RSS Feed

Tag Archives: Red Squirrel Press

This Small Patch by Tom Kelly (Red Squirrel Press)

This Small Patch by Tom Kelly (Red Squirrel Press)

Born in Jarrow, working at sixteen in the Merchant Dry Dock and still living not far away, Tom Kelly has been producing plays, music and film lyrics, short stories and poems for over thirty years in his native North-East. His lifetime’s knowledge of his locality continues, as the title here signals, to be his major source of subject-matter. This collection ‒ his eighth from Red Squirrel in the last twelve years, not forgetting earlier ones from KT, Here Now, Smokestack, and (long ago) Tears in the Fence ‒ also contains song lyrics, speeches from the 1930s Jarrow Crusade, and explanatory prose commentaries. The lyrics lose something on their own, as lyrics generally do, but it’s worth checking the Men of the Tyne songs on the CD, and the documentary on YouTube, where they come into glorious full effect. Of the poems, there’s none here as brilliant as the earlier, savage ‘The Wrong Jarrow’ and no line as arresting as ‘‘No’ is the password, stamped on their hopes’ with its terrific repurposing of ‘password’. Nonetheless the majority preserve a solid style and feel across time: the present historic, the asyndeton, the low-key language and deferred epiphany. Sometimes Kelly’s poems appear to stop before they’ve got going. Sometimes they feel like notes. Moments of pure lyricism are sparse, like moments of joy:

The film’s something celestial
fallen into our laps,

More often, ‘fine phrasing’ gets cut with grim bathos:

Tears hold their own in the corners of her eyes
wishing they could be used in the pawn shop.

Admittedly, it’s not the most rewarding style if you’re in search of linguistic fireworks and metatextual car-chases. Other writers identifying with the skilled working class ‒ Tony Harrison or Andy Croft, say ‒ forge arabesques of wordplay alongside precise rhyming in difficult formalisms to enact toil and struggle and craftsmanship. But perhaps Kelly’s offers an equally authentic way to approach the mental universes of these industrial lives of outward good-fellowship but constricted emotional display, whose laconic narrators resist at all costs the flashy, long-worded or bombastic, and retreat into collocation or summary at the moment of truth:

There’s just a great gap of love
you endured
and my gaping wound.

Certainly, the poems sent me away to investigate Tyneside history: from Bede, whose monastery was in Jarrow, through England’s last gibbeting, the abrupt end of shipbuilding in 1933 and the unspeakable deprivation that led to the march to London; the post-war recovery, and then the early-Eighties destruction. All of these are touched upon and intermixed with family histories and 1950s childhood memories in a nice counterpointing of the social and personal. The concluding section returns to the present, memorialising the decline of Working Men’s Clubs – a topic entirely new to poetry? – alongside family elegies and scary portrayals of the erosion of personal memory. The overall effect, though, remains uplifting: this is poetry as archaeology and conservation, an exegi monumentum not to the poet himself but to the community he’s part of, and all the better for that.

Guy Russell 2nd July 2020

Hool Goes There

Hool Goes There

Ric Hool’s Selected Poems has just appeared from Red Squirrel Press and it can be obtained from Sheila Wakefield, the Founding Editor of that interesting and attractive publishing venture. The address is Briery Hill Cottage, Stannington, Morpeth NE61 6ES: www.redsquirrelpress.com

 

It is very appropriate that this new volume of Ric’s should come out from the North East since this is where he hails from. Equally appropriate is the inclusion in the volume of the ‘Five Devotions to Barry MacSweeney’ which had originally been published in the summer of 2002 in Tears Number 32. When Ric Hool’s Collective Press volume, Making It, appeared in 1998 it had a back cover which included MacSweeney’s blurb: ‘I like it very much and find the firmness and sureness of the lyricism refreshing in this cynical and flaky world. A poet with a joyful soul is rare indeed these days.’ Another quotation on the back of that little volume is from Chris Torrance who commented that ‘the poet is not supplying any easy answers, but posing dilemmas that are philosophical, ethical, ecological. It is work that I can read again, knowing that it is durable, poetry that can move with time.’

 

Those comments are equally appropriate to this new volume and as Fiona Owen says ‘Themes such as space, mapping and music trickle through the book like a stream.’

 

With these comments in mind I want to highlight the new Oystercatcher Press volume of Amy Cutler’s Nostalgia Forest. This is an astonishingly attractive chapbook which everybody should get hold of and Peter Larkin’s comments on it are worth taking very seriously indeed: ‘Though any forest memory may be at best like one of Aristotle’s “shaggy waxes”, these diagrammatic profiles offer intimations of calamity or nurture, or a tonal or atonal transversal of timber, itself an astute truncation of nostalgia’s own magnetic time-intervals.’ If you are in London on Thursday June 6th then do go to the evening of drinks and live music at the launch of a belfry exhibition of small press poems, one-off editions, book works, art and archival photographs. Copies of Nostalgia Forest will be on sale there.

 

Time, the deer, is in the wood of Hallaig                                            /                                             Tha tìm, am fiadh, an Coille Hallaig

7.30 at The Belfry Art Gallery, St John on Bethnal Green, 200 Cambridge Heath Road, E2 9PA

Ian Brinton

 

 

 

%d bloggers like this: