Collected poems and songs
Carcanet ISBN 978 1 84777 254 1
298 pages £19-95
Review by Dave Douglass
Tom Pickard is something of a legend in his own lifetime. Two years older than me, by the time I was 15 he was already head and shoulders in the van of the radical free verse movement which swept into Tyneside’s ‘beat’, blues and jazz scene of the early 60’s. Free verse found an unlikely home in the wild emerging youth movement centred on the anti bomb struggles, direct action and anarchism fused with the rhythm and blues bars and clubs now marching in time with Liverpool and other industrial cities. Their inspiration had been the American beat poets, but on Tyneside their resonance was with working class city kids, its nearest equivalent today would be the rap scene, young factory lads and lasses, pitlads and shipyard apprentices could listen to this poetry and be cool. This was poetry with two fists clenched.
Tom made history when he took control of the abandoned Morden tower on Newcastle’s medieval city walls. A veritable invasion of American stars of the free verse scene started landing at regular intervals in ‘the toon’ along with the stars of its British wing. He added to his fame when Newcastle City Council banned him and us, the unemployed rebel kids from gathering at the Eldon Square park to hear poetry and protest. In another country they would have called him ‘a dissident’.
At the centre of all this was Tom whose own work was sheer inspiration to us young workers listening in awe to this machine gun of words, frequently in uncompromising Geordie and unfettered use of obscenities one would still usually get a belt in the gob for using in public. Tom’s work was to be a direct inspiration to my own work, especially Geordies Wa Mental, which had been kick started by his early Guttersnipe.
This work is a brilliant anthology of his works from the early years up to today. It follows the chronology of his life, unemployed, ,a migratory beat-tramp tramping through the cities of Europe, poverty wracked, angry but spiting blood and fire, touched with passion and love with biting irony and humour to his more mature years as he rediscovers the stark beauty and wild history of the borders, it’s a dramatic read. I usually pick into and out of poetry collections but this one I read cover to cover. It sits on my table, it lodges itself into your brain and demands read and reread. There are 298 pages of brilliance here and picking out selected pieces will do little more than add a flavour. Tom’s work has matured with age and life’s experience deepened and nuanced it is rich and unspoiled with pretention or affectation. This is the poetry which should be on national curriculum, part of our ‘British values’ ...but we know it never will be.