The Cycle of the Scarecrow: Ian Whiteley, Currock Press

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The Cycle of the Scarecrow is Ian Whiteley’s second collection of poems.  Born in Wakefield and now living in Wigan, and firmly grounded in the north of England, he explores the back streets of history, war, protest and mythology, imbuing this collection with a very definite sense of the underdog.  A noisy, angry working-class underdog, one that refuses to put up and shut up, to be a “nice little doggy”.  So we hear the snarling response to the demise of the mining industry, feel the bite to the hand of imperialism, see the leg cocked over the privileged few, and smell the stench of war:

 

I’m home from war boys,

I’m home from war,

just me on my own, boys,

from a hundred and four.       

 

In ‘Craiglockhart (Not Yet Diagnosed Nervous)’, we see the damage done by the very institution meant to help the war-torn and traumatised, on their return from battle:

 

Your treatments are barbaric,

Explain, Persuade, Suggest

that baths, massage, electric shocks

are really for the best …

 

Sh-sh-sh shut the fuck up,

I think I’m going insane,

I’ve got all these bombs

going off in my brain.

I’m like a rabid dog

at the end of its chain

and they’re gonna send me back

to the front again.

 

Displaying genuine eclecticism, this collection is in four sections: Winter of Discontent – The Protest Poems; Spring Offensive – The War Poems; Summer Collection – The Reflective Poems, and Autumn of Terror – The Supernatural Poems. The latter goes so far as to create a brand-new mythology of its own, with ‘Dha Kro’z Ov Al-bi-an’, which gives the Crow language and myth, followed by an English translation

 

            Koww Koww Koww

                Wit wich hurd mi ple -

                Kum down in hur

                sno dres fin’ery.

 

Koww Koww Koww

“Giv mi vois”, sez I,

“For Kro iz sik ov

ra’ging at gray ski”

Koww Koww Koww

White witch heard my plea -

Come down in her

snow dress Finery.

 

Koww Koww Koww

“Give me voice”, says I,

“For Crow is sick of

Raging at grey sky”

 

We’re also taken into space with ‘Philae Shakes The Hand Of God’ and returned with some dissatisfaction as to the state of our own planet, “and we cannot / heal a child in Africa”. Homage is paid to several renowned musical and poetical inspirations in ‘Thirty Plus Years In An Open Necked Shirt’, ‘Children Of The Glamned’, and ‘The Walkin’ Man’, and there’s a good daubing of nostalgia throughout. One that may well appeal to Write Out Loud members is ‘Don’t Pay the Poets’, a scathing commentary on how almost everyone at an organised cultural event will be paid for their “parts and labour”, apart from the poets, that is

 

Don’t pay the poets.

For there are no tunes

to back their silly ramblings

and they make us feel

uncomfortable

with their ‘expressions’

and ‘feelings’.

 

Don’t pay the poets.

Because we’ll

have no money left

for covers bands,

comedians and DJ’s

recycling other peoples

greatest bits.

 

Employing an impressive array of poetic form and technique, including terza rima, kyrielle, villanelle, pantoum, haiku, four (count ‘em) types of sonnets, concrete, found, and ekphrastic poetry, The Cycle of the Scarecrow has something for everyone. It only remains for me to say, “Onwards, comrades!” - (and don’t forget to pay the poets).

Laura Taylor

 

Ian Whiteley, The Cycle of the Scarecrow, Currock Press, £6

 

 

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