Review: Assembly Lines by Jane Commane


Ledbury Poetry Festival is huge. I managed to get to a small fraction of events but, of those I went to, my stand-out single poem of the festival this year was Jane Commane’s UnWeather from her collection Assembly Lines (Bloodaxe Books). Without mentioning Brexit it captures: “…when dread moves in you like botulism / as the little island tilts on its foundations…”

A poem in five fiery stanzas.
A poem that considers what we are, were, should be, will be.
A poem deep-rooted in language and history and how both influence us now.
“We need a new word for how the bigotry in the mortar / became the bricks and stones and broken windows”

Assembly Lines X-rays middle England’s rotting back bone: a sense of place and time from “teenage angst […] between glasnost and things can only get better” to Brexit.
Here is not the England of Eton and country mansions, The Proms or grouse moorlands, cream teas, the National Trust, any Shakespeare Experience for awe-struck grockles.

“Someone tows the […] British Iles / further out into the Atlantic and cuts it adrift” (National Curriculum).

It’s not just Brexit but other aspects of the Midlands’ identity crisis that come under scrutiny. Midlands kids mourns a future “misplaced down the gap in the back seat” “of the long-gone marques of British manufacturing”.

There are also more cheerful poems: love songs for the Ordinance Survey, dogs, otters and Coventry; glorious joy even in the face of fear. But it’s Commane’s anger at betrayal that sears: “… unable / to bite the hand that fed us / our daily dish of lies, / such cold, damnable lies.”

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