Redbeck Press, 2002 - £4.95
Andrew Mitchell gives us autobiography and some of the history of Salt’s Mill, which was in its centenary year when the poet was born (1953). Judging by the David Hockney painting which forms the glossy full-colour front cover of this handsome chapbook, it may not have been dark and satanic, but was certainly imposing, even threatening:
Through winter Salt’s Mill
emerged from chrysalis. Its shadowed
teeth, towering bright and sharp
with expectation, devoured a night shift.
Human voices utterly lost, earth
trembling beneath twelve hundred
looms, reverberant shuttle and frame.
No pointillism of the human spirit
could enter a single dot on this canvas.
That’s two arresting and memorable images out of any number interspersed throughout this poem’s 356 lines, which are structured in quatrains (brick shapes?), the lines four- or five-beat blank verse (give or take several syllables here and there) and predominantly enjambed. The poem is split into three parts, the last being a coda.
The tone of the sequence is undeniably elegiac, but not in the least sentimental or nostalgic. Nor is it a clichéd muck-is-brass-its-tough-up-North stereotype; the time-frame is non-linear, and perspective and focus shift with each short canto.
This chapbook is refreshingly free of irony, that modern poetic stock in trade.It is the deeply-felt work of a compassionate man who is not appalled by what he knows and remembers, but loves it instead. Fittingly, the poem ends with a canto of wonderful teleology:
God, some whisper in the ear, is dead,
we lean upon our own frail intellects.
Then one by one the universal clocks
all cease their chiming and in the
awful silence, only His light remains.