Williams (83pp, £8.99, Nine Arches)
Ways to Build A Roadblock, Josh Ekroy (82pp, £8.99, Nine Arches)
Mark Burnhope (85pp, £8.99, Nine Arches)
Richie McCaffery (65pp, £8.99, Nine Arches)
mi duck! Excuse my Midlands twang, I'm in the middle of Tony William's
collection The Midlands and I'm excited, there hasn't been a Midlands
poet of note since D H Lawrence got goat gonorrhoea in Mexico (part time
shaman Alan Sillitoe was too busy being a great Midlands author to be a great
Tony Williams could be next. He certainly has the talent. The Midlands has a clear sense of
place. The poems are well put together and pleasant, with echoes of Louis
MacNeice, Edward Thomas, and a healthy dose of Rainer Maria Rilke. These
influences wash tenderly over slightly laborious excavations of the Lake
poets. The poetry of The Midlands springs from a post
industrial beautiful green belt where century old mine shafts still sing,
sadly and inevitably, as predicted by Larkin's 'The Explosion', of their own
On the day of the
Shadows pointed towards
In the sun the slagheap
Down the lane came men in
Coughing oath-edged talk
Shouldering off the
However unlike Larkin's poetry, Tony Williams' lacks a certain, necessary,
sprinkling of originality. The ghosts of W.H. Auden and all of his friends
do loom rather large over The Midlands, Tony Williams is sobbing, but he
needs to sob a little louder.
Paradoxically a strong sense of place can also act as a constraint. What
would the Frank O'Hara style town mouse poets like Sam Reverie and Emily
Berry think of Tony Williams' country mouse debut? The Midlands lacks a cutting edge.
As a consequence, a beautiful poem like 'Lullaby' may flutter around the
Derbyshire dales unnoticed:
O my son,
Do not let me hear of the
death that awaits you.
Do not let me see you
at the white city, whose
record the story of your
Whereas this football chant, hailing from the famously red and white City
Ground (Nottingham) side of the river Trent, shows perfectly how a sense of
place can inhibit a poet:
We hate Derby and we hate
We hate Derby and we hate
We hate Derby and we hate
We are the Derby
Though the song is not strictly good, in a formal poetic sense, it still
means a great deal to thousands of football fans in The Midlands, and is sung
with gusto around the terraces every match day. However it don't mean
anything anywhere else, or to people not interested in football. Tony
Williams' writing may be heartfelt, it may be evocative, it may even be worthy
of praise - the problem is that since the majority of the world has not tuned
in to 'The Coal Mining Times' to read the Midlands, our residents are crying and no one
think of nothing polite to say about Josh Ekkroy's book, so I will move on to
the second outing of Mark Burnhope, which weighs in four pages longer than
Ekroy's awful debut collection. Outstaying one's welcome is the height of bad
manners, as anyone who has read Oscar Wilde knows, therefore as a
conscientious objector I am obliged to provide the riposte.
85 pages. There are 85 vital leaves of Amazonian rainforest gone just to
placate Mark Burnhope's pride. This book is a palace of ego. I forget who
said 'there is no art without ego', unfortunately when you have as much ego
as Mark Burnhope, the art (in this case - very loosely - poetry) becomes a
collection of idiotically strewn together nouns, verbs and adjectives.
'Phantasmantia I: Matins' (!!!) has the indecency to begin:
Body all toothpick
WTF! That does not mean anything at all. [Yes it does - ed.] I found a sum total
of eight good lines in Species, here are four of the least bad from 'To My Kreeping Krypto-faith, Krampus' (I'm not making
these titles up):
Your title drags the
Mass through dust;
combines grump, Gramps,
cramp, and pus (St.
Paul's sprinter pulling
a calf, keeling over,
footing a fierce blister).
No, not really, Mark Burnhope's concern here would like to be known as God.
However because his poetry is so self-absorbed and overloaded with horse
manure, the gap between himself and God blurs. Who is God? Who is Mark
Burnhope? It's a close call.
His party trick appears to be shovelling letters around like a snowstorm in
Alaska, he does this in an ignorant way, not unlike a gnostic vision of God:
There is sheep-sky, there
is a goat ground
and she: a toffee-wrapper
on the ground.
Who knew ground rhymed so well with ground? Until now, only my cousin in year
eight, and I'm not completely confident that the women in his poems really
enjoy being typed up as sweet wrappers on the, wait, where's my rhyming
dictionary? Oh sod it - ground.
Sometimes it feels like Species exists as a marvellous and daring attempt at
domination of the forthcoming penguin vintage edition of codswallop. Mark
Burnhope may well see himself as the next Thomas Aquinas, but he's not laying
down a challenge to God, he just man with a messiah complex. The existence of
is an insult to any Species involved in its printing, bounding, publishing
and marketing, God only knows what will become of the unfortunate Species
charged with its reviewing.
came across Richie McCaffery in my second favourite (hello Rupert!) poetry
magazine, The Delinquent. I'm a little smitten. I admire his
restraint, his conviction, the simple descriptions of human interaction. Here
he is remembering a childhood game of football:
A ball dribbled in the
in the playground after
the bell rang
turned out to be the
The precision of McCaffery's stone crafted world play moves the word around
like skilled freemasonry carves into the universes' cruel curves. McCaffery
reminds me a little of County Durham's finest Craig Raine. Listen to the Martian poet travelling
back to the motherland in 'Flying to Belfast 1977':
It was possible to laugh
As the engines whistled
to the boil,
And wonder what the
clouds looked like -
Shoveled snow, Apple
Tufty Tails ...
Similarly to the Martian, McCaffery does not try over hard. He has learnt
from T.S. Eliot, Christopher Reid and Seamus Heaney the art of showing,
instead of banging the reader over the head with complex (useless)
vocabulary. I don't want to throw this name around lightly, but this is a
skill James Joyce used wonderfully well. Richie McCaffery is confident
enough in his use of language to let simple descriptions do heavier work.
These three lines are about his mother, which, helpfully is what the poem is
She said being pregnant
was like spinning a
on the thinnest stick inside you
is a brilliant first collection, it rides on every eternal wave that a
serious and profound poet should ride, and is easily the best of these four
Nine Arches titles. I hope Cairn gets the readership and exposure it deserves.
A stunning debut, I take my hat off and throw it in the air. Bravo Richie
Dear reader, in ten years time all of these books will be available for 20p
be in the bargain bin in Aldi, it there is one, which there isn't. Two of the
books deserve it, two of them don't. Not because they are good or bad, but
because there is no real market for them. These books exist for their authors
and for a few passionate enthusiasts, the reason so few people read modern
poetry is because it is too far up its own arse to attract a readership. No
one with a social life and a twitter account wants to know what an
introverted/dead librarian snarls about. The vast majority of modern poetry
is too dense and uninteresting compared with the immediacy of modern life.
Magical poets like D.H Lawrence wrote in celebration of the word, producing
writing that entertained, writing that seduced. In conclusion, dear reader,
if you're thinking of picking up a pen: raise your game. The market values
poets who sell. If a poet can get some clients through the wooden door,
that's a winner, if not, good luck.