Grenade Genie, by Thomas McColl, is a collection of 25 poems that are described as ‘brief studies of the cursed, coerced, combative and corrupted’. Divided into sections corresponding to these descriptions, each entry takes a contemporary theme and offers the author’s insights with a mixture of wit, humour and poignancy. There are standout poems and those a reader may pass over more lightly. What is captured within these pages are many of the absurdities of city living – behaviours people adhere to against their best interests yet tacitly accepting.
The collection opens with No Longer Quite So Sure – a satisfying glimpse of nature and man’s futile attempts to tame it. A coup d’œil unsettles the tired worker through whose eyes we view the streets from the bus he is travelling in on his journey to work. This reader felt cheered at the potential for natural regeneration.
Next up is The Evil Eye, the first of a number of poems exploring modern man’s attempts to find affirmation of his existence on social media. The warning being given segues into a disturbing reflection on the narrator’s history – a plea to take notice of more than self on-line.
The subjects covered in this section include: refugees, shoddy housing, the desire for wealth. It concludes with a wry look at how literary talent is measured given shrinking attention spans, and whether this matters in the wider scheme of things.
“Who knows? Maybe, by 2021,
I’ll have no choice but to fit my opus
into four lines on Instagram.
But then, when I do,
my simple, artless platitude
will inexplicably receive a million likes,
and then, released as part of a book,
will inexplicably sell a million copies”
The second section has a lighter feel although with serious subject matter. It looks at: expendable workers, interchangeable senior management, the modern addiction to shopping, dress codes and fashion.
I particularly enjoyed Jan, Jen or Jean which details a passing encounter when the narrator struggles to remember an old acquaintance’s name. The metaphor of gambling is used to good effect in this and across several of the poems.
The third section takes further swipes at consumerism before veering into the difficulty of being a pedestrian on the busy, packed streets of the city. The narrator does not appear to like cyclists any more than drivers of motor vehicles.
The Phoney War sees two boys playing war games behind a sofa. Its conclusion is devastating.
The final section explores themes such as: internet privacy, grammar and literary snobbery. It then touches on drug taking before offering two entries that I found somewhat weird – I pondered if the narrator of First Kiss was high on something.
The collection concludes with Literal Library which I very much enjoyed. The shelves in this library are divided into contemporary subjects, each commented on with wry humour.
“There’s no longer any room for books which are off message
on the LIBERALISM shelf”
The poems entertain whilst also provoking thought on a wide range of issues pertinent to a resident of a city such as London where the author lives. Readers who fear that poetry can be difficult need have no concerns about understanding and enjoying this selection. It was perfect for a time when my ability to concentrate is impaired yet still offers plenty to consider and evocations that linger.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Fly On The Wall Press.