Dandelions Poems by Arthur Berry

Dandelions     Poems

By Arthur Berry

Paperback, self-published

Introduction by Arthur Berry dated as 1993 so  reckon publication same year or one after.

No isbn and I can’t remember what price I paid about four years ago.    I bought it in a small art shop in Longton or Burslem, I believe, one of the ‘Five Towns’ round Stoke on Trent.

Cover probably drawn by the author, an artist, lecturer in painting and also playwright with productions at Victoria Theatre, Stoke on Trent as well as this collection of poetry and two other titles.

87 poems over 131 pages, including frontispiece and index.

I haven’t labelled this as a Graph Review as it is most unlikely copies are available easily.

 

Arthur Berry, born in Smallthorne, North Staffordshire in 1925, son of a Bricklayer and a Publican’s daughter.  The blurb on the back cover offers, plus a brief resume of his working career, as an artist, lecturer in painting.

I include the last paragraph of his own words of introduction: (I was advised by the shop  that I should read, or be read to, in the local accent of North Staffs.  I fear I failed on both counts but nonetheless having visited the towns of his area I have a fair mental picture of the places if not the accent…… and to be honest the need for accent never worried!)

………….

“This then is a rough account of the times I have lived in, and I recognise it as the main theme of my work.  I did not consciously think about it at the time, as I wrote my poems but it must have seeped in – as did various bits of daft, thank goodness.”

Arthur Berry 1993

……..

First observations on reading is the good humour touching much of the verse, though dark.  The humour is filtered within far darker tones such as disillusion, disappointment and even anger at what his surroundings had become.    Observation in spades as to be expected from a painter with a quickness and lightness of touch for words that carry the scene in a bluff and gritty manner.  The poems move around many places and sights though characters are often in the limelight and everywhere is the same gritty, eloquent, matter-of-fact delivery.

Rhythm, rhyme and half-rhyme aplenty though nicely balanced in poems of differing levels of scheme and length.  (Acres of solid rhyme-schemes are not my favourite so Berry suits me well!)  No date-order given to the poems.  The variation in lengths is appealing for  the reader (me).  The shorter poems may be 16 lines and the longest about 90 lines while many sit comfortably on a single page, more or less.   No glossary but most local words are obvious in meaning.

Time, change, levels of sadness, maybe at the losses of lifestyle and a touch of bitterness through the telescope of time where hardship-visible has been turned into hardship almost invisible but certainly more complicated, are all there.  Especially where community/society has been eroded by change industrial change.   Demolition and ruination run from the start of the collection but all are progressed through his verse with the spotlight of a painter.  In his own introduction he points out that he discovered his overall ‘theme’ while reading through the verses some years after they were written.  ‘Change’ weighed heavily, maybe the failure of it to improve more so.

I have been visiting this area some twelve years and the regeneration of the last few years has been enormous.  Arthur Berry must have lived through the years when the pottery kilns stopped smoking until even the great china factories, distribution warehouses and painting shops slowly declined and closed.  Whole areas collapsing into disrepair and streets in neglect.  He wrote particularly of the old and loss of, a community, its housing and livelihood.  Some names, some workshops still exist and the few surviving seem to prosper but his view was different, earlier than mine. He saw the decline happening, I have only seen at its lowest and its recovery.   Many of the old terraces he would have walked around are gone and now replaced with new housing although some streets of terraces are being rescued, refurbished slowly to honour the history of the place.  He saw their terrible decline and demolition, wrote about the losses but within his verse was the parallel of his own losses of youth as well as his memories.  I have to say that very few of his memories seem to be rose-tinted, just remembered for what they were.  What replaced his icons of memory will now have to wait for another time, another writer or painter.

His poems cite street and pubs, it is a very local book but with sentiments that many people will recognise if they lived in a seriously declining neighbourhood.  He is sometimes harsh in his depiction of people, of the labouring, working class and their environs, the drinking and the mess, but times and lives were often hard.  Maybe his eye caught only the jaundiced side of his world.

The very first poem.  In This Place,      Creates a sombre mood yet bodes well for the collection.

Memorable others are:   How to Paint a Picture of Nile Street        and:

Dandelions                       Title poem:  p18

Where the end of the wall

And the waste ground meet

At the back of the canal

And Navigation street

Dandelions bold as brass

Grow among the bitter grass

In this place of empty chapels and aborted kilns

By the still smouldering fires

That burn the mattresses of the recently dead

These sour yellow flowers raise their heads

Damp rags suns that shine

On the sides of a lost loop line,

Among wild lupins and cinders

Fed on the dried excrement of dogs

Among the canals wet clinging fogs

Hard flower suns that gleam

By the edges of the poisoned stream,

Where the hiss and slip

Of a rat, nuzzles against the dead body of a cat

Among the slime and burning lime

And down in the flattened cemetery

Where my drunken uncles lie,

Over the iron gate

Into a bland white sky

Ghosts of these rag suns are blown away

Into the passing traffic of the day.

 

Another, The Procession, page 19, leaks nostalgia

The Hoppo and The Bus Shelter are party to several others that show bleak caricatures of people.  Often, descriptions are highly focused but bleak.   Nature frequently creeps into his poetry but is often succumbed or overridden by the smoke of urban exhausts, hardship and disrepair.  Arthur Berry highlights the last section of his collection saying the moorlands, countryside, outside his towns had some effect in the following poems but even here they tend to suffer an overspill from man, even the countryside itself!….. except for  Wrong Category,  and  The Apple Tree,  which have a gentler touch.

Maybe you might see mostly depression in these poems, in all areas and meanings but there are lighter moments, touches of beauty in the drab; humour in the seemingly continuous difficulty he sees.  Or rather I read memory and nostalgia and humour tucked into some outrageous descriptions.  All images seem ‘true’ as they are drawn by a painter who only describes the backstreets, the ‘kitchen sinks’ or the Dicken’s-like scenes that should have gone years ago but in fact never will.

Cats

If all the kittens

Our cats once had

Grew into cats

By now they would have

Found their way to London

And in the tall white houses

Round the squares

Distinguished men

Passing on the stairs

Would say to each other

With some concern

Where are all these

Damn cats coming from.

 

After finishing this collection, the above poem and between its lines, says a lot about the man I imagine him to be.  Perhaps his brush is aimed elsewhere!     Thank you, Arthur Berry, for poems with many layers like a painting, much to see and more to explore.

 

 

 

 

Copyright remains with copyright holders of Arthur Berry.

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About poetryparc2

Here goes: I write a bit of poetry, sometimes about poetry and any sort of books I take a fancy to. I seem to have a preference for seeing the changes from the Victorian period through to the 1930's, maybe 50's. But, and a big but, could carry that right up to current poetry/performance poetry. Though sometimes my seeming preference for 'imagist' and Nature' might unnerve me for too much too modern. However, I do like to range widely over poetry, and fiction, any and all periods. I also like finding (if only for me) regional or partly forgotten poems and poets. Maybe all this is too eclectic to have a themed 'Blog' but so be it....... I also attempt fiction that might add up to a small mole-hill one day. Plus reviewing new or old books that are relevant to my enthusiasms of Crime fiction, the Arts, Natural History and Special Education. This is on 'wordparc'. I try to record honestly what I think but if something is too bad (to my mind, others may love it!!) then I will not 'blog'. There, what's that if not seemingly random!
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