by Michael Bartholomew-Biggs
This sequence of poems emerges from the poet’s attempts to find out more about the elusive and enigmatic figure of his grandfather, to ‘fix his likeness’ as it were. Using documented fragments of a private story and his own considerable powers of imagination, Michael Bartholomew-Biggs creates an engaging tribute to an ordinary life that takes him closer to his own roots. It is a narrative that might have passed relatively unnoticed yet which nonetheless is integral to the wider sweep of history as it touches on currently sensitive issues of immigration, national identity and terrorism.
“Recently, I’ve been enjoying Michael Bartholomew-Biggs’ The Man Who Wasn’t Ever Here(Wayleave Press). I love the quality of the press’s pamphlet production and cover artwork (by Mike Barlow), and I found the pamphlet gripping in terms of character and narrative. My ‘I’ll just dip in’ turned into my completing an initial reading of the whole pamphlet in one go – which for me is a sign of a collection that is way more than a sum of its parts. Both the characters and settings are beguiling vivid – from the striking and moving imagery in the questions at the end of the opening poem (‘Birthright’) with its initial hereditary “quart of blood”, through painfully beautiful poems like ‘“Died From Scalds”’, the dramatic and strange facts juxtaposition in ‘Press Reports’and many other wonderful poems… back round to “that quart of blood again” and Thomas’s Postscripts speaking back at the writer. So much that I enjoyed here and so much that I admired.” Sarah James
Conversation stalls; then one
musician mentions the return
of the man who never did come back
and bar talk cruises off again.
Two Americans today
turned up in a Sligo taxi
to brandish angst about an ancestor
who might have been from hereabouts.
My own more diffident allusion
to a local grandfather
has met with courteous consideration.
Collective recall of his name
attaches to a patch of woodland
round a roofless house. Ungraciously
I speculate this acreage
might serve as common patrimony
for any visitor blown in
on a gust of curiosity.
There is general agreement
that Mrs Rooney would remember
something if she wasn’t dead. She washed
her own hair right up to the end.
Around eleven thirty
the barman opens up the door
to let some smoke escape. But not the clients.
The musicians’ throats are flushed enough
for them to sing as well as play
while I engage in dialogues
on Cromwell, Irish beef and Eddie Jordan.
I can’t put down the Guinness
like a resident, but try
to feel at home and ponder what thin kinship
I might claim around the bar stools,
indulge what small celebrity
accompanies the late return
of the man who wasn’t ever here.