The following is an introduction I wrote to a terrific collection of poems, “In the Mix,” by British writer David Pike. I met David on my U.K. book tour last year – he runs a lively reading series in Swindon that I was very happy to take part in, and puts out a poetry magazine as well. For more info on the series, the magazine, and David’s book, visit the Pulsar website.
Foreword to In the Mix, poems by David Pike
The “mix” referred to in the title of this sharp, strong collection of poems is rich with the sense of a place and its past. As the opening poem, “License,” tells us, we are in Thomas Hardy country. The rolling Wessex landscape is the ground out of which David Pike’s work grows; whether he is celebrating the 10th century English king, “Athelstan,” a son of Wessex, or exploring a medieval idiom in “Taking the Air,” the poet’s sense of history, of various histories – of the hills and roads, of the people, and of their language and literature – lends weight and depth to the entire collection.
But if Pike has one boot planted in the past, the other is firmly set down in the soil of the present. The mix here is full of the artifacts of contemporary daily life, from the elevated to the mundane. The concert hall, the subway, the grocery store, and the gym all offer possible settings and occasions for poems. Not that our narrator fully participates in whatever is going on, wherever he is; he’s too self–aware to be caught up in, say, the forced glee of the tourists described in “Holiday Sort.”
But while he may lecture or exhort us on the absurdity of the daily round, the narrator of these poems is never condescending. However far he may feel from the actions of the crowd, he is still, very clearly, one of us, as quick to mock himself as to parody others. Absurdity, he suggests, is part of the human condition, and laughter a human and a necessary response. And he strikes some universal chords with freshness – who hasn’t shaken a head, like the speaker of “In All Things,” over a pal who seems indeed to be gifted in all things save the choice of a mate?
Some of my favorite poems here are written in that great free–verse form, the rant – including “Mr. & Mrs. Riot,” “Mr. Grey,” and “Shitehousen.” The latter, in particular, rises to heights of giddy misanthropy that remind me of some of my favorite passages in D.H. Lawrence. As with Lawrence, these passages are tremendous fun to read aloud; and, as in Lawrence, they’re made more poignant by the sense that what underlies them is not steely disillusionment but rather, the insistent treasuring of a vision of how much better things could be than they are – and by implication, of how much better we could be than we are.
If I seem to imply here that it is the poet’s intention to suggest that the solutions to the problems of the present lie in the past, or that one uncomfortable aspect of learning history might well be a growing suspicion that something has been lost along the way, that there was a time when life was, if more harsh, also more authentic – well, perhaps that is in the eyes of the individual reader. These poems are not the work of a Romantic, and though the narrator may comment – wisely, wryly – on his predicaments, he will not confess or conflate. Moments of tenderness are tempered with lyric economy, as in the poem “Shift Patterns,” which concludes with the spare, moving couplet, “like it or not / you need to belong.”
Belonging here means to other people but also to a place – which returns us to where we began. The consistent, sustaining measure of comfort in these poems is in their beautifully rendered landscapes, in hill and sky, field and canal. In “All Cannings,” the poet writes, “When shadows fall on shallow water / I drink it in, drink it in.” These poems are for drinking in, too – a tribute to the richness of their origins and the skill of their craftsman.