After: Mark Connors, Yaffle
Too many fine poetry collections are published and then languish, unsung. That’s just the way it is. This review is an attempt to redress the balance in the case of just one of those collections – After, by Mark Connors.
It was published in late 2021, and the title refers to 2020, and what came after the strangest and most disturbing of years in most of our lives. There are well over 80 poems in this collection, with the titles linked to songs for each year of Connors’ life, and then some.
‘Vincent’, for instance, inspires a Van Gogh riff, with a devastating final couple of lines. On the other hand, ‘Counting Out Time’ (Genesis), is a rhapsodic account of generally carefree, rowdy childhoods: “We don’t call each other, we call for each other.” By contrast, ‘Supper’s Ready’ (Genesis again), has a less nostalgic view, with the shadow of the then-uncaptured Yorkshire Ripper as a backdrop. ("It's been a good few months since his last.") It’s not the only poem haunted by the spectre of Sutcliffe within these pages. Connors is a Yorkshire poet who remembers those times, after all.
One attraction of this collection is the attention to details, such as a “red and black Vauxhall Firenza” (‘Highway Star’, Deep Purple), or the “fishermen, cheerful or seething at Clayton Ponds” (‘Firth of Fifth’, Genesis, once more, by ’eck).
The old Police hit ‘Don’t Stand So Close to Me’ triggers the recollection of a sinister, club-footed priest, while ‘Running Up That Hill’ is about one of the poet’s great passions: “You are quick, slow, or somewhere in between: / tortoise, hare, fifty-one-year-old man.”
Springsteen’s song ‘Human Touch’ is about the poet’s father, a tender prose-poem portrait of his pater on holiday at Scarborough, which blends filial observation and disapproval with pure love: “You’re wearing an unpleasant brown polo shirt mum got you from the catalogue. It accentuates your hardened gut. Everyone you pass smiles back at you.”
Many of these poems are quite personal, which I don’t have a problem with. But there are others that aren’t. ‘Walk This Way’ is deceptive, in that it commences as if recapturing just another rush-hour day on the TransPennine Express, before the last line of the first stanza – “Please don’t squeeze children through the sliding windows” – alerts you to the fact that this is about something very different indeed. My fellow members of a U3A group that meets monthly to discuss themed poetry – that month’s theme was ‘Journeys’ – laughed at first, then laughed nervously, and by the end of the poem weren’t laughing at all. The final stanza suggests to me that this is about the great Europe-wide migration of refugees in 2015:
No, we don’t want you to stay.
Yes, you can walk 100 miles along the Motorway.
Please keep the hard shoulder clear.
Yes, we have kind people in our country.
Yes, some will give you food and water.
Thank you for passing through. Have a safe onward journey.
The blend of announcements in the mundane-sounding style of ‘customer service’ is skilled, angry, and chilling. A couple of my class also hummed the song title for me, when I said I didn’t know it. (Aerosmith).
It is almost a cliché to say that After deserves a wide readership, although of course it does. Mark Connors is an extremely prolific writer, facilitator, publisher, and reviewer, and by now he will be hurtling on to his next, latest project, whether poetry or novel-writing, or workshop or competition organising. It only remains for me to say that, two years down the line, he should still be very proud of this particular achievement - an honest, open and generous look at his life and times.
Mark Connors, After, Yaffle Press, £12
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