Two weeks ago, I sat in the armchair by the window, a wet Wednesday afternoon and opened Serge Neptune’s debut poetry collection These Queer Merboys published by Broken Sleep Books and an hour later had finished the last page, one of the few books I’ve sat and devoured in just one sitting. As I dived into the pages of this collection I was reminded of Hedwig and the Angry Inch; the big, bold, brash musical of the German boy willing to become a good girl for the American soldier but left broken, later, with only an angry inch, but beneath the bravado there was a darkness and similarly here, in Neptune’s world, we have the sensory mermen swimming in as a choir, seeking comfort, seeking caresses; ‘…expert hands that know what to do…’ seeking kisses; ‘…our tongues laid out like summer…’ but the waves can drag you down, hands that once hugged can hold you under and kisses come from lips that have teeth beyond the seduction of all that is soft.
Very quickly you realise that this is not just a collection of poems, it is a complete queer narrative coming up out of the ocean; ‘…a merman finds a stranded sock, black scab on the shoreskin, feels for the first time the touch of fabric, juggles it from hand to hand then wears it as a glove to give it words…’ and out of the water and onto shore that can leave you drowning, drying, drinking, dissolving, revising, reshaping, evolving. Looking for acceptance, understanding, splitting ourselves open so as to be loved; ‘…men took us in their arms, cuddled us at first, fastened lips to lips, we begged for hands to hold our throats…’ so as to be equal, so as to be able to walk among the others with two feet instead of fins; ‘…the potion they served us, like surgeons, cut through our blood with irons, parted our spine… scales would fall… each step felt like a pig’s heart skewered with nails…’ but the pain better, perhaps, than the scorn of being different.
And yet, even after all that, comes the torture; ‘…the telly blasting SINNERS! SINNERS! You shall not lie with a creature of the sea, for they have no soul…’ the revelations of what we are willing to do for that acceptance; the cutting and folding ourselves into pieces to make us more lovable, more manageable, until finally we become unrecognisable and don’t know how to get back to who it was that we once were; ‘…once the water in my bathtub was all cherry, I tried to stop the flowers of my wrists from blossoming.’
But still we rise, upon the next current; current wave, current attraction, current love; ignoring the ‘…Cassandras nobody ever listens to for fear of drowning & what is it to love a man if not to drag him underneath to steal his last breath.’
This is a journey that never falters, that never panders to convention, an unstoppable, unshakable, uncompromising debut of only 20 poems and yet it reads like a fully developed novel and we are left wanting more and thankfully, dear readers, I do believe that more is on the way. Serge Neptune has started something and we rejoice in the fact that it’s not yet finished!
You can find Serge Neptune on Twitter at https://twitter.com/mermanpoet
You can buy These Queer Merboys from Broken Sleep Books…