I had a great night in Coventry last night (Thursday 17th) at the book launch of ‘The Year I Loved England’. I had been looking forward to it for some time and have seen Antony a few times reading poems from the collection, I almost pre-ordered my copy.
The venue was perfect, the night was balmy (hot), the crowd were attentive and all the poets were fabulous. I have been to a fair few book launches and this one was really an uplifting experience, or maybe that has to do with where I am at the moment, my recent post about dips and writing and all, this evening was perfect for lifting me out of that mire.
I had never been to Coventry so my adventure started before hitting the motorway. The Inspire Café was a great venue – with plenty of outside seating and a few pews inside – as well as huge Church windows.
Joseph and Antony started collaborating after a twinning scheme with poets in Cork, Ireland. This book has been a 2 year project, Antony wanted us to all know it hadn’t just happened overnight. It is published by Pighog Press and is an amazing collection of thought provoking and sometimes raw, poetry. The thing that I was touched by was this, unlike many other poets who collaborate Joseph and Antony have decided not to name the poems, as you read you can only speculate if you are reading Owen or Horgan.
Another lovely touch of the evening was watching Antony’s pleasure in supporting other poets, the evening was a true celebration of talent.
There were many people involved in this lovely launch and I took great pleasure watching the faces of Antony’s family members enjoying the night as well as the publisher and fellow poets and some people who hadn’t had anything to do with poetry since Junior School – as Antony said ‘Poetry for the people’.
The night started with the stage being warmed up by the talent of Adam Steiner of Silhouette Press, Mal Dewhirst who was a Stafford Poet Laureate and Janet Smith, who I had seen perform before. Each poet delivered a feast of words and I particularly enjoyed the music world Mal took us too.
Then the main event – the book launch – but not just Antony & Joseph – No – the book is about England and there are a rich mix of accents and cultures in our country – this was demonstrated by other poets performing some of the works from the collection. Personally I think there is something very special in giving your words to someone else – hearing them from another mouth and I hope Antony and Joseph enjoyed it as much as we did.
Barry Patterson, a poet from the North East, played the tin flute (an antique one, no less) and read PADDIES and THE SUBJECTS, Leanne Bridgewater read VANISH and CANDY CANE, Saleha Begum read I THINK OF ALL THE MOONS I HAVE SEEN which was a tribute to Malala Yousafzai who was shot by the Taliban for continuing her educational rights in Pakistan.
You cannot fail to be moved by this collection and if you grew up anywhere in the UK I urge you to treat yourself to a copy! Spend the whole summer reading it!
The Year I Loved England – in the words of others;
***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.
You too can buy a copy of The Year I Loved England by following this link to the press Pighog