When people ask me what I write about, I struggle to think of a good answer. ‘Life’, I usually reply, uselessly.
Thankfully, I won’t have that trouble any more. Last week I received the most wonderful email from my friend, fellow poet Steve Xerri. He isn’t on social media, so our correspondence is as good old-fashioned pen pals, rather than clicking ‘Like’ on pictures of one another’s dinner.
Steve’s kindly given me permission to publish the majority of his email. He recently bought a copy of We Are All Lucky and clearly enjoyed it!
“The things your reviews have picked up on – the humanity of the work, the careful attention you pay to the everyday and the ‘ordinary’ (showing how it’s really anything but) – are definitely there, and in spades. Poems such as Something In Common deal with the grand themes (in that case sustained love) but with an understatement which succeeds because it shows how those big ideas are in the scope and reach of, potentially, everybody’s life.
“You spin poetic gold out of thoughts many poets would simply lay aside: what happens to old neighbours, the frustrations of commuting, starting school. What your volume does, in part, is to present unglamorous aspects of modern living (e.g. news of the neighbour starts from seeing his house for sale on Rightmove) for the reader to take a second, closer, look – and always with that humane note. That isn’t to say that the poems don’t also hit home hard: I am thinking in particular of Night Tide, Beachcombing, Spit Hood – nothing quiet about those pieces.
“What I particularly relished, though, is the way in which a concern currently played down (in this age of identity politics etc) is woven through the work: I mean a careful and considered look at masculinity. On a simple level, you are writing things that pub-goers and footie fans will recognise (and even those of us, i.e. me, who are not either).
“This is far from wanting to imply any kind of reactionary male entrenchment or gainsaying of the kind of issues raised under the heading of inclusivity etc; quite the contrary, you turn on the whole issue a pretty forensic eye – but in an often gentle way which, in itself, offers a more subtle understanding of the various things men face than a more shrill or defensive polemic might do in the hands of a less thoughtful poet.
“As well as dealing with the hardness of male behaviour (the compassionate Passion Play) you discuss the fact that – whisper it! – men have emotions. Love for one’s children (Daisy, Jack – poems unsentimental but brimful of observation which, in a way, bespeaks the love), concern and grief for other people’s (the wonderful Everybody Hurts, one of my faves) and, most moving of all, Letter, in which you deal really touchingly with loss of a mother.”
It certainly put a spring in my step!