Some dismiss poetry as esoteric, ethereal, and divorced from the everyday. Those doubters would be well advised to consider Phil Binding’s debut collection. Binding was a railwayman in the days of British Rail. His writing has the precision of a train timetable, but the emotion of steam.
The sub-heading is a good introduction as the poetry is of people. Gnarled, tough characters, forged by heavy engineering and long hours, stalk the rails. But their stories are told with a soft brush, and a warm heart.
The pivotal poem of the collection is “The singing rail” whose graceful elegiac opening is shattered by the realisation that this is the tale of a suicide, told in the first person by the driver.
“They found me in the cab at derby, hand still
gripping the dead mans’ handle like a rigor- mortis claw
They led me gently away, for I could not see
Anything except those eyes, and the sun on the bright rail”
It is people who are centre stage . Jasmine is a single parent, struggling to make ends meet, Arthur is The pickled onion stabber and Railway Tea is drunk in abundance.
Black and white photographs of the railway abound, evoking an affectionate sense of nostalgia, and the poems themselves serve as snapshots of a bygone era, and an industry radically altered by technology and privatisation. Binding has carved out a niche for himself, in industrial poetry, where the machinery and the people are as one. His closing poem is a charged coda to the collection, a career, and an epoch.
My oily cap is gone, lost in the hills.
Many winters lay in its folds.
Yet never would I weep for m small loss,
Ignoring what the future holds.
You younger ones; you lads are the losers,
More than old headgear have you lost.
Your cheapened lives are poor, growing poorer
Slaughtered on the later of cost
I walk away, farewell, regretting naught.
Valley of dragons, tempt me not.
My flowing eyes are wet, but not with grief.
The coals of my heart burn ever hot.
Phil Binding can be found performing most months at Spoken Worlds in Burton on Trent, the event has a facebook page.