Hope in Medway – a review

Unauthorised Person is the latest collection of work by Medway poet and activist Philip Kane. It brings together poems and photographs from a period of nearly thirty years, and serves as a fine introduction to his work.

 The river Medway runs through the book as a constant theme and backdrop, the Medway towns themselves providing the setting for the poems. The voices here are those of ordinary working class people struggling to make sense of life in a post-industrial wasteland, a lost world where “…each workshop was the womb in which we forged our world”. All that remains are abandoned lots and the river itself, “the changing of all things, and their changing beyond the change”.

 Hope lies with the people of the Medway towns, whose resilience and desperate humour light up the poems. The first long sequence in the book, city’s little heart, is a darkly comic account of the relationship between Johnnie and his girlfriend Carole, who can “hear voices from the dark river” (much to Johnnie’s dismay!). The poems are short and witty, with a sly nod in the direction of Don Marquis.

 The other long sequence, Among High Waves, is a more sombre piece telling the story of Billy, a sometime merchant seaman whose life is unravelling around him. It’s an atmospheric, impressionistic portrait that leaves you with the smell of the river in your nostrils.

 The collection is studded with shorter pieces, like the wonderful Street Gleaning, which brings together snippets of overheard conversation and wonders briefly revealed, as if a curtain had been twitched aside to reveal a different world beneath the workaday surface:

“A sign on the door of the local massage parlour:

‘Please use rear entrance’.”

It’s Kane’s eye for the marvellous, quirky oddities of everyday life that’s to the fore in this poem:

“According to the wise florist on Luton Road, ‘All

flowers inside’.”

The collection ends with Thirteen Ways Of Looking At The River, a homage to Wallace Stevens’s Thirteen Ways Of Looking At A Blackbird, but also a homage to Medway and its people:

“The river’s voice is in every voice.

The tides run on every street.

We are born from those currents,

and sink back into them.”

Kane’s poetry is deceptively simple, and like all good poems this collection rewards repeated reading, new facets revealing themselves each time you open the book. His work is rooted in a sense of place and a specific lived experience, the tang of the river on his tongue and the authentic voice of the Medway people in his throat. He writes with a light touch and a twinkle in his eye, though dark currents swirl below the calm surface.

Unauthorised Person, Cultured Llama Publishing, 2012. Available from http://www.culturedllama.co.uk/.



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