Unapologetic


Hoyoot, Tom Pickard (298pp, 19.95, Carcanet)


The first thing that strikes a reader of Hoyoot, Tom Pickard's latest offering, is the immense breadth of a collection that is articulate, rich in their detail and refreshingly free from airs of pretension and affectation. The title of which derives from a piece of choice Geordie slang meaning alternately 'to make redundant', 'throw coins from a bridal car' or to 'expel revelers' and effectively dictates the tone of a sprawling collection that represents a career spanning a little under half a century. Poems within range from the caustic 'First Fuck' which crafts a lyric from erotic odyssey in the dole queue and harks back to the imagist movement:

   split she was
   lay there two ways

   shagged we had
   and breast apart
   ...
   fucked we had
   and pissed happy glad.

to the
pared down traditional 'Ballad of Jamie Allan' an embittered and unambiguously political musing on an eighteenth-century gypsy musician who lived on the English-Scottish Borders and died in Durham jail, serving a life sentence for stealing a horse and abandoned by the dukes and earls who had patronised him prior to his capture:

   They said no jail could hold me
   at the age of twenty-five
   but now I am past seventy
   and chained up to my lies

In their construction, Pickard's poems bear a stark resemblance to the direct expression and structural simplicity of the Mersey poets but resist the easy cynicism that was characteristic of their earlier work. When Pickard draws on contemporary subjects and on his own history in the impoverished northeast one is aware, despite his inherent humour, of the full range of
human experience and emotion - as here from 'Next Door's Bairn':

   waking at four to your cries
   I've grown to expect you
   with wall shaking trucks

   that simple cry of need

   awake, hungry, your heart opens
   and is filled

One might consider these poems, in their anger and reactionary power, to be reminiscent of those of Tony Harrison - the two certainly have their similarities, Pickard's dialect poetry in particular denotes a rare freedom as here in 'Scrap':

   Kick ees heed in
   geroot yi twat
   stick it on im
   kick ees pills
   boorim in the nakaz man
   wipe ees face wi ya raza
   smash the get

or here, in the more restrained 'The Daylight Hours':

   A hev gorra bairn
   an a hev gorra wife
   an a cannot see me bairn or wife
   workin in the night

But there is little quibbling existentialism and less of a sense of self-aggrandising in Hoyoot
, the poet masters his doubt and produces a dramatic and self-assured read.

The real success of Hoyoot is that every reader, if they are truly honest, will encounter poems that jar with them, appear pointless or that they find outright offensive. Pickard's poems act as a foil against Paxman's belief that modern poetry has 'connived at its own irrelevance' and that poets now exists only to address other's within their exalted circles. These are poems for all, which transcend the class system and function outside a library or literary degree and, unlike much published work of our era, do more than perpetuate themselves. No matter your views on the sentiment expressed in the contentious 'Who is the Whore of Armageddon?'

   Who sucks milk from baby mouths?
   Whose breath is bilious with unemployed bombs?
   ...
   Whose legs are knotted with varicose veins
   from standing on the necks of health workers?
   ...
   Whose tongue is gang warfare on a global scale?
   Whose grammar is a tattoo of paratroopers
   tap-dancing on teeth
   ...
   Whose television is programmed by corporations
   in government business?

one cannot deny that his poetry is closely observed. Whether he is using his art to give form to anger or tender and familial moments, Pickard's unapologetic free verse and economy of style gives a sense of organised form to life. Those readers who come to Hoyoot
with an open mind will find much to excite them.

      Phillip Clement 2014