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Reflections of a working writer and reader



More About the Song by Rachel Fox

This volume of poems changes my mind as I stumble, wade, jog and glide through it. It seems to beg for an academic review at the same time as putting my own inner academic to flight, leaving me with inadequate notes and a tendency to corner members of my family and some of my friends and spill a longer or shorter dose all over them.

My initial reaction is to recall Robert Service, though Rachel Fox certainly doesn’t go in for epic narratives. Maybe it’s the way she uses rhyme? She gives us more song than poetry, as if she wants us to lose ourselves in sound.

But then again:

Generation less

The papers say
Our world
Will sink
Be dead

We say
Why tell us?
We are the generation
Who would rather stay
In bed

The pop stars say
People are starving
And its all our fault
Because we buy over-priced long-distance green beans
When we should make do with something less exploitative

We say
But what can we do?
We are the generation
Bought up to enjoy post-that-one-war prosperity
And at the same time made stupid by television
And a general lowering of educational standards
We don’t even understand
Our own insignificant day-to-day problems
Or why we even have them when we should be happy
You see
That’s what goes round
In our head

The big brands say
Well give us your money then
You’ll be happier
Handing it over
Now get back to the TV
You might have missed something important like
“Celebrity dogs on holiday”

We say
Well that we can manage
We know we are the pointless generation
Very little backbone
Or understanding
Just a great reservoir of useless trivia
Not much to be proud of

The old folk say
Everyone’s a writer now
A singer, a performer, a TV presenter
No one wants unglamorous jobs
It’s the curse of freedom
In a way

We say
What can we do about it?
We are the generation
Too shallow
For serious endeavor
Too spoilt
For hard work
Too vacant
To care about anything beyond

They all say
It’s important this time
The earth really will
In fact you’re too late
One way or another
We will all die

We shrug
We munch
We have a drink
We are the generation
Watching it all
From a no deposit
Nothing to pay till September
Leather sofa
We watch the fireworks
And the end of the world rock concert
It’s pretty amazing

Echoes of the Liverpool poets in there, though Rachel Fox is, of course, from a completely different generation. It just goes to confirm, though, how these influences permeate down through time.

Another poem in the collection reminds the ear of Larkin and the old toad, work:

The perfect life

Perfect employees
Get up early
So they can think about work
They drive in
In cars
For this shows individuality
And individuality is good
They make coffee for all
For this shows the ability
To work as part of a team
Which is also necessary
And/or essential

Perfect employees
Answer the telephone
With the correct phraseology
And never use one word
When ten will do just as well
They smile down the cables
Teeth defying biology
They win the accounts
If not the hearts
Of clients who also
It goes without saying
Like to think about work

Perfect employees
Love to stare at flickering screens
It is the future
It is easy, simple and labour-saving
Don’t you see?
I do
I do see
They demand more residential training courses
More dates with flip charts
More interminable quiche-laden buffet lunches
More introductory ice-breakers
They shout
In unison and individually
That they want to
Love to
Think about work

Perfect employees
Do not cry unless someone has died
Do not overeat
Do not make up words
They wear soft suits
That are made cheaply
But not sold that way
They can always think of something polite
And ideally ingratiating
To add to a conversation
They have no interest in feeling
They are too busy thinking about work

Perfect employees
Pretend to like each other
When they absolutely do not
They send each other cards
And emails of course
Full of wishes and jokes and handy little tips
Congratulations on your engagement
(You have to be married
Can’t let the place look untidy)
They regard each other’s rise and fall
With the same expression
They go home
In their cars
Always thinking
About work
Always work

I loved that short expression:
They win the accounts
If not the hearts
Of clients

For “A Wedding Poem” she gives us
another girl in big frock
and simple lines like that leap out of this slim book almost wherever you open it. e.g. Robert Plant helped with the ironing today.

The short poem “Sex and Drugs” comes at you out of left-field, hinting at a sense of humour which combines ‘off-the-cuff’ with something very much darker:

Sex and drugs

Sex and drugs
Do go very well together
You’re high
Times high
You’re gorgeous
And so’s whats-his-name

The dark theme is better illustrated in “Alone Place,” which touches on places and feelings which she sometimes seems to avoid, as if afraid of what waits there, fearful of disturbing a snoozing monster:

Alone place

Don’t leave me
Alone is not a place
I want to be
It’s not
What it used to be
It’s not
A chance
For rest and recuperation
It’s not
At all
It’s the most noise
And screeching confusion
In the smallest place
I stand on
One leg
Or one toe even
Balancing in that most
Unbalanced way
Bombarded on every side
By noise and waves
And prodding fingers
Energy wastes itself
Beating my every surface
When I’m alone

When you’re here
It leaves me be a while
I know what’s not
An answer
I know that’s
A cop out
I know
I should I really should
This time
Counselling, alternative therapies and yoga
I know I know
But that doesn’t help me
When alone
When fear does its
Paralysing worst
Gets me
On the
One toe
Head bowed
Brain suitably whipped and battered
My, my this masochism
Really must stop
We must stop meeting like this
I and I
In the small space
The smallest of small
The end of it all
The throwing it all away
No sad song does it justice
t is a loveless matter
I and I
When alone
It is the fullest emptiness
I know
Don’t go
And yet
Don’t go

At some point in the production of the book the decision was taken to give the poem, “History at 40,” a smaller font than every other poem in the collection. I can’t imagine why, as it is a bad aesthetic mistake. This is even more pointed in a book which has taken care to present itself with a pleasing cover and used good quality recycled materials. Pity

Some of the verses here are incidental, little more than jottings to capture a fleeting thought – like Pascal’s Pensées or Lawrence’s Pansies (1929) – while others carry more weight. And as the eye flits from one to the next it is as if one were searching for diamonds among an old chest of doubloons.

The book was supplied to me by the author. The poems quoted above are all Copyright © Rachel Fox and are reproduced here with her permission. I left my copy on a shelf in Norway, hoping someone would find it and enjoy it as much as I did.

4 Responses to “More About the Song by Rachel Fox”

  1. Thomas says:

    Thanks john. I loved the first one.

    jb says: Should be thanks, Rachel, really. But it’s good to know you’re not watching the fireworks
    And the end of the world rock concert

  2. Rachel Fox says:

    You’ve written some marvellous things in here, John, really made me beam with pride a couple of times!
    I am a big fan of the Liverpool poets and Larkin but I’ve never heard of Robert Service – I will go and look him up.
    As for the small print on ‘History’ – you’re right to pick me up on it but I will try and explain how it ended up like that. I went backwards and forwards on that one (a lot!) as I wanted to include the poem but I HATE changing line lengths or having lines go over onto two when I feel/hear/see them as one. It was my decision to shrink it (I did try lots of other options) and in actual fact there are a couple of other places were the print size changes but less dramatically so. In the end I went with this option because the lines matter more to me than the aesthetics…and I know that’s an unusual point of view…but because I use so little punctuation the lines are kind of fundamental for me.
    One of my big themes (fanfare, please) is mistakes, failures, the admitting of, the learning to live with…so let my odd print sizes be mine! There was another point – I think that poem is kind of unusual for me (tackling something so huge…) so I didn’t mind it looking a little different too. To me it made some sense…but then I am very good at coming up with explanations after the fact…

    Thanks again for all the great comments and thanks, above all, for reading.

    jb says: Good to see you here, Rachel. Write us another poem, eh?

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