It has been too long since we have had a boxer-poet in our midst.
I’m thinking of Arthur Cravan, whose tireless quest for attention led him up and down Europe until his mysterious disappearance and presumed death in 1918; and I’m thinking of Vernon Scannel, who died in 2007, and who published nearly 65 books and often wrote about what he called in 1975, The Loving Game of boxing.
Boxing and poetry are a great combination, largely I expect due to the contradiction between the most intangible and intellectual of pursuits meeting the most violent and visceral, and this is hugely evident in The Heavy Bag, by Ross Wilson.
Many of the poems in The Heavy Bag by Ross Wilson feature boxing either directly, or as a backdrop.
My favourites tend to be the poems in which Wilson casts his mind back to his younger days, such as The ABC (Last: eighteen, unbeaten, Andy sat / on a table staring at boots that run miles / every night they don’t skip rope in a gym) or The Hearth (Imagine a wee boy in an old house / new to him looking at the outline on a wall / where a fireplace was bricked up / decades before he was born.)
There’s also a theme of generational respect in the collection, with a couple of poems dedicated to older boxers Wilson has known, as well as a few family reflections on among others his dey (which is the Fife word for Grandad if you didn’t know). You have to wonder if this respect is something linked to the ring, and if that deeply felt working class heritage is a constant refrain because he’s learned it by being punched in the face.
Flippancy aside, the sport of boxing does instil something in the young uns, and this is evident in the poems which cover learning the sport as a boy.
Original copies of Arthur Cravan’s ‘Maintenant’ which first sold for 23 centimes, were in 2010 valued at £35,000, so we’ll wait and see. Posterity can be kind, just like it can also deliver a punch on the nose.
The Heavy Bag is published by Calder Wood Press.