Review - "agri culture" by Mike Ferguson

Steve Spence

“agri culture” by Mike Ferguson, pub. Gazebo Gravy Press. 36 pp. 2022

Mike Ferguson puts a new spin on nostalgia and gives it a good name in these recent poems based around his early experience as an agricultural worker in Suffolk. This is a beautifully produced little chapbook with a mix of typographically inventive concrete poetry as well as more straightforward narrative pieces which as well as providing autobiographical detail, also touch on social history. We get a sense of collective endeavour, even against the backdrop of exploitative working practices and there’s a hinted-at political aspect to this work which combines a sense of friendship with a wider commentary. It’s a very moving book, easy to read, wonderful to look at and pick up and full of enticing material. You get a real sense of the camaraderie of physical labour and of intelligence applied to practical problems and it’s rare to come across poetry which deals effectively with this subject. From ‘Agrarian Creed’ we have the following:

 

          I didn’t preach

          Marx on the farm back then

          as we were

 

          comrades when

          collectively hand-hoeing weeds,

          or sharing the

 

          three-bar electric fire

          for our morning breakfast toastings,

          or feely passing on

 

          the skills and

          wisdoms acquired over time.

          And though men were

 

          tied, it was

          lifelong in promises kept before

          all the deceit and greed,

 

          looked after in

          old age and old stories of who was and

          wasn’t a horse-witch

 

          (or in some

          other Paddock calls cabal). 

 

This is recollection in tranquillity perhaps, a thoughtful reflection at the end of a career teaching English and making common ground between the different occupations. Ferguson uses literary allusion within the text, whether to Wordsworth, Coleridge, Steinbeck, Whitman or Derrida but always effectively, combining humour with appropriate comments, direct and telling. I’m sure from the evidence of this poetry that he was a wonderful teacher, the kind it would have been a pleasure to have been taught by.

 

     There is plenty of wit and a sense of the playful here as well, as epitomised by some of the more visual pieces, such as ‘Three Farm Sayings i,’ ‘As in Massey’ and ‘Tedding the Hay’ which hint towards Ian Hamilton Finlay or Edwin Morgan in one of his many modes.   

   

 ‘In Three Farm Sayings iii’ we have the following:

 

          high above us

          the crows caw

          Work!

          Work!

          and we yell back

          We are!

          We are!

          in an antiphony

          of a farming

          polemic

 

                    

In Carter 3 we have a footnote with the classification of terms based on occupations (a theme which Ferguson has employed elsewhere) which includes a witty play on the film world with what appears to be a lightning switch of direction.

 

          He was always a horseman, but I hear someone shout

          ‘Get Carter!’

 

          yet Arthur appears fully clothed, no shotgun and instead

          a Suffolk Punch

 

          for company, rubs the bone and purrs ‘Now behave

          yourself’.

 

 I love the way his mind seems to accelerate with these pithy encapsulations and I mean that as a compliment and I also picked up some new vocabulary while reading these poems, ‘Tedding’ for example, a haymaking term.

 

     I’ve only touched the surface of this short collection and could say a lot more but I think you ought to discover it for yourself. I hope you will as it’s a terrific little book, playful yet authentic (in the best sense of the word) and full of interest. Great stuff.

 

 

 

Copyright © Steve Spence, 2022.