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Still Lives with Apocalypse, Jennifer A. McGowan

Prolebooks, 2020     £5.50

Hearing heavenly voices on earth

Jennifer A. McGowan’s dark wry humour shakes up her reader’s received knowledge of Jesus. She places him in known places on Earth — Central Park, Washington DC, Notre-Dame, Dorchester, Constantinople — and adds surreal elements.

Every poem is a film shot, a study in visual adroitness. Irreverence persists.

In the first poem, ‘Getting Wacked With Jesus ’round the back of Wawa’, the narrator encounters the Son of God, smoking weed ‘in thin pages of thick books’. Together, they think about their mothers, and Mary’s presence at the crucifixion:

how three of them can cry harmony
around your bleeding feet, lay down
the blues like smack.

The poem reflects on the wisdom of perspective and a wistful longing for the company of the prophet ‘just hanging and smoking poetry’.

In ‘Jesus Pulls Pints Down The Local During The Miners’ Strike’ we’re drawn into that volatile episode in recent British history. Jesus knows these men who bleed like him, and in empathy gives them drinks on the house. He alludes to birthdays — his being Christmas Day, perhaps it’s one they can’t afford to celebrate:

Cashing out, he pays
with leftover pieces of silver

It’s a reference to betrayal by the political elite — an eight-line poem of protest.

Buddha and Jesus meet in the final poem of ‘Part One’: ‘Buddha Meets Jesus Around Midsummer To Do Some Catching Up’. They play cards, share wine, don’t say much. ‘They have been leaned on too long’. This is a mindful moving piece. The women in their lives are put to the side as they sit with:

a sudden thieving of the sun;
a bo tree, leaves infinite as the sun

‘Part Two’, entitled ‘Mud Angels’, is a group of musings on religion, belief, the Devil and redemption. It’s a powerful commentary on human behaviour and the spiritual. I found the poems hypnotic and sensual.

Maggie Mackay