Poets were once feared and jailed for their forthright and controversial views, yet the contemporary view of poets ,and poetry, tends to be rather more soft than that, with absent punctuation and rhyming the main source of consternation amongst a broader readership.
Paul Francis is a retired schoolteacher from Shropshire who is a prominent and welcome presence on the West Midlands and Borders poetry circuit. He attends and performs at Slams and festivals , as well as conventional readings ,and is a volunteer for the Wenlock Poetry Festival. It is often said that you cannot write great poetry without going out and finding it, by reading or meeting. Paul soaks up influences wherever he goes.
His most recent collection is an angry polemic on the state of the nation, Unlucky 2013. His rallying cry is laid down in Mission Statement in the final line: “We’re all in this together, aren’t we? No!”, The coda ,What Might Have Been, does not anticipate that things will turn out fine either. What I liked about this collection is its immediacy. The writing is straight and direct. There is no subtle allegory or pithy word play, just full on emotion, something which poetry, and Paul Francis do rather well. My favourite poem is The Ballad of Shaker Aamer, the insistent, almost jolly, rhyme belies a shameful story:
“Down in a bunker, there’s people we don’t know,
Who say which body is on the plane and where it needs to go”
It is as if Francis has taken the Daily Mail for a month, kept the headlines, and chosen to reply to each one poetically, although I somehow doubt that the Mail will be serialising this collection!
So instead of poetry’s traditional milieu of love, nature and introspection we have the bedroom tax, problem families and secret courts to contend with , all of the latter will I suspect strike a greater chord with many than the former subject might have done. Thirty five years ago The Clash spat out at their inception in White Riot;
“All the power is in the hands of the people rich enough to buy it
While we walk the streets to chicken to even try it
And everybody’s doing, just what they are told to
And nobody wants, to go to jail
White Riot I want to riot white riot I want a riot of my own”
I feel confident that Paul Francis and Joe Strummer would have got on just fine. And these poems in this collection feel like a punk rock album, short sharp shocks, biting, grabbing, then stepping back, wanting a reaction. I have had the pleasure of hearing Paul perform several of these, and their strength is even greater in a performed environment as part of a body of work. Satisfying and provoking.
Copies are available from: Liberty Books. Much Wenlock, TF13 6JQ,priced £3
See Paul’s website:www.paulfranciswrites.co.uk