Grotesquerie for the Apocalypse by Vik Shirley

About The Author 

Vik Shirley’s pamphlet Corpses (Sublunary Editions) was published in 2020, her collection, The Continued Closure of the Blue Door (HVTN PRESS), was published in 2021, as was her book of photo-poetry Disrupted Blue and Other Poems on Polaroid (Hesterglock Press). Her work has appeared in such places as Poetry London, The Rialto, Magma, Perverse, Shearsman and 3am Magazine. She is currently studying for a PhD in Dark Humour and the Surreal in Poetry at the University of Birmingham. Vik is Associate Editor of Sublunary Editions, editor of Surreal-Absurd at Mercurius Magazine, and tweets for Shearsman Books.

Praise for the Author

“daniil kharms is a ghost on ecstasy as pianos mate with soup. what a horriful world shirley has made, it’s almost as if life is silly and poetry is a space to affirm that.”

“Grotesque, like a Hieronymus Bosch footlong hotdog with Mark E Smith on onions.”

  • Tom Jenks writes books, reads books and works tirelessly for a better Britain.

“There’s a little world in every poem here, uncannily our own and discombobulatingly other.”

  • Luke Kennard is a poet and novelist who lectures at the University of Birmingham.


The first part of Grotesquerie for the Apocalypse came out of an intensely creative period in the first year of my PhD, which explores Dark Humour and the Surreal in Poetry. Focussing on the grotesque, I was immersed in, and obsessed with, the work of the Russian-Absurdist, Daniil Kharms, and the strange and surreal fable-like poems of Russell Edson. My chapbook, Corpses (Sublunary Editions), was written during this period too. Not since my discovery of the surreal narratives of James Tate have any writers resonated with me more than Kharms and Edson. (Tate was a huge influence on my collection, The Continued Closure of the Blue Door (HVTN Press), and his work was responsible for a defining turning-point in my writing.) Donald Hall once said, whilst speaking of Edson’s work: “It’s fanciful, it’s even funny—but his humor carries discomfort with it, like all serious humor.” This “serious humour” is something I strongly connect with…


Following the Pigeon 
You walk to a fork in the road 
and in the distance see an albino pigeon  
beckoning you on the left side  
and a red ox luring you to the right.  
The albino pigeon has a certain je ne sais quoi, 
so you start walking in that direction, 
but your legs have turned to ribbons.  
Luckily they are long ribbons,  
so you tie them together and lasso 
yourself to the tow-bar of a passing truck, 
but as you get closer, the pigeon  
is somehow distant again.  
You notice other pigeons behind bushes  
watching, sniggering and smirking,  
and realise that this is some kind of joke.  
You can hear the the red ox moaning  
on the breeze, as if to say I told you so,  
which is the last thing you need to hear.  
So you pull out your mirror from your back pocket  
and say: “Candyman, Candyman, Candyman.”  
A demon appears behind you and impales you  
with a hook, which is far less frustrating.

Ticket Counter 
I went to the cinema, to the daily matinee that I always attended. As I was purchasing my ticket from the girl at the counter, she lent over and snipped off my ear with a pair of scissors. It was a shock. I hated to admit it, as the staff do a really great job there, but it wasn't terribly professional. She was kind enough to give me my ear though, so I popped it in my pocket and made my way to my usual seat, putting it down to the girl having a bad day.  
The next day, I went back to the cinema with a bandaged ear and bought my ticket. This time, the girl spat in my face, lent over and snipped off my other ear. Unlike the previous day, she didn't give me my ear, which upset me. I know it sounds sentimental, but it had always been my favourite of the two. But, goodness knows what was going on in the girl's personal life, perhaps her boss was on her case, a run of rude customers, a nauseating flat mate, so, like the day before, I let it go. 
The day after, I returned again, with bandaged ears, determined to win the girl over. I handed her some plastic (to ensure longevity) Chrysanthemums, some Black Magic chocolates and my Daniel O'Donnell Live from Nashville CD. This time she grabbed the gifts, threw them in the bin, snipped off my nose and put chewing gum in my hair. It was at that point I decided, as much as it pained me, I was left with no choice, but to make a formal complaint.

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