Thought-Apples: Bert Flitcroft, Offa's Press
The title is apt; former English teacher and Midlands poet Bert Flitcroft has put a lot of thought, and indeed thoughts, into these poems. An insight may be gained from ‘Forbidden Fruit’; its content reflects the title of this pamphlet collection published by Shropshire’s Offa’s Press. After trying in vain to write a poem about apples, this occurs to him: “What if our thoughts were really apples?” Most are unripe, too sweet or too sharp, remain unpicked, or lie scattered, “wasted windfalls”. This is poetry to get your teeth into.
Flitcroft, this year’s poet in residence at Southwell poetry festival in Nottinghamshire, also displays a refreshingly no-nonsense attitude to the atmosphere surrounding some poetry readings. Describing one held in a garden, he addresses the polite audience and asks: “Are you that keen to hear his dysfunctional brain / comparing the moon to an old sock, / his love to a tortoise in the long grass, / or his life to a ball of string, unwinding?” Flitcroft’s sympathies lie with “the downtrodden worms / burrowing deeper as the poems rain down on them. / And look, there’s a local snail retreating into his shell / with his hands over his ears.”
His poetry is open-minded, sensible, and good-hearted, as when he reflects on the promise and good works to come of those receiving their degrees in ‘Seal of Approval’; the human cost of a rail line fatality (‘Human Geography’); and the honest anger of a driver overtaken by one flouting the law in ‘Rage on the M42’. There is humour in ‘Naked’, remembering his aunt Lizzie’s tales of her second husband Reg, who liked to walk round the house naked: “It came back to me this morning, / standing in the bathroom shaving.”
He is frank about the problems of ageing, and in particular, knees, in ‘Walking with Arthritis’; and there is a keen sense of mortality in ‘What I Know’, the final poem in the collection, sparked by seeing an older man collapse in the street: “I could pop out to the shops, / shout through to my wife, ‘I’ll be back soon’, / leave her in the kitchen baking bread, / and never return.” There is a strong sense of history and place in ‘St Cuthbert’s Way’ and ‘This place’, the latter an observation of the good and the ugly in “This narrow strip of Staffordshire”, including warblers, damselflies, and “a rash of quarries”.
I can’t ignore the poem ‘S.P.A.D’, an extended railway metaphor – the initials refer to “Signal passed at danger” – about a marriage that ends suddenly when a wife “passing a red, pulled out of the sidings”. I heard Bert Flitcroft read this poem on the concourse at Kidderminster station during last year’s Worcestershire literature festival.
Thought-Apples follows his first, full collection, Singing Puccini at the Kitchen Sink. Bert Flitcroft’s poetic language is unadorned with devices to disguise its meaning; that is not what he is about. But his poems are full of sharp insights and observations, and abound with humour and delights. They could well appeal to many people who regularly visit this website.