Saturday 22 October 2022

Aidan Semmens, "The Jazz Age: An Entertainment"


Aidan Semmens has been publishing poetry in small-press magazines since the mid-1970s, apart from a gap of around sixteen years from 1985 to 2001. A former winner of the Cambridge University Chancellor’s Medal for an English Poem, and a former chair of the Cambridge Poetry Society, he published his first pamphlet in 1978, but it was not until 2011 that his first full collection, A Stone Dog, appeared from Shearsman Books. Five more volumes have followed since, most recently The Jazz Age, one of the titles chosen by Salt Publishing to relaunch its Salt Modern Poets series. After a 43-year career in journalism, mostly as a sports sub-editor and writer, he now lives in Orkney, where he continues to work online.

About The Jazz Age, by Aidan Semmens

Having previously tended to write darker, more “difficult” poetry – The Book of Isaac is a sequence of “distressed sonnets,” while Life Has Become More Cheerful is largely about the Russian Revolution, its causes and outcomes – I was encouraged to produce this lighter, funnier and more accessible book by the response I got at readings to some of the early pieces in it, which confirmed the publisher’s description of it as “laugh-out-loud funny.” It consists of a loosely structured sequence of prose vignettes, surreal fantasies in which famous figures from (mostly) the past – sometimes singly, sometimes in unlikely pairings – make incongruous, anachronistic appearances in modern settings and situations, or in episodes from times not their own.

I can’t really say how I began writing these rather whimsical pieces, but once I did it became quite compulsive. Characters, scenes and phrases would suggest themselves to me on dog walks, so a whole poem / story (The Fortnightly Review billed them as “very short fictions”) would be fully composed by the time I got home; or they would take shape as I lay awake in bed at night. The process began purely as an entertainment for myself, so I was delighted to find others seemed to be entertained too. I can’t stop now, so there’s sure to be another volume some time, should anyone want it.

You can read more about The Jazz Age on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read four sample pieces from it. 

From The Jazz Age

La vie en rose

Tiring at last of gazing out over the streets and monuments of Haussmann’s new Paris from the heights of Montmartre, Eleanor of Anjou turns on her heel and walks away. She has always loved the phrase ‘she turned on her heel,’ since encountering it long ago in the pages of some otherwise forgotten gem of children’s literature, though there, no doubt, the pronoun was strictly male. In much the same way she has always loved the crunch of feet on gravel, and been drawn to heavy black boots of the kind she now wears, ever since watching as a child the ominous opening of an early episode of Z-Cars.

The first Churchills

Idly flicking through Facebook while she waits for the bus, Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, comes across something that causes her to spit her Wrigley’s spearmint in startled fury – a close-up of the Duke in intimate nightclub clinch with her till-now friend Marie-Antoinette. By the time she gets to Woodstock her status has changed from ‘In a relationship’ to ‘It’s complicated.’

A walk in the woods

Arrested by the sudden appearance of a dark shadow among the trees, Walt Disney halts in his tracks. The thing moves just slightly towards him, then stands its ground. He can tell it is bigger than him. It may be a bear or perhaps an unfeasibly large dark mouse with perfectly spherical protruding ears. Walt holds his breath. Somewhere behind him, Pocahontas has the whole scene in the telescopic sights of her high-velocity hunting rifle. She takes careful aim, trigger-finger poised. Are the crosshairs trained on the bear or on Walt? How accurate will her shot be?

Ferdinand Magellan misses his connection at Mombasa

He cannot understand why Africa is known as the Dark Continent. It does not seem dark to him. Indeed, its days seem almost unnaturally, not to say excessively, bright. He should not have elected to wear this shirt. The sun has burned a likeness of Che Guevara into the skin of his chest.

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