Paul Francis is an inveterate, irrepressible, poet. His content and preferred topics are contemporary, his choice of form traditional. His poems are conversational in style, it is as though you are sitting down in a pub with him. “So Paul, what do you think of Trump/ Brexit?” And out pops a poem. The rhyme is deceptive, the invective sweetened, he skewers his targets with a smile.
We are treated to twenty four poems covering three chapters, Trump, Brexit ,and Beyond, using the discipline of the likes of ballads, villanelles and sonnets. I am waiting for him to use a rondeaux redouble for a Macron poem. The politics is left of centre, but not slavishly so. His barbs claw under the flesh for their veritas, he eschews a soft target, a cheap shot. A friend used to declare; “There are two things I hate, firstly unjustified criticism, and secondly unjustified criticism which might be justified.” It is the latter which makes Paul’s work so effective and enjoyable, whatever your personal politics, whoever the target.
From the first, Brexit, chapter “The Ballad of Jo Cox” struck me. Ballads are wonderful for telling a story, their insistent rhythm carrying the listener along, the easy rhyming couplets providing continuity.
“The campaign’s getting nasty, there’s poison in the air
And some of it is lodging in the head of Thomas Mair
God knows just what he’s thinking as he’s lying there in wait
But she’s the perfect target, the love he has to hate”
These four lines illustrate his style so well, it is from the oral tradition. Abbreviation is fine, shorthand like “getting”, instead of becoming, work because this is a living story, not an epitaph in stone.
In the second chapter, Paul attempts a first person address from Trump himself, and pulls it off with, “The President Speaks to the Nation”. A montage of sound bites, mercilessly assembled, some real, some fake, to create an authentic tableau of real and fake news. As I read the poem I heard Trump’s voice, not Paul’s.
The Beyond chapter is a catch- all for everything else, but no less interesting. In “Bonfire of the Certainties” lampoons the media’s lampooning of Corbyn, offering a rather welcome optimistic note for the future in the hands of the young.
At thirty- five pages, plus notes, this is a comfortable one session read. It is also probably best read in one chunk too. It is a mood piece. Paul puts the message first, the narrative presides over the form, you never have the feeling that the words are a slave to the form. This is no crepuscular dirge, it is quite cheerful and bright in its dissection of the great and not so good.