Friday, 14 September 2012

The Dark Film by Paul Farley

If you want to get a flavour of this book, there's an excellent review on another blog which I have commented on which you might like to read

There's no point in repeating what it says in the blog and the comments. I'd rather say what I think about Farley's poetics and look at what I believe is the best poem in the book, Cloaca Maxima.Farley in my view is a class act, but I find it strange that, nothwithstanding all the autobiographical poems in the book, I don't feel I really know anything about the guy. It's as if he's being too abstract and creating a strerotype of his own experience:

I'd look up to them looming on street corners,
or down on them through my bedroom blinds,
crashing home from the Labour Club, mad drunk
Yes, he tries to make it specific by mentioning his bedroom blinds, but this could be any literary story of growing up in the midst of working class families. It isn't half so specific as Roger McGough's tales of his Liverpool family or anywhere near as touching as Peter Sansom's on-going poetic chronicle of working class familial decencies in Nottingham. After reading McGough and Sansom I feel I know loads about them and their relatives, and share some of the sadness they feel about them, but something about the way Farley approaches the subject of his own upbringing leaves me cold.

Inner City Liverpool in the Late Sixties. Children swinging on a dead tree amongst rubble with new high rise council flats in the background.
On the other hand, Cloaca Maxima  is a magnificent poem that plays to all Farley's profound rhetorical strengths. It records a moment - an epiphany - when the poet was a child and sewer jumping and suddenly understands the pain of preceding generations of labour, who created the place. I think it's a moving exploration of history and forgetting. Part of its appeal is the struggle of the poet to give expression to his compelling sense of human alienation in the process of labour i.e. the lives that most of our forebears forebore. Thus he writes about:

the pearlescent blind eye we need 
to grow to keep the world under our noses
safely removed.The millions of mixed shades
are still running beneath our surfaces

and visible to those who just step sideways

For those of us with a working class hinterland, these are very profound words about how we experience contemporary life, apparently so cut off from the past and yet so dependent upon it.

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