Special offer! Buy either of my Hedgehog Poetry Press chapbooks – The Lithium Codex or Wolf Planet (or both if you like) – from me, and you can enter any of the Hedgehog poetry competitions free. £6 each (inc. UK postage): drop me a line via my Contact page. Details of the competitions may be found here.
Oz Hardwick is a York-based writer, photographer and musician, who has been published extensively worldwide, and has read everywhere from Glastonbury Festival to New York, via countless back rooms of pubs. His chapbook Learning to Have Lost (IPSI/Recent Work, 2018) was the winning poetry collection in the 2019 Rubery International Book Awards. His latest collections are the chapbook The Lithium Codex (Hedgehog Poetry Press, 2019), and the experimental prose poetry micro-novella Wolf Planet (Hedgehog Poetry Press, 2020).
A keen collaborator with other artists, Oz has had work performed by classical musicians in UK concert halls, by flamenco musicians in Italian villas, and with experimental sound and film artists in an Australian cinema. He is one third of The Forgotten Works (with Amina Alyal and Karl Baxter), an experimental word/sound/music/light collective based between Leeds and the Dark Side of the Moon. By day he is Professor of English and Programme Leader for Postgraduate Creative Writing at Leeds Trinity University. In his spare time, Oz is a respected music journalist. ‘The poetry is as good as it gets’ – HQ
Wolf Planet (extract)
Streets here are a question of ownership, a question of right or wrong, a question mark hanging like a hot air balloon over a swollen river. I don my protective cynicism and step alone into all our stories, sifting soft accretions of coffee, shared cigarettes, and smuggled wine; stopping at phone boxes to call the only numbers I remember, listening to the speaking clock and hits from the early 70s, leaving messages on answerphones I’ll regret in the morning. I lose myself in window displays that haven’t changed for decades, with tinned meat and carnival masks fading in the tungsten glow. I find the places where there are still gas lamps and the warm shit from horse-drawn trams and drays; steam-blind pub windows where drunken sailors tick every cliché in the book. I run sticks along wrought iron railings to wake the dead, then shoulder the uncanny weight of suppressed wars as I help the bird-thin ghost of my father to his feet. A steam train whistles in the distance, a telephone rings in an abandoned police station, and the gas jet of a hot air balloon blasts overhead. I look up to see my father again, younger than I ever knew him, waving down, sharp in his summer whites, pointing to a place beyond the map’s edge. A cart rattles in a cobbled square, gathering up all the stories I’ve left behind, while I collect empty bottles for the threepenny deposits. Right or wrong, these streets are mine, and one of these nights I’ll but the whole damn town.
The window only opens a crack, but it’s enough to let the world in, with all its practiced diagnoses and passive-aggressive concern. It sits too close, asks if I’ve been looking after myself, comments on my weight loss, feigns interest. Running its fingers through the dust on the TV, it suggests housework, cooking, decluttering; recommends exercise, yoga, a beach holiday, a new career, cosmetic surgery, a fairy godmother. I’m used to its tottering concerns – precarious as Jenga on a pitching ship, swaying, ready to tip at the slip of a nervous breath – so I close the window: but the world’s still here, its head pressed cold to my lap like a dead seal, suggesting the 24-hour shopping channel; recommending a higher dose.
I’ve forgotten the rules to the card games we played, but remember how we’d sit, serious as movies, studying our awkward hands. We smoked the roots of those flowers from the river, then soothed our throats with chilled cider. It did the trick, and we shared a sleeping-bag in the damp back bedroom, listening to the sea. I sometimes think that there weren’t any rules, though there must have been, or I couldn’t have lost.
When I lifted the floorboards, I found myself
face to face with my father, younger than I am now.
His sleeves were rucked up, and he bit his tongue
in concentration as he dusted himself down
with a souvenir clothes brush from Toronto,
bought when it was a small town, when my grandfather
named his village and his children. He lay,
oil under his cracked nails, ten No. 6
and a brass lighter packed in his shirt pocket,
stretched on a crucifix of chimneysweep’s brushes.
He nodded to the shadows, where my girlfriend lay
dead, wound in a sari steeped in mothballs.
Don’t let me catch you down here, he smiled,
but we both knew I had no choice.