a grey engraving of a woman (head and shoulders) in a landscape. Above that, a white band, with read capitalised title text, and black and white author nameForever Alive, Fran Lock

Dare-Gale Press, 2022       £7.99

Returning spectres rage and threaten

Fran Lock is a prolific writer, activist and author of poetry collections and chapbooks. She’s an associate editor at Culture Matters. Her passion burns through this collection.

I was challenged by the intensity of emotion in these poems, their energy and the narrator’s crusade in championing all living things’ right to rise (like a phoenix) from extinction, murder, fear and vengeance. Within the narratives, supernatural forces seem at work, while humankind and nature also have their say. The poems’ storytelling voices are rich, dark and angry. Invigorating.

I think I’ll focus on three poems, as examples. ‘The last wolf killed in Ireland’ offers up the voice of this persecuted creature under Oliver Cromwell’s 1652 edict. Uncapitalised lines run like a long unremitting rectangular banner stuffed with the vengeance of the vixen. She utters spells, spouts grief, confronts the murdering invaders when they claim Ireland as their rightful home. The political message is clear to me when considering the Troubles:

Revenge is a dish best served sprinting over
dawn’s ditch. what would I give to swallow
them whole?

In ‘The Moors’, ‘after John Clare’, Fran Lock’s narrator laments

               the moor all
wet sequestered death

The plight of fox, wren, hare — ‘a quarrel of small / bones, stale fur’ — are all deemed fragile, as our natural resources dwindle. A river haunts, rusty ghosts rumble, loss drifts in remnant winds. It’s an intense poem which brings the natural world, and our plight, to my door.

Fran Lock’s pamphlet takes its title from a phrase in the poem ‘Sempervivum’. Hardy succulents, these grow grotesquely in this poem’s cities:

nothing grows but with an eerie fury under
an antipsychotic sky.

The urban is met by the spectre of these asexual rosettes — ‘virid warheads’ — spilling from the gutter, ‘this horoscope, / this horror: a budding pungent fate.’ It’s futuristic and lurid.

The phrase ‘forever alive’ seems thick with irony — here, and throughout the pamphlet — given the picture the work paints: a forensic examination of the desperate state of our world.

Maggie Mackay