Self-Portrait at Primary School

I was so obliging I let the weirdest, smelliest kid pick on me
because I thought it might make him feel better.
He smelled like an opened can. They called him the weirdo.

Instead of the red sweatshirt with the school logo on the right breast,
he had a generic red jumper which wasn’t even the right shade of red.

I remember the grain of the wood on the prefab classroom’s base
against my scalp as he gently, then firmly, rolled my head against it.
I remember the rolling turned to knocking, a tuft of my hair in his fist.

I didn’t say: Don’t do that because that hurts me. I didn’t
want to hurt his feelings. I remember smiling quizzically at him
and he beamed back, delighted with this human doll.

The relationship continued for a week until a dinner lady
marched us both to my teacher. The Weirdo was sent for counselling
and never allowed to go near me again.

And even at the time it struck me: maybe I was the dangerous one.
by Luke Kennard

News from the Centre! This week join us at Oxford Brookes for two terrific readings. First, acclaimed conceptual poet and public artist Ira Lightman will be with us on Wednesday at lunchtime (12-1pm, Special Collections, basement of the Main Library, Headington Campus). Then Forward Prize-shortlisted poet Sarah Corbett will read from her verse novel And She Was on Friday between 2.30-3.30pm (JHB 201, John Henry Brookes Building, Headington Campus). The readings are free, and everyone is very welcome to attend! Please share the news with colleagues and friends.

‘Self-Portrait at Primary School’ is copyright © Luke Kennard, 2016. It is reprinted from Cain (Penned in the Margins, 2016) by permission of Penned in the Margins.Notes from Penned in the Margins:

Luke Kennard
 has published five collections of poetry. He won an Eric Gregory Award in 2005 and was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best Collection in 2007. He lectures at the University of Birmingham. In 2014 he was selected by the Poetry Book Society as one of the Next Generation Poets. His debut novel, The Transition, is published in 2017 by Fourth Estate. Read more about Cain on the Penned in the Margins website, and hear Luke read from his work on the Poetry Archive website.

Penned in the Margins creates publications and performances for people who are not afraid to take risks. The company believes in the power of language to challenge how we think, test new ideas and explore alternative stories. It operates across the arts, collaborating with writers, artists and creative partners using new platforms and technologies. Read more about its work on its website. You can also follow Penned in the Margins on Twitter and on Facebook.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.

Gerald Variations

Maybe you have an empty room to charter to his likeness; but you do not know this Gerald by whom I am enthralled – because he renovates my mind with his very presence like a hardback anthology of insights I dip into whenever I am bedridden by a head-cold. And unfortunately asking him about it is out of the question.

Maybe you have a missing button that fell into the bouillabaisse; but you do not know this Gerald whom I cannot stand – for the esoteric arrogance of his every utterance is like a vital ritual in an obscure and terrifying religion. And unfortunately he is not here to defend himself.

Maybe you have exaggerated the dubious moral relativism of your township’s museum; but you do not know this Gerald to whom I am indifferent – for his trespasses have come to disappoint me, like the overstated hallucinogenic properties of a harmless dried root. And unfortunately I have spent all the money intended for utility bills.

Maybe you have recorded an album with a caged seagull and two agnostic percussionists; but you do not know this Gerald whom I love – for I have known the fiscal security of his patronage like a doctor’s hand against my heart. And unfortunately he will not extend the same courtesy to you.

Maybe you have manufactured and sold a range of oblivion-flavoured sweets; but you do not know this Gerald whom I loathe – for I have felt the humiliation of his scorn like fat spitting from a frying pan or fireworks in a celebration against me. And unfortunately I was too taken aback to retaliate.

Maybe you have had sex on a bicycle without sustaining or bestowing a single injury; but you do not know this Gerald with whom I am currently eating a hot dog – because we are both hungry. And unfortunately I have dripped mustard onto his copy of The Cloud of Unknowing.

Maybe you have sought his face in cross-sections of courgette; but you do not know this Gerald to whom I am currently dealing little deaths – because I trod in dog excrement on my way back from the post office. And unfortunately I am wearing shoes with an especially deep tread.

Maybe you have skipped across the rocks and broken your leg on an abandoned rowing boat; but you do not know this Gerald to whom I feel superior – as, for all his intelligence, he has forsaken his humility and humours my ideas like a cat toying with a shrew. And unfortunately the irony of the situation is lost on me.

by Luke Kennard

From The Harbour Beyond the Movie
Shortlisted for Best Collection in the Forward Poetry Prizes 2007

Luke Kennard is an award-winning poet, critic, dramatist and research student at the University of Exeter. His first collection of prose poems The Solex Brothers was published by Stride Books. He has worked as regional editor for Succour, a bi-annual journal of poetry and short fiction and as an associated reader for The Kenyon Review. He won an Eric Gregory Award in 2005.

Web page and podcast of the poem available at Salt Publishing

Review quotes

“When was the last time you laughed out loud at a poem? If you can’t remember (and chances are you can’t), treat yourself to The Harbour Beyond the Movie. Luke Kennard considers pressing contemporary issues – from comparative economics to journalistic accountability – via a wittily didactic brand of surrealism which renders the politics palatable … Kennard’s collection proves that humour is a neglected but effective tool in the poet’s arsenal.” – Sarah Crown, The Guardian

“To read him is to be startled into remembering exactly how exciting and energetic language can be, as it forces us to face the poignant absurdity of experience and to laugh out loud or cry in equal measure. Kennard is an undoubted original, driven by a mature intelligence and a giant wit, yet guided by the wisest, self-deprecating heart. A brilliant new writer you simply must not miss.” – Andy Brown

“Luke Kennard’s The Harbour Beyond the Movie is scintillating, funny and often moving.  Reading it reminded me of how I felt when I first read Muldoon, tuning into a new frequency, the frisson of hearing a voice for the first time: so eerie and odd and delightful – you realise that is why you were searching in the first place.” – David Morley