By Jonathan Kinsman. Burning Eye Books. £9.99.
In his new pamphlet ‘Witness’ , the poet Jonathan Kinsman has taken the gospel of the New Testament and drawn inspiration from the disciples and their stories, the then fiercely reimagines them as contemporary outsiders, radicals and outcasts. There are fourteen in total, the original twelve apostles with the addition of the thirteenth, Matthias who replaced Judas, and Mary Magdalene.
Their dialogue with Jesus of Nazareth and God ranges from angry and defiant, desperate and brave, to erotic and tender. They dare to be themselves, to speak out at the world, and hereby raise themselves up to a love that is both human and divine.
Kinsman identifies as a queer Christian and in this extraordinary work, he creates a dazzling new language, part biblical text, part wow; a lyrical and searing shout- out to anyone who has felt alone, abused, different, damaged and yet so vitally alive, defiant and beautiful.
Let’s start at the beginning with an excerpt from ‘andrew’:
In galilee, some grey and dirty town
long forgotten by parliament, where the air
stinks like rotting fish, like waters going stagnant,
everyone is plotting their escape
and you are no exception. Jonah’s’ wayward kid,
hair in his face and holes in his hoody sleeves,
trailing after some pretentious fucking nickname,
hanging on his every word.
all those freaks and weirdos, you among them,
loitering on the docks, seagulls, feral cats.
You scare the neighbourhood watch doing nothing.
and baptist’s saying something’s gotta give.
Here is part of ‘mary magdalene’:
when they speak of broken things, they speak of
japanese pottery, grounded doves, hearts-
never the creak of a bedroom door,
bruises worn like pearls, everything you have
shoved in an overnight bag.
wicked woman, witch,
cursed, possessed, lain with the devil,
temptation in a too-short-skirt-
but what of wicked fathers? wicked husbands?
you were dark-eyed and drunken;
yelling your sins from the top of your lungs;
divorced and dancing
under god’s gaze. he might have played the guitar
but you, bravest among them, banged the drum.
These are poems that leap off the page, catch fire, howl and demand to be heard.
Take this from ‘matthew’.
when you meet god, he’s on the open mic
of the seediest bar in town and you’re slamming
down the pornstar martinis, politely declining
something quick and dirty in the nearest alley.
god calls you by your name, you pull up an extra stool.
you let him take a seat, turn to him and say
his song was great, but who’s he kidding
if he thinks he’s going to make it?
This from ‘jude’.
and here’s the god who hates fags brigade,
bumping against you, hoping to topple you,
hands grazed against the concrete,
bring you down, low and humble.
thad, my lad, what’re you doing
running round dressed like that?
- All pink and florals,
floating sleeves and
Jude, you seethe through clenched teeth
Later in the poem, as with many of the poems, Jesus appears.
sister, I am with you.
he’s never once called you thaddeus.
seen your naked body- seen the woman
with her flat chest, the limp flesh between her legs.
he presses a tender kiss against your forehead.
sister, there’s no such thing as lost causes.
The poems are all prefixed with a line from a psalm which gives them a context both sacred and profane.
In ‘philip’ ( and all the names are deliberately in lower case) the poem begins with part of the psalm from mark 6.42
‘ and all ate and were filled’. We are taken to a food bank.
you drive the van, picking up and dropping off cardboard boxes,
plastic crates, shopping bags,
slender, trembling hands; passing thanks from
dry, hissing lips.
at the table he lists, sorts, assembles: tins, packets, bottles,
oh so quiet, no show but clipboard tallies,
chews his own flesh as he thinks: how much? how many?
Later a miracle happens: like the loaves and fishes the food mounts up in the parcels but still stays on the table.
one sausage turned a week’s worth of breakfasts,
a mars bar no longer to be shared, but one each, for every kid:
some quiet miracle filling bellies
not with fairy food or stone soup but something real.
This pamphlet is beautifully produced with a striking cover in white and red scrawled on black, Jonathan Kinsman has created a testament to the now, the power of survival and of love.
Order your copy of Witness by Jonthan Kinsman from the Burning Eye Books website: https://burningeyebooks.wordpress.com/2020/05/07/new-title-witness-by-jonathan-kinsman/