It’s been nearly two years since I felt I had anything to add to the mania of colliding digitalia we have created for ourselves. Single issue mobs of panic stricken petitioners charge up and down the decks of our suffering steamboat shrieking their shallow formulated brands of SOS messages. A million tweeters rocket celebrity tinsel and cute kittens into an ever accelerating particle belt of orbital noise, superficial synthetic outrage or nano second joy. And it never pauses or stands back from itself. If it did; it would stop. It won’t.
Imagine then the joy of picking up a book of poetry conveying the commanding calmness of a poet reaching an important maturity. Now, come on – no poet thinks he/she is important. What an odd word to choose. Yet, for me “Flash words”, the new collection by Paul Tobin is important in that it defines where we are and hammers down a marker of sincerity. Paul’s work isn’t showy. His style is flat like a plate of steel. His words slot in like rivets – the right degree of hardness, a tight push fit. It is a poetry made with hand tools, some worn eccentrically to impart the hand that holds it, the mind that knows the feel and balance of its task. There is no machine welding – some seams are left un-filed. There are no nods at fashion. Each poem gets the shape it has arrived at so far. In twenty years he might go back to it. Poems finish off poets. No poet ever finished off a poem.
I read Paul’s first collection “Blessed By Magpies” some time ago and invited him to join a group of international poets in “Freeze Frame“, a text and audio anthology I was editing with a view to promoting the spoken realm of poetry. Since then I have read his contribution to “Juncture 25” which show cases the work of a group of West Country poets. Unlike me, he exposes his work in progress for critique on his blog “Magpie Bridge“. Brave man indeed.
Yet I was not prepared for “Flash Words”. His work has overflowed the previous vessels. Added to his blunt observation of unvarnished life in such poems as “Man Shaves The Head Of His Monkey” there is now a deep sensuality. In “Cherry Picking” we arrive at a “dark sweetness that longs to tear its skin”. Time and time again his poems feel for a metaphysical pattern such as in “End Of The Line” and in “The Birds Return”. In the latter migrating birds arrive. The poet says “You have no say”. It is a thought to fill at least a day unless of course one had already thought it. In my 65 summers, I had not. Many of his poems mature in the mind overnight and I suspect many 4.am contemplations. Referring again to “End Of The Line” it was only now as I write that I saw the continuum from the process and vocabulary of production to the process of the “end”.
In “Tipping Point” the pasting up of a poster becomes a metaphor for the failure of our materialism to adhere properly to our souls. How delicious to contemplate this issue in terms of “friction of the paste”, and “cumulative capillary power of the water”. I won’t say anything more about this poem because I want you to read it.
Only Paul Tobin could conceive a poem about “1979: A Typical Friday On Top Of The K Unit Dechlorinator.” Working men’s hands are on tools and equipment. Human minds populate an industrial landscape. A “bursting disc”, “a deluge valve” and others form the proud esoteric jargon of unfashionable forgotten men, bleached out by the clean glamour of digital wealth and un-scarred hands.
“Flash Words” contains a body of poetry only possible from the mind of a lifelong poet. The range and scope are those of an accomplished thinker. Poem after poem convey a preparedness to hide nothing – not the meaning when it would seem cleverer, nor the emotion when it would be easier to pull out of the dive. I know poetry does not sell so I urge you to buy this book and savour it. If no one buys it, it will matter only to those who miss the chance. To quote the poet himself, the “Ice has been scribbled on the inside of your window”.
I am so happy to have this book here on my desk. It won’t be going anywhere else. All of us held in the gravity of poetry may sometimes dream of weightless flight or migration to some richer planet with paved roads and rules of law. Then we read a poet and know we can never escape. Paul Tobin is that very thing that no man can call himself without some doubt in his heart. It is the gift of others to call a man a poet. All other prizes are baubles and mortality.