The title of Mark Ford‘s third collection is taken from Walt Whitman’s admission, late in life, that “Though unmarried I have had six children”. The consequent poem’s six stanzas imagine the six women Whitman “waylaid” and the resulting offspring, the father hoping “some day, all together, we will stride the open road”. It is this act of remembrance and unearthing that Ford maintains as a focus throughout the book.
This is a collection of cataloguing and resurrection. The poet brings new life to the extinct passenger pigeon, an Elizabethan healer, and a sixteenth-century religious sect, with equal devotion. Ford works as a professor of English at UCL and is interested in the notion of a poem conveying information, often of “an arcane or recondite sort”, he says, “as a way of amusing or entertaining the reader.”
…the poet’s real talent is with the simple and suggestive line…
All his themes are treated in a comic and contemporary manner, insisting on no prior understanding from the reader, and the result is that you leave the collection feeling as though you have garnered knowledge that may have otherwise passed you by.
It has been ten years since Ford’s last collection of poetry, a time frame that makes for a varied group of poems. While he demonstrates his obvious skill with poetic form through impressive sestinas and pantoums, the poet’s real talent is with the simple and suggestive line, “in a wing beat we’d agreed on what/We’d need to learn to love: guilt”.
The stand-out poem of the collection, Ravished, an elegy for poet Mick Imlah, perhaps, best epitomises Ford’s ability for devastating connotation that emerges throughout this admirable book:
Someone halts, and broods
In the deserted doorway of a Chinese
Is struggling to rise swiftly
From his chair.
Six Children is published by Faber and Faber and is available for £9.99.