,
gave him ripe fruit so he guzzled and swooned

but when he flew towards the window and battered
against the glass I pulled down the blinds.

I couldn’t blame him for wanting the wild flower meadows,
beauty draws its double

but I wanted him
with his mirrored wings, to reflect back only me.

I Stole a Butterfly, Anna Saunders, Feverfew


The mantras of a toddler are simple: I wanted it, therefore it is mine. What is this base human need to posses? Is it instinct baked into our existence, or is it something we learn from the first pull of oxygen we claim at birth? As I read this poem I traveled down two roads.

The first was this crime against nature and the beautiful wildness of a butterfly, possessed into death. Trees give us oxygen and in return we chop them down and chip them into pressed wood for flat pack disposable lives. They become showroom worthy and part of a curated feed fashioned as a bespoke life. But then we are astonished by the lack of trees, by climate change, by all of the damage we just didn’t know we were capable of in this world. Distill this into a butterfly, captured and worn as a ‘plumy’ brooch, described here by Saunders and we have a stark, small example of how human craving can cause immense and irreversible suffering when left unchecked.

My second meandering was into my own experience of being possessed by an abuser. At first, I too, was fed enough ripe fruit to guzzle and swoon. Then the blinds were pulled and I was isolated, plunged in darkness and cut off from beauty. Pushed into a world where I was sure to die, but unlike this butterfly, I found a crack in a window. The craving my abuser had to possess, to control what he once saw as a prize for his collection quickly lost its shine as I beat my battered wings and lost the lustre of life.

Again, I ask. This craving, this need to possess and the refusal to think about the consequences beyond a human desire- where does this come from? How do we begin to grow compassion that overtakes craving? The brilliance of these poems is that they cease to become simply words on a page, but instead leave allegories, connections and questions for us to ponder.

In Conclusion

I’ve only chosen a couple of poems to highlight from this collection, but there were so many others that are worthy of discussion. Feverfew, by Anna Saunders is lush with rich description, precise word choices and phrasing that sings off the page. The range of emotion is vast, so much like nature– so much like our human experience.

Feverfew, by Anna Saunders, is available for purchase now from Indigo Dreams.

About the Author

ANNA SAUNDERS is the author of ‘Communion’, ‘Struck’, ‘Kissing the She Bear’, ‘Burne Jones and the Fox’ and ‘Ghosting for Beginners.’

 She has had poems published in numerous journals and anthologies.

 Anna holds a Masters in Creative and Critical Writing from The University of Gloucestershire and is the CEO and founder of Cheltenham Poetry Festival.

About the Press

INDIGO DREAMS is based in Devon in the beautiful southwest of England, surrounded by Cookworthy Forest and about half an hour from the North Cornwall coast and Dartmoor. We publish around 50 poetry books a year, pamphlets and full collections, as well as three poetry magazines: Reach Poetry, The Dawntreader and Sarasvati. We have given first publication to many poets we feel deserve a wider audience and combined that with publications by experienced poets.

We also run the annual Geoff Stevens Memorial Poetry Prize to keep the name of that great poet and publisher fresh and to publish two poets each year in his honour. You will see this and other competitions in the menu.

 Indigo Dreams is active on Facebook and Twitter and also issue a monthly newsletter, Indigo News. You can follow us on social media and join our mailing list from the links at the Footer of most pages.

 Our main purpose is to promote poetry and publish books that we hope will prove to be popular with you, the readers. We take great pride in our production values and have an excellent working relationship with our authors. While being professional, we believe that ‘pleasure not pressure’ should be our work ethic.

Book Review: Medusa’s Daughter by Jane Rosenberg LaForge


Medusa’s Daughter, by Jane Rosenberg LaForge, is a shedding of poetic skin where the mythical gives way to modern and seeds a new narrative. These poems are filled with treasures of syntactical prowess that leave us with a sense of wonder and awe.

We All Have Our Snakes

There were no snakes
in her hair,
only voices,
a wreath of harpies
and reptiles, the kind
that make a life
in the suburbs;

Mommy Medusa, Jane Rosenberg LaForge, Medusa’s Daughter

There’s no escaping the sibilant quality of these carefully constructed lines and they’re a fine example of the carefully crafted poems throughout LaForge’s collection. Each line wraps around to each other without benefit of stanza breaks in this poem as it slithers its way to the end.

I’ve often thought about Medusa’s story. I’ve thought about what the traditional narrative tells us, about the relationship of women to each other in myth and of the twisting of story to suit an agenda. However, I never considered the sound of those snakes.

Can you even imagine?

The flick of tongue and hiss and constant movement would not be something I could imagine coping with. And yet, we all have our snakes. I never could play what I called the ‘girl game’ growing up. I wasn’t a gossip, hissing secrets into ears and tittering at the misfortunes of others. More likely, I was one that people chose to ‘hiss’ about.  But my snakes now are different. They’re the trauma memories that have invaded my amygdala until it is swollen in size and ever vigilant, constantly on the lookout to protect me and remind me of the bad things that happen when we are not careful. LaForge reminds us that the things that seek to protect us can often cause harm and isolate us inside of our own minds.

It Hurts to Be Pretty

I thought my skin would explode
from a bee sting; a mosquito bite
guaranteed misery and swollenness.
I needed these assaults so I could be
doomed and beautiful like the pretty
girls were,

Nostalgia, Jane Rosenberg LaForge, Medusa’s Daughter

I don’t believe that hindsight is ever 20/20. Mostly this is because the glasses of nostalgia confuse memories as we look back. It’s so easy to look in soft focus and forget all of the sharp edges when they are too painful. In this poem, as in so many others in this collection I’m reminded that story is told and remembered through a personal lens. Which means that everyone’s story is unique, even when we remember similar events.

In the lines above, I see myself as a young girl and I shake my head. But, these weren’t silly girl notions that I came up with on my own and I’d wager it is similar for the narrator in this poem. Culture and social morals are the fields where we are planted. Nurture is not always nurturing when those tending the fields send us toxic messaging. The toxicity is not always intended. I know that in my life, well meaning women have lauded the idea that a damsel in distress is simply natural and that the hero coming to save her is worth every bit of suffering.

And then there are the overt toxic attitudes of politics and religion that seek to keep women fragile and in need of men to save them. This ignores that often, it is the very same people who are the perpetrators of distress. Those in positions of power and privilege tell the story and this story has been told for so long that it has become fact. LaForge reminds us that story is complicated and that new narratives are essential in moving forward.

In Conclusion

There is power in story. More importantly, there is power in telling our stories. Medusa’s Daughter, by Jane Rosenberg LaForge, is an example of how myth from the past echoes and haunts our contemporary stories and personal histories. The truth is, we understand the world through our own narrative. When it is unchallenged or when we close our ears to the narratives of others, we risk losing a perspective that can help us engage in compassion and understanding. These are the things that connect us and help us to evolve socially.

Every poem in this collection is filled with language that examines some of the deepest and disturbing parts of the human experience. LaForge is unflinching in her truth telling through these masterfully crafted poems.

Medusa’s Daughter, by Jane Rosenberg LaForge, is available for purchase through Animal Heart Press.


About the Author

JANE ROSENBERG LAFORGE’S poetry, fiction, critical and personal essays have appeared in numerous publications, including Poetry Quarterly, Wilderness House Literary Review, Ottawa Arts Review, Boston Literary Magazine, THRUSH, Ne’er-Do-Well Literary Magazine, and The Western Journal of Black Studies. Her memoir-fantasy, An Unsuitable Princess, is available from Jaded Ibis Press. Her full-length collection of poetry, With Apologies to Mick Jagger, Other Gods, and All Women  was published in fall 2012 by The Aldrich Press. She is also the author of the chapbooks After Voices, published by Burning River of Cleveland in 2009, and Half-Life, from Big Table Publishing of Boston in 2010. She lives in New York City with her husband and daughter.

About the Press

ANIMAL HEART PRESS is a small poetry press based in Vermont, USA. Fiercely feminist, their mission is to provide an author-centered, caring and supportive publishing experience. In addition to the Animal Heart Press imprint, the team produces a poetry and art literary journal, FERAL. In 2020 they opened submissions to Femme Salvé Books, with the aim of rescuing poetry manuscripts where other presses are no longer in a position to proceed with publication. Find out more at


Book Review: To Fall Fable by Alice Wickenden


Content warning: This review contains discussion and mention of sensitive topics such as domestic and sexual violence and may be triggering to some readers.


To Fall Fable, by Alice Wickenden, reminds us that those with the power to tell stories can shape enduring legacies. In this pamphlet of poetry, Wickenden re-imagines the story of Adam and Eve in a way we’ve never heard it. These accomplished poems cover a wide range of themes and seek to put into language the emotions that sometimes defy description. In breaking down and remaking one of the world’s oldest stories, she challenges gender roles, ideas of consent and sends us into the universe of ‘what if‘.

What if everything we think we know is wrong? How would power and intrinsic personal value shift?

A Godly Proposal

Not we, God said, only you. Won’t it be lonely? she asked. It’s Paradise, God said. Leave your sisters behind.

Parable (I), Alice Wickenden, To Fall Fable

The second poem in this book is part of a series of three parables scattered throughout the pamphlet. Told in intervals, it unfolds an alternate story of the creation of Eve. In the first parable Eve talks about how she began as one of Adams ribs and the other ribs formed her sisterhood. These sisters were perfectly happy to reside where they were until one day God made a proposal. One of them would become a full human companion for Adam.

Eve is hesitant, after all she was living a fine and full life before this. But God is insistent; Eve capitulates.

One of the most fascinating pieces of this is the idea of agency. In my exposure to religion, I’ve often been presented with a God that had sure and capable hands. He conjured up an entire world without hesitation or negotiation. Wickenden asks me to think about the idea that maybe it wasn’t so self-directed. It also brings up the idea of responsibility associated with most major decision making.

In the original story, it is Eve who is credited with the expulsion of the first two humans from Eden. God promised her a paradise. In the parable above there’s no mention of the rules that would come once she was created. The sales pitch was tempting enough and it was taken on good faith that a Paradise would be delivered.

I can’t help but think of the parallels of some of my own experience in relationships. In the beginning there are promises and proposals of love; everyone is on their best behaviour. Over time, in good relationships these stay steady and although we uncover petty annoyances, they aren’t enough to break a bond. But at other times, the change is far more sinister. The “paradise” we thought we were being led into becomes a cage. The person we thought would act in good faith, as we have, turns into an oppressor.

Pain becomes a punishment we deserve.

The difference with the story of Original Sin, as it is told in most Christian religions– is that no one questions why Eve ‘didn’t just leave’. As I navigate my own trauma recovery and make this connection it leaves me stunned to think of how long a large portion of humanity has cemented moral codes based on toxic themes. Is it any wonder we engage in misogynistic victim blaming when we begin with a story like this?

Wickenden’s retelling is unflinching and raw. It sweeps the legs from an old story in one swift and damning stroke.

Did You Fall– Or Were You Pushed?

abuse repeats itself like a crown of thorns:
we fall into it again and again.

Crown of Sonnets (I)– Alice Wickenden, To Fall Fable

Perhaps the most stunning and powerful work of this poet is the Crown of Sonnets. Wickenden’s ability to marry form to subject matter in a way that creates and ‘aha!’ moment for the reader is unparalleled.

As I sort through my trauma, I often wander back to ‘where it went wrong’. There must have been one decision or turning point that led to the downfall of everything else. These sonnets remind me of that kind of logic. Each sonnet carries the thread from the last, connecting the human experience until it comes full circle. Over ten years of abuse felt like being stuck in a patch of thorns that I could not see a way to exit, as over and over again I experienced pain and doubt that there was much existence beyond surviving.

…everyone watching thinks it was
inevitable. they discuss over wine and
posh supermarket crisps: this is what
I would have done.

Crown of Sonnets (I), Alice Wickenden, To Fall Fable

The truth of it is, no one knows what they ‘would have done’ and speculating about that comes from a position of privilege. I think of how often language hinders us from expressing compassion. In fact, sometimes language can encourage harsh judgments just by virtue of its arrangement. Consider for example the construction of sentences such as: “She fell victim to../He fell prey to.. “. Just by virtue of the construction the subject engages in an active verb that somehow implies a responsibility for their situation.

Survivors of domestic and sexual violence, myself included, continue to battle against the idea that somehow we could have stopped the violence- as if we are responsible for such things. We are also subjected to the armchair quarterbacks, sitting in relative ease and calm, who would strategise for us the clear path to victory. These strategies are created without the clanging bell of the amygdala raising a survival alarm and without the cloud of cortisol streaming through the body and brain.

Comments like these are simply more thorns in the crown of abuse that we’ve tried so desperately to extricate from our lives. Truth be told, there are plenty of times that I’ve damned myself for the responsibilities I should have placed squarely on my abuser. Survivors are familiar with regret, we are familiar with feeling like things are our fault; we’ve already learned those lessons from our abusers.

In the last sonnet Wickenden drives home the point about language by writing: “the way language folds in on itself. everything collapses.” The language we use reveals us to one another and has a profound effect on our ability to demonstrate compassion and work toward healing.

In Conclusion

To Fall Fable is full of bravery in the retelling of an ancient story. The poetry is accomplished and not over wrought, as would be so easily done with triggering topics such as domestic and sexual violence. As a survivor, I appreciate authors like Wickenden who tackle these difficult subjects and seek to shed a new light on our thinking of not only the trauma itself, but the aftermath. I also appreciate publishers like Variant Literature, who give platforms to such voices and allow those who have been long silenced, to speak. I highly recommend this book, especially to those who are not survivors. Perhaps it will offer some much needed perspective.

To Fall Fable, by Alice Wickenden is available for purchase at Variant Literature.


About the Author

ALICE WICKENDEN is finishing her PhD on Renaissance books in London. She has poems in Anthropocene and Cypress and reviews in the Brixton Review of Books, the TLS and Totally Dublin. In her spare time she volunteers for Abortion Support Network, and reads to her cat.

About the Publisher

VARIANT LITERATURE seeks to support authors by providing a space for personal and professional development. Through collaboration, quarterly journal publication, traditional chapbook & novella publication, and contests that may help the independent author get noticed, we’re here to help you with your literary goals. We are working with our local community on bridging the gap between the millions of authors that go unpublished. We are a proud partner of the North Carolina Writers’ Network.


Book Review: Fly on the Wall Press Magazine, Issue 8: “Alien”

Fly on the Wall Press has published Issue 8 of their fantastic in-house magazine, with the theme of “Alien”, just in time to add some adventure to the grey days of winter. This edition is full of everything from little green men to dreamers wandering in alien landscapes. There is so much variety in the careful curation of this issue, that it would be hard not to find something that speaks to each reader. The real question is, did PR wizard and EIC Isabelle Kenyon stage the worldwide sightings of monoliths in a brilliant stroke of marketing genius, or did the words of these writers conjure them for us to marvel at in wonder?

Somewhere Out There

Is it from the velvet
resonance of whale song
or the dark timbre of wolves
howling vibrato to other selves?

Nocturne, Jean Gillespie, Alien: Issue 8

When the last syllable of Jean Gillespie’s Nocturne drops, it leaves a humming reverberation in the brain. Often in science fiction, I’ve read about humans searching for extraterrestrial life. I’ve been fascinated by space travel, exploration and the potential for alien lifeforms since I was a child. I peered eagerly through telescopes, built precise models of space shuttles and saved my money for a trip to space camp in Alabama. I looked to the sky and thought about what was out there in the vast darkness.

Gillespie asks me to consider that ‘we’ are out there. The poem tucks in a tidbit, that we can listen to the Earth’s ‘song’. All planets have a sound or frequency. In the second verse we are told that you can hear these sounds via the NASA website. And you better believe I was in Google immediately to find out if this was true. I was directed to a page of all kinds of audio wonder with something called “Spooky Space Sounds” from NASA.

Somewhere, out there maybe there was a young girl in another galaxy wondering what was in the vast darkness. Maybe that something is me or you. One thing I know for certain is that this poem provides perspective and shrinks us into what quickly becomes a very small portion of existence.

I’ll never forget the line in one of my favourite movies about extra terrestrial research, Contact: “They should have sent a poet.” This was the character’s (Ellie) response to being confronted with the beauty of another life form and world. Isabelle Kenyon has sent the poets and we are better of for it!

My Guardian Alien

I’ve heard humans talk about guardian angels a lot. Mystical beings that follow you and protect you. They don’t exist of course, I would have seen evidence of it. But what was to stop me from being yours?

Single Green Alien, Cheryl Byrne, Alien: Issue 8

Mixed in with fabulous poetry are short pieces of fiction like this gem from Byrne. I often wonder what it would be like to have someone watching over me. This person would shepherd me through dark passages of life, gently nudge me toward better decisions and maybe even grant me better parking at Marks and Spencer on rainy days. But, I always think of this spectral person or guardian angel as ‘person like’.

What if it were an alien? Byrne proposes this in such a casual way that I’m inclined to think, sure that might work. After all, they might have superior technology at their disposal. This could be more helpful than wings, I suppose.

In this story we are treated to things from the guardian alien’s viewpoint. Even an alien seems to have limitations or a set of rules they are meant to be following. But this single green alien has gone rogue and developed a curiosity and compassion for the woman they watch over. The author does a fantastic job of slipping me right into that alien’s skin and feeling the frustration at events witnessed and decisions that I hope I would never make (spoiler alert: I have made almost all of these blunders in some approximation). The brilliance in this story is how it turns and I won’t tell you how it ends because it’s better uncovered as you read. I will tell you that the thought of it sent chills down my spine and what appears to be a casual story has a deeper meaning with far-reaching implications. Freedom, individual agency and protection all feature in this story.

In Conclusion

In order to be absolutely transparent, I must divulge that a review of my book “Confess: The Untold Story of Dorothy Good” was included in the review section of this issue. Benjamin Francis Cassidy took a deep dive into my most recent poetry collection. His review is thought provoking and insightful. As an author I know how difficult it is to get people to review books and I appreciate being included in this issue!

Fly on The Wall Press has created a magazine full of interesting and creative content. It is professionally produced in a simple, elegant format that won’t break the bank (£6.99!). What I also love about this press is that they seek to support their authors where they can financially. Not all presses are able to do this, but when I find a small press that can I’m impressed. Buying a copy of the magazine means that you’re also putting a bit of cash into the hands of authors and reviewers so they can keep doing what they do.

I highly recommend snagging a copy of Alien and keeping on the lookout for future issues!

Alien is available for purchase through Fly on The Wall Press.


About the Publisher

FLY ON THE WALL PRESS 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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