Alan Morrison on
Poets and critics are only humans; many poets are also critics and can make the most severe ones at times, being largely creatures of passion. Sometimes they make mistakes in judgement, or are too quick to dismiss one type of poetry by a poet only to realise the same poet can and has produced other types, and then it's only right for them to admit an original opinion was too hasty. So easy to lapse into knee-jerk appraisals in the over-heated virtual world of forum debates, where comments are posted often impulsively at the itch of a button. I made one such mistake with my initial opinion of the poetry of Angela Readman, simply through exposure to one small section of her output which didn't push my buttons in terms of topic at the time, and which I can anyway see an objective merit in in terms of poetic craft. But the poems I've since accepted for publication below by Readman demonstrate abundantly and explicitly why my original perception was mistaken, and was one unhelpfully distracted by what I now feel was an unrepresentative presentation of her poetry and literary personality; I can only blame this misjudgement on pressure at the time to report an initial response in a speedy debate on contemporary poetics, where, at the best of times,large political gestures can cloud measured aesthetic criticism. I am very glad now to put that error of judgement right and, quite oppositely, praise who I now believe (having read a large number of other poems by her) to be one of the most striking and distinctive young poets writing at the moment. No need to detail Readman's long list of achievements, high profile critical praise and competition successes so far - the poetry below says it all. Powerful stuff and very much in the spirit of the Recusant's own aesthetic crusade: to publish the grittier poetry being written today by those determined not to compromise their voices for passing fashions; most importantly, by working-class voices (by which I mean those who do not hail from more well-heeled Oxbridge-esque backgrounds of many prominent metropolitan talents who still have a debatably disproportionate amount of page space in our still un-meritocratic culture. Now enjoy these gritty but plangent snapshots of Northern life by up-and-coming Middlesbrough-born poet Angela Readman...
Elbow deep in peelings, still your mother came forward,
wiped her hands to brush lint from your fathers’ jacket,
every crease ironed from her face, no judgement, a flicker of pride
at how well he turned out for his pilgrimage to the working men's club.
The streets smelled of potatoes, hot oil, pans in wait for wins of meat,
legless men to stagger home with joints from raffles under their arms.
You were fourteen, carted your father’s wheelchair over curbs,
positioned him by the bar. Come afternoon close, you followed tyres,
snakes in the snow all the way back to your boarded front door,
mothers’ burnt Yorkshires, for her husband and son, big enough
to bare the chariot of his father’s thirst. Long after your parents are gone
you follow the same route, cufflinks clanking the rims of your chair
as you roll to the flat. Quiet as pockets before giro day, you remember
the old dear on Sunday mornings, place a fresh shirt on the bed,
a handkerchief and tie laid out next to your father’s legs.
The streets smell of gravy trains ending. You think of mother
in wait for last orders, still peering out of wet windows,
waiting for you to bring Sunday home one more time.
My father turned his hand to plastering,
loaded tub and a plastic hawk to set his eyes to walls
flat as notes. I watched the adult work of float,
the scrape of his trowels on eaves, sharp as tongues,
true as spades hitting stone. No time for talk,
in this race against drying, cracks and time to sign on.
He shed his shirt to sweat into buckets, drops
on the powder floor, earth brown clung to hairs,
dried flecks fell like hungry children losing their grip
from his chest. With a wet brush I followed to stop the crazing,
so careful, the tip of things I wouldn't say between my teeth,
my brushstrokes polished away by the feather edge in his grip.
Never did he smile, stand so still, as when he stood back
sure as a man inside his own sandcastle, regarding walls
flat enough to paint any colour. Only dust to say he was
Angela Readman © 2010
Outside the job centre
he sells his enterprise:
a painting, his Sistine:
Miners dreaming in the cave of the politician.
To some, it looks like a sheet of black paper.
as if they’ve found their own
photograph in the gutter,
chatter silenced by how the painter
has captured their hunger,
the potholes of their pupils,
the blackened teeth of the cold wind.
Since he heard they were in Margaret was back,
rolling into the gap in bed between him and his wife.
He feels irons breathe hot air in his ear, grudging wind
down a closed shaft. She is older now, he knows, picket lines
crossed round her mouth, hard hat replaced by stringy
but this ghost, his Margaret hasn’t aged a poll.
Her voice rises from halls of haggling men, it places him
in the bottom of a well, looking up. She makes her face the moon,
taxes his personal space. He can’t pay, so slowly, gizzard fingers
trace a dotted line on his neck, she stuffs her kisses like ballots
down his gullet, his lips a slot screwed shut over years, tight
as a box to sign his name. It’s a wonder he sleeps at all.
All day he prepares, lowers his eyes down a hatch,
makes them adjust to the dark, to raise a fistful of cold coal
to look Margaret in the eye. He’s found shouting futile
using his fists - a giro he can’t cash. So he speaks to her
like a small child, softly, ‘Margaret, did you
learning to spell your name?’ He echoes her sobs in
the break of red crayon, spilt milk on her nice
the first day of school and like that the iron
into pieces small enough for him to assemble sleep.
He sees Little Margaret wake in the night, wet, twisting sheets
from the hands of a thousand men who clutched at the tails
of her dreams
with such dirty hands she had to wash them before she bruised.
Sometimes he feels the tears of the child she might have been on his cheeks
Chasing the time he was. ‘Ssh, Margaret’, he says, ‘I understand.’
Angela Readman © 2010