'Telephone Voices' Winner: 'ghosts'

by Matthew Magill

"We’re creating art at a unique point in our history"
Poetry text: "the vowels between us grow longer; into ghost sounds. baby-milk white and just as bleak. your one-word answers, like chattering teeth - biting through the bleating silence. a lover, replaced with white noise and whispers. oh, how you hide, ghost - lips knotted like cords; my name like burning static on your tongue."


Our first poetry competition, 'Telephone Voices', has come to an end. After reading so many wonderful submissions, our panel of editors selected Tahlia McKinnon's piece 'ghosts' as the winning entry. What drew us to ghosts was its feeling of isolation, drawn from Tahlia's control of technique, with formatted spacing, and her use of abstract imagery coiled through the piece.


As a society we have become almost accustomed to mediated communication as our primary form of interaction. The picture Tahlia paints of two lovers defined by the space between them taps into a haunting sense of alienation, where the means of communication itself becomes a distorting third-party.


We spoke to Tahlia about creativity in a pandemic, estrangement, and the inspiration behind the poem.

Tahlia McKinnon

How did you first get started with poetry or creative writing? What drew you to the discipline?


I was an avid reader as a child, to the point of concern. I always had my head buried in a book. To that end, I’ve always been a writer. It was a natural gateway. I would write short stories from as young as four and pour out poems as a teen.

Writing is a tonic for me. It’s spiritual practice and self-inquiry. It’s rehabilitation. It’s connection. It’s call and response; a battle cry. It’s the blending of souls and experiences and subjectivity.

And to live within that blurred space between truth and fantasy – it’s a line I love to tread. Writing is part of my DNA; I’m not sure I know how to do or be anything else.


What was the inspiration behind "ghosts"?

We’re creating art at a unique point in our history. The current pandemic has fostered intense introspection and we’re observing connection, to both ourselves and others, in a completely different way now. The prolonged denial of physical and emotional intimacy this past year has impacted us, greatly.

ghosts conveys that haunting experience of isolation; of dissociation; of feeling completely removed from your known reality. From your own body, mind, and spirit. You feel a lesser version of yourself, as if you were disappearing into transparency.

And as a consequence of that, it’s difficult to maintain those outward connections too. Lovers become shadows in the night. Friendships are tested. And I feel certain social conventions have been normalised, that we’re now really starting to question.

I wanted this poem to capture all of this in some small way.

Who are some authors, poets, or other literary figures who inspire you and/or your work?

Far too many to name. I’m inspired most by writers who continue to honour the truth of human suffering and destigmatise the conversation surrounding that trauma. Those with an intrinsic ability to convey raw emotion with soul and grace. Words with a spiritual undertone.


Khaled Hosseini’s work has had a huge effect on me. Modern poets, such as Warsan Shire, Lisa Marie Basile and Jenny Zhang hold space in my heart. Anyone imparting magic onto the page.

Tahlia McKinnon is a wild writer and myth-maker from London. A former film journalist, she has been featured in the likes of Little White Lies and Sinecreen Magazine, while her creative work has/will be placed in The Daily Drunk Mag, Wrongdoing Magazine, and others. Tahlia is also the Founding Editor-In-Chief of Hecate Magazine, a lit journal dedicated to platforming wild women and witches. You can find her on Instagram, Twitter, and generally online at @tahliamckinnon.