Down to Earth
Claremont Road, Paul Hawkins (36pp, £5.95, erbacce-press)
How I Learned to Sing, Mark Robinson (202pp, £8.95, Smokestack)
I have to confess that I'm kind of bored with poetry at the moment. Even old favourites like Robert Creeley, Kenneth Patchen and e.e. cummings have been left gathering dust under the bed. Instead I've been reading about Wire (the band, not the long thin bits of metal), and enjoying some dystopian fantasies set in an alternative magical London.
These two books have thankfully started to rekindle my interest. Claremont Road is a set of poems set in the infamous squat of that same name, a documentary come celebration come mourning of political and social resistance. Within Hawkins' (it has to be said rather over-priced) booklet we get introduced to a number of characters, situations and moments in carefree, excited story poems and post-punk dub philosophy.
Time has not withered Hawkins' political resolve or memory. I'm sure we have acquaintances in common - I know at least two sets of people who were involved at different times in this squat and the road protests they were part of, and although they are not named they are depicted. Commited social rebels sharing their lives with down and outs, the homless, druggies and drinkers, in a loose-knit, tentative community. Dub rhythms (or what Hawkins calls ‘loose-boned blues') and personal memories drive this collection along. It's original and moving and I look forward to seeing where Paul Hawkins' poetry squats next.
Mark Robinson has ended a decade of poetic silence whilst working as a senior arts manager with a New and Selected Poems. How I Learned to Sing is aptly titled, for one of the astonishing things Robinson continually does is make music out of political and social concerns and observation. His poems tell stories, but these are stories fuelled and informed by anger and outrage at the way he and all of us are treated.
In more recent poems this is filtered through stories about his family, his fears for his children, often via more playful and gently experimental forms - lists and variant patterns. Robinson is ‘a northern poet' still, he says so in his poems; and the plain-speaking, plain-language of his early work has (thankfully) never gone away. Robinson has no time for daft ideas or political shenanigans, wants to cut through the crap and make it right; ask questions and get direct answers.
This isn't, however, political poetry that rants and screams: there's little sloganeering and no platitudes here. Robinson's politics is personal: in his world art and writing count, politics is personal and affects the real families, communities and society he is part of. It is from this that he makes his poems and tells his stories, makes comments and asks questions.
Here are two poets who have learned to sing down-to-earth songs, who know that 'Ideas should not be mistaken for facts' (Robinson) but know ideas come out of facts, make facts and inform facts. Fact: this is hard-won, hard-working poetry, that's reminded me how good words on the page can be.
© Rupert Loydell 2014