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This review is taken from PN Review 220, Volume 41 Number 2, November - December 2014.

Out There derrick buttress, Welcome to the Bike Factory (Shoestring Press) £9.00
jay ramsay, Agistri Notebook (Knives Forks and Spoons) £6.00
tom chivers, Flood Drain (Annexe Press) £4.00
william palmer, The Paradise Commissionaire (Rack Press) £5.00
christine de luca, Dat Trickster Sun (Mariscat Press) £6.00

Which elements of the world ‘out there’ remain dark to poetry? Although, after the banking crash, economists now praise skilled engineers, most English poets ignore industry. Derrick Buttress is a praiseworthy exception. His pamphlet, Welcome to the Bike Factory, explores the bitter roots of British industry. Buttress, who also writes prose and radio plays, has a keen ear for the facts of others’ speech. He pares down the words, published in 1842, of Patience Kershaw, 17, who hauled coal wagons: ‘I go to the pit at five o’clock / and come out at five in the evening’. A different route ‘out’ is found by the ‘stockinger’ who, in Buttress’ telling last line, ‘taught himself to read and write’.

Buttress hits home with his account of school Shakespeare: ‘We were not chosen for our thespian gifts, / but because we could read’. (This is still the poetry of our world, with 5.2 million English adults ‘functionally illiterate’, according to the National Literacy Trust.) The post-war ‘Bike Factory’ offered work at its most numbing, mechanically rhythmic: ‘clocking on, clocking off’. Though Buttress occasionally labours points, his account of the arrival of a new car is subtly ominous. The bike factory workers (who knew their metals) ‘searched for a flash of chrome, found none’. The discovery that the ‘brand new Ford’ was a ‘cheap tin toy’ quietly undercuts the declaration: ‘the car was definitely a sign / of the good times coming our way’.

Affluence may betray. Buttress’ poems do not. They are wise, energetic and humorous. When ...

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