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THE YEAR I LOVED ENGLAND:

Afric McGlinchey reviews a poetry collaboration by Joseph Horgan and Antony Owen.

 

 

 

Afric McGlinchey

Afric McGlinchey’s work has appeared in literary journals in eleven countries. Poems have been translated into and published in Irish, Spanish and Italian, and selected for a Leaving Certificate Examinations Book. Afric was selected for the Italo-Irish Literary Exchange in 2014 and has performed at many festivals and venues throughout Ireland and abroad, including Poetry Africa, the Cork Spring Poetry Festival, the Harare International Festival of the Arts and the Troubadour in London. The recipient of a Faber Academy fellowship, she won the 40th Hennessy Emerging Poetry Award  and the Northern Liberties Award (USA) in 2012. Nominated for the Pushcart and the Forward, she was also placed, highly commended and shortlisted for many prizes, including the Bridport, Magma and Gregory ODonoghue, and also longlisted in the National Poetry Prize. Afric lives in West Cork.

 

 

 

 

 

The Year I Loved England

The Year I Loved England

Poems by Joseph Horgan & Antony Owen; photos by Rangzeb Hussain.

(Pighog Press, 2014)

ISBN: 978-1-906309-42-8

£10.99 paperback

Buy from Pighog

 

 

 

George Szirtes once said that there’s always a little cold wind in a good poem. Well, there’s a cold wind blowing right through ‘The Year I Loved England’, which reflects a bitter, reluctant attachment to place.

            The cover names England in fourteen different languages and several alphabets, to remind us that it is home a multiplicity of cultures. This is the dominant theme: "There are twenty one fruits at Jaspal’s / weighed by hands of henna and lace" (‘Disadvantaged Area’); "anagrams of broken English" (‘The Subjects’); "Ash prayed west in a skinhead’s shadow / shortening his life to fit in." (‘Fitting In’).                        

            Although these cultures are now generations-old in England, racism is still prevalent:  "…buy bread from the nig-nog" ('The Subjects’).  You know from the outset that this is a collection where the stakes are high. As Joy Williams puts it: "assemble the ambulances. Something is going to happen."

            Paul Muldoon said that a poem should be a disturbing unit: that when one goes into that force field, one will come out the other end a changed person. This is what many of these poems do. Affronts like racist slurs shock in the moment of reading and linger in the mind afterwards.

            Many are not afraid to face the uncomfortable or the tragic aspects of our lives. ‘Dusk on Harrow Hill’ describes looking for a missing person with painstaking, intense detail:

            "They’re burning gorse to look for her,

            the covered man points down,

            hardened men are vomiting."

 

The cultural divide is made glaringly obvious: the taxi driver who is called a "coon" (‘Soil Fee’); the Irish with "their Paddy / names and their Paddy faces // and their English accents" (‘Paddies’); but the other side of the divide also gets a voice. The most evocatively titled poem, 'I think of all the moons I have seen',  has an epigraph by Malala Yousafzai: "The extremists are afraid of books and pens." The poem reminds us that no matter where we live, we hold on to our original cultures as part of our identity: "I spit pomegranate seeds, / though I have lived / my whole life in this city".

            The voices of the two poets are very distinctive, but the poems are unattributed, allowed to speak for themselves. A different kind of ‘Wasteland’, the polyphony of voices accumulates to suggest a community that has seen hard times: "Childhood was a magic trick, /it vanished with the work,/ sometime in the eighties." (‘The little things destroy us’).

            Both the poems and the photographs present a bleak outlook of the midlands with its "old industrial identities" ('Season ticket'). There is a vivid evocation of place, particularly of houses: the house where "we double bagged their decades" (‘The house with its lights off');  the house where "we turn the lid upside down when we have drunk tea"; another where the speaker hears a "bed creak through the wall / and a body shifting" (‘Prime’). The poems celebrate an insulated melancholy: "this is an old  / house where things take place" ('Sext'). The overall impression is of a kind of Coronation Street, a community, with differing factions. But in the end, in spite of all the pessimism and mess, this is home. ‘The Dreamer of Samuel Vale House’ is a beautifully evocative poem, where the speaker could be speaking for  most of the street dwellers: "I have googled the earth and am tired of paradise. / This city is home, I am its key and broken door."

 

As the son of Irish parents, Joseph Horgan probably identifies with  the "Paddies who’d hardly seen a tarmacked road / come out of this wet field and that / to furnish a city" (‘Paddies’). He also understands the constant ache of the immigrant for home: "the night you slept with Paddy Quinn, / the Liffey pulled you home through his lilt" (‘Visitors’). In a later poem he writes acidly, "as if I a man, / with a field inside his head…carries a grá for all their brick" (‘All their brick walls’). If Owen is the political fury, Horgan is the son of immigrants,  grappling  with what "home" means.

            Wordsworth called poetry "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings". We might blame the overflow of feelings for the excessive imagery that sometimes muddies a poem. For example, when the subject is the killing of three youths (‘Unbranded’), the details need to be as pared down as possible; otherwise the poignancy is swamped by overblown images, over-reached-for metaphor. Tighter editing in places (there are also punctuation errors, and some titles could have worked harder) would have made all the difference.

            But these flaws don’t overwhelm the overall vision of this ambitious project. The poets’ view of England is instantly recognizable, not because these are clichés, but because  at their darkest and most painfully acute, they feel real: "The things they put through the letterbox" (‘Rattles and Shakes’) and "windows change to plywood at the mosque". "Last Tuesday …. from her wheelie bin … they found bones of lamb dopiaza and a Pekinese". (‘The Burning of Number Eight’s Wheelie Bin’).

 

The three artists share an overriding interest in the close detail of the human condition. Hussain’s photographs have a felt sense of the texture of everyday life: children on bikes pass a crashed car; washing hangs on a line in a derelict lot beside some rubble; a man walks past a close-up shot of a dead pigeon. Stark, urban, unflinching photographs of what usually passes unnoticed.

            I think this emotionally complex, thought-provoking collection will strike an important note in the minds of many. When we read these poems, we have, like the woman in the poem ‘Four o’clock’, authentic life in our hands.

 

©2015 Afric McGlinchey

 

 

Author Links

 

Afric McGlinchey homepage

Poems by Afric McGlinchey at Poethead

Poems and reviews by McGlinchey in Southword Journal

 

 

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