from the NME, 14th June, 1980
By Tom Pickard (Alison & Busby £2.50)
When the young W H Auden said “Tomorrow for the young, the poets exploding like bombs” he can hardly have had in mind the present officially approved roster of simperers – Larkin et al – whose idea of revolt would be not returning their library book.
Perhsps the likes of Dylan, Strummer and Kwesi-Johnson might have fitted Auden’s bill better.
Rock and poetry don’t flirt like they used to. The fabber daze of the ‘underground’ movement when the muse fornicated freely with jazz, folk, blues and more, apparently came to little. Spike Hawkins got as lost as his fire brigade. Pete Brown turned inscrutable muso, Roger McGough joined the Sunday supplements, Adrian Henri got a name check on a Jam album, Brian Patten stayed stuck on his whimsical treadmill and Betjeman trounced them all on disc.
I suspect their present day equivalents just form bands and bypass the literary stage altogether.
Tom Pickard seems a lonely survivor from those times; maybe that’s why this is called Hero Dust – managing to make a living as a poet is no small feat. Pickard’s battle has always been survival, integrity, honesty. His poems celebrate those qualities in others just as they chart his personal struggle to maintain them in himself.
Pickard is a gritty son of the North East, the literary equivalent of Eric Burdon and Mensi’s respective sensibilities fused together. He writes from deep inside Albion’s suppressed soul, poems about dole offices, police calls, bookies, football terraces, boozers, sex and drugs (but only very rarely rock and roll).
Petty officialdom is a favourite target; the officious civil servant, the corrupt council, the smug mayor:
That gold chain was scraped
from the lungs of pitmen…
Your gown is a union leader
gutted and reversed
Pickard’s approach to ‘the street’ – a rock cliché, but rarely charted in contemporary British poetry – is as unconditionally anti-romantic as Cooper-Clarke’s in ‘Beasley Street’:
Cream of the scum
With a head like that
You should be hung.
The more personal lyrical pieces spell out Pickard’s ‘order of chance’ in less obvious ways, with ‘Dancing Under Fire’ and the title poem picking their way through the chaos of material fact-Rusted wheels/cast iron cogs.
Hero Dust is a selection of earlier books together with newer poems though there’s nothing from Pickard’s autobiographical prose gem Guttersnipe!. Contrary to academic opinion, real poets are never wimps.