Review of Knowing My Place by Bob Horne Pub: Caterpillar Poetry
There is much to appreciate in Bob Horne’s collection and I find it hard to know where to begin. Maybe with the cover photo which, in sepia tones, shows the poet’s bicycle leaning by a road sign that is backlit by sunlight over mountains and rocks. Or maybe the title itself, ‘Knowing My Place’, is the starting point for these are poems rich with a sense of place – in Honister, for instance, there is a strong feeling for slate, the power and the painful toil of it:
‘I jog down the grassy toll road to Seatoller
following, too late by centuries, Joe Clarke,
who once shifted five tons in a day. Behind us
Honister Crag, worked-out, takes the sun full face.’
Place names and details throughout the poems bring immediacy. Charlie Soothill’s chip shop which supplies the ‘Best batter in the land’ is ‘Below the Wesleyan chapel, across from Smallwood’s farm,’ while the rabbit caught by a stoat ‘shivered an instant,/sagged and died on the edge of Holwick Fell/ below High Force, teeming after days of rain.’ (Odd Man Out’)
There is always a recognition of the value of things, however small – for the simplicity of ‘the donkey field/at the far end of our street/over by the railway …us, climbing thorn trees,/lighting fires from dry grass’ (Raw Material) and for ‘empty blue-black shells’ which, to Bob Horne, have ‘a significance/beyond my understanding, single-minded limpets/clinging to their piece of planet.’ (Rock Pool).
A vivid sense of place and time – and of the light which reveals and inspires. The first poem in any collection, surely has a status of its own and this one, Exposure, speaks through the voice of William Poucher who was a leading British mountain photographer. Here we see him ‘loitering for light’ and declaring ‘Soon, with luck, sunlight will slant along the lake./ I am ready, lens focused at infinity.’ In the poem No Matter ‘the sun shone low/over Great Mell Fell/on the amber leaves of Autumn’ and we are given the extra detail that it was
‘late afternoon/that thirty first of October.’
Light – but shadows too. The boy’s shadow in firelight against a flickering wall is huge, hinting at what his ‘grown-up shadow’ may be (Living Room). In Likeness this shadow has become ‘a darker self against blue moor-grass, /time smoothed to an outline’.
There are shadows of life as well. The poem Neighbour ends with the death of one who has, the papers record, ‘been depressed for some time’. On his way to this final ‘focussed moment’ the man ‘scratched his hands on the brambles/as he climbed the embankment/and lay on the Ilkley line/in front of the evening train’. Christine, the name of Charlie the fish and chip man’s daughter, is an equally poignant poem for she, a Downs child, may have ‘Laughed when we offered a seasoned chip,/laughed at summer sunsets, snow,/ dust blown down the street on darkening days’ but is still isolated, always ‘on the other side of the glass.’
There are a great many poems in ‘Knowing My Place’ that I like but I want to comment on two in particular. The first is Friends Reunited where the narrator meets up with one who may have been a teenage sweetheart although their encounter came to little more than listening to songs from West Side Story and the Glen Miller Band with the ‘approval’ of the girl’s mother. Half a century later, in the ‘perspective of decades’, the memory has ‘tapered’ to a girl in a yellow PVC raincoat making her way from the 41 bus to where the boy lolled
‘combat-jacketed,/by the Gents in George Square’. There is both the sweetness of nostalgia and the sadness of time passing in this memory.
The other poem I find stunning in its impact is Old Road, a poem about war although the specific battle in this case refers to one from the English Civil War when Fairfax’s men were defeated on the nearby Adwalton Moor. These following stanzas, these metaphors, speak poignantly about the tragedy of war – any war.
‘A soldier throws his pike
amongst the daisies and docks,
draws his sword, slashes a sapling
clean through its young stem,
sprawls among the wild oats
that have grown here a million years
or more, as an age’s unfinished birdsong
is scattered from oak to ash,
barbed branches of thorn.’
At the beginning of this review I mentioned the sepia look of the cover photo and I realise how much this is intended to enhance the atmosphere, the motifs, of this whole beautiful collection. In The Cricketers at Keswick the mood seems timeless, ageless. The landscape is the one seen by the Norsemen, by Wordsworth, by men in the thirties, by the players now and by Bob Horne himself. ‘Light on the wind and the eye’, says the poet watching the cricketers, ‘in their mayblossom whiteness they seem like a newsreel’. A perfect image that sums up a perfect book.