Birmingham Canal Navigation, Cliff Yates
Knives Forks and Spoons Press, 2021 £6.50
These poems feel real to me. I believe in their Birmingham. I believe in Luke and the frisbee. I don’t care whether everything really happened exactly as set down here. It’s enough that there was a consciousness that saw life like this and wrote it down.
The standout poem for me is one that plays with the idea of the real. The title gives us everyday clarity: ‘Swimming pool’, but the poem itself immediately drops us into misperception:
I thought they let the water out at night,
Who thinks swimming pools are emptied every night? Who is this naif letting us into their thoughts?
The poem gradually describes an oddly familiar scene (probably from film and TV rather than direct experience). It conveys that fascination with the lit water, letting us snoop after hours, enacting padding round the pool—considering, rather than doing:
I could take off my clothes and swim,
sit on the side and drip dry,
put on my clothes and dive back in.
I love the contrast between this straightforward language and the description of the pool itself: ‘it shimmers blue, a ghost of itself’, ‘the colours half-colours in the humid light.’
Halfway through, the poem turns: ‘A monk in cloisters, I have been here / for years, I have been here forever.’
You know that feeling don’t you, that maybe life up to now has been a dream, that maybe who you think you are is just not so? Deliciously, the poem takes the reader with it through that thought and on:
There’s a clock on the wall with no hands.
It is any time and no time
it is that time
when we were children
Feel the shock of stepping down off the kerb (higher than you thought) of that stepped line! We’re not in Kansas any more.
I’ll leave you the pleasure of discovering the vivid present of the last stanza of ‘Swimming Pool’ yourself, and the impact of the last line. You should read the poem. You should read the pamphlet. It’s real as anything.