Epigraphs, we’re told, are risky – they have a habit of upstaging the poem that follows. But the quote from William Blake is an apt start to Peter Kenny’s Sin Cycle, a sequence of twenty-four poems recently published in Issue 29 of E.ratio, an online journal of Postmodern Poetry. There’s a Blake exhibition at Tate Britain at the moment: ‘radical and rebellious’ he’s called in the exhibition notes, and reading Sin Cycle there are moments when you feel you’re inside the madness of a Blake painting. I know Peter is also a writer of horror fiction, and it’s clear he enjoys a strong sense of the macabre.
The work bristles with energy and inventiveness. Right from the first stanza we’re jerked inside the narrator’s head:
Then He came. Grinding my bed-wetter’s face into dandelions,
wrecking their stalks, weeping their wart milk.
My skin was a surface he secured without slippage,
till His prick burst the ghost clock of my head.
We’re taken through a series of good and bad days, self-obsession and tortured thoughts. The world through this person’s eyes is full of squirming creatures, human and otherwise, destined for the slaughterhouse, the dustbin, ‘squelching late-night screenings’, or just dead, fossilised, taken, ‘yawning for air in their anxious hell.’ The narrator saves his harshest criticism for himself, who he sees behaving badly in some scenarios, and victimised in others. Catching the reflection of his face as he tortures a fish out of boredom ‘I hate myself, / loathing whatever thing is watching me.’ (‘Siamese Fighting Fish’). A game of pool is going well, and then: ‘He’s back, that version of me, / the choker who doesn’t deserve it. So I choke again’.
I found myself compelled onward through the sequence and really enjoyed the form – each poem just two stanzas of four lines each – there’s a loose narrative arc driving it and the sheer exuberance and creativity is wonderfully gripping. Not so much a romp as a yomp – there’s no missing the real anguish here, but it’s worked through with such wit and originality. Sin Cycle succeeds in being luscious, gruesome, poignant and hilarious somehow all at once. Peter happens to be a friend and I was fortunate to read versions of Sin Cycle when it was a work in progress. I was sure it would be snapped up by a UK small press, but it took a US publisher to appreciate it. But who knows, *whisper* we may yet see it in print.
You can read Sin Cycle in its entirety here, but for now here’s another taster, one of my favourites in the sequence:
En garde, I whisper, lunging onto the train,
my elbows dexterous in their micro-aggressions.
We’re all on the same line, and I re-read
the same line, until a well-Wellingtoned woman
treads on the tail of my eye. She follows a red setter
carving through cow parsley into an open field.
He sprints, I sprint, into the priceless possibility
of a place with no station and nothing to stab for.