Jack Flanders, the quasi-autobiographical poet who forms
part of the long line of disappointing men who help to destroy Emily
Grimes's life in Richard Yates's The Easter Parade, makes the comment:
"A book of poems is no stronger than its weakest poem." This is
Yates/Flanders speaking. It has the wince-making directness and honesty
that are two of the outstanding qualities of Yates's fiction. Flanders
makes the comment about one of his own books. He recognizes it contains
five or six poems which will drag the others down. The book will sink like
a stone. Is Flanders/Yates right? There's a glib tendency to take the
opposite view: if a book contains a handful of strong poems, they'll save
it, they'll pull the rest along and the collection will fly. Before
reading the fictionalised comment, I tilted to that view. Yet, like so
much else in Yates's work, the apparently throw-away observation turns out
to be a hard-won insight, clung to because of its honesty even though its
implications are hard to live with. A book of poems is read as a book. An
individual weak poem which appears on its own drags nothing down but
itself. A collection's different. If it's a curate's egg, it's the bad
parts you're sure to remember. I wonder how many poets think about this as
they get busy putting their collections together and finding publishers.
In the long run, and literature is, of course, a long game, there may be
some virtue in delay. Let the weaker poems lie in the magazines and
journals and make sure only the strong ones get into the books. Yet, like
Jack Flanders, poets are eager to make their mark, anxious about being
ignored or nudged aside, keen to win the prizes and the plaudits. Yates
himself made no concessions to popularity. He got less recognition in his
lifetime than he deserved. Yet in the long run? I suppose a novel is no
stronger than its weakest chapter and in Yates's best work (Revolutionary
Road is rightly deemed to be the pinnacle) one strong chapter follows
another. There must have been weak ones in the drafts. Throwing them away
is a tough business, but it's what makes a book fly.
The Voice by Josephine Dickinson.
Flambard ISBN 1-873226-64-0 £7.50
The best poem in this collection is Where Were You When I
Came in from the Evening Milking? It's composed of five four-line stanzas,
the first four ending Where were you? The word empty appears four times in
the first three. It is glued by domestic vocabulary: chair, fire, cushion,
room, house, window, garden, mirror. The truth of the poem lies in its
evocation of the desolation of the domestic at moments when what should
sustain it fails. The accomplishment is to say what is both profound and
tragic without a suggestion of exaggeration or melodrama. Simple and
controlled, the poem has something of Lawrence's ability to vividly
recapture powerful emotion through plain but carefully constructed means.
The ordinariness of heartbreak, the way it resides in common objects and
the quiet, pit-of-the-stomach desperation that makes all that's familiar
alien, seep from the lines. The four times repeated question calibrates
the mounting upset. The final stanza has the setting sun seen in mirror
mistaken for the absent loved one. The metaphor works well. Despite its
rural setting, the piece is universal. A country house, a city flat, the
absence and the emotions it engenders are the same. All of Josephine
Dickinson's high gifts are concentrated here. The title poem too exhibits
the same qualities. The collection ends, however, with a long poem, On The
Wind which charts a month and a half of the foot-and-mouth epidemic in
Cumbria and the questionable response to it of those with responsibility.
It's good to see a poet addressing an issue of public concern in this way.
Most of us, being town and city dwellers, weren't in the thick of the
crisis like Josephine Dickinson, but we were all involved and the
questions raised touched all our lives. In a series of diary style pieces,
Josephine Dickinson tracks the spread of the disease and the nightmare of
culling flocks of starlings -
if it were any use.
Distraught and exasperated, the farmers must do what the
ill-informed politicians and less-than-competent officials dictate.
Alston is like death.
In the Post Office you can
hear the stamps flipping.
By writing from within this public event, permeating the
impersonal with the personal, she shows how poetry can explore the most
minute, unnamed emotions without retreating from the public realm which,
ultimately, is the ground of our subjectivity.
Germany: A Winter's Tale by Heinrich Heine
Translated by John Goodby ISBN 0-9548691-3-3 £7.99
First, let interests be declared: Andy Croft's new
imprint has published my latest book. A desire to see the venture succeed
together with a decade and more's friendship with its moving spirit mean
I'm heavily biased in its favour. Nothing too unusual. Just like the
relationship between most of the reviewers in the fat Sundays and the
quality dailies and the publishers and writers whose books they treat.
Not many native English speakers are fluent enough in
German to cope with Heine's original of this long poem. Famous though it
is, I suspect a good number of contemporary readers aren't familiar.
Goodby acknowledges a translation by TJ.Reed which appeared in 1997. It's
always good to have versions to compare and this one comes with an
introduction and notes all but the most expert will find enlightening. The
question of the quality of the translation always arises. John Goodby
explains in his introduction what guided him .There's all you need to know
about the ballad form and its iambs and how Heine modified it with dactyls
and trochees. Enough to say Goodby's version reads easily and nowhere
clangs with renderings which ring out as inauthentic. Sympathetic readers
know that translations are just that and make the necessary allowances for
the nuances that shift badly from one language to another, what matters is
that the translation truthfully renders tone and content.
Germany: A Winter's Tale was first published in 1844.
Heine was by then in his late forties. The poem takes the form of a
journey across Germany during which Heine lets fly at the targets of his
disdain which can be summed up in single word: Prussia. From its
inauspicious beginnings in 1415 when the Hohenzollerns took control of
Brandenburg, Prussia had, of course, grown, notably after the
incorporation of East Prussia in 1618, into a state controlling two thirds
of the land and three quarters of the people of Germany. In Caput 3 (the
poem is divided into 27) Heine typifies the Prussian military as "a
wooden, pedantic breed". Later he predicts, but without too much
foolish precision, where Prussian militarism combined with bourgeois
narrowness and political reaction might lead. Today we have not only the
appalling facts of history but also literary evocations of the essence of
the Prussian mentality: among others, Lawrence's The Prussian Officer and
Maupassant's telling depictions of the mechanistic efficiency of the
Prussian military machine, as well as the vicious bullying that powered
it, in some of his best short stories of the Franco-Prussian War . Here's
a flavour of Heine's tone:
They still walk about so stiffly –
bolt upright, starched as the washing-
as though they'd swallowed the stick
which once gave them a thrashing
The whole poem has this kind of lovely irreverence , the
slightly arch mockery of anger held in check; and the bitterness of a man
who can see stupidity all around him but has no power ( but the word) to
do anything about it. Heine is reputed to have given Marx the phrase
"the opium of the people". Apparently, when they met in Paris in
1844 their friendship was warm, if brief. There is something of Marx's
impatience in Heine's style. He is ironic, scathing, dismissive,
satirical, iconoclastic. Influenced, like Marx, by Hegel he has an acute
sense of historical circumstance as the maker of mind. Consider this on
how Christ might have fared in the 19th century:
It's a misfortune that in your day
publishing wasn't an option;
in our times you'd write Towards
Understanding The Heaven Question
Such delicious mockery, flying in the face of the
buttoned-up proprieties of the middle-classes opens the window on the
exasperations of high intelligence and principle trapped by low
manipulations and dogma. Heine makes sure, however, his seething is always
coated in wit (rather like Joe Orton) so that quiet inward laughter always
attenuates sourness and indignation.
Impatient with established religion and power and hungry
for change Heine may be, but he has no illusions about the masses. In the
first caput he speaks of:
that dozing lout
He is no historical optimist. There's an implied
criticism of the expectations raised by the French Revolution in this
Danton, you were wrong (and you
paid for being so self-deceiving);
you can take your homeland with you
on your boot-soles as you leave it
Is it to encourage cowardice to suggest Danton should
have escaped Robespierre and the guillotine by fleeing? Or is it rather a
recognition that there was something time-serving, reactionary and
hopeless in Danton's famous question: Est-ce qu'on emporte sa patrie a la
semelle de son soulier? (Can you carry away your homeland on the soles of
your shoes?) Nostalgic for Germany, Heine all the same mocks the
sentimental possibilities of attachment to homeland. He likes to travel.
He almost celebrates nomadism. He disdains the dullness of hidebound
towns. He's looking for the land of imagination.
The most telling section of the poem is the final four
caput's when its narrator meets Hammonia, the godess of Hamburg. Through
her he gets to smell the future and the stench is truly sickening. All the
same there are poets. The final caput celebrates them and evokes the
playful, subversive spirit of Aristophanes:
The rabble, rather than applauding,
would be stirred up against him –
the police would be under orders
to keep him under surveillance
The narrator issues a warning to the powerful;
Don't affront the living poets!
They wield fire and brimstone
Heine certainly did. This poem is brave and high-minded.
It sneers at time-serving in a way most of our modern poets, in search of
a ready audience, a market, daren't. Imagination, it says, is all that can
save us. Behind all its clever, sharp, funny vitriol is a quiet plea: let
power cede to imagination and insight and we may make a world worth living
in. We haven't yet, but Heine has been proven right: we look back on the
powerful of his time with the same disdain and contempt in which he held
them, but for Heine, who could write as marvelously as this, we can have
nothing but affection and respect.
Imagined Corners by Keith Armstrong
ISBN 0-9548691-0-9 £5.99.
It's sometimes argued that rhyme is backward-looking:
poetry of the modem world has something of the time's flux and lack of
regularity. All the same, there are seven rhyming poems in this
collection, Keith Armstrong's first since 1990, and the last thing you
could accuse him of is being reactionary, in any sense. Woody Allen once
quipped that in an Ibsen play someone always opens a window to let in a
breath of fresh air and everyone dies of influenza. Armstrong's poetry is
the window opened to let out fetid air and everyone feels their lethargy
evaporate. Although he's been writing and performing for over thirty
years, he's still a marginal figure. Shame on the poetry czars! But it's
easy to understand: his thirty years of writing coincide with the rise of
tight-gutted reaction in a slick and mendacious Tory party hitting the
crest of its final wave of power, the systematic strangling of infant joy
in the Labour Party and a consequent generalised atomisation and
pusillanimity in which simple enjoyment of life has become an offence
against decency and parading wealth, power and ignorance the order of the
day. In such an atmosphere, the joyous, subversive, delightful,
unpretentious, funny, anarchistic free spirit which underpins Armstrong's
work is likely to elicit calls for the bell, book and candle. All the more
reason to read this book. It will cheer you up. If you are old enough to
remember Britain before it fell under the malicious spell of those who
believe to catch a bus if you're over thirty is proof of failure, it will
remind you of gentler, sweeter times. It includes a poem called 'All Rich
People Are Parasites'. Even celebs, I guess. This is from An Oubliette for
And who can teach you a heritage?
Who can learn you a poem?
We're lost in a difficult, frightening age
and no-one can find what was home.
Simple but very clever. The first two lines could be
spoken by Lear's fool, the second two by Lear himself. This stanza is
typical of Armstrong straightforward, clear, wearing its learning and
wisdom lightly. Yet there is a great deal of thought and of precise
emotional response behind these lines. They are also surprising lines, and
what else do we read poetry for? The hollowed out sense of history that
drives the idiocy of the heritage industry is neatly caught, the creative
solecism of learn you a poem is both funny and striking, and the final
line sums up our current disorientation and its tragic consequences. The
poem repeats the lines:
The blood is streaming from fresh wounds in our city
and old scars are all over the place
and the fourth stanza begins:
There's this dirt from a history of darkness
and they've decked it in neon and glitz
I think it needs to be stressed just how far out of step
Armstrong is in insisting on this emphasis on history. There was a moment
(the years between the General Elections of 1983 and 1987) when it became
accepted wisdom that the history of 1945 to 1979 was a mistake and its
sensibility to be definitively discarded. Armstrong, however, keeps alive
a way of thinking and feeling by which we are all supposed to be
embarrassed . The effect is that in place of the empty, near-manic,
self-congratulatory but superficial and compensatory sensibility of modern
culture, Armstrong gives us a sense of what we have lost, how we have gone
wrong and reminds us of the dirt and darkness beneath the neon and glitz.
He does so in poems that are technically achieved, funny, witty, touching,
and sufficiently various for there to be something to light up every brain
which responds to poetry. The final three-page, seven-part poem includes
This is a time for love
if ever there was one.
A joy that will lift
off our bones,
free the song from our throats,
release the words from libraries..
He's right isn't he? There have been lots of worse times
of course, but ours has a peculiarly sickening feel because we have the
knowledge and the means to live much better and yet we repeat the old
One way to make the world better would be to give poets
as good as Armstrong their due. That he isn't a nationally known writer is
just silly. This book should be on sale in every Waterstones in the land.
Think how much you spend on your car, your holiday, your mobile phone.
This is culture and it's only six quid! Buy ten copies and delight your
Dunstanburgh by Katrina Porteous
ISBN 0-9548691-1-7 £5.99
Broadcast on Radio 4 in February 2004, this long poem is
Katrina Porteous's pean to Dunstanburgh Castle on the Northumberland
coast. It conveys precisely and poignantly her love for the place and
brings it alive even if you've never seen it. The castle, built in the 14
century is, of course, a ruin; time and the corrosive power of nature have
worn away its substance and significance. It is out of this that the poem
is built, an irony - building from a ruin, raising significance from what
has had its significance eroded. Inevitably, therefore, the poem is
pre-eminently concerned with the forces nature:
As if it was searching for something lost
the wind interrogates the walls
It is the sense of nature's interrogation of human
enterprise that keeps the poem moving. The absence of humanity, of
economic, social and cultural activity, above all of conversation ( in its
widest sense) endows the poem and the locale its about with an atmosphere
of loss and desolation that is nevertheless combined with wonder and
attraction as the poet finds herself caught between the history and myth
which are attached to the castle and the slow but relentless utterly
indifferent forces of nature which erode all our meanings and return them
to the physical elements from which they arose:
Fossil of topshell, cowrie, lime
Sliding under it. Taking its time.
Poetically, Porteous makes use of chants, rhymes,
couplets, competing voices. It all works well on the page but some
sections clearly require voicing to really live. That's not to say the
poem isn't a good read. On the contrary, but it's obviously written for
broadcast and you can sense as you read how its full realization requires
voices to read it allowed.
What I liked about it was its humming reminder of how
temporary and subject to erosion all things human are. In an age when we
are pushing up against the physical limits of our depredation of the
planet it's salutary to read a poem which brings you face to face with the
brute fact of nature's rocky disregard for our petty stewardship of the
miraculous accident that is the earth. Dunstanburg, both the castle and
the poem, are well worth a visit.
Women Who Dye Their Hair
by Janet Fisher
ISBN 1-902382-25-0 £6.95
second collection is to be welcomed warmly. It describes the big events in
her life, like ageing but in a quiet humorous way, not making huge
dramatic tragedies out of them. She describes them with a relish for
everyday detail. Take the description for instance.
And when the roots start to show we carelessly
pop into the hairdresser and book a colour
which means a cut and finish and takes all morning
so we can catch up on our reading, extending
our knowledge of the stars and multiple orgasm.
And this from Raspberry Jam:
When we meet at Heathrow, him dressed
in scarlet Masai cloak and sandals, it's as if
he's never been gone, and we drive home,
the coming day a red smear the size of Africa.
She doesn't overdo the poeticism; the description is
quiety matter-of-fact but all the same effective.
My favourite poem in this collection is She Thought She'd
Found God. The poem describes a woman's search for God, trying everything
from aromatherapy, to the small things like spiders:
She wasn 't sure of her discovery
except the air felt different
And she 'd begun finding good points
in people she didn 't like
(this worried her)
In the end:
and God carried on being
more of a question than an answer
and not of her asking.
I hope you will buy this book of quiet moments and
support this remarkable poet.
RANDOM FAMILY by ADRIAN NICOLE LEBLANC
The depiction of poverty and its associated
conditions-violence, ill-health, deprivation and crime - in English and
American writing has taken a number of forms. There have been the economic
studies (usually in Britain) and the sociological ones (mostly American).
There have been over the years many autobiographies, or fiction drawing on
biography or autobiography. (In America one could point to the work of
Dreiser, John Steinbeck, Jack London, Alice Walker, among many - in
Britain there appeared recently Andrea Ashworth's autobiographical work
Once In A House On Fire.) George Orwell, who was from a privileged
background, attempted to write about poverty from the inside, as did Jack
London. However, literature based on the tradition of what has come to be
called 'immersion journalism' appears to have a relatively short pedigree.
There are undoubtedly countless pieces of journalism
published in newspapers and magazines throughout the world, as well as
documentary film and TV programmes, based on the reporting of life in
families and communities where the hopelessness of poverty, violence and
crime dominates every aspect of existence. But Adrian Nicole Le Blanc has
created a major work of literature from immersing herself for many years
in the lives of Hispanic families living in the Bronx. And in doing so,
she has produced a work whose only comparable antecedents are James Agee's
Let Us Now Praise Famous Men ( one of the greatest works of literature of
the 20th century) and the Mexico-based studies of the socio-anthropologist
Oscar Lewis ( most famously, The Children of Sanchez).
Random Family ( an extraordinarily apt title for the
work) starts by introducing us to Jessica Martinez, a teenage girl
renowned for her attractiveness:
Jessica lived on Tremont Avenue, on one of the poorer
blocks in a very poor section of the Bronx. She dressed even to go to the
store. Chance was opportunity in the ghetto, and you had to be prepared
for any thing... Her appearance on the streets in her neighbourhood
usually caused a stir.....Jessica was good at attracting boys, but less
good at holding on to them. She fell in love hard and fast.
Le Blanc switches to a description of Jessica's
It was the mideighties, and the drug trade on East
Tremont was brisk. Car stereos thudded and Spanish radio tunes wafted from
windows. On corners, boys stood draped in gold bracelets and chains.
Children munched on the takeout that the dealers bought them, balancing
Styrofoam trays of greasy food on their knees.
Within the first four pages, Jessica is pregnant and
gives birth to the first of her five children, a daughter, Serena, or
"Little Star", as Lourdes, Jessica's mother, calls her.
It was understood that Lourdes would have to raise her;
Jessica didn 't have the patience. Even if she hadn 't been young, and
moody, Jessica wasn't the mothering kind. Lourdes wasn't either - in fact,
she wished she'd never had children - but circumstance had eroded her
active resistance to the role. She 'd been raising children since she was
LeBlanc never inserts her own personality into what she
is writing - the book is entirely about her subjects and their social
situations, the lives they lead - but she does have the journalist's
ability to sum up a person or situation with a few striking,
So a new generation becomes part of the story - and for
most of the book it is hard to remember that these are real people, not
fiction - almost from the outset, and it is not long before Serena at age
three has been sexually abused, the awareness of which affects Serena
badly, as she herself was abused as a small child. The chaotic nature, the
'randomness' of these family's lives, means there is no sense of when or
by whom, the abuse occurred. However, for a while, the focus remains on
Jessica and on her younger brother Cesar, who is running wild by the time
he reaches his teens. Jessica is fatally attracted to the wealth and
glamour of the big players in the neighbourhood, who of course are the
kingpins of the drug-dealing scene. She becomes involved with a
larger-than-life character called Boy George, a character whom one
thought, until reading this book, existed only in gangster films, and who
eventually is trapped by the police and goes down for a long stretch.
Jessica too ends up doing ten years after pleading guilty
to one count of involvement in a narcotics conspiracy, but refusing to
testify against any of the others in Boy George's gang. The judge is
unusually sympathetic to her, but the sentence is mandatory.
Before long, her younger brother Cesar is also in prison
for a long stretch, but not before he has fathered a number of children by
the various girlfriends who are inevitably attracted to him. One of these,
Coco, then becomes, with her four daughters, the first and third of whom
are Cesar's , the primary focus of the book's story ( she has a fifth
child towards the end of the book). So while LeBlanc maintains an interest
in Jessica and Cesar and how they are coping in prison, we now follow Coco
who moves out of the Bronx and gets housed in Troy, a rundown town some
miles upstate, so in fact, although this is a story of the Bronx, much of
it occurs outside that district. We follow Coco's struggles with her four
children, the youngest of whom is seriously handicapped from birth,
problems with agencies over housing, health-care, child welfare and
education, attempts to find work, extreme poverty, brushes with various
agencies, with men, with friends and relatives, her attempts to keep drugs
and drug-dealing at bay, attempts to keep the children in touch with their
Coco is a likeable character with whom we sympathise, she
doesn't resort to crime, drugs or violence, and she always tries to put
her children first, and she is a battler, but circumstances determine that
most of her battles are losing ones.
In the last quarter of the book, the focus is gradually
shifting more and more to the younger generation, in particular Jessica's
daughter Serena, and Coco's eldest, Mercedes, the latter being a
particularly troubled child. Again, LeBlanc's understanding of and empathy
for Mercedes is clear:
Academic performance has never been Mercedes's problem;
she passed with little effbrt;the trouble always has to do with
discipline. When confronted, Mercedes became defensive, but her fear was
hard to see because she acted so tough. She was opinionated. She also had
a slang street style, which some adults found off-putting or intimidating;
it was actually her way of testing people's interest and reaching out. But
her new teacher enjoyed her spiritedness and had deciphered from her
meetings with Coco that Mercedes's chores at home included parenting; she
understood that having such a young mother made Mercedes older than her
On a visit to relatives in the Bronx, Mercedes also
suffers sexual abuse, and she makes a claim to a teacher that she has had
under-age sex, which is never clearly verified. LeBlanc does not flinch
from summing up the problems:
But Mercedes had already had more than enough hardship
and fear and humiliation for several lifetimes - nights in unsafe
buildings; cold waits on the hard benches of homeless shelters, police
stations, courtrooms, and welfare offices; she 'd been uprooted eight
times in eight years. Her mother struggled every single day of her life.
Her father was in prison. Terrifying seizures plagued her little sister.
Drugs rendered the adults she loved incoherent; her godfather was
permanently paralyzed. Sadness threatened to engulf every corner if her
anger couldn't keep it at bay. She'd witnessed countless acts of violence
involving parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends, strangers,
police. Raised in poverty, Mercedes had weathered innumerable sudden
crises, but perhaps even more insidious was the fact that - despite them -
little changed. Fear organized whole seasons of Mercedes's experience, and
she was probably still frightened; she just didn 't show it anymore.
Most of all, Mercedes misses her dad, she wants Cesar
home with her, she wants to visit him far more frequently than her
mother's financial hardship allows:
Mercedes had turned eleven in April. For the first time
ever, Cesar had forgotten her birthday. It was then that her good behavior
at school suddenly ceased.
But she still does graduate from the fifth-grade with her
classmates. There's an amusing, and touching, description of the ceremony
and Mercedes's involvement:
Coco grabbed a balloon for Mercedes, who reluctantly
received it. Mercedes held her arm rigid, as though the balloon were a
misbehaving child, while the other kids bonked the balloons and plucked at
the strings...Mercedes rolled her eyes. She seemed reluctant to extract
herself from the admittedly goofy ritual, yet equally unable to enjoy its
simple pleasure. The children counted, "One, two, three!"
Mercedes turned away from her balloon as she released it, disowning the
gesture of hope.
But the book itself does not entirely disown hope.
Despite everything, LeBlanc is determined to finish on a happy note.
Jessica has been out of prison a little while, and has been somewhat
uneasily reunited with her eldest daughter, who has moved back to the
Bronx and celebrates her eighteenth birthday with family and friends.
Cesar is still inside, but finally a visit full of childlike joy and
laughter from Coco and their two daughters occurs, happiness which
Mercedes is able to share.
This gives just a glimpse of the main characters. The
scores of others, children, friends, relatives, partners, lovers who move
in and out of the pages of the book, nearly always bringing chaos, nearly
always bringing illicit drugs, and quite often violence and crime, cannot
be summarize here. This book throws much-needed light on the advanced
world's underbelly through helping us come to know the fundamental
humanity of its protagonists, through presenting their stories so full-on
it's made to seem like a fictional world, while reminding us all the time
it's our own, and finally, by reaching through all the hopelessness and
harrowing pain to show us sensitivity, respect, understanding and hope.
This book is a bestseller in the States but appears little known over
here. It should be read by us all.
Leslie Williamson was born in Eastwood in 1924. His
father, who had fought and been injured in the first world war, had to
take whatever work he could find in order to feed his wife and three
children of two sons and a daughter born profoundly deaf. As an
adolescent, Leslie Williamson worked as a laundry boy, collecting and
delivering washing, ran errands for a local engineering firm, and also
found work on the shop-floor at Aristocat, a hosiery business. With the
coming of the second world war he joined the RAF and was eventually posted
to Malaya. Peace, however, did not bring the demobilisation he expected.
Instead, his squadron was ordered to Indonesia because the Indonesians
refused to allow the Dutch back in to recommence the administration of
their country. However, in Leslie's own words, "to ail those
Indonesians wanting their freedom we became the Dutch, it was like being
an American soldier in Iraq." A bomb exploding near by cost him the
hearing in his right ear and he was invalided back to Lincolnshire before
Once on civvy street he rejoined Aristocat, in which
business he rose to become a manager, and, having taught himself
short-hand, also found work as a reporter for local newspapers. He began
to write fiction and poetry, and among his published work are three
novels, The Crowded Cemetery, Death of a Portrait, and Jobey, which is set
in 1926, during the General Strike, and which Methuen paper-backed at the
time of the 1984-5 Miners' Strike. It has recently been re-published in a
large print edition. (The Ulverscroft Foundation, 2002). Leslie Williamson
is, in addition, the author of the verse sequence, D H Lawrence and the
Country he Loved, and Bread for AH, which he describes as "a dramatic
interpretation of the Pentrick Uprising", that forlorn effort by
early nineteenth-century Derbyshire miners to overthrow the government,
and which led to execution, transportation (the largest prison in
Australia is called Pentrick), and prompted among other things Shelley's
great essay on Liberty. A dramatic version of Bread for All, adapted for
the stage by its author, is to be presented by a local school later this
year. In the late autumn of 2004, Leslie Williamson's three short plays on
Byron played to packed audiences in Eastwood.
In the next issue of The Penniless Press John Lucas will
consider Leslie Williamson's writings and those of the novelist Walter
Brierley, whose fictions, written between those of Lawrence and
Williamson, are also set in coal-mining areas of the East Midlands.