ten: Paul Farley, The Ice Age

Well, I seem to have lost my poetry blogging touch, so it’s a double whammy tonight as I catch up with what I’ve been reading for the last two weeks. In my defence, I’ve been away the last two weekends, and hastily trying to write my own first commission, a three-sonnet sequence…

So Paul Farley. Another thank you to my friend Katharine for this collection. I loved it; it’s up there with Gillian Allnutt for me, in terms of what I’ve read so far this year, although it was Lynne Wycherley that he reminded me of, a little (even before I’d got to ‘Surtsey’, a poem about the volcanic island that Wycherley also writes about in her ‘Fire Child’).

Farley won the 2002 Whitbread Poetry Prize (now the Costa Book Awards) for The Ice Age, and it’s easy to see why. On a very personal level I liked all the references to Liverpool (where I spent some of my childhood), and related to that, the sort of melancholy wistfulness he encapsulates in his poetry, the loneliness/happiness of being a child. ‘Dead Fish’ and ‘Peter and the Dyke’ are two poems that explicitly deal with childhood, both of which I fell in love with -

Dead fish in uniform, oblivious
to dinner-ladies’ sticks poking their ribs,
still wash up on my mind’s floor when it rains
in school hours. Blink if you remember this.

I also enjoyed teasing out the connections in ’11th February 1963′; I suspected, without really knowing, that the poem might be to do with Sylvia Plath, but it took me a few reads to get there, and then a little internet sleuthing to arrive at the Beatles. Something else worth looking up (why don’t I do this more often?) was the compelling fact that during the Second World War, the National Gallery’s connections were squirrelled away in a mine in Wales (‘The National in Exile’).

As well as those already mentioned, favourites include ‘Cod’, ‘The Ages’, ‘Diary Moon’ and ‘Thorns’; click here to listen to the poet reading ‘A Tunnel’. Best of all I love this beautiful poem, ‘For the House Sparrow, in Decline’ -

Your numbers fall and it’s tempting to think
you’re deserting our suburbs and estates
like your cousins at Pompeii; that when you return
to bathe in dust and build your nests again
in a roofless world where no one hears your cheeps,
only a starling’s modem mimicry
will remind you of how you once supplied
the incidental music of our lives.

In an article/interview on winning the Whitbread, Farley says this, which I like:

Poetry is hardwired into our psyche [...] It goes right back to the oral tradition, it’s closer to song and the human voice than prose. And people will always turn to it, reading or writing, in difficult circumstances, as we’ve seen in recent times.

The Ice Age, Paul Farley (Picador, 2002)

1 Response to “ten: Paul Farley, <i>The Ice Age</i>”



  1. 1 Why are poets so fascinated with birds? Trackback on 11 March, 2011 at 3:54 pm

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