I don’t have a fixed home, not as such. There are many places where I have lived, sometimes for as long as 10 years. But the nearest firm definition of home I can make is that there should be water, and, of course, people that I love.

This said, I spent most of my teenage years living in the Midlands, near Stourbridge. For some years I lived and worked in the Burton and Lichfield area. Then I returned to the Worcestershire area of the Midlands shortly after the birth of my elder son and have now lived in Droitwich (near the canal – water!) for nearly 11 years. My husband too is very much a Midlander, being born and living in Birmingham, then Worcestershire.

It was almost inevitable then that the title of Tony Williams’s The Midlands (Nine Arches Press) would appeal and intrigue me from the start. The Midlands is a wonderfully big area, with cities, towns and countryside. I’m not sure if I started reading the collection looking for specific places I know. In any case, I found I recognised the places in Williams’s poems, even when I didn’t actually know them. The poems’ vividness creates this recognition. And, as it turns out, even the places I don’t know also evoke aspects of the region that I do know and can instantly connect with.

This connection is enhanced by the fact that, for all the many poems of place, there is nothing static about these places, or the poems. Place here is as much about the people and movement within it and the history behind it (positioned vibrantly alongside and within it). Some details may be region specific, but their impact is more universal.

The opening, title poem is a powerful, pacy accumulation of things that The Midlands are crying for. It reminds me of my train journeys across the region; of things that evoke the area for me, even as it is is changing and modernising. This is a theme that is continued in other poems in the collection.

There are poems here of love and loneliness, of politics and humour. For all that there is a recurring thread of loneliness and being alone, the collection is vibrant with characters: from ‘Laura, A Seamstress’ to ‘Dear Rhino, Love from the Hippo’, with its fabulous wit and surreal imagery.

That the playful and joyous tone of ‘The Cows’ is next to the humbling and uplifting ‘The Path That Follows the Traveller’, with its striking images and moving lines that stir something deep inside me, sums up both the variety and light-yet-resolute touch I enjoyed throughout this collection.

This is perhaps best evidenced by the fact that its only after reading, as I flick through the book in search of a particular poem, that I realise the shortest piece (I think!) is ‘Park with Bench and Statue’ at 18 lines. Given that I’m not normally a longer poem fan, the very fact that I didn’t register this while reading is quite a feat and proof of the words’ depth and pace.

I could talk more about the confidence and craft of line breaks, deft rhyme and other poetical devices but I think that’s enough of my thoughts. Instead of my dissection of form and technique, I’m pleased to be able to include two of the actual poems here as taster for people to enjoy for themselves.

THE COWS

Here are the cows and I love them.
They move from one field to another
and in every field they dance
to cow music I cannot hear
in steps I do not understand:
now grouping to graze in a corner,
one standing alone as a sentry,
now suddenly migrating, now
reaching the shape of an emblem
spaced out on the pasture
all facing the same way,
utterly still. Sometimes
they break through the fence to lay claim
to the lane and the grass of the roadside,
which placates them – cow freedom
ends here. I love them,
the cows and their constancy,
here every summer all summer
to munch and proceed at the pace
of the hoof on the sod in the sombre
grass-ceilidhs of their cow-religion.
O feast of movement; O flexing
knot of flesh like a fist or a heart;
O sacred hugging of herd;
O slow kaleidoscope whose shifting field shows
all colours and atoms belong
in all constellations, and are cow.

THE PATH THAT FOLLOWS THE TRAVELLER

‘It is not my intention to be illiberal’
         – Wordsworth, Letter to the Bishop of Llandaff

The rain is proof. The rain offers
baptism to those who would fulfil
their responsibilities as gardeners, as dog-walkers,
as students of the terms on which one man
might cross the land without salary or retinue.

Only when your felt hat melts, when you taste
salt on the face’s shore, and a thorn wind,
do horizons sink behind the mist
to take in continents. I mean cold solitude
taught you togetherness. And the rain grew your beans,
each brown brain soaked in northwesterlies
until pod parliaments of foetuses
began to greenly form and wait.
In the rain you grew old. Let those who preen
and pine to die immaculate
mock your tiredness, your bracken beaten down by rain recanting.
You turned to firesides and silk to soothe
your shrivelled old been-in-the-rain-too-long
fingertips. To have stayed where you were
was against Nature.

All travelling goes somewhere, turning
away from the once-beheld sublime,
out of the valley of light towards the grave,
towards the glass grave of fame
and so much water that even
the umbilical cord of your signature risks
dissolution like the stone of your beloved hills.
It is enough that you passed through,
snapping umbellifers as you went, to show the way,
leaving little lakes in the prints of your boots.

My thanks to Tony Williams for his permission to reproduce these poems here.

* To finish this post, just a quick reminder that I will be reading and talking on London’s arts radio station Resonance104.4fm next Tuesday evening (July 22), as part of Anna McKerrow’s experimental poetics interview series. As our recording for the show was nearer 50 minutes, I’m both excited and nervous to see how it sounds and has been edited for the 30-minute slot, starting at 9pm.

The official blurb for the episode is:

“Episode 4

Poet, short story writer and poetry editor at V Press Sarah James talks to Anna McKerrow about her second poetry collection, “Be(yond)” (Knives, Forks and Spoons Press), a book in three sections which treads the boundaries between “experimental” and “contemporary” poetry. Find out more about Sarah’s work here: http://sarah-james.co.uk [Repeated Saturday 7pm.]”