Did I Say Starlight?, Joanna Nissel

I meant David Bowie in tight leather
trousers, Noel Fielding prancing – sparrow-
footed– into a land of discoballs and rainbow
shards, the way iridescence interrupts a
graphic designer’s careful selection of hex
codes and now there is colour everywhere,
rioting over the self-service checkouts that
read out our weekly shops like confessions
to an automated priest, the new vegan
pizzeria opposite (with its faux Art
Nouveaux windows) doing its best to signal
rejuvenation beside the sleeping bags stowed
in the alcoves.

Copyright ©Joanna Nissel



Joanna Nissel’s poem “Did I Say Starlight?” immediately begins with a clarifying answer to the question in the title (which itself sounds like a song title and may provoke the reader to think of Frankie Vaughn’s “Give Me the Moonlight”). Starlight leads the poet to free-wheeling associations: pop and rock star David Bowie (Ziggy Stardust, “Space Oddity“, “Starman”), comedian and presenter Noel Fielding (who has been photographed as Bowie and created a series of Bowie art prints), and “a land of discoballs and rainbow shards”. Nissel may have had the 2020 Bowie biopic movie “Stardust” in mind; The Guardian described the depiction of Bowie in the film as “Eddie Izard meets Noel Fielding” (29 October 2020).

As the poem states, “there is colour everywhere”, with a sense of it struggling to be contained within the confines of the 80 words of this compact prose poem; the colour is unruly and riotous, interrupting the methodical graphical designer hard at work with his systematic hex codes (a hexadecimal way to represent a colour in “RGB format” by combining three values – the amounts of red, green and blue in a particular shade).

Technical detail emphasises the rush of the modern (the vegan pizzeria, the “faux Art Nouveaux windows”). The startling imagery of self-service checkouts reading “our weekly shops like confessions to an automated priest”, with consumerism as a religion, stretches out in unburdened expression. The signal of rejuvenation is in stark contrast to the sleeping bags “stowed in alcoves”, an indication that others are not doing so well.

The poem is from Nissel’s Guerrilla Brightenings, published by Against The Grain (2022) – link to buy above.


Joanna Nissel first began writing poetry through the gateway drug of prose poetry while at Bath Spa University. Now based in Brighton, she was the runner up for the Poetry Business 2018 International New Poets Prize and her poetry has appeared in publications such as Tears in the Fence, Iamb Poetry, and Ink Sweat and Tears. She is completing an SWWDTP-funded PhD at the University of Southampton in “Mentoring in the Contemporary UK Poetry Ecology”.



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