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Rick Dove



the poet

Queer, mixed-race and neurodivergent, Rick Dove is a poet and activist from South London. His work explores themes of social justice, epistemology and identity – drawing on science-fiction, philosophy and mythology (with no small measure of mischief). Using a blend of traditional and free-verse styles to interrogate the liminal spaces that define common humanity, Rick was dubbed ‘one to watch’ by T S Eliot Prize winner Roger Robinson. Rick’s debut collection Tales from the Other Box appeared in 2020, and he was crowned Hammer & Tongue UK Poetry Slam Champion at the Royal Albert Hall the following year.

the poems

Blind Study / Test Subject

00:00 / 01:44

            Traces of LSD can be found in the hair up to 90 days after ingestion.

            This is 180 times longer than it is detectable in the blood.

            It is days after, and still an orgy of detritus is clinging

            to my skin. The brush of my shorn crown is prickly.

            It is fresh in-patient released. A new-born fleeced.

            Triggering apocryphal memories of Electro Convulsive

            Therapy, the chair, and of not wanting to catch fire.

            Triggering memories of reading about the invention

            of Velcro, of George de Mestral and his dog, stubborn

            cockle burrs with their hooks in deep, clinging. Glowing

            with bandwidth restrictions, the elemental filaments

            are burning wires in my skin, standing to attention, still

            receiving the whispering, on an acrid stench, days after.

            This is why they shave the heads of those about to die:

            to stop them transmitting. To prevent the secondary

            transfer of dreaming. I will have to wait for my hair

            to grow back before I'm identifiable as a victim.

            In most cases, nuclear DNA is broken down to its building blocks.

            So if a hair lacks a root it will be impossible to extract a useful sample.

            It is days after, and I am home. Greeted by golden threads,

            they pull me anti-Theseus back into the labyrinth, trip wires

            attached to booby traps, her blonde invading berserkers.

            The poison metabolised before she left that morning,

            its debris will take a lifetime to clear. Detritus of dissociation

            sticking to the rubble like Velcro, it must be pulled away slowly.

Earning the Title Diva

June, 2016

00:00 / 02:21

            Chess timer chastising his strategy, hanging

            boardroom clock louder than memory, facial tics,

            he had asked for five minutes, when she had them,

            but tensions tied, had stolen his tongue for two. Blank.

            Floodgates. Gambit onslaught, the explanation to HR,

            briefing reasons for the meeting. A cortisol taster, wafer

            and wine anxiety. How he had bonded with a writer

            from Florida over America is a Gun by Brian Bilston.

            How, although Florida is a big state, when he had tried to raise

            the writer, his message went unread. How this worry was eating

            him, he said. He did not need to be at home, had to stay

            busy. But it might be necessary for allowances to be made,

            later, if the situation changed. He stopped for breath. This is the edge,

            he said, and I am on it. A ledge with no one to talk us down.

            My hypervigilance had been activated at some point

            of no return on the District Line that morning, shaken up

            by rocking motions, the lullaby wheels recalling the feel

            of rumbling bass through my feet. I was back on Frith Street

            on May Day Bank Holiday weekend in ‘99, a Friday.

            Turning right into Old Compton. Meeting clouds from the west.

            This five minutes of programming in endless repeats of

            Mr Angry. This morning’s tube rhythms fading into

            the stampede as breaks made screams, until again

            I could taste masonry dust. Asking who knows first aid. Debris

            learning triage in the field. It is not 9am, and I need a whisky.

            And I am watching him omit this part of our explanation

            to HR, saying merely, he cannot trust himself to remain stoic

            in the office today. Especially in the face of its typical

            hypermasculine heteronormativity, with epithets like confetti.

            Especially in the wake of what just happened a world away.

            How they are too threatening in this new frame. Too

            threatening today. I used to do drag he says. These were my people.

            By implication, HR and the rest of the team are not.

            Back from the Admiral Duncan, tears are salting the dust

            in our rushing blood. The boardroom clock is lost, as we

            resynchronise our brainwaves to present. Together again,

            America is a Gun we say – you should read it. It might help explain.

            Later, the MD will call us Diva for the first time. Claim

            the events are unconnected. We stayed all day. Protest is Pride.

The Chat

00:00 / 02:45

            i heard it first at seven the day they called me gollywog

            and as the word passed these lips to meet Mum’s ear

            a tear and every time since then i am back there

            little boy lost there wondering when i will grow up

            praying and praying (like that was ever enough)

            that this world will too strange then that this was too

            my childhood’s very end there in an eighties living room

            as Mum and Dad and i have The Chat

            and my dad tells the tale regales again and again

            in his final days about his early years on this isle

            how only black in the village was actually a thing

            and how it was him and how on a summer’s day

            no more than eight a policeman at the gate

            came to tell his mum he couldn’t go to the corner shop

            alone again         he hadn’t stolen anything

            but the shopkeeper (like so many back then)

            wasn't one for details except that simple single one

            that still holds us back so later that evening

            Granny and Grandad give my eight-year-old dad The Chat

            and i rehearse it with a girlfriend same night

            as our first tiff         late on a date about twenty-oh-three

            (the year not the hour) as she suggests we hail a cab

            and her privilege hits me there         hits me square

            hits me full force in the derriere        i won’t be able to flag one here

            i SNAP snarky inferring maybe it should be you

            in the flooded gutter in your good shoes …

            and later that evening as i am cleaning her boots

            she and i have The Chat

            and this is how it's been for generations

            parents to their children         star-crossed lovers in explanation

            in conversation after conversation spelling out

            how being black (though having some advantages)

            will get you treated as lesser by some

            or make you a target to some

            will put you in the crosshairs of some

            and this is something a quartet of

            Carl Lewis Linford Christie Usain Bolt and Jesse Owens

            can’t outrun

            it's a baton that we’re still passing

            and this is me to you my son

            for that is how i have to give it to my boy  saying

            i hope this world will grow so you never truly know

            this feeling of being so conspicuous         and yet so small

            of representing an entire skin tone all on your own alone

            because i know whenever you feel the weight of that

            it will crush you flat

            and you deserve to be on show

            only when you choose to be

            and now you are fully grown

            and in possession of our truth

            i know you will guard it well                  until it is due

            but i hope and pray (like that's ever been enough)

            that this ends with you

            and hopefully one day

            a black man merely standing on a stage

            or putting a pen to page

            will stop being a political act

            but until then

            we'll have The Chat

Publishing credits

Blind Study / Test Subject: Hair Raising Anthology (Nine Pens Press)

Earning the Title Diva: Sometimes the Revolution is Small

  (Nymphs & Thugs)

The Chat: Tales from the Other Box (Burning Eye Books)


S h a r e

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