Following on from my previous post about the development in Douglas Dunn’s work and the difficulties thus posed for me as a reader, I’ve been wondering about other poets who also seem to have taken a similar journey. By this I mean that their work has evolved towards greater mastery and density of technique, more poems within poems, an ever-increasing enjoyment of erudition and a waning appeal to my personal tastes.
I thought and think that Paul Farley’s The Boy From The Chemist Is Here To See You is one of the most outstanding first collections I’ve read. I love its distinctive set of voices, colloquial verbal gymnastics and playful connection with the reader. A vast majority of its poems have stayed with me since 1998, which is always an excellent sign.
I bought Farley’s next book, The Ice Age, as soon as it came out, read and reread it over the following few weeks. Without knowing quite why at first, I realised the poems just weren’t hitting home. Right now, off the cuff, I can’t dredge up any of its pieces without opening the book and refreshing my memory.
The same goes for Tramp in Flames, Farley’s third collection. I admire both later books in technical terms, perhaps even more so than Farley’s debut, but I’ve stopped enjoying them as much and connect with fewer and fewer poems. Something of a blow, bearing in mind that this is why I read!
It’s easy to speculate about what’s happened. As therapists would have it, both of us must probably share our guilt! The fact is that the three collections have grown in length – from 48 to 54 to 72 pages - as has their density. Since The Boy From The Chemist Is Her To See You, Farley’s life has grown further away from Art College and Liverpool, moving more into the world of workshops, academia and readings, etc.
Farley’s still young enough to surprise us with new directions. I’ll be straight out to purchase his next collection, because I still believe he’s one of the most idiosyncratic and inventive poets writing in the U.K. today. It’s just I’m not sure how much longer we’re going to last together…
This is the fourth in the series of reviews I have been posting over the summer months of the 5 collections chosen for the 2017 Forward Prizes Felix Dennis...