The Dance of a Thousand Losers: Geneviève L Walsh, Flapjack
Geneviève L Walsh is a Yorkshire-raised Londoner who began performing her work in 2012. She founded Halifax's Spoken Weird after a year on the open mic circuit, a night that came into creation “thanks to the death of Margaret Thatcher and a typo”. In 2013 she became a core member of the poetry organisation A Firm of Poets, with whom she has now gone on tour, played Latitude festival and been published twice.
Her debut solo collection covers her first five years of performing her punk-song-length poetry about love, hatred, aggressive platitudes, sexual politics, alienation and inebriation.
It is published by Flapjack Press, whose main focus is on exploring the synergy between performance and the page. They have excelled themselves again with yet another diamond debut collection. I never fail to be impressed by the sheer hard work and care taken over every single detail, from great covers, to individualised fonts, perfect grammar and punctuation, and the flow of the poems themselves. “Good enough” doesn't exist in Flapjack's vocabulary; more power to their elbow.
With a shining foreword by Henry Normal, The Dance of a Thousand Losers is divided into two main sections – Lost and Found - an idea, which is fleshed out in the introduction, that “the best bits of your life will have involved losers finding each other … the fact of the matter is, you're either lost or found”.
The cover image is darkly comic and Gothic, exactly like Geneviève herself, and her distinctive voice and accent rise from the pages to fill the air with solid northern (tarnished) gold.
The poems reveal a writer with a sharp eye and a sharper mouth for the absurd niceties of the “normal” and “acceptable”. There's a collage-like feel to many of them, like jigsaws with missing pieces, veering without warning from one voice to another, and sometimes there's uncertainty as to who is speaking to whom, or whether this is actually an internal dialogue. The intrigue has the synapses sparking, with the result that you simply have to re-read several times. And isn't that one of the beautiful aspects of poetry? That we often don't have that easy singular interpretation? That a “true” explanation is just out of reach? As much as people do want something definite to hold onto, poetry is attractive because of its ambiguity, not in spite of it.
Flick that switch
and on come the lights,
make yourself fucking lovely.
Let's hold hands my love,
and draw a picture of hate.
With a razor-sharp grin and a forceful shove,
make yourself fucking lovely.
Go on, just for me.
Crank up the smile a notch or two
and keep the flood-gates firmly shut
(‘Make Yourself Fucking Lovely’)
The notion of Loser as ultimately Winner, and neatly vice versa, is explored repeatedly in the collection, and most poignantly for me in ‘Someone To Paint Your Nails’:
We could have ripped Camden apart, you and I
downed black sambuca all day long
stayed painfully pale in the midday sun.
you had to go and put on that tie
I gaze at our blacked-out radar
you are just a blip.
The dark sea surges on without you, mate.
while you kip.
The losers are poets, observers, cynical and jaded and unpopular, with their penchant for seeing straight through the fakers and those who live in the shallow end:
Where you see moors,
I see murders.
Where you see rivers,
I see pollution.
Where you see flowers,
Colloquialisms abound – babe, mate, love, hon, on the lash, piss-poor – and these lend themselves to an easy, informal, conversational style at times. These are performance poems that are more than happy to be read from the page, and they work really well.
I've long been an admirer and proponent of sarcasm, and in disagreement with the received notion that it's the lowest form of wit. It takes a sharp mind to come up with a cutting sarcastic remark, and often as not, people 'don't get it'. For a loser, this merely confirms the status of each side:
Perhaps I should have tried to rectify the situation,
got myself a tramp stamp with piss-poor punctuation
stating loud and clear
that 'Y-O-U-R it',
In 'Rain' we see more of the dissatisfied Goth girl, bemoaning the vast array of “normal” love songs using the sunshine as metaphor:
Well, where's my fucking love song praising the rain?
Where's my catchy beat
and my anthemic synth-driven melody
accompanied by lyrics about the longevity
Why must I seek out harmony
in a climate in which I burn and can barely see,
'cause I've sat on my shitty Primark sunglasses
and lost my bottle of SPF Fifty Billion and Three?
Cultural and musical references abound in 'Dance' - The Matrix, The Crow, Slade, Leonard Cohen, Crass, Happy Mondays, The Smiths, Elton John and techno - complete with a pastiche of the Guns N' Roses song Paradise City. 'Lass Grenade' is a wonderful celebration of a young woman's struggle to be herself in a world of expectation, and indeed, this is integral to the collection, the desire to be accepted as an individual and the determination to never conform for the sake of it. This is a collection very much after my own heart.
What to say about 'Contradiction', other than it's one of my favourite poems ever, and when I first heard this performed, I did actually explode with laughter? Geneviève slowly paints a celebratory picture of a glorious femme fatale – with a special northern twist:
Does it not cause her pain
to mingle with mere mortals like us?
There's more stardom in her little finger
than my whole body, I thought,
as she turned to a small child, hunched by the door
ah told yer down t'park,
don't eat off the floor!'
The delivery of “NO, Bradley” live is hysterically funny and I'm so glad it was included in the book. Misfits and those outside the “norm” are celebrated repeatedly in 'Dance'. Written a few hours after his death, the über-misfit ghost of David Bowie is brought to bear in 'Do Something Weird', as she urges the reader
For the sake of the Thin White Duke
and every other hero lost, do not ever rest
For your sake, and his, and mine,
go out tonight
with your carcass caked in glitter
and your heart undressed.
As an homage to and celebration of losers everywhere, this collection ticks all the boxes, and if you get the chance to see Geneviève live, do so. She is currently on a book launch tour and you can check upcoming dates and buy the book on her profile page at Flapjack Press.