Issue 12


Summer 2014

 

John Barron, The Nail Forge, tall-lighthouse, 34pp, £5


Antiphon has been fortunate enough to publish two of the poems from this publication (issues 2 and 5) and so the attentive reader will already have appreciated Barron’s precise imagery, close observation and dry humour. This short pamphlet reflects a poet who thinks deeply and carefully about the world around him. The pieces cover subjects as varied as acupuncture, infestation by a parasite and consideration of a dead badger. The poet often asks questions of himself and his subject:

My heart has been trying tidiness
like this street that leads on to the station –
conifers, drives where asparagus spears up
in spite of concrete, chip-shop, expectant-eyed
old man on the front step out of boredom.

How could I cultivate this,
garden where the bindweed stretches?

‘Tidiness’

There is the urge to make sense of the process of life, the way its compulsions and tensions arise from the physical. The best poems here have an open-endedness about them in which the future, unknown, lies just beyond the vivid images. The final poem, ‘Noise’, has the poet listening to his own mind and watching what it records, moving from the house’s interior to the outside

The low, steady fluorescence
of the steelworks in January darkness,
an amber, snow-reflected glow
above the low line of the moors.

and then the smell and taste of a fairground. ‘A dribble of urine/down the inside of a thigh’ ensures the poem stays grounded (though for me was a distraction leading more to pondering about the narrator than the images) but the ending is lovely:

A ripple through leaves in the plum tree,
heard from the garden,
the unattached swish
of the wind’s tail, singing.

The poems are all free verse and so rely on the musicality of the language and the quality of the description. Barron’s language is always precise, sensitive, exacting. A few poems depend rather heavily on place names (‘Barnsley, But Not On The Tom Tom’, ‘Tanka, Kelham Island’) – the technique works best when place is used with a light touch to illuminate history, as here where losing hair is unexpectedly linked to children working in mines:

I worry about my hair,
the way it keeps going.
The way the water keeps taking
my hair down the plughole
with the fluff and dead fleas
beyond the old toilet block
into the vast iron sewers of Harvey Street.

 ‘In Memory of the Children of the Huskar Pit Disaster’

There are a couple of pieces about members of the narrator’s family – even here the poems move beyond the immediate emotion to stretch back into beginnings framed by a different world. This is an interesting and intelligent collection with an eclectic range of subject-matter, an intriguing taster of this talented poet.

RB