9 Oct 2015

Lagan Voices by Neil C. Young

Lagan Voices by Neil C Young
'A socialist poet par excellence . . .'
If you remember the sort of things that Ewan McColl sang about then you will have a feeling for Neil C. Young’s Lagan Voices.

It is the sound of industrial city, with people at work, sketched in between the dirty river and the back alleys of a depressed town.  The river itself is the subject more than once:

You are no Liffey or Shannon,

Those sinewy channels of myth and rhyme,
No fiddles ride over your tide
Or lilt a Lagan lullaby,
Yet you have the ghost of me still,

My childhood all over your bridges and banks,
I kicked my dreams like stones
About the shambles of your wasteground,

Neil Young's Lagan Voices offers poems in the folk idiom, many of which you will feel could do with a tune, such as Maggie's Song.

Other poems tell of the plainest moments of a working class childhood, characters like those recalled in Auld Hand, Willie-John and Lizzie, and then a poem like Street which contains 'the batter of doors', 'the scuff of boots on the street', 'a column of blue overalls' and other images combining to present as only poetry can do, a remembered community.

Belfast is everywhere and so is tragedy, as in the poem Dan which in 12 lines carries all the pathos and sadness one might find in a short story — though with sheer economy it tells of the fate of one person who ‘upset the big man’.

Light shines through the poems, and illuminate a time and place not known to most poetry readers — the working class eras of dances, and factories, tug boats, docks and smoke. In Maggie’s Song, a young lass sings an unheard call to a potential lover, which captures much of the flavour of an era that few will know, outside of the period cinema of the 1950s and 1960s, 

Distilled within Lagan Voices is that sweet feeling of the joys of childhood, combined to the last detail with the realities of the adult world or work, poverty and grime, and it makes for a memorable experience as readers will travel with Neil Young, back to a finely evoked red-brick world of a lost Belfast.