Tag Archives: Writing

Book Review – Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma by Kerry Hudson

 

‘Graffiti and scorch marks, echoes of small fires, decorated doorsteps. Golden Special Brew cans and crushed vodka bottles, bright as diamonds, collected in gutters. Front gardens were filled with mouldy paddling pools and, occasionally, a rust burnished shell of a car. I had never seen anything so beautiful, so many colours, before in grey Aberdeen.’


Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-cream Float Before He Stole My Ma

 

This is a novel with nothing held back. While the title is light hearted and the cover art bright and cheerful, both are deceiving. The cover shows a silhouette of a young girl holding a giant red balloon against the backdrop of a Scottish suburban town. It is important to address the significance of this image. Readers may recall a similar painting by Banksy, named Girl With Balloon which was originally painted on a wall in London. Beside the painting was engraved “There Is Always Hope”. While Banksy’s painting shows the girl releasing the balloon, possibly representing lost hope or lost innocence,  Hudson’s cover shows the girl being lifted by the balloon.  Considering this when addressing the text, it is clear that Hudson wished to demonstrate that one can only hold on to hope by not letting go. Critics have described this book as containing bittersweet humour and Hudson cleverly intrudes in the second chapter by saying that this is in fact a ‘humorous cautionary tale’.   As soon as you begin reading, expect to get dirt under your nails. The author launches right into the location of the novel using regional Scottish dialect and local Aberdonian vernacular.  The story begins with the birth of out protagonist, Janie Ryan. Born to Iris (formally Irene), a single, homeless mother who comes from a line of women described as ‘fishwives to the marrow’, Iris has recently returned from London after trying to change her destiny (not wanting to become her mother). After falling pregnant to a rich and married American man, the relationship breaks down. Iris is forced to return to poverty in the back streets of Aberdeen but is keen to ensure that things have changed,’ I didnae go all the way to fuckin’ London to come back an’ be the same old Irene!’ Unfortunately, Iris falls back into her old ways and for Janie; this has a direct effect on her life. The reader follows the protagonist from her first home to temporary care and then to a string of homes over the UK in some of its poorest areas. Janie watches, as her mother gets involved in some abusive relationships, including one with alcohol, and watches helplessly as her mother loses hope.  Towards the latter end of the novel, it is clear that Janie is falling into the same habits as her mother, however, a string of unfortunate event forces her to reassess her life. The end of the novel, like the cover art, is left to the reader’s interpretation. Can Janie break the cycle and make changes to her life, or is she destined to become her mother? This is not only a well-written novel but also a powerful commentary on life within the poverty trap.

Kerry Hudson, Tony Hogan Bought me an Ice Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma, 2012 published by Vintage Books

©Eilidh G Clark

 

Bringing Life to the Poem

As a poet, I feel I have to invest parts of my own identity into my work in order to build a relationship with the poem – I need to feel it tug on my sleeve.  This means that prior to writing about a particular subject I have to take an emotional journey. This might mean simply touching parts of my mind that are easy to reach, however, it often means scouring through dark and lonely emotions that I have tucked away. I find this process is an essential part of my preparation. The emotional link, for me, is the most honest way to bring the subject to life.

The uniqueness of any poem comes from the link between the poet and the poem. The truth is the soul of the poem. The truth is etched into the poems conventions. Without an emotional link, language is flat, motionless, and stale. If I were to write about a tree, any tree, the tree is lifeless unless I can create an emotional link. A link could arise if it was planted as a remembrance for someone I love, or if the tree provided shelter during my first kiss. If a leaf falls from the tree and brushes my face, it may spark a memory of a loving touch. The tree might have a knot that resembles the face of an old school teacher or smell like the time I smoked my first cigarette in the woods. The swish-swish of the branches might bring to mind a road sweeper cleaning up litter, and my anger at people’s disregard for the environment. Without an emotional connection, the tree is just an object, an image, a flat word on a page. Poetry, ‘opens a corridor between the head and heart,’ (Andrew Motion, 2012) a statement I fully agree with.

In my own work, I use truth and personal experience in addition to the poetic conventions as an art form. In discussing the making of poetry, Jamie said that ‘just as much as sound and rhythm, what makes a poem is its relationship with truth’. (Kathleen Jamie, 2012).  I believe that truth allows the poet to work more closely with form, imagery and most certainly tone.

I am greatly influenced by poets such as Carol Ann Duffy, Chris Powici, Raymond Carver and Kathleen Jamie an. Duffy’s relationship with truth is evident in ‘Stealing’:

Part of the thrill was knowing

That children would cry in the morning. Life’s tough.  (Carol Ann Duffy).

 

The blunt words and lack of emotion from the speaker actually give the poem an emotional feel. The tone is sombre, almost desperate.

Truth for me is found in reality, my own reality, and in experience, emotions, and a connection with the natural world. Finding the truth in the everyday, and exploring language, form the basis of my work. Therefore, the need that I have to invest parts of my own identity in poetry means building a relationship with the poem – I need to feel it tug on my sleeve.

 

©Eilidh G Clark

Bibliography

Duffy, Carol Ann, ‘Stealing’, in Emergency Kit: Poems for Strange Times, ed. by Jo Shapcott and Mathew Sweeny (London: Faber and Faber Limited, 2004)

 

Jamie, Kathleen, ‘Holding Fast – Truth and Change in Poetry’, in Strong Words: Modern Poets on Modern Poetry ed. by W.N. Herbert and Mathew Hollis (Northumberland: Bloodaxe Books Ltd, 2012)

 

Motion, Andrew, ‘Yes and No’, in Strong Words: Modern Poets on Modern Poetry, ed. by W.N. Herbert and Mathew Hollis (Northumberland: Bloodaxe Books Ltd, 2012)