Changing places, Carl Tomlinson
Fair Acre Press, 2021 £7.50
There is no doubt these are poems about ‘fifty acres of gentle land / nudged between mill towns and millstone grit’ (‘Coming to grief’) but let the plough cut deeper and what gets turned up is:
[…] my father’s teenage need to leave that land
and make his life his own.
[…] my uncle’s trying to stay
where I was sure we all belonged.
[…] Grandad’s explaining
that even the hencotes would go.
On the whole, the poems reveal clearly what happened to the people but I also want to know what happened to the horse. Not the ponies in ‘New forest’ that nibble saplings while ‘Pannage fattened pigs devour / beeches you will never see’ but the horse needed for Carl Tomlinson’s grandfather to make a living:
Once you went round daily with a horse,
pouring milk from door to door and at Christmas,
as my Dad reminds me every Christmas,
a half was poured for you at every pub you served.
You’d take each one and hand the reins to him.
These are poems that are not easily spooked. They lean into their collar as they move steadily and willingly either door-to-door or up and down a field. They are poems with sturdy cannon bones, deep chests and a sheen of sweat on their glistening hides. The landscape is reflected in their patient eyes.
And, when I look again, listen again, I realise Carl Tomlinson answers my question about the horse, albeit obliquely, because the saddest poem about horses is the two-sentence, four-line poem where there is no horse in sight, just a bridleway at the tail-end of summer and an unidentified kind of rain harried by an unwelcome wind.
All along the bridleway
some kind of rain
is trying to shake off the wind.
The land feels thinned.
I’m not sure I can articulate what ‘thinned’ land looks like but I can feel it with every bone in my body.