Pig's Ear, Dog's Dinner: Paul Cookson, Flapjack
As a reviewer, your heart inevitably sinks when you read a sub-title, ‘A Covid-19 Poetry Diary, Vol 3’. It seems only yesterday that I was leafing through a book by Paul Cookson, which I now know to be Vol 2, also published by Flapjack Press. Yet I would submit that Pig’s Ear, Dog’s Dinner is worth my time and yours, despite its unappetising title, which is not intended to refer to the contents therein.
I’m writing this on Monday 19 July – ‘Freedom Day’. The first poem in the collection is titled ‘The Jolly Man Who Doesn’t Like Bad News,’ which says it all about Our Leader, currently, reluctantly self-isolating after being shamed into it. Happily for him he’s in Chequers, rather than in the somewhat more Gulag-like confines of a budget hotel:
The bearer of bad tidings – not who he wants to be
The teller of home truths – it’s not him, honestly
The facts he really wants to share – he’d like to pick and choose
He’s the jolly man who doesn’t like bad news.
He’ll talk around the houses - up the garden path
Will not give straight answers to the questions that we ask
Deflect it all with platitudes, disguised as heartfelt views
The jolly man who doesn’t like bad news
Suffice it to say that Paul Cookson is not an adherent of the ‘he’s doing his best’ camp. But maybe the PM is actually doing his best. Now there’s a frightening possibility.
Other poem titles such as ‘Is It Too Early for a Choccy Biscuit?’, ‘Just What Can We Say That Hasn’t been Said Before?’, ‘They’re Giving Us Hope to Distract Us’, ‘The Boy Who Saved Christmas’, and ‘Tis the Season to be Folly’ sum up the ennui and helpless anger of repeated, belated lockdowns. There’s a ‘Limersick’ about failing a Covid test, despite feeling extremely grotty, and one with a surreal title drawn from a travel brochure: ‘Sunshine Escapes From Doncaster’.
The poems aren’t all Covid-related. Paul Cookson is poet-in-residence for the National Football Museum and Everton in the Community, and there’s one about VAR, ‘Three Letters That Ruin Football’, plus a fond farewell to one of England’s World Cup heroes, Nobby Stiles, and other tributes to Ray Clemence, Maradona and Colin Bell. There are also a number of angry poems about the politics of children going hungry, and a few about the US presidential election and the attack on the Capitol. I like his terse summary of Trump as a “skidmark on the underpants of democracy”. Nice.
Although I have strong feelings about Brexit, my eyes glazed over ‘The Ballad of Battleground Brexit’, although it does include the collection’s title in its penultimate line. An oven-ready “Pig’s Ear and Dog’s Dinner”, eh? Yummy. Meanwhile a poem complaining about Boris Johnson’s unruly hair fails to register that it is one of his crucial USPs, one of the things that apparently makes him ‘loveable’ to some of the electorate. Give him a hairbrush, and it would be like dragging Samson down to the barber’s. Well, a bit.
There’s a poem called ‘Shameful and Shameless’ which has as its epigram a quote from Jacob Rees-Mogg denigrating Unicef, and another defending teachers from the likes of Spectator columnist Rod Liddle. Cookson fights his corner, and mine, in the compassion war.
To leaven the mix, he includes a moving poem, ‘All The Right Words’, about his dad, and Morecambe and Wise, and Christmas; and even his first poem, written when he was aged 10, that his teacher had sent to him. It is indeed an entertaining, topical collection, enhanced by illustrations from artist Korky Paul.
Paul Cookson may come from up north, and the Tory red-blue wall. But he’s no fan of Boris Johnson. This is a poetry collection of spirit, humour and humanity to help get you through this pandemic, however long it may last. Don’t believe anyone that tells you it’s over, for your health’s sake.