The Titanic Cafe closes its doors and hits the rocks or: Knife, fork and bulldozerultra modern retail outlet complex development scenario with flowers - David Hart, Nine Arches Press
I've mentioned before on Polyolbion that, despite the image its generally had in the UK, as the butt of every comedian's jokes, I like Birmingham.
I like it even more now that I've read this new long poem by David Hart, which takes the demise of the Titanic Cafe ("still the best tea in the UK") as the spur for a long, poetic ramble through some of the unseen corners of the West Midlands. And I mean ramble in the very best sense - Hart's sharp eye for detail picks out all sorts of little nuggets that the rest of us rush past in our haste to be somewhere else. This is poetry as urban archaeology, and that's no bad thing in my book.
Because of that, it's inevitably going to get compared to some of Roy Fisher's work, but while there are traces of his influence in Hart's sharp, witty and frequently funny free verse, it's never overpowering. That's partly thanks to Hart's use of song and even playground-style rhymes, I think, as he uses them skilfully to hang a certain amount of found material and reported speech on (they also make sure that there's no danger of this becoming po-faced or dry).
It also brought Geoffrey Hill's Mercian Hymns to mind, but while Hart isn't afraid to bring the distant past into his work, he's primarily concerned with the present, no matter how unpromising it might seem. Throughout the poem, he seems to be asking the same question - "Can this be beautiful?" - even if it's only voiced explicitly just the once. And the answer seems to be yes, even if it's an unexpected beauty that he finds in the everyday.
The poem works well with the series of Hart's photos that are published alongside, and the extensive footnotes are a good read in themselves, but of course it's the poem itself that matters most. Its very nature means that Hart doesn't reach for easy effect (hence my reluctance to quote from it, because you really need to read the whole poem), but it's both highly readable and extremely multi-layered - I defy you not to read it straight through again immediately you finish it.
David Hart's THE TITANIC CAFE CLOSES ITS DOORS AND HITS THE ROCKS or: Knife, fork and bulldozer ultra modern retail outlet complex development scenario with flowers is launched on Thursday 23rd April, from 7pm onwards, at The Quaker Central Hall, The Priory Rooms, 40 Bull Street, Birmingham B4 6AF. It's all free!