Forged: Tina Cole, Yaffle

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I’ll be honest. My heart sank when I first glanced at this pamphlet. It appeared to be another elegy for the Black Country and its industrial past, and it just feels as if I have read a few of these.

How wrong I was. For a start, Tina Cole does capture the Black Country well, as in the opening prose-poem ‘Heirloom Landscape’:

 

 

“Long-fingered canals joined the hands of Black Country towns, fed furnace mouths, before factories sucked men into piece-work days, hours measured in pence, empty pockets rustling applause to their betters and benefactors. Half-sunken barges now evidence that bygone trade, the quiet conduit of water growing old in its stagnant bath.”

 

Moreover, on a second glance, I appreciated that the Black Country is a backdrop; that these poems are about more than that, the stresses and strains of family life over generations. In another prose-poem, ‘Nothing but the Strength of Names’, Cole sketches out three women that “mothered” her - her great-grandmother, grandmother, and mother. In a few terse but vivid phrases she tells stories of hard lives … “thirteen children later … war took seven sons.” A casualty of a second war,  “just a body cradling its shrapnel, slipping away in blood and splinters.”

This is not just poetry about the pity of war, but about the pity of poverty, too:

 

     Young mothers, faces thinned to dullness

     by the certain wisdom of shallow pockets,   

     kids with hands and hair unschooled

                                                three pairs of boots laced for sixpence

                                                soles and heels repaired.

 

     Maybe I always understood her need

     to scrounge thin pickings, finger

     what she could not afford, settle for compensations

                                                        (‘Market Days with Mrs. Little’)

 

 

There is tenderness in ‘Hairdressing and Storytelling’, “her balding scalp pink as a cat’s underbelly.  …  I plait tiny heart-shaped / skeins, press her to my skin.” A bizarre family tale recounts how an ‘Austin 1100 1970’ was bought but kept within the garage, where it “rusted from underneath / guts spilled out // flat tyres and oil slicks /sighing into concrete.” ‘Makeovers’ is a wistful portrait of her parents as they might have been, urging them to “laugh in the face of it all”.

That feline image reappears in the poem ‘Intensive Care Unit’: “When no-one is looking / death curls inside my mother / like a cosy cat.” ‘Last Day at Number 62’ records the ritual of a final goodbye to an old family home full of rueful memories:

 

 

     The ghost of mealtime

                     arguments   

     three times chewed

     over slow stirred

     damson semolina

                     swollen

                     and sticky.  

 

 

‘When We Meet Again’ returns to the three mothers: “I will know your shadows … grainy ghosts beside a damp fire, kettles boiling, cursing fate, tempers on overload”. 

This is no rose-tinted recollection but a family history that is nevertheless affectionate and charming, and feels satisfyingly complete. The pamphlet is complemented by a delightfully sooty cover design that is green at the edges, by Lorna Faye Dunsire.

 

Tina Cole, Forged, Yaffle Press, £7.50

 

 

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