Jesus came to labour with us, that must have been in the late seventies
when the bombing thing was getting into its stride
and walking to work was full of anxieties –
it was almost a relief to clock-on.
He was different, in a freaky kind of way
named by the older workers because of his beard and long hair
he talked about London as though he had lived there all his life
about Marx and Brecht and the Rights of Man
smoked roll-ups, which was suspicious then
and told us about the time hitching in Lebanon
the guard at the border-post stroked his blond hair
and wanted a blow-job
which made the older men nod and wink:
he got on well with everyone
it was hard to guess his religion
only that he hated the USA
and listened to bands we never heard of yet
squats and communes were foreign concepts to us
might as well have been Ohio or Vietnam:
Why do you throw stones and petrol bombs? he asked,
For fun, we shrugged, grinning sheepishly as though caught on a border
between what has always been for us, and what is new.
© Gary Allen
Gary Allen is from Ballymena, Northern Ireland. He trained as a mechanical engineer, then travelled and worked in Europe, settling for some years in Amsterdam. Now he's back in Ballymena.
In 2002 he published his first full-length book of poems, ‘Languages’ (Flambard/ Black Mountain Press), followed by ‘Exile’ (Black Mountain Press, 2004); ‘North of Nowhere’ (Lagan Press, 2006); ‘Iscariot’s Dream’ (Agenda Editions, 2008); ‘The Bone House’ (Lagan Press, 2008); ‘The Next Room’ (Lapwing Publications, 2010); and, ‘Ha, Ha’ (Lagan Press, 2011).
BRIDGES by Gary Allen
91 pages 15cm wide x 21cm tall
Price: £7.99 + p&p
Cover illustration: "Brooklyn Bridge in Fog" by kind permission of Herb Fixler Images, New York, USA: http://www.herbfixlerimages.com/
Foreword by Niall McGrath:
In these recent poems, Gary Allen continues his contemplation of the influence of past generations and, in doing so, seeks to find a means of crossing the divide between past and present or future, between faith and lack of belief, between sections of the community, between memories actual and presumed or imagined, between actuality and fantasy.
The unreliability and inconsistency of memory are considered. At times, as in 'The Bridge', disillusion, or the awareness that attempts to create connections may sometimes result in bridges that exist seemingly in isolation, which do not in reality connect perceptible paths, prevails.
Some pieces, such as 'Throwing a Stick' and 'An Insular Decade', capture 'the ordinary made extraordinary' or, as in 'Imagining an Island', present a surreal, apocalyptic vision, reminiscent of Mahon's 'Glengormley' yet warped by an urban nature that is 'red in tooth and claw'.
Allen's recollection presents life, such as in a Northern Irish town, 'where all the past has been swept into the corners'; he feels compelled to convey a sense of 'being neither right nor wrong but having survived, vaguely'. Despite this, it is a sense of home, to paraphrase Heaney, that is 'transfigured in another pattern'.
Even if Allen feels 'displaced, longing, but not belonging' this is a poet writing with maturity and raw honesty and from the height of his literary powers.