Tuesday, 1 May 2012

The Lost Fire Brigade

I thought I'd start an occasional series of reviews of poetry books from the rather random collection I've built up over the years. I had the idea when I fished out this book, looking for a poem I remembered from it. It was -is- a rather brutal, surreal poem and it's from The Lost Fire Brigade by Spike Hawkins:

lights seen

The rainbow hid in the car
Until the car stopped and
the man got out
and threw away his entire

Spike Hawkins was born in 1943 and The Lost Fire Brigade was published in that year when so much else happened, 1968. The poem I've just quoted is fairly typical: short, surreal and with a twist of dry wit. Several of the poems were anthologised by Michael Horowitz in Children of Albion. Edward Lucie-Smith included the poems Hawkins is most well-known for -his "Three Pig Poems"-  in British Poetry Since 1945.

The book has a real whiff of the world so brilliantly portrayed in the film Withnail and I. Indeed, had there been a role for a poet in that film, it would have had to have been Spike Hawkins:

put britain back

    for the arts council

Welcome poverty
I love you

The clue to the title of the book, too, is in this poem. In 1967, a group of protesting poets had lit a fire outside the headquarters of the Arts Council. put britain back was certainly topical but my favourite poem in the book is brown light, with its musical ending, in which "a flurry" of sandwiches:

...finally dropped at my feet
Their springs broken
Like small fishes panting clank

If I didn't already have a copy, would I buy it? Undoubtedly yes, and not only for its value as a historical artefact, which is not inconsiderable in my opinion. As Adrian Mitchell said, "Hawkins is an unclassifiable, moon-tanned animal who was banned from Noah's Ark and so decided to start his own Deluge." However, if I found it in a second hand bookshop next to Horovitz' Children of Albion: Poetry of the 'Underground' in Britain and was forced (by dint of a lack of cash) to buy one or the other, I'd go for the Horovitz. Horovitz made an excellent job of picking the wittiest and pithiest of Hawkins' fragmentary poems.


Jenny Woolf said...

Great comment by Adrian Mitchell too.

Kat Mortensen said...

Now that you've mentioned "Withnail", I am seriously intrigued. I like the wit and the brevity.

tony said...

Oh Lord! The Children of Albion are/is in my loft!I must dig them out & Re-Read!

Gwil W said...

"He (Spike) could imitate Harold Wilson very well" (Wiki).

A Cuban In London said...

I liked that first poem a lot. I don't know what it says about me, or about the author. I liked the impulsivenss of it, but also the brutal (you're right, it's brutal) beauty of it. Many thanks. I knew nothing about the writer.

Greetings from London.

Friko said...

A poet I don't know but will now have to explore. Thanks for the nudge.

Dominic Rivron said...

Thanks for these comments, everyone.

JW: Yes. Suitably whacky, isn't it?

KM: Intrigued? His Pig Poems are online, here:


tony: Get the ladder out.

Gwil W: Sadly, it doesn't appear to be on youtube.

Cuban: His poems do have an impulsiveness. I wonder if it is impulsively created, or carefully crafted.

Friko: One great thing about exploring SH's work is that it doesn't take long! The poems are short and -unless there are works I don't know of- there aren't too many of them.