Only a few weeks to go before the launch of my Parthian poetry collection, Miners At The Quarry Pool. I’ve told everyone that it’s not about miners, quarrying or the pools that form when quarrying ends, with the explanation that that’s modern poetry for you. Actually, there is an eponymously-titled poem; it first appeared in Poetry Wales under Richard Poole’s editorship, which seems a long while ago in development-of-poetry terms.
The strange thing about a lot of contemporary verse, though, is that it gets easier the more you read it and the greater is the period of time between readings. Some of the collections I’ve reviewed for Acumen magazine have been perplexing, yet appear less so after my review has been published and when I’ve gone back to a particular poet for some other reason (perhaps I’ve read something elsewhere and wish to validate an argument I hadn’t previously considered).
A poetry collection, unlike a story collection, is much less likely to embody a theme unless one is writing to prescription, even over a long period. The element that pervades MATQP is the influence of my grandfathers, who were chapelgoers and coalminers, a combination that has always intrigued me in trying to discover what made them, and others like them, function as they did. The poem titled MATQP suggests that miners were not the right-on lilywhite foot-soldiers of the militant working-class that some commentators would like us to believe. It’s a (probably) flawed moral view, encapsulated in the story Point Of Dishonour in my Parthian story collection, Funderland, which came out about the same time two years ago. In that tale, the Great War soldier shot for deserting the battlefield turns out to have been a wifebeating moral coward, the implication of the narrator being that even if he’d been virtuously courageous his violent civilian exploits would have effaced any approval his wartime courage may have attracted.
My grandfathers’ legacy, therefore, has been a kind of moral cynicism, which at least always involves seeing things from some kind of ethical standpoint, however inconclusive or skewed. I have no idea what we are doing in Afghanistan but I was impelled to write the poem Helmand, about a dead soldier who was once interested in ornithology. (Strange, but another Funderland story, actually called Ornithology, is about the moral dilemmas of a husband whose wife is a chronic depressive.) I always find birds emblematic. Perhaps this moral fixation is reponsible for Celia, Oh Celia, a story of mine currently up on the website of the Erotic Review. The exercise of writing erotic prose while avoiding the lapse into pornography hard or soft is one that all writers should undertake, but they need a sense of humour. In erotic writing, the tongue is more likely to be planted firmly in cheek than anywhere else; in fact, anywhere else is likely to be risible.