“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
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
and we yell back
in an antiphony
of a farming
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
yet Arthur appears fully clothed, no shotgun and instead
a Suffolk Punch
for company, rubs the bone and purrs ‘Now behave
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.