The Ice Age by Paul Farley

Published by Picador 7.99

Review by Cameron Self

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 effectively - particularly iambic pentameter.  However, what he  definitely cannot do is draw the kind of significance that Larkin draws. Far 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 into sentimentality.

There are some enjoyable poems in this collection: e.g.  Fly, The Glassworks, Gibraltar and 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 can't do)  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 things.

A bit more of Harrison's grit wouldn't go amiss.


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