Janette Ayachi (1982 – ) is a London-born Edinburgh-based Scottish-Algerian poet with a BA Combined Honours in English Literature and Film & Media from Stirling University, and an MSc in Creative Writing: Poetry from Edinburgh University. She has been published in nearly a hundred literary journals and anthologies from presses such as Polygon; Seren, Jessica Kingsley London, Vagabond Voices, Blue Diode, Pagan press Texas, Vakxikon publications Athens, Luath press, Freight, The Istanbul Review, Poetry Salzburg and upcoming in Black-Dog and One-Eyed press Nova Scotia and Bloomsbury. Her essays, poetry and prose have been published internationally and translated into several languages.
She has been Digital Poet in Residence for The Poetry School London, and Visiting Poet on a Teaching Residency for the students of Arcadia University, Philadelphia. She collaborates with artists; has been shortlisted for a few accolades, engages in numerous projects, performances, readings and exhibitions. Her film poems have been selected for screening at festivals and she was the founder and editor of the magazine The Undertow Review bringing art and poetry into a multidisciplinary forum.
She performs her poetry at festivals and events, and after performing her poem about ‘Amy Winehouse’ on BBC Radio Scotland she was invited to return as an Arts & Culture critic for The Afternoon Show. The following year, she was commissioned to write a poem for a BBC Radio 4 documentary ‘Conversations on a Bench’, in 2019 she appeared on BBC television in the art series Loop, The Edinburgh Show and then Damian Barr’s The Big Scottish Book Club before hosting a film about The Scottish Poetry Library for Book Week Scotland, both in 2020.
She is the author of poetry pamphlets Pauses at Zebra Crossings and A Choir of Ghosts, a hardback children’s chapter book The Mermaid, The Girl and The Gondola illustrated by Fabio Perla in Italy. Her first full poetry collection Hand Over Mouth Music (published by Pavilion: University of Liverpool Press) won The Saltire Poetry Book of the Year Literary Award 2019. She is currently working on her second poetry collection ‘QuickFire, Slow Burning’ and Lonerlust: Postcards of a Passed-On World, a nonfiction narrative about desire and travelling alone searching connections between landscapes, culture and human connection.
‘Pavilion poetry have built such a fantastic stable in just a few years, and Janette Ayachi is a worthy addition. Restless & curious, pressing at the edges of the singular self, at where cultural and personal identities meet.’
(After Mohammed Issiakhem)
This could be my grandmother;
my aunt, my cousin,
this could be me
in thick embroidery
walking towards morning.
At her feet, against the wall
beyond the frame
a stark fury of chickens
escape the knife
climbing rocks and disappearing into dust.
From woman to shaman of some sort
beguiling with filigree and flicker
she tempts out flames from cinder
to distract the hunter’s mark.
Later she rests on her pillows’ edge
for her Morrocan mint tea then siesta
a painted sunflower
than a bomb
poking many holes
under her armoured chest
of talismans and ticks
cold as a widow, more guarded than a queen
eyes smudged with kohl and midnight spells.
From here, she collects anything that spills
including the blood-stains left on sheets
a nocturne-soaked vagabond
with the same inquisition
as a young safari explorer
yet disappointed each time
as the streets of Algiers
drops its petals like a suicidal orchid
the day after it flowers,
markets just stalk and leaves
this is not what she had envisioned
but she mounts the journey each time
never sceptic about the possibility of new bloom.
Most people here take their time to take their time.
She is gelato kisses and not so near misses
where women tell stories spiced with cloves
writing out cliffhangers over dinner
with more hands then they have
and so she stands completely still
to feel the cosmos propel around her
yet it slices through her in places
like kettle-steam in the afternoon.
She is trying to decipher
what parts of herself
she chooses to remain receptive
what graffiti to decode
as her country flags down
burning suns for saviours
and gleaming cars for answers.
She is all sea glaze, a glass beauty
so firm and taut against the tide
able now to walk steadily
through roadblocks and bricks
without even shattering
or forgetting her identity
on the other side.
Fado in January
‘Once again love drives me on,
that loosener of limbs,
bittersweet creature against
which nothing can be done’
Hearts stubbornly bleeding
twelve steel strings, twelve bright stars.
You send me Fado female vocalists
and I find them desperately androgynous
like Rossetti’s women on canvas:
broad shoulders, sharp jaws, reptilian tongues,
all painted with eyelashes, melancholia, velvet trim –
distastefully sweetening perfectly cooked palettes of loss or longing.
So, this is where we vow to sing the sun cold
after wedding days of brothers, parallels, white lace smiles,
no time for sleep but for a moon-slap of stark reality
to dream-rinse and abide by the theatre of the heart
hungry again for its familiar wound of dramatic tragedy
and always steadily scalpelled to repeat:
the food took too long so you drank and drank
until the next sunburned cold, then froze hot again.
Train-sick after wine overdose, the carriage windows a curse
of dizzying alvavinho vineyards and wolf-haunted forests
full of pine and eucalyptus hanging behind harbours:
white fish, lemon and lychee –a bitter Portugal;
doused in wailing women and maritime empire,
a fleet of celebrated pregnancies, seasons of the sea
exchanging what is lost out there
for offerings of a new year, fresh catch, clean skin,
when the last ones became too slippery.
But be careful you do not fall into Lisbon’s lungs
for she takes you in well but surrounded by all that water, all that blue,
she is naturally reared to hold her breath where her city swells
with swap-shops of dreams, trader’s bizarres, and secret communities
who sell clarification on street corners for an unforgettable price.
Be warned as you tread because one small puncture leads to collapse,
the tower spitting cement from its centre,
and no amount of fire-licked kisses can resuscitate
or bring you back to a place where love was once enough voltage.
When I visit Portugal, I’ll carry chlorophyll in my pocket
to make those sad singing sirens rest unconscious,
and I’ll keep the used-rag to absorb my stubbornly bleeding heart.
I’ll store and soak and sulk until my pulse eventually
forks its own route toward the aorta of the ocean –
vast as it pours into ventricles of the Divine
to ebb and beat against the lock of another chest.
Even if mine now, only brims with the miracle of irretractable treasure.
Message in a Bottle
I recline on a patio chair in the garden
like a sailor throned to the deck of a ship
my bottle a jar of potent pickled organs
frozen slush to a perfumed rush
in seconds under this sun
how the lime splits open like a sea anemone
each segment flexing its rum-swelled tentacle
a calibre of denial linked to the roulette
of what I drink to forget so I build a sculpture
out of stones, clairvoyance and weeds
then send my prayers out in shells
spike coastguards of my heart with sleeping pills
stab out the black eyes of birds
blindfold the portfolios of hotels
and open their attic-skulls
with the bone-saw of lightning.
In a country that has died continuously
today Beirut takes another hit
from hoarded ammonium nitrate
confiscated from a Russian cargo ship
kept in storage for seven years
at its scenic port in the harbour.
As chemicals react
heat in the Covid sun
first, there is a small bang
followed by a much larger one
a cauliflower floret of smoke rises
not dissimilar to something nuclear
people filmed the fire from a distance
until the explosion exhaled into a quick cloud
and car windows suddenly sucked into themselves
as if the entire sea had been contained in a bubble
it burst chockfull like a balloon across the land
causing even the furthest away to leap
or to dismantle into cover as debris fired
like a rain of bullets punching holes
into any surface it reached
shrapnel in the streets
states of shock
crisis on top of a crisis
three thousand homes snatched
ceilings fell on hospital patients
smoke breached sunset
streets cobbled in danger
balconies release their stand
sound splinters as it moves
to crack open apartments
lockdown blown apart
all are forced to flee
On hospital wards in catastrophe and panic
parents pulled out the intravenous drips
of their terminally sick children
a nurse runs backwards and forwards
arms always flowering a rescue of newborns
out into the city searching other life and more help
electricity cut, cables split, slashed across the pavement.
And what is there to return to in the rubble
much like life after a shock blast and blitz
everything just fell down
as if a gravity belt had been pierced
calling a whole fleet of people
to hobble on foot to hospitals
where piles of corpses toppled at entrances
with make-shift bandages
wailing bloody faces
dust and metals
hurtling forwards in the air
journalists looked for passports
their breath and sturdy shoes
as over a hundred miles away
on the island of Cyprus
locals felt the blast
some were slightly shoved sideways.
What happens when your world collapses?
Through the kasbah dark night
names of the missing or wounded
are channelled through screens
in the background buried limbs
start protruding through rock
as you sleep, then cannot sleep
the alive feel lucky to be alive
but where to sprint now
when uninhabitable homes
keep crumbling possessions
unluckiest brothers and sisters
there to weep and there to witness
the demise of your country in minutes
as the firefighters and the healers raced over
what had been exposed with little or any warning.
The smoke reached Damascus
as the skeleton of buildings
shot seismic iron rods
and geometric disarray
in still frame
and clear sense
of a disaster
worse than war.
Calamity in the capital city of Lebanon;
I send out my condolences
in healing prayer and song.
Roaming in Rome, Seven Months Pregnant
Saxophone notes saturate the piazza
statues freckled with octaves of perspiration
feral Florentine priests, marbled lunar dew
basalt flesh has frozen in the tombs of history.
Waves of subtle sound are snatched
by the tide of umbra, the sun tips its head
bows then vanishes into a sleek sky
combed with heavy insomniac stars.
Fountain reflections fulgurate,
streetlamps dim then flicker as they sway
like Chinese lanterns on harboured fishing boats,
the glow flattering all silvers, gloss and tans
teasing the scatter of introspective on-lookers
with a puppet-show of chiaroscuro shapes.
The buildings bounce back the tangerine
tincture offered to them like a hesitant
lover fearing that in accepting the first gift
they would owe something in return.
The bell tolls its haunting aria
doppelgangers are born from sinister crevices
rising up like spirits leaving corpses in a cartoon
to escape into the labyrinth of places to roam.
Here in Rome, they join the sulking treasury
of what has been left behind from the whispering
wounds of the past. Music and magical light
on a warm March night, now that you are almost
fully formed inside of me can you feel it too
from your umbilical chains, what must you hear
of my world as you gurgle along to the muffled
under-water melody, choosing your keys carefully
waiting patiently for births recital
where you offer them back to me
in chorus to your first cries fearing that
in accepting the first gift you would
perpetually owe something in return.
Poetry in this post: © Janette Ayachi
Published with the permission of Janette Ayachi