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Critical Reviews: Grenade Genie by Thomas McColl

Grenade Genie, a poetry collection by Thomas McColl, was published by Fly on the Wall Press in May 2020 in the middle of the first lockdown. In 25 brief studies of the cursed, coerced, combative and corrupted, fantasy and memories merge as McColl exposes life with brilliant clarity.

Thomas McColl said:

'One of the main themes or points made, in Grenade Genie is that, ultimately, everyone and everything is expendable – but while this knowledge can generate either a sense of hopelessness or the nothing-to-lose strength to rail against it, one particular strength of poetry is that even if only the former gets expressed, the latter is automatically achieved.'

Our thanks and appreciation go out to all the people who took the time to review this wonderful collection. Here are a few of our favourite reviews.


"The second collection from innovative poet, Thomas McColl, Grenade Genie takes us on a surreal journey into four profound sections, with an abundance of intelligent and humorous observations from his twenty-five poems. There are also deep black connotations, and he is ruthless with his words: truly relentless but far from unwelcome, and very compulsive. He takes us straight through to the first section headed Cursed.

This intriguing roadway gives us the surreal, yet sympathetic, branch terrorism of No Longer Quite So Sure. A bus ride will never be the same."

  • Heather Moulson, poet

Mark Aspen

Read Heather Moulson's full review on Mark Aspen.


"Remember that game you may have played, truanting in the loos at school, or drunk at gate-crashed parties: dare, love, truth, promise, or command? And you had to choose but still do exactly what you were ordered? Tom McColl’s book packs a punch asking the questions but offering the cursed, coerced, combative and corrupted a way out. Rub this lamp up the wrong way (but in this book, inside is out and up is down) and the genie will blast you into hell, or is that 2020? Hold on tight to that bus seat as you will be hurled into the dark and depraved depths of London leaving you gasping. McColl poses philosophical questions as he slowly strangles you and asks, does anything matter anymore?

He drags us not quite awake yet into a cityscape where buses are bison and people are grass. Gaslit and drugged to believe ‘The Bunker’ doesn’t exist, we too are lured into conspiracy. Already we are cursed, or perhaps blessed, not knowing what is reality or fantasy, or even prophecy. The first section indeed is a kaleidoscopic swirl, a collecting of debris, a bewilderment of where we are and what is happening. Beaches become stages, moons dress as stars, detecting the poor, hopeful and hopeless, their endeavours bringing nothing but ‘a fool’s flotsam of faded junk and seagull’s bones.’

• Angela Dye,

Writer, Broadcaster, Podcaster

Confluence magazine

Read the full review on Confluence magazine website here.


"It was Sydney Smith who said “I never read a book before reviewing it; it prejudices a man so.” I’ve fallen at the first fence as I read or heard most of these poems before these 25 poems were put together in this collection by Fly on the Wall Press, which describes itself as “A publisher with a conscience”. A lot has happened in the world in the space of a few weeks this year with the global pandemic and reaction to it which has turned the world upside down so the economic, political and social realms are unrecognisable. Unsettling times indeed, but then again if you’re truly alive times are always going to be a-changing:

but are you prepared, on finding it encased inside a grenade, to pull out the pin to release the genie

The poems have been put together in 4 subsections (not humours, elements or points of the compass) but an exploration of the 4 Cs – Cursed, Coerced, Combative and Corrupted, perhaps inspired by Christophers Reid’s 2015 book The Curiosities, a series of poems clustered around the letter ‘C’. The poems look at human behaviour and especially how and why we accept social norms and conventions so readily or without asking pointed questions. That all sounds terribly serious but a lot of the poems make you explode with laughter and McColl never takes himself too seriously. In ‘The Greatest Poem’ he writes about visiting the Nayland Rock Shelter in Margate Sands 100 years after Eliot went there to write The Waste Land:

Things in my favour: My first name is Thomas, I once worked for Lloyds Bank, and I write poetry."

  • Rodney Wood, Writer

The High Window Press

Read the full review on The High Window Press website here.


“Grenade Genie” is a wry, dry humoured look at modern life in general. The book is split into four sections, ‘cursed’, ‘coerced’, ‘combative’ and ‘corrupted’, alliteratively satisfying. The first section looks at the hapless, those trapped in an underclass or simply finding themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. “The Evil Eye” casts its glance on social media users, “You’ve allowed yourself to get caught in a cobweb/ spun by a social spider that sucks you dry of information,/ then leaves your hollowed-out exoskeletal frame/ to rot on its website.” However, users are addicted and keep returning to post another selfie.

  • Emma Lee,

Writer, Poet, Reviewer, Editor

Read the full review on Emma Lee’s website here.


"McColl explores the four C’s: Cursed, Coerced, Combative and Corrupted. His poetry

expresses what it means to be alive in these uncertain times. In a world full of selfies and mindless tweets, he tackles the digital devil and questions what others fear to. These poems explore human behaviour and the instructions we all seem to follow. We are, as the famous phrase goes: lambs to the slaughter. We follow and don’t ask questions, we copy and repeat to the extent that we don’t push for answers on the discovery of hidden bunkers and burned bodies. We nod and move along on the conveyor belt that is life. McColl has captured and delivered the very essence of our existence flawlessly.

The use of imagery is both amusing and disturbing. You find yourself subconsciously doing a double-take every-time you walk past a mannequin, wondering who they used to really be. As you drive past trees you feel their claws reach out, scratching the paintwork. I loved envisioning the trees taking back the city. I agree that they got given the short straw in the ever-expanding growth of our species. The jaw-clenching honesty of these poems at first can appear unnerving but you soon begin to relax as you realise that you’ve already walked this wasteland. You live there, day in, day out.

McColl shows the reader how what they portray online is a misrepresentation of their true self. No one cares about another selfie or what you had for dinner. Yet these are the things that consume the web, we fall into the trap like a foolish fly, feeding the hungry spider that awaits above. There’s always someone higher up pulling the strings and McColl hints at this heavily throughout. It makes for thought-provoking ideas to form and expand the mind."

  • Bunny’s Pause,

Writer, Poet

Read the full review on Bunny’s Pause website here.


"Grenade Genie, by Thomas McColl, is a close study of life in contradiction where the natural world and technology collide. The author bills this collection as “25 brief studies of the cursed, coerced, combative and corrupted”.

A Blast through the Looking Glass

“We are all living lives more and more unnatural, and in this messed-up world, where buses are bison and people are grass, it’s no longer shocking to find that glass is air and branches are blades.”

-No Longer Quite So Sure, Thomas McColl, Grenade Genie

In this first section, Cursed, McColl puts his foot on the accelerator and speeds us through racing thoughts along a bus ride that could take place in any city in the world. The lines blur between sentient beings and our natural counterparts. Trees become otherworldly with thoughts of revolution as a bus speeds through the city to disperse humanity. We are connected, sometimes violently, with our surroundings and this poet is unafraid to look in the mirror, out the window and bring that truth to his readers.

A Question of Ego

“I’ve just been made permanent — yet already I know I’m completely expendable.”

-Security Pass, Thomas McColl, Grenade Genie

This book is full of poetry that feels like I’m having a conversation with the author.

Granted, he has no idea what I’m saying and his side of the conversation is already inked on the page, but it’s still a discussion. McColl inserts himself so deeply into the poetry that there is no question these are some of his innermost thoughts. That kind of openness and vulnerability has been rare, in my experience. The author isn’t going to shield himself from us, he’s giving it everything and I respect that.

In Security Pass, we’re having a conversation where I’m nodding my head. I’m thinking about my last job and the little badge that was my key to getting ‘in’. I worked for a major corporate retailer in the United States for thirteen years and that badge was the key to everything. In fact, getting a badge to the corporate office was some kind of special status. I’d dug myself out of the trenches of field retail and into somewhere that pressed numbers into a magnetic strip, where I was categorised in digital fashion- given access."

  • Juliette van der Molen,

Author and artist

Read Juliette van der Molen's full review here.


Grenade Genie is available to order here.

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