Paul Farley is one of the lecturers on the Lancaster University
creative writing course - the course which produced Jacob Polley
(see below). However,
unlike Polley, Farley's main influence is Philip Larkin rather than
Ted Hughes. In fact, the opening
poem in The Ice Age, From a Weekend First - is full of echoes of
both The Whitsun Weddings
and Here. For example, 'waters harden' as oppose to 'quicken',
'big sheds that house their promises of goods and sex' as
opposed to 'Push through the plate-glass swing doors to their
desires' and 'Crematoria, multiplex' as opposed 'An Odeon'.
Farley also possesses some of
Larkin's formal skills: he can rhyme when he wants to and he can use meter
particularly iambic pentameter. However, what he
definitely cannot do is draw the kind of significance that Larkin
too many of the poems in The Ice Age are simply inconclusive e.g An Erratic,
Establishing Shot or Relic.
Many of the poems rely heavily upon Farley's Liverpool childhood,
but again we don't get down to the significance of it. Unlike Tony
Harrison - to whom he is sometimes likened - Farley does not use his
(working class) background to tackle issues relating to class and
culture. Far too often he uses it, like Poly Filla, to pad out the
poems. In Dead Fish, for
example ,we have a poem about playing statues at school - but
there's simply no punch line. In fact, it only narrowly avoids descending
There are some enjoyable poems in this collection: e.g. Fly, The Glassworks,
For the House Sparrow, in Decline. I also have soft spot for A
Field Guide to Birds of Britain & Europe - but only because it
was also one of the first books I ever owned too.
To be fair, Farley is good at capturing the modern world (something which many poets
and there are some good descriptive touches e.g. 'low Vent-Axian hum
round the backs' or 'a starling's modem mimicry' - but overall I found this collection disappointing. One gets the
impression that Farley could write reasonably well on virtually any subject.
However, for me, he doesn't manage to penetrate to the heart of
A bit more of
Harrison's grit wouldn't go amiss.