Disturbance Review

REVIEW by Will Ford (Published online by New Welsh Review, print version subscription details below)

NWR Issue 102


by Ivy Alvarez


Disturbance is a precisely constructed, unflinchingly observant, heartbreaking and terrifying novel of poems, a powerfully delivered and devastating firestorm of words. It portrays the build-up to and fallout from the murderous and suicidal conclusion to family life. This family has been bruised by domestic abuse, broken by divorce and ultimately obliterated by the words ‘you can’t keep my children from me… they’re mine’.

Beginning at the inquest into these tragic central events, Ivy Alvarez presents a story told in non-chronological kaleidoscopic fragments of minute detail and raw emotion. These include an emergency services operator helplessly hearing screams and shotgun blasts down the telephone line; a grandmother thinking of buying a carpet to cover bloodstains; the mistress of the murderer suffering scapegoat-hungry media coverage; Jane, scrabbling in vain to hide from a long feared fate, and Tony, a violent control freak, blaming his victims for his actions.

Over the course of forty-four poems, the reader is taken forwards and backwards in time, each poem helping to construct the wider story and often simultaneously offering a snapshot portrait of the principal character in their own words. This results in a provocative array of stylistic approaches, including a dark appropriation of the Ladybird Readers: ‘See Jane run. Watch Dick run. Watch Dick chase Jane. Watch Dick chase / Jane through their house. Dick has a gun. Run Jane run.’

Within this ‘verse novel’, Alvarez shows admirable artistic control and a remarkable capacity for empathy. She has crafted a range of voices that, even in the briefest of appearances, reveal another facet of the wider narrative and another example of just how far the hurtful consequences of terrible acts can travel. Telling the story in verse form creates just enough distance to prevent Disturbance becoming too emotionally overwhelming to read. This method also reveals a terrible beauty within the blackest shadows of human experience.

Disturbance is a fully ‘adult’ book which may require some readers to look themselves in the eye and ask if they would have acted differently from the neighbour who didn’t want to get involved or the policemen who didn’t rush towards the sound of a shot. So authentically self-protective are some of the characters that a childlike feeling can descend on the reader seeking the need for a hero.

Among the visceral responses Disturbance provokes is a sense of helplessness. In this harsh reality, apparently definitive signs of a tragedy waiting to happen become visible only in hindsight. Wisely, then, Alvarez does not seek the moral high ground of pointing out what people should have done or said. Rather, we are offered authentically painted human responses to the kind of events most of us will be lucky enough never to be caught up in. Alvarez does not seek to suggest how to prevent these kind of horrors. As comforting as it might be to tell ourselves otherwise, such terrible acts occur because one person chooses to commit them. Tony’s choice is his alone, whatever means he uses to justifying himself:

Better to be a brute
than be far less.

So common is the real-life scenario of a divorced father saying ‘You can’t keep my children from me’ that Disturbance could be justified solely as a humane parable and warning about the dark places such a statement may lead. But the skill and imagination with which Alvarez approaches her subject matter from so many perspectives also makes the book an adventure for the mind. This is achieved without ever engendering the feeling that it is exploitative of suffering, and Alvarez leaves plenty of room for readers to bring their own imaginations into play.

Each reader will have their own individual response, just as Alvarez’ characters react individually to these terrible events. The timeless value of storytelling is that it can transport us into the lives, experiences and minds of others, and hold up a mirror to our assumptions and moral certainties. Alvarez has taken a long, courageous look into such a mirror. The reflection we see may bring us close to weeping for humanity. But not to giving up on it.


Attended the Cardiff Launch of Disturbance by Ivy Alvarez last night to hear readings and take part in the open mic with a piece I wrote yesterday (see below)

Amazon link for Ivy’s book (which I have written a review for and will blog when it is published by New Welsh Review)


My piece read at the Chapter event

The Spirit of Human Endeavour

Put Jack
Back in his box
Close the lid
And swing
The hook across
To where it meets
The loop that keeps
Jack aware of
Who’s the boss.

Smaller than
He wants to be
Crouching inside
Less cubic feet
Than he feels
That he deserves

How do they dare?
Such bloody nerve
I’ll show them all
See if I don’t
I know I will
They think I won’t
But this coiled spring
Inside of me
Wont be kept down

It strains and strains
It must extend
It will not be
Denied my “friends”
You will regret
You’ll have no choice
I’ll box your ears
With my freed voice

I’ll demand
And then I’ll take
The satisfaction
For which I ache
While you hold me
In this tin
More cramped
Than any
Wooden coffin
That men lie in

I’ll push
I’ll stand

I‘m free…

Then the giant hand
Began to descend
Pushed on Jack’s head
And yet again
The spring inside
Became compressed
Forced down and down
To fill his chest
To the extent
That breath came hard
And thoughts turned black
As his card
Was marked anew
In Fate’s favour

You tasted free air
But did not savour
That which is not
Yours to have
Nice try
But no cigar
Mon Brave

I put you back
In your box
Closed the lid
And swung the hook across
To where it meets the loop
That keeps you aware
I am the boss

So you can take your tuppenny Rice
And you can eat your treacle
That’s the only food you’ll ever get
You little weasel

In the dark Jack
Simmered and seethed
Smaller than
He wants to be
Crouching inside
Less cubic feet
Than he feels
That he deserves

How do they dare?
Such bloody nerve
I’ll show them all
See if I don’t
I know I will
They think I won’t
But this coiled spring
Inside of me
Will not be kept down


Beware Pets That Can Kill You!!!

If you raise a tiger, you should not be surprised
If one day your tiger, looks you in the eyeImage
And says “Dude, I am a tiger,
This is what’s going on:
Here is the deal, I need a meal


You’re gone

Don’t mean to condescend
But if you befriend a bear
Don’t be shocked
If you’re found lying
With your face no longer there

And if your boa constrictor
Crushes the life out of you
He’s only doing
What a boa constrictor
Is supposed to do

Your cute little chimp
May well love your jolly japes
But haven’t you seen
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes?
He could kill you in a second, man
Without a second thought
No matter how much sign language
You’ve made sure he’s been taught

Nurture lions if you choose
But do not become bemused
If your fully grown big cat
Starts acting confused
Then turns to look at you
In a most peculiar way
And decides to make you
His delicious dish, of the day

If your black widow spider
makes a widow of your wife
You cannot blame the spider
For the absence of your life

So don’t haunt me
With your ghostly face
Morose expression blue
Nobody made you pat a pet
That is more dangerous than you.

Evil Cupid (extract) and full measure of Booze related lines

The opening words of my long form poem Cupid’s Evil Twin…

Cupid’s Evil Twin

Fires poison tipped arrows

Into the hearts

Of the lonely

On every cold night

Whispers to the lonely that

There must be something wrong with you

‘Cause everybody else has got

Somebody to hold tonight…

One I sing (a capella) to the tune of Puttin’ on the Ritz:

Going on the Piss

The Weekend, what do you do
From choices, open to you
You select this…

Going on the piss

You may feel more confidence
Even if, you talk nonsense
Because of this…

Going on the piss

Drink until you stupefy or slumber
Or get knocked down get up again

Like Chumba…Wumba

Wandering from bar to bar
Feeling like a mega star
No boos or hiss…

You’re a little pissed

Another glass or maybe two
Someone’s an ass, it’s never you
We all insist…

When we’re feeling pissed

Drink until you feel the sleep of reason
Kill the line between obnoxiousness and teasing

Eyes on stalks, pop from your head
Did you see the one in red?
Lips made to kiss…

But don’t forget you’re pissed

You saunter over with a grin
Bit too wide, unsettling
Ignorance is bliss…

“Romantically” pissed

Looking at breasts, think you’re being subtle
But there’s no argument, defence, rebuttal, butt-hole

She knows that you scoped her jugs
Don’t assume, women are mugs,
When it comes to this…

They know they have tits

She looks you, right up and down
That’s not a pout, that is a frown
Awkward moment this…

Going on the piss

Still, drunkenly, you hope she’ll want to blow you
Truth is that she doesn’t want to know you,

Go you

Stagger home, get a kebab
try your best, not to get stabbed
Or a glasgow kiss…

Going on the piss…