Hellmouth

The weather fiercely dragonish
         with strong headwinds
the brothers’ faith a cotton thread
         their minds bobbins
 
Ahead a coastline visible
         a scene most cruel
volcanic blast that feeds on air
         and human fuel
 
A packed crowd in that fiery pit
         who writhe and gurn
then some by detonation fly
         and fleck the sun
 
Devils with forks and leather flails
         maintain these lands
breeding horse-flies and leeches fat
         as Kerry lambs
 
Brendan spies a devil on shore
         and loudly cries
Who are these tortured kindling folks?
         What are their crimes?
 
The figure hocks up phlegm and yells
         Dead-eye loan sharks
crap-wigged kleptocratic bampots
         with shilling hearts
 
These parasites made profit off
         poor citizens
their flesh is now a reddish clay
         we fire their skins
 
A vile stench envelops the Cog
         her retching crew
as terraced theatres of flame
         slow-fade from view

A.B. Jackson

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‘Hellmouth’ is © A.B. Jackson, 2021 and the accompanying image is © Kathleen Neeley, 2021. The poem and image are reprinted with permission from The Voyage of St Brendan (Bloodaxe Books, 2021). Find out more about the collection on the Bloodaxe site, where you can read further sample poems. You can also watch the launch (a joint event with Penelope Shuttle and John Challis) on the Bloodaxe YouTube channel.

Notes from Bloodaxe Books:

In The Voyage of St Brendan, A.B. Jackson tells the tale of the legendary seafaring Irish abbot. After burning a book of fantastical stories, Brendan is compelled to sail the ocean with a crew of six monks in a leather-skinned currach; his task, to prove the existence of wonders in the world and create a new book of marvels. Discoveries include Jasconius the island-whale, a troop of Arctic ghosts, a hellmouth of tortured souls, a rock-bound Judas, and the magical castle of the boar-headed Walserands.

Although the roots of this legend lie in early Irish tales and the Latin Voyage of Brendan the Abbot of the ninth century, Jackson has taken the 14th-century Middle Dutch version of Brendan’s voyage as the template for this engaging, witty and spirited interpretation, notable for its humour and inventiveness.

Find out more about the book, read further sample poems, and buy a copy on the Bloodaxe website.

The book is illustrated with a series of black and white linocuts by the American artist Kathleen Neeley. Kathleen is an artist specializing in relief printmaking and illustration. She received a B.F.A. and M.A. from the University of Oklahoma. She lives in Tulsa. Find out more about her art on her website and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

A.B. Jackson was born in Glasgow in 1965 and raised in the village of Bramhall, Cheshire. After moving to Cupar in Fife he studied English Literature at the University of Edinburgh. His first book, Fire Stations (Anvil), won the Forward Prize for Best First Collection in 2003, and a limited edition pamphlet, Apocrypha (Donut Press), was published in 2011. In 2010 he won first prize in the Edwin Morgan International Poetry Competition. His second collection, The Wilderness Party (Bloodaxe Books, 2015), was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. The Voyage of St Brendan was published by Bloodaxe Books in 2021. After a number of years in Yorkshire he now lives in Pitlochry.

You can read more about A. B. Jackson’s work on his website and follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Bloodaxe Books was founded in Newcastle by Neil Astley in 1978 and has revolutionised poetry publishing in Britain over four decades. Internationally renowned for quality in literature and excellence in book design, our authors and books have won virtually every major literary award given to poetry, from the T.S. Eliot Prize and Pulitzer to the Nobel Prize. And books like the Staying Alive series have broken new ground by opening up contemporary poetry to many thousands of new readers. Find out more about Bloodaxe on the publisher’s website and follow the press on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Copyright information: please note that the copyrights of all the poems displayed on the website and sent out on the mailing list are held by the respective authors, translators or estates, and no work should be reproduced without first gaining permission from the individual publishers

[Nineteen Sixty-Five] 1965

The egg ferments, the one cell splits in two:
again, four: again, eight: sixteen: thirty-two.
Droplets of fat, like miniature dabs of butter,
nourish and sustain. Welcome, morula,
little mulberry… free-falling, spineless,
until, upon the uterine surface,

touchdown. Transparent, semi-opaque, solid,
the heart comes to fruition, big as a head.
Welcome, tiddler, mild water-scorpion.
Gills disappear, cartilage becomes bone.

Full term: seismic waves, electrical storms,
the twelve-hour haul of not being born,
between two worlds – induced. I make it late,
this bloody, headlong drop towards the light.

by A.B. Jackson

‘1965’ is copyright © A.B. Jackson, 2003. It is reprinted from Fire Stations (2003) by permission of Anvil Press.

Notes from Anvil Press:

Born in Glasgow in 1965, Andrew Buchanan Jackson grew up in Bramhall, Cheshire, later receiving his secondary education in Cupar, Fife. He studied English Literature at Edinburgh University and now works in Glasgow.

One of ten poets chosen for Anvil New Poets 3 (2001), Jackson was singled out by John Greening in Poetry Review for his ‘demanding and ambitious work: direct, sharp in manner, with an intellectual edge, a valedictory quality.’ Fire Stations won Best First Collection in the 2003 Forward Poetry Prizes. Find out more about Fire Stations from the Anvil site, and more about A.B. Jackson from his website. You can read further selections from the book here. In 2011, Jackson published a pamphlet of twenty-one poems called Apocrypha.

Anvil Press, founded in 1968, is based in Greenwich, south-east London, in a building off Royal Hill that has been used at various points in its 150-year history as a dance-hall and a printing works. Anvil grew out of a poetry magazine which Peter Jay ran as a student in Oxford and retains its small company ethos. Visit Anvil’s website here, where you can sign up to their mailing list to find out about new publications and events.

Copyright information: please note that the copyrights of all the poems displayed on the website and sent out on the mailing list are held by the respective authors, translators or estates, and no work should be reproduced without first gaining permission from the individual publishers.