A new anthology of poetry manages to capture the many faces of Yorkshire. STEPHEN LEWIS reports

THE first question that occurs to you, on opening a new book of Yorkshire poetry, is: what precisely is Yorkshire poetry? Is it different from, say, Derbyshire poetry, or Welsh poetry?

That's a good questions, admits Miles Salter. Yorkshire's such a diverse place, that it doesn't really have a single voice, or a single way of looking at things.

So what he and his fellow editor Oz Hardwick tried to do when they put together the Valley Press's new Anthology of Yorkshire Poetry was to represent some of the many different faces of the county.

The cover shows a typical Dales scene: greeny-gold fields cut by stone walls, fading to distant hills and a cloud-flecked sky.

It is all very Last of The Summer Wine, and presumably pitched to appeal to a non-Yorkshire sense of what the county is all about. But it might have been better, admits Miles, to have split the cover into several different scenes, in an attempt to capture some of the diversity of the real Yorkshire; an abandoned coal town, a half-eaten curry, a York back alley and a drunk reeling along a Hull street, as well as that Dales scene.

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That would have been a much more accurate representation of the 66 poems contained in this brilliant little 92-page book.

Miles, the founder of the York Literature Festival, and Oz, a York-based poet, had a hit-list of well-known poets they wanted to include.

But they also combed through hundreds of submissions when putting together the book.

The results are sometimes fresh, sometimes oddball - and sometimes genuinely poignant. And they manage to capture a good few of Yorkshire's many different faces.

Cora Greenhill's 'Seen in Sheffield' describes a group of young men larking about in the fountains in the South Yorkshire city's centre:

"This is what boys are for! To strip

to the hip-sagging baggy pants;

shrug, slouch, them somersault to the brim

of the fountain; cat crawl the wall,

cartwheel, lazy-vault a stone plinth,

bend knees and flat foot it free-style,

frog-fashion, down all seven levels

of stone slabs sliced by blades of water."

In Hull, Peter Knaggs describes an encounter with a man trying to flog dodgy booze:

"8.30 in the morning at the crossing.

Eh, mate, do you like whisky?

What about Smirnoff?

I tell him I don't have any money

on me, right at that moment. Fair enough,

he shrugs. I don't tell him the truth.

I don't buy stolen goods.

It's one of those things you don't do,

like drinking milk in a pub."

Nick Toczek manages to capture the speech rhythms of Bradford - or Bratfud, as he calls it - in A Bratfud Life.

"Bratfud born, Bratfud bred,

Bratfud clothes, Bratfud thread,

Bratfud shoes, Bratfud tread

...Bratfud A to Bratfud Zed."

Genteel Harrogate puts in an appearance. "Nobody hurries in Harrogate," writes Andy Humphrey, in his poem of the same name.

"You can see old ladies who patiently queue

for a nice tea at Betty's, with salmon and cucumber

sandwiches laid on a white paper doily..."

And Brimham Rocks are there, too, in a haunting little poem by Amina Alyal, who imagines the deep ages of time that these weathered outcrops of stone have endured and witnessed.

"Trees always stood here, birch, alder and oak, as they did

over all of the hills. And here one day a lynx chased a sunbeam

shaken around by the wind over last night's flint-struck ashes,

and a buckskinned hunter paused on a rock, and watched."

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Brimham Rocks: Photo by Aeres Ambrose

There's that same sense of passing time and passing ages in Carole Bromley's The Stonegate Devil, in which she watches York's history from the vantage point of this well-known landmark:

"He's seen it all: mummers, buskers,

guildsmen pulling carts with wobbling tableaux

of flood, famine, crucifixion;

a couple choosing a ring in Walker and Preston's,

a man hurrying another man's wife

down the alley to Ye Olde Starre Inne,

drunks vomiting in the snickleway,

the purple cyclist on his purple bike, going nowhere."

Not all the poems in the anthology are by Yorkshire poets. Some are written about Yorkshire: and others were written by poets who just happened to be passing through.

One of those is Telephoning Home, by Scottish poet (and now poet laureate) Carol Ann Duffy. It was written many years ago when the poet found herself on a platform at York railway station, watching a man in a phone box, says Miles.

He asked if he could include it, knowing where it was written: and she agreed. It's good that she did, because it is a wonderful evocation of the longing for home that travel can give you...

"I hear your voice saying Hello in that guarded way

you have, as if you fear bad news, imagine you

standing in our dark hall, waiting, as my silver coin

jams in the slot and frantic bleeps repeat themselves

along the line until your end goes slack. The wet platform

stretches away from me towards the South and home."

The South and home, written longingly. Not a sentiment you'll come across often in Yorkshire, perhaps: but a beautiful poem nonetheless...

  • The Valley Press Anthology of Yorkshire poetry, edited by Miles Salter and Oz Hardwick, is published by Valley Press priced £9.99.

The book will be launched on Tuesday (Yorkshire Day, August 1) at The Basement, City Screen. Tickets for the 8pm event £4 from www.thebasementyork.co.uk/