Muddy Fox, Chris KinseyCharacteristically plain Rack Press jacket: A5 portrait, whitey grey background, title centred and in the middle in caps. Name of author lower case centred in top 25% (and quite small). Imprint title in a similar position and font type at the bottom, and even smaller.

Rack Press, 2017  £5.00

A well-chosen brand name

You can almost picture it: tawny-red pelt, quizzical eyes, thick brush – and delicate paws coated in mud. 

Wrong. There are no foxes in the ten poems making up this collection. The creature of the title is a bicycle: ‘Muddy Fox’ is the brand name of a robust mountain bike, as the title poem (the final poem) reveals – and one that, appropriately, needs cleaning after a outing with a friend over pot-holed tracks, salt marsh and the litter-strewn edge of the high tide. Yet the physicality of both – the imagined fox and the substantially real bicycle – hold the pamphlet together. These are poems of outdoors, of birdlife, buskers, fresh air, that salty tang of freedom, and friendship. 

It’s a precious freedom: the friend-companion on the bike ride is also the friend in the previous text who is ‘facing surgery’ and later, in the title poem, chemotherapy.

What do you offer someone confronting surgery? If you’re Chris Kinsey you offer wild birds – the dipper, ‘not genuflecting / to the rock but bowing to appetite’; the ‘Mother-of-pearl breasted magpies’; the swallows who ‘soar and flip, stropping / themselves on the clear sky’; and the goldfinch, like ‘an illustrator’s gold-leaf motif’.

The connection with the bike-ride is light-touch – ‘Our tyres rolled a single line, cancelling / the backwards arrows of the heron’s feet.’ Shared knowledge of birds, familiarity with the Welsh landscape, and a matching pleasure in where a bike can go: all these slot neatly together. ‘Over pillowy creeks you saw the hen harrier // quartering; I watched herons’ silent flamenco’ describes one moment of the day. Back home and cleaning weed out of the bike’s callipers, the poet recovers other memories – ‘Hand-pedalling backwards, oiling the chain, / I freewheel the memory of wheatears...’.

And the Muddy Fox draws it all together.

D A Prince