Monday, December 10, 2012

Paper Patterns by Angela Topping (Lapwing £10)

This is a very enjoyable collection of largely mainstream poetry by a very skilled poet who writes about family, personal recollection and love in closely-woven verses that repay reading. Angela will hate my use of the word 'mainstream' of course; but in that these are largely straightforward, plain-dictioned and linear narratives, that's precisely where they are. Names like Edward Thomas and Thomas Hardy come to mind: that English line that is only part, but still an important part, of the map of English poetry.

That said, they are often deeply felt and the sequence dedicated to Matt Simpson in particularly gives the whole collection an elegaic feel that is often very moving. This extends to poems such as The Gypsy Camp, which reveals an empathy for the underdog and the oppressed traditions of English life:

One autumn day the bailiffs called. We fought
to stay. Then 'dozers came, my mum was bashed
and all our pitches wrecked, our friends forced off.
I doubt I'll ever see my girl again.

One of my favourite poems in the book is Sparrow, revealing a real ability to celebrate the ordinary, without trying to imbue it with over-symbolic significance. Its close observation ('a chirrup like a giggle fastened/ in its throat like a comedy brooch') shows what is important to Angela Topping: the beauty of simplicity, the simplicity of beauty; the life everybody lives being celebrated for what it is. She writes too about lemons, cauliflowers, jam; and about loving Doctor Who (John Pertwee's version  at least).

There's so much more to be said about this poet. Her sequence The Lightfoot Letters continue a theme from her first book: the life of her father, this time through a series of letters that came to light recently. One gets the feeling of a hurt that's never quite gone away, and from an early poem about her father's violin, to a poem here about her father skating, it still produces some very moving poems about a working-class family trying to survive in a previous 'age of austerity.'

The collection as a whole feels ever so slightly too long. A poem about The Shawshank Redemption doesn't really add much to the experience of the film, and there are a couple of don't quite work for me, including the first poem in the book. But I've not known many collections that haven't included makewheights; and there aren't that many here.

With that very slight quibble (and it is slight), I'd recommend this collection to anyone who likes good plain food, properly cooked and properly filling.

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