A QUICK CANTER THROUGH THE AISLES


INTRODUCING THE HOBO POETS
, 100pp, 4.99
SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION
by John Adair, 56pp, 5.99
FIRE AND ICE
by Helen Hail, 56pp, 5.99
THE KIND GHOSTS
by Oz Hardwick, 56pp, 5.99
TUNNELS OF THE MIND
by Peter Tomlinson, 68pp, 5.99
URBAN DAWN
by Brendan Hawthorne, 62pp, 5.99
USE ONCE AND DESTROY
by RC Edrington, 76pp, 5.99
all titles, bluechrome publishing, PO Box 109, Portishead, Bristol, BS20 7ZJ.



Bluechrome has certainly got their head screwed on the right way to have come up with such a clever marketing ploy as the Hobo Poets Series. Of course, it's more than simply a strategy to sell books and recoup a financial investment. It's a determined and, apparently, earnest attempt to promote the reading of poetry; to raise the appreciation and, therefore, the status of poetry; to help poetry and poets achieve greater popularity, though, thankfully, without necessarily being mind-numbingly populist about it.

What makes this a winner is that all six collections are readily accessible to the general reader and cover a spectrum of styles that must surely provide something for all tastes, whether the camp you belong to is that of the ardent linguistic high-brow, the mucky-finger-nailed urbanite realist or the inexcusably rural romantic. But, to make it even easier to decide before you part with your cash for any of the individual collections, bluechromeis offering up a sampler of ten poems by each of this year's six writers, which stands on its own as a quality anthology with an affordable price-tag.

So, who are these writers and what do they do? Were I to use the epithet mixed bag
, I'd run the risk of suggesting some are better in some way than the others and, thereby, of exposing myself to potential ridicule. But, rather, each has distinct qualities to their writing that go towards making this more akin to a Fortnum and Mason's mixed bag - everything in it is different, but each is also extremely tasty.

Added to this is the fact that they are not spring chickens - it is not a collection of young writers - they are, on the whole, writers with life experiences beyond the campus, whom can be seen collectively as, 'the special writers of poetry that are yet to have had a first collection set in print, those poets who have a body of work of the highest quality that perhaps lack the profile of others or haven't been around quite so long,'

At a quick canter through the aisles towards the checkout, then, in order of appearance, as per the sampler, they are:

John Adair, who was born in Liverpool in 1966 and writes in a style that is humorous, if not cynical, often short and sharp, taking human relationships as a frequent starting point, and always light, yet pointed.  For example, in 'Arrangement', the relationship between an obsessive-compulsive and a bulimic (or is she anorexic?), Adair focuses on the compromise of their asexual arrangement with:

     For just as she
     does not want him
     to see her naked,
     he does not want
     to catch her germs.

Or, in 'Immovable Object', the strains on a relationship are caught mid-quarrel over a missing dictionary with:

     She said, 'ZGURMY.'
     She always has to have
     the final word.

Where Adair might elicit a giggle, Helen Hail is a very different kettle of fish. Part of her collection's dedication is to 'a horse called Will for carrying [her] around the West Gloucestershire countryside that constantly inspires [her].' This is indicative of her style - rural romantic - every line bulging with natural history and reflecting her 'decades' of teaching literature and language in FE establishments.

Having only discovered her poetic voice in 2001, when 'the poems began to arrive', she is open about the fact that, 'she doesn't know where they come from, or where they're leading.'

     The lane closed in with web and parsley
     and buttercups leaned over

     and there was the hare
     loping
              (from 'Sacred Creature')

But there's more to Helen Hail than nature.  There are pieces in which her emotional literacy is used to good effect in counterpointing her reminiscences of past and current relationships and her reactions to them, which often embody a certain furtiveness, a secrecy that creates tension or mystery, and which has much to do with her being a self-confessed 'proper middle-class, fifties child'.

 

But yet, I

remember cracking limbs

and kisses deep as night itself

and tenderness and honeyed words

and all the pain of letting go

those twenty

years

ago

 

(from 'Nostalgia')



Oz Hardwick flips the coin on Hail's pithy reminiscences with his predominantly present tense poems of moment and place, contrasting the relaxed pace of her rural idyll with the urgency of his see it now, or it's gone attitude.

     Dry tongue licks dry lips.
     From here the sky looks smaller,
     anticipating...
               (from 'Transatlantic [Manchester-Chicago]')

Indeed, the very sub-title of 'Transatlantic' points to another aspect of Hardwick's poetic vision - his worldliness. There is a sense of him being constantly on the move - a genuine globetrotter.  This travelling informs his poetry, giving it an interest value way beyond the parochial, and complements the way in which his multifaceted career and character also provide input.

     We crush and swing with aching metal,
     looking sideways, not ahead,
     anxious of our destinations,
     not quite hearing what is said.
                (from 'Train of Thought')

Peter Tomlinson, like John Adair, is another survivor of 60's Merseyside, but relies more on nostalgia in his writing, giving it a cosy, homely sort of feel. With its churchyards and soldiers and absent friends and battles and boyish pranks and landscapes and flora and fauna and beauty and pathos and ancestors and rites of passage, there is, unabashedly and unapologetically, something of the flavour of Betjeman in its green-and-pleasant-landishness.

What adds to this impression, perhaps, is that, every so often, Tomlinson slips into rhyme - though I have to say, all told, delicately handled.

     A lone Lancaster,
     silhouetted by moonlight,
     drones away into the night
     and the watchful Spitfire
     lurks behind darkening clouds.

     A fighting nation
     rests its determined brow
     and we reflect:
     was all the anguish worth
     what we are now.
               (from 'Black and White War')

Yet, that's not to say Tomlinson is trapped in some time warp, nor that, as readers, we are unfailingly taken on retrospective jaunts into his past.  Just a change of tense and it can be anytime now, such as with his self-questioning evoked by the all-too-often-repeated images of third-world starvation in 'Pictures in a Newspaper', or with the pensive atmospherics of 'Piano Bar', in which:

     The pianist in crumpled suit
     smiles at the off-key drunk in the corner
     tormenting the memory of an old song.

With Brendan Hawthorne, there's another England, one quite different from Tomlinson's, and, I feel, given the accompanying blurb's brevity, capaciousness and precision, it deserves, by way of illustration, to be quoted in full.

'Hawthorne hails from the Black Country in the industrial heartland of England, which has forged his attitude to writing and performing. Sometimes hard-hitting, sometimes delicate and poignant, his work examines the range of human experience from factory gates via 70s tower blocks to the survival of humour in modern times. He is married with two cats and a summerhouse.'

So, did you catch all those clues?  Industrial heartland - forged - attitude - hard-hitting - factory gates - tower blocks. Gritty urban realism then? Or just stereotyping for the sake of hyping?

     Shifting his weight he taints the air
     with stale wind and fag smoke
     lifting the cider bottle to his lips
     he gulches and spills the amber
     apple down his stubbled-blue
     carborundum chin
                (from 'Wasted')

The clue is in the cats - or, rather, on the facing page...

      I slept with the phone
     that still carried the echo of your voice

     I then ate all the love hearts
     that you left me
     not once reading the messages
     in case they hurt too much
                (from 'Carrying On')

As it says on the tin, 'sometimes hard-hitting, sometimes delicate and poignant.' With this balance throughout, Hawthorne has come up with a very readable collection, showing as full a range of human emotions as to make it startlingly sincere.


The last of the six, RC Edrington, a bartender from Arizona, provides a different type of gritty, urban realism, one more in the tradition of Chas Bukowski and Bill Burroughs where life has a toxicological centre. But, pastiche it is not. Though perhaps being heard from the same direction, Edrington's is a distinct voice that could be best described as post-modern beat.

     I'd be a millionaire
     getting my cock honed
     by 18 year old
     coke whores in some
     ghost tainted mansion
     on the Beverley Hill
    where loyalty is metered
     by the powdery white
     prison bars that cut
     a mirror no one ever
     bothers to gaze
    too deeply into
                 (from 'Unbroken')

Yet, even amongst the lines of depravity and despair, there's a form of tenderness (I'd like to call it love, but, somehow, it doesn't quite fit) that surfaces from time to time - a junkie tenderness, riven with confusion and absence. These are relationships based on a shared chemical obfuscation of reality, but which are just as felt as any experienced in Merseyside or down a West Gloucestershire lane.

     and the snowflakes gather
     along this frozen window sill
     like an albino's dry leper skin,
     as my syringe slowly soaks
     up the final spilt tear
     of a pawned diamond ring

     and I still think of you
     Melissa sometimes
     do you sill think of me,
     are you somewhere
     swaying to Coltrane
     blackberry Merlot raping
      your carved Cherokee cheeks
                      (from 'Melissa Sometimes')

So, with quick canter complete, we've arrived at the checkout, older, but any wiser?  I certainly know what's in my basket. I can only hope I've helped you decide which of these offerings from bluechrome deserve to be in yours, even if only the sampler, and that, with further Hobo deliveries expected in future years, you're queuing patiently with loyalty card at the ready. After all, there really is something for everyone and, whichever it is, quality is guaranteed.

          John Mingay 2004