Simon Berry has already been a contributor to Autumn Voices with his essay 'A Born-Again Creative' (Sept.017). Here, in his latest piece, Simon writes
about the gestation of his most recent poems which he hopes to see in print next year under the title of Anger/Man/Age.
Poems 2016-2019 by Simon Berry
The United Kingdom has never felt less so. Our new-found populism or perhaps it should be brutalism has shredded the rulebook of public discourse: those in power feel they can unburden themselves at a tweet. It remains to be seen whether the conduct of our public debate filters down to the more personal. It would be surprising if it doesn’t. The discarding of respect, moderation and empathy will surely lead to more confrontation, intransigence and anger in all areas of our lives.
In my second poetry collection I have tried to absorb the prevailing mood of the last three tumultuous years. These poems (each assigned a year) could broadly be categorised as personally engaged without being radically involved. Their main inspiration is the polarisation of views and attitudes that has spread throughout the UK since the 2015 and 2016 referenda.
As a former journalist, biographer and interviewer I explore the roots of these volatile emotions partly through individual stories of people caught up in dilemmas that seem to threaten their very identity. An apparently trivial event may cause them to sense their existence is spiralling out of control. In a world where polarities are the only perspectives on offer any attempt to change must cause deep disorientation. The implications for mental health are obvious. The dangers to our language are already evident as a word like collaborator has its frame of reference racked to breaking point.
Rather than addressing these issues head-on I approach them obliquely by making analogies and seeing where the parallels converge. Several poems feature speakers who are not always human. We should be prepared to listen to the views of these others. Maybe they have something useful to tell us about the way modern humans live.
In Anger/Man/Age a herring gull watching through a kitchen window makes a chilling assessment of life on the other side of the glass; a mouse drowns through one fatal misjudgement; a cave-dweller begins to suspect there is more to life than his restricted existence; one who wishes to be kinder struggles to understand the manual; a wardrobe with traditional values plots its revenge on its new owner; a digital assistant is programmed not to provide information on demand but rather challenge its owner’s every last assumption.
My views, despite best efforts, occasionally seep through. I am frequently amazed at my own anger. Weren’t you led to believe with age you would become the still centre of a turning world? So why should I become so obsessed with (for example) the continuing debasement of language and devaluation of culture? Why is it so difficult to remain truly dispassionate, a quality that traditionally is associated with increasing age and wisdom?
We’re just so ‘passionate’ these days we claim.
Enthusiastic no longer cuts the mustard.
Passionate should mean I’m breathless, flustered
In a whirlwind of emotions, appetites untamed.
These are accessible poems designed to be read from the page, sometimes calling on well-established models and forms such as the sonnet (here in its angry version, the Soddit). When Anger/Man/Age is published next year I hope readers will find in these poems some dark humour, a little light relief and plenty to question.
We seem to be quite out of milk chocolate; here’s some of the dark kind –
Well that’s what gran called it
A fine Scots word to cover a range
of moods from joviality to something
considerably more of a threat
My mum’s brother uncle Joe lived
with his mum or rather lived
off her and her widow’s pension
His earnings barely covered booze and fags
When affable Joe was entertainment
for a nine-year-old amazed by a pingpong
ball discovered under his shirt collar
His affability never lasted for long
Dexterity dissolved as the last rum kicked in
balance wobbly as the gravitational pull
of furniture spoilt his orbit around the parlour
Was it still being stocious I wonder now
when the piano lid was slammed down
after a few fumbled bars? Or when gran
bustled in to grab me for unexpected
farewells and his “Awa’ tae fuck”
His liver got him but he’d outlived gran
occupying her council house rarely seen
by the neighbours So I was considered suitable
to help clear the house of empties tightly
stashed in Asda bags and when they’d gone
excess bottles of all colours and sizes
he’d carefully arranged like snooker balls
advancing from a corner of that parlour
Twenty-five years later I’m now Joe’s age
Until recently I’d rarely thought about him
or his apparently purposeless existence
Not being one for booze or smokes I’d never
felt the urge to empathise but nowadays
I begin to recognise that tightly suppressed anger
which refuelled those stocious episodes
Corrosive rage is my unwanted confidant
as I too blunder through one undistinguished day
after another and another finally accepting
no more pingpong balls are there
for him to magic from my collar
Brothers, we need confessions from all heretics
let’s invent the rack.
Soldiers, we need to scythe our enemy
Before he has a chance to bayonet us
so why not invent the Gatling gun?
Patriots, we must wipe out lesser breeds
In case we may become contaminated
don’t worry, we’ve found the death camp.
Sons, we needed to flee to reach the border
We had to walk ten days in the hot sun
so I told you a lion was stalking us.
Necessity makes its own laws
To justify extreme measures.
We’re in a moral maze, our situation
Becomes more hopeless by the day.
So what’s next to invent, mother?