***THE YEAR I LOVED ENGLAND***
The product of a highly successful collaboration, this anthology voices the experience of living in the rapidly changing urban landscape of 21st Century Britain. The poems explore changing attitudes and identities attributed to immigration, conflict, loss, unemployment.
The pages of the book loosely represent the house numbers of a street where people of different ages and different backgrounds co-exist with each other. The poems range across a timespan from an industrial Britain in the shadow of the Second World War through to the modern day.
Approximately half of all the poems have already featured in highly respected literary magazines including The Echo Room, The Stinging Fly, Abridged, The Meadowland Review, Ink Sweat & Tears, Brick, Ancient Heart, Turbulence Kumquat, Poetry Nottingham International, Weary Blues, The Stony Thursday Book, The Lake, L’Allure des Mots plus many more.
PRAISE FOR THE YEAR I LOVED ENGLAND
‘Strong and moving and real. The Year I Loved England has a Jack Kerouac feel of beat beauty.’
“The objectives I wrote down whilst reading ‘The Year I Loved England’: evocative, poignant, surprising, funny, questioning and relevant. The wonderful economy of words remind me of poetry as condensed literature. Great stuff.”
HORACE PANTER (aged ska legend,)
“This poetry expresses poignantly the emotions that I at times find difficult to articulate. The words pierced my soul and brought back the images, emotions and feelings of those days in August 2011 when Britain burnt.”
The Year I Loved England exemplifies the recently rediscovered tendency toward collaboration in contemporary poetic practice. For its authors’ sensibilities fuse and mesh in felicitous synergy, interweaving like helixes in which we find coded not only a most articulate rage but also a dark playfulness, white-hot anger tempered by a delicate lyric touch. In these thrilling poems –unflinchingly bleak but unfailingly alive- a city is manufactured from flames, freedom is figured in a job application and beauty resides in a two-tone urban morning. Horgan and Owen indict England for unforgivable failures both foreign and domestic while hinting at a country that might yet be. This is work marked by fury and frustration but also by a stubborn and beleaguered love.
This powerful collection offers a vision of the middle of England. This is in direct contrast to the Middle England the mainstream political parties and media have made so much noise about for a generation. “My city lost its voice today,” goes a line in Coventry Street. Joseph Horgan and Antony Owen’s poems seek to regain that voice in some sense: a voice that is layered, elegiac, plural, and clear-sighted about the pain that much of this country is forced to endure while others look on.
There is much pain in these poems, and a desire to escape from that pain, “people in the sky are falling up” says the opening poem Address, which turns a midlands street into a Chagall dreamscape. “Tonight I’ll walk you home to the sky…wish upon stars of a 747” says The Dreamer of Samuel Vale House.
For all the dreams of weightlessness, though, “anchors to childhood are heavy/sometimes they drown us” explains the The Little Things Destroy Us. And so they do. And the big things too – economic catastrophe, family history, race, migration, war, the accidents of geography – as these poems show us. The childhood anchors in question come from the 1980s, the decade in which much of the West Midlands, and the rest of the country’s industrial areas, were turned to ruin. Thatcher appears once, she glides “by in a Daimler”, a car made, of course, in the Coventry she attempts to destroy. But the roots are deep, Churchill is here also, an architect of a “city made by flames”; “what will you weave for Dresden from Coventry’s stone elbows?” asks the poem Fat Man. These are voices of England aligned with the powerless on all fronts.
In the beautiful title poem, “…a man left the house/and returned unmade from the smokeless factory.”From Samuel Vale House today we watch, “bored kids re-open the factory/admire their work where there is none.” This loss is the anchor which drowns people in these poems, the landscape too, “hills had their backs broken” explains Ghost Town, a poem that echoes The Specials’ lament, and, with its haiku stanzas, references the Coventry Nissan plant, and a new economic world order. And yet the drowned voices are here. We hear them throughout this collection, which is one of the reasons it is important, The Dreamer of Samuel Vale House or the narrator who tells us “at the back of my house there are wild dogs” in Compline. This voice also tells us “I’ll wait for partisans”, and it is in this sense of defiance and endurance that some hint of redemption comes. “I still have hope between my teeth,” we are told in Place.
The Year I Loved England is rooted in place. The damaged terrain and the battered emotions become one, “a map of everything there’s ever been” says The Curve of Chaos. This moving collection also offers some answers to its own complex, layered question, “Where is here anyway?”, with answers that are both sensitive and vivid, in the voices of an England that it seems too many people have decided is too hard to love.
I am now a proud owner of a signed copy, complete with Limited edition postcards featuring urban photography by Rangzeb Hussain. Who has spent some time photographing Birmingham.