Alan Gillis was born in Belfast and lives in Scotland where he is Lecturer in English at The University of Edinburgh. His debut collection, Somebody, Somewhere, won the Rupert and Eithne Strong Award for Best First Collection in 2004, and was shortlisted for the Irish Times Poetry Now Award. His second collection Hawks and Doves was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation in 2007 and was shortlisted for the T S Eliot Prize. Here Comes the Night was published by Gallery Press in 2010, and his fourth collection, Scapegoat, was published by Gallery Press in October 2014.
‘At first I thought I would write songs and be in a band, which never happened’ writes Alan Gillis of his teenage years in The Edinburgh Review, a publication the Belfast-born writer edits. ‘Poems came later’. Across three poetry collections, Gillis’ adult self demonstrates the imaginative grip on contemporary culture that would surely have made him a notable lyricist, but he plays it out through the constraints of the sonnet not the 7 inch. ‘Open Facebook and update / all trace of yourself’ he exhorts in the opening to Here Comes the Night, posting the status of the modern moment.
Gulls crawk and cry over rooftops and sirens,
evacuated schools, outraged streets, fire engines,
while families hunch and huddle in their drives
watching TV crews, news reporters gather.
Tight-lipped plainclothed officers sip coffee
on a floral sofa. A neighbour explains:
‘When he stared at you. As if he’d cat’s eyes.’
His mother slumps alone in the kitchen.
A tap drips. Light glades her still head.
Upstairs on the landing a detective
breathes deep, pushes the ‘Do Not Enter’
sign of the bedroom door and takes it in
as if standing on the threshold of hell,
trying to make sense of a small made bed,
flat screen, consoles, notepads, posters,
so many books stacked neatly on their shelves.
Look into my eyes. You’re vicious
letters on a furious page, feverous
black ribbons and ravens, dark angels
of cloud-scowl in the sky raining down
hatchets, spanners, Stanley knives, claw hammers,
each raindrop a dropped elevator’s scream.
You’re a smoker’s lungs. You’re beaten
meat: cleavered, hung. You’re gelatinous
fat on a cold kebab. You’re porno music,
a syringe beneath the railway bridge,
a weeping condom squished on the girders
glistened like a swimming lizard’s skin.
You’re a supermarket aisle packed
with pus-leached, glooping fruit
on shelves that ooze like rancid gums.
You’re worms in the puke’s tomatoey ghee.
You’re an arse-licker’s tongue. I’m your mirror.
Look into my eyes and love me.
You’re the desert. You’re the rizarred
skin and river blindness of the dying,
so you are, the rape of the foreign policies
of the west. I’m your diminishing bent
towards remembrance and kindness.
Look into my eyes and love me.
You’re gonorrhoea. You’re the beating time-
bomb behind the breast. I’m the dissolution
of all you hoped to be, and you hoped to be
the best, so you did. You’re eco-scuzz.
You’re all but excuses: ‘Because… Because…’
Look into my eyes. Behold me.
I’m your ghost, so I am. You’re the niff
of a turnip fart in a train carriage.
I’m who people think you are, but you’ll never be
me, so you’ll never. Yet when you go dead water
will drown me. Numb silence and lonely.
Reach through the glass and hold me.
It may bring music to the living
room and light,
but the electric cable lies calm across the floor
like slack rope,
like an eel adoze in waters barely living,
if eels ever doze.
Like a tentacle dangled from a dying
conch shell, having turned
the colour of the conch shell at low tide:
is hidden like a lung. And he is dying,
who trod there,
toeing the strand’s surf and suds and kicking
over speckled pebbles,
over the conch shell that lit to livid yellow
and sudden blue
rings that leapt and bit and left him kicking
his bucket in the sand.
And your skin was pale, but brightly,
like the living
room lit by that cable abuzz with the venom
of its voltage,
and your neck was tethered nightly
by the stark rope
of my self-regard, as I lay back to sing
Take That songs
until your tongue unlipped electric
and I crackled
in your milted eyes’ yellow-blue rings
in the dark.