Mottled marbled background framing yellow-shades picture of factory townForged, Tina Cole

Yaffle Press, 2021      £7.50

Ghostly homecomings

Tina Cole, winner of the Welshpool Poetry Competition 2019 and the Yaffle Prize 2020, has pulled off a richly-textured collection. It’s a record of Black Country landscapes and unforgettable characters centred on three seminal women in the poet’s life: Annie Oak, Faith Hope and Queenie Beese. These are three generations of mothers forged in the backdrop of steel foundries and hardship.

There’s compelling cinematic period detail on every page. Place names and foodstuffs strongly feature and dialect zings through the pamphlet. Prose poems, free verse, couplets and conversational extracts sustain this reader’s interest. Clever use of white space enables the poems to breathe. Cole invites us to join her on a pilgrimage.

The first poem ‘Heirloom Landscapes’ lays out the central theme. Textured images infuse the lines. We walk ‘shackled streets,’ see ‘sparks embroidering soot.’ ‘Half sunken barges’ sit in the canal, now a ‘stagnant bath.’ The narrator fills the prose lines with nostalgia and grief for ancestral ghosts who once spent ‘their last coins on something just for me.’

‘Aunt Hilda’ is a portrait of an aged life passing time in a care home. Her ebbing life force sits in the image of birthday balloons, ‘shrinking as time wore them down.’ There’s a hint of denial too until ‘the last slow fart slipped out.’ One upbeat note, ‘it had been a very good party indeed.’ A life well lived.

‘Things My Father Never Said’ is a fascinating and telling poem. The narrator reveals the father’s character as a negative photograph before it’s developed. It’s an ambivalent and compelling read. Here are some excerpts:

         perhaps I should read something other than the
Express and Star [...]
second-hand shoes are degrading/ you should always take risks/ 
[...]                                            I am thinking about learning
to fly but need someone to cut the string of my kite

Tina Cole’s Forged offers the reader an absorbing backstory into her people. There’s a powerful sense of belonging. She gives ghosts of home their voices.

Maggie Mackay