THIS SMALL PATCH : POEMS
By Tom Kelly
Red Squirrel Press. 76 pages. £10.00. ISBN 978-1-910437-91-9
Reviewed by Charles Ashleigh
Tom Kelly writes poems that are straightforward and about the people and the places he’s known all his life. The North-East is his “small patch” and its history and traditions loom large in just about everything he writes. If the term “regional writer” means anything it certainly applies to a writer like Kelly. You can see and smell and hear both the past and the present as you read the short, jabbing lines with their penny-plain words:
You talked as if giving a speech,
That name Jarrow cuts through the book. It was where Kelly was born
and grew up, with tales of its ship-building traditions all around
him, along with memories of the Jarrow Crusade when two hundred
unemployed men marched to
The Second World War provided a respite. The shipyards were busy again, and it continued that way for a time. But it wasn’t long before the work began to dry up, and the shipyards closed. Jarrow and other towns were badly affected. Communities dependant on work that was both cursed and shared, began to fall apart:
Geordie’s on a train, Newcastle King’s Cross
Kelly also writes poems about his childhood, his Irish roots, local characters, his parents, and there’s a particularly poignant and powerful poem about a brother who died relatively young.
I don’t suppose this is the sort of poetry that will win the kind pf prizes that people present to each other at prestigious meetings in the metropolis. It’s too down-to-earth, and doesn’t pretend to offer any supposed great ideas for the reader to ponder over. It records the poet’s world, his reflections and experiences, in a direct fashion. An environment of cold bedrooms, outside lavatories, and bitter memories probably wouldn’t appeal to those who think that poems should be like puzzles, or should look deep into the mind of the poet. But if we open our eyes to see what is in front of them, there is a world, and a history, out there that requires our attention. Tom Kelly is aware of it.