We Are The Weather, Jim McElroy

Smith/Doorstop, 2022    £6.50

‘Shit Happens’ and ‘Everything Related’

‘Shit Happens’ and ‘Everything Related’ are two poem titles from this collection: for me, between them, they encapsulate a lot of what goes on between its covers.

So, the ‘Everything’, to my mind, includes hard work, coldness, warmth, and interesting regional vocabulary made brisk by its context and musicality. For example, ‘all they need is nicked shit and their own spit’, reads the poem ‘Shit Happens’; and ‘her pats splatter the screed’ appears in ‘The Auctioneer is Selling Our Cow’.

In the same poem, there’s also:

                                                    her handler hawthorns
her round, the gold rivers of her urine run the ribbed incline

And there’s more pee in another — ‘The Attic Room’ — where ‘my younger brother’s urine soaks my spine’.

I like this. Without ostentation, Jim McElroy elevates the mundane. Nothing is unworthy of attention, even, ‘beneath the bed [. . .] / the full po,’ in ‘The Attic Room’.

This collection seems to me a celebration of hard graft. Jim McElroy calls a spade a spade but, in ‘Everything Related’, he also calls it a ‘workaholic’. A glance at the ‘Contents’ page quickly indicates the nature and range of subjects covered — for instance, ‘Hard Knocks’, ‘Sheep Carcass’, ‘Weatherbeaten’, ‘Audit at the Slaughter House’, ‘A Message from The Dead’.

These poems bring to my mind Heaney, Hopkins, Edward Thomas, and Ted Hughes, but McElroy has a strong and individual voice of his own. He writes in a gritty vernacular. In most instances the meanings of unfamiliar words are made clear by their contex: ‘tartled’, ‘sprockling’, ‘sned’.

The poem ‘Sheep Carcass’ moves from death to life. It starts with ‘Picked rib hoops, bone knuckle juts’, and ends on

gaping beaks, fledging life.

And the collection is dedicated to someone gone — ‘i.m. Bernard McElroy 1927–1990’ — but it’s vividly alive: a riveting celebration of both life and language with muck at their roots.

Peter Wallis