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Steve Spence

"Professions" by Mike Ferguson, pub. The Red Ceilings Press. 44pp. £6.00

Poetry can do lots of different things and I’ve really enjoyed reading the writing in this new collection from Mike Ferguson which is essentially playful and generated from loosely suggested formal devices. These are short prose poems, each made from a series of phrases which are separated by a slash ( / ) hinting humorously at the line break. They are also ‘list poems’ working from the overall title ‘Professions’ and including among others the following occupations as a starting point for each piece: ‘Carpenters’; ‘Artists’; ‘Blacksmiths’ and ‘Taxi Drivers’. I love the pocket book neatness of these Red Ceilings Press publications, easy to transport and gist ‘on the hoof’ and providing a useful addition to the current independent poetry scene, tending mainly towards the experimental end of the spectrum:


          get the call / tool up for water / acknowledge
          their  love  of frost  /  cock  their stops  /  tap-
          dance on basins / prefer porcelain / solder on
          / are lead to water / want  washers  to wear /
          compress  their bits / know  their own depths
          / unblock  monoblocs  one-handed / are from
          there doing  it here and  being / soil  and vent
          forever / you bend  professionally / thank  the
          Roman Empire / are  known from the  sides of
          vans / pipe up / prefer to deburr slowly / mate
          until they become / radiate

These are poems which play with cliché and are rich in puns and puzzling, twisted wordplay. The fact that each poem is structured along the same lines, even though the length varies to some degree, creates a visual build-up which adds to the sense of enjoyment and keeps the pages turning. Each reader is likely to find favourite phrases or ‘bits of language’ which have particular appeal and you can have great fun puzzling over the more oblique suggestions and diversions. They also look deceptively ‘throwaway’ or easily constructed and while I don’t necessarily see these poems as having been laboured over (I hope not in fact), the process, as generated by the related devices of ‘the list’ and ‘the subject’ is not as simple or as easy as it may look. I love the playfulness of this kind of writing and while some poems obviously work more coherently than others there’s an overall coordination which feels quite satisfying. One of my favourites here is ‘Firefighters’ and it’s easy to see why some titles are more likely to provide good starting points than others:


          always pole-dance descending / feel the flick
          of flames / touch the backdraft’s breathing /
          get  dressed  just like that / climb  existential
          ladders / take  all calls / sense  the  singing of
          smoke / hear fire’s  siren more /  teach water
          its strength / search out the cold logic of heat
          / give lifts / are  righted in rear-view mirrors /
          roll perfect circles of hose / reach the heights
          they are  shown / listen  for fire’s  whispering
          /  understand  the  legacy  of  Dennis /  prefer
          prevention / volunteer / never let go

I’m not sure I understand ‘the legacy of Dennis’ unless it’s an apparently obscure reference to ‘Dennis the Menace’ but part of the fun of reading these pieces is being ‘blocked’ by phrases you don’t get immediately and in any case it’s not necessary to ‘get the hang of it entirely’ as I think MacNeice said.

The author adds self-referential wit to the overall mix in ‘Farmers’, with eponymous flourish –  ‘/ know / Ferguson is better than Ford’ and also seems to have a particular liking for the word ‘heliotrope’. Why not, indeed?  This is a splendid mini-tome which you can whip through in an hour or so and revisit on those long train or coach journeys.


Copyright © Steve Spence, 2018