Featured Publication – Subsidence by R.M. Francis

Our featured publication for February is Subsidence by R.M. Francis, published by Smokestack Books.

The ground gives, the walls crack and our foundations are laid bare, revealing fragments of history, myth and memory we had forgotten once were ours. Subsidence is about the post-industrial Black Country landscape, where houses sink into old mines and the present collapses into the past beneath our feet. Written just before and after the 2016 Brexit referendum, these poems are love songs to the dialect and culture of the Black Country, odes to working-class communities, and laments for the unwanted and off-kilter.

A love letter spoken in his mother tongue, refusing to be a second language, a vernacular ripe with the heart and soul of everyday people. This is an observation of both strangers an’ kin, sometimes smashed glass of people’s lives reflecting a beautiful constellation under a Black Country sky.’ Roy McFarlane

A glorious musical score of Black Country dialect with all its complex tone colours and rhythms. Borderlands of class, the liminal aching space occupied by those who are not easily categorised are cracked open and witnessed.’ Roz Goddard

He is our Black Country guide to the relics, rituals, coping strategies of a defunct working class. Defiantly vernacular, written in dialect, we encounter the mythic, Germanic smith Wieland and his descendants in their haunts of pub, car park, footy pitch and wasteland, held captive and hamstrung by a tyranny of class and prejudice.’ Bob Beagrie

‘E grew the best runners in Bilbrook,

‘E grew the best runners in Bilbrook,
always ‘ad a grin an’ an ‘ow do, cock?
always ‘ad handshake
for stranger an’ kin
an’ e’d drive us mad with ‘is cantin’
‘e’d never leave anyone loney.

‘E grew the best runners in Bilbrook,
‘Stan’s Patch’ marked ‘is plot
an’ ‘e marked plots with poppies
for ‘is muckers who fell in Malaya,
an’ ‘e’d tell tall tales
of guardin’ the palace
an’ blartin’ with the Duke
about cheeky ales
down the Bag O’ Nails.

‘An sometimes
with a bowl-gut a scotch
you’d ‘ear ‘im singin’
Johnny Cash laments
in slurred baritones.

When Nan an’ Mom
went up the bridge
‘E tipped me two fingers
of whisky an’ said:
You know, our Rob,
me an’ ya Nan, we always
say good mornin’, every
mornin’, thass right, that is.

‘E grew the best runners in Bilbrook
an’ ‘e ‘ad a jab to go with left hook
an’ ‘e beat back death in the jungle
an’ ‘e beat back death in a truck crash
an’ I wish I could lay my knuckle
on that cruel, twisted curse
that steals minds before their time.
But I kip it locked in,
an’ lock in
on ‘ow even at the end
‘e’d force ‘is tired mouth to grin
at the sight and sound
of ‘is great grandkids.

Sleepin’ beasts

Skies mirror coal seams and slate of cinder smoke –
tethers grey birds to its oil slick,
cloaks wenches’ washing lines,
hanging out failed whites
for blokes on the box
who doh know how to clear
the cloud in their eyes.

Down on The Wrenner land is littered –
winds clip used cans through estates,
passed scorched out sofas weedy teens
use to toll the day.
This land –
nesting tumour in a cold parish.

Iss like our Tim keeps cantin’:
weem cut from ‘ere in all iss umber,
like the cut was cut from clay.
We ay nature’s sons,
just med of it, someway.
‘Cause weem cut that way,
weem cut away.

Down on The Wrenner air is soiled
with unwashed pets, cigarettes,
dried booze, pizza crust breath.
This air –
pricked silica leak of rotting cells.

Tim treds the towpath to ‘is ESA review,
over grit and sand ‘e used to alchemy to glass
but now just plays a part
in weathering muck.

They doh know
wass under theya –
our earth’s rotten
with trilobites.
Weem stompin’ on sleepin’ beasts.

Previously published in the Nine Arches Press anthology Spake

Herring Gulls of Gornal Wood

Territory echoes in a coop-caw chorus,
clattering terrace rows
as machinists break fasts,
hectic parents scrum passed
speckles of teenage barks,
baby squawks. The coop-caw rasps
in snare drum claps – a guttural kaa-kaa
over this morning’s scraps. Raptored beak –
yoked with blood spot – snaps to yodel leftovers,
snaps to strike at smugglers
trying the same game.

……………..Why am they called Seagulls, Mom,
………………when we ay by the sea?
……………..Should call ‘em Gornal Gulls.

The neighbour no one speaks to
wrestles through the dew
to the recycling bins,
pitched on the car park
where teens spit and swear
at the lack of new models –
‘E’s bin pickin’ on little Sammy,
‘Er’s bin pickin’ over glossy bones of celeb mags

the neighbour no one speaks to searches for plastic intimacy.

Soon, taupe spans
soar to another spot – do it all again.

Previously published in Raum and Eunoia Review

R. M. Francis is a lecturer in Creative and Professional Writing at the University of
Wolverhampton, where he also completed his PhD. He’s the author of five poetry pamphlet collections. His debut novel, Bella, was published by Wild Pressed Books and his collection of poems, Subsidence is out with Smokestack Books. In 2019 he was the inaugural David Bradshaw Writer in Residence at the University of Oxford and is currently the Poet in Residence for the Black Country Geological Society.

Subsidence is available to purchase from the Smokestack Books website.

Gypsy Scholars – R. M. Francis

Gypsy Scholars

Rusted gates between old stone pillars
lead to nowherezones, gypsy scholars,
plains of colonising wildflowers.
You can still hear the hum of the city5 bus,
the crank-chains of cyclists,
soon to be jaded teens
on routes to their own nowheres.
He turns tarpaulin, MDF,
corrugated cardboard – pilched
along with fag-butts, coin and scrap –
to shanty. Sinks a can
of Tennent’s, listens as 5pm turns to 10
and Thames Valley Police
move him back to the city.

Savage hawthorn and privet set
next to neatly tamed daffs
that sit in a circle, as asphalt
and three lanes of traffic
cake the orbit, hides nowherezone,
gyspy scholar and the only windbreaker
she’s able to find. She wetwipe-bathes,
tends nails with airy precision, armed
with emery board scrapped
from a toilet floor. Trades tracksuit for skirt,
trails coat over right arm and struts Cowley Road.

10pm becomes 2am,
they share the charm
of his soggy duvet,
go twos on her last snout
and laugh at how its been
two months and she still
hasn’t figured out how
to read the city with these
new eyes. Mick says, you’re
further in than you’ve ever been,
it might grow into you,
but so much so you’re barred.
She half-laughs.

On towpaths out of urban centres things are lost:
Rewley Road’s rusted railway tracks;
nettles pierce upturned hull; fields wrapped in silage.
They get lost. Like old Lash and his scouring pad beard,
his tiny black patch of wheelbarrow, enamel sink,
cycle chain and Spanish guitar. Lash idles on stump-stool,
simple wink and ‘ow do to those in the know. They get lost.
Out past the murals of Frenchay and Lizzie Jennings.
Out to wetlands. Out over fields to Godstow Abbey,
Fair Rose’s bower, maze, cup. Tomb.
They soothe in the cool of getting lost.

 

R. M. Francis is a writer from Dudley. He’s a Creative Writing Lecturer at the University of Wolverhampton and the author of five poetry pamphlets. In 2020 Wild Pressed Books are publishing Bella, his debut novel, and Subsidence, his first full poetry collection, is due with Smokestack Books. In 2019 he was the inaugural David Bradshaw Writer in Residence at Oxford University.