Sunday 21 January 2024

Simon Maddrell, "The Whole Island"

Simon Maddrell writes as a queer Manx man, thriving with HIV in Brighton & Hove. Since 2019, over a hundred of his poems have appeared in numerous publications including Acumen, Ambit, Butcher’s Dog, Poetry Wales, Propel, Stand, The Gay & Lesbian Review, The Moth, The Rialto, Under the RadarIn 2020, Simon’s debut chapbook, Throatbone, was published by UnCollected Press, and Queerfella jointly-won The Rialto Open Pamphlet Competition. In 2023, The Whole Island and Isle of Sin were both Poetry Book Society Selections. In Feb 2024, a finger in derek jarman's mouth marks 30 years after Jarman's death. Find his books and social media here.

About The Whole Island    
The Whole Island explores the poet's relationship with the Isle of Man, in poems which touch on family and folklore, history and politics, nature and wildlife, as well as their tangled connections. Through lines that charm and blaze, Simon Maddrell considers what it means to be endemic: the island navigated as a body, the body as an island. Here, the poet calls upon his cherished Isle as an allegory for the nature of his own queerness, the queerness of nature, and the threat of extinction more broadly: linguistic, cultural, physical, environmental.

Liberally scattered with Manx dialect and Manx Gaelic – a language that was pronounced extinct by UNESCO in 2009 but is now undergoing rapid revitalisation and restoration – The Whole Island constantly teeters on the fringe of its own peripheries. Here, history ‘repeats itself like a kippered burp,’ and freedom ‘is an oxymoron.’ Throughout, the images are slick, taut, and multi-sensory. We move swiftly from sea, sugar, smoke – licked rock and the sweet-lipped tip of melting ice-cream – to barbed wire, broken branches, and ingested plastic. 

Celebratory, lamenting, but also hopeful, The Whole Island ultimately resists definition, seeking, instead, to weave personal and communal narratives and examine their complex interactions through time. Meanwhile, a chorus of characters – Vikings and Puffins, fairies and drag queens – introduce us to the histories of this conflicted Isle. As the poet notes: ‘whose island is this anyway?’

You can read more about The Whole Island on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read three sample poems from the collection.

From The Whole Island, by Simon Maddrell

our language drips

in the dark   I am afraid   of meeting 
my emptiness   but I must
return   to the isle of my birth
before I become   my own extinction.
Our native   Yn Ghaelg  
was nearly silenced
from what   only it   can express. 

I nearly zipped   my own lips
in a black-bagged lack   of understanding 
that it is language   that restores our place
that speaks louder than any plinth
that   when it cries   deepens the sea.

It is near impossible   to describe the sun 
rising   but it is possible   to feel 
the language   of the sun   
setting   on darkness.    

Manannan mac y Leir

Nothing has changed. Mourning 
a ruined family, his lost humanity 
inflicting wounds on the Otherworld. 

His tears, pearls that fled the sea 
turn into that single mountain island 
where I was raised from my mother’s 

womb, gasping for life in a tent 
for seven days, seven years or seventy 
score months, I now forget. When      

I cried it was on the inside, growing 
a cardiac rock with lichen cracks 
and moss where I weep. 


He asks if I yearn for it,
if we have a word for it, like Hiraeth,

how he feels when away from his Celtic 
home, and I brush it off

like a speck of fluff, as if it’s obvious
a queer would hate being kept

in a beautifully busy cottage, tucked away
in a private bay below Milner’s Tower —  

it’s a folly, to think I want to be
where he is, to think I could 

add anything to this, like my pride 
in having scuba-dived the world over,

in the marine biology station here at Port Erin.
How it’s now closed. 

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