The Heath Bookshop
Towards the end of a long book tour that has taken in almost every literary nook and cranny in the Black Country, the critically acclaimed novelist and poet RM Francis, returned to The Heath Bookshop in Kings Heath, and to a packed audience, to read from his new book, The Chain Coral Chorus (Playdead Press). Francis was given a warm welcome from The Heath Bookshops proprietors, Catherine and Claire, and a rapturous reception from those in the audience. He had previously performed on the bookshops’ opening weekend. So, a coming home, adjacent, of sorts.
The Chain Coral Chorus consists of a series of poems, essays and fieldnotes written during Francis’ recent stint as the Poet in Residence for the Black Country Geological Society. But there was plenty of time in Francis’ performance for poems about old losers and favourite boozers - bordering on Bukowski, and the fittings and fixtures of the region too.
The Black Country is where Francis was raised, in the town of Dudley an area he still calls home. Famed as the self-identified epicentre of the industrial revolution - after all, all roads, well actually, all bridges have led, since 1779, from the eponymous Ironbridge in Shropshire (The Google of the 18th Century). Francis' work with the Geological Society centres around the very mineral underpinnings that made the region into an international industrial powerhouse that drew in so many skilled people, eventually from all over the globe. Those industries and those days may be long gone but something of the machismo remains, the remnants not yet wholly subsumed by the information economy that has prevailed to this point in the 20th Century.
Of course, alongside a knack for subtle didactic intrusions, Francis is in equal parts poignant and funny. Like someone like Zaffar Kunial, or his hero, Roy McFarlane, Francis immerses himself in the inexplicable mystery of family and kith and kin and language and specifically dialect and never - as Descartes inferred - worries about whether a sense of wonder is an enemy of logic. If it is, why, in this room, on this night, why worry? As a storyteller Francis is as eloquent as a traveller’s riposte when asked what they are doing in your field? “Living in it.”
It’s a magnetic, immersive and taught delivery throughout. There are moments delightfully flighty, throwaway and deliciously insidious all at once. Well remembered later. That’s just what he does. Turning words and phrases on a dime. A major talent. His treatises of Place Identity are at once deep, and wide. We belong whether we want to believe it or not. In the nuance of dialect Francis finds a sense of joy in how he wants us to see place anew. He wants us to accept too, in a brusque foreboding tongue, accept that after all, perhaps we don’t belong, either. It's altogether magically compelling and dead on honest. But not earnestly so.
It rained a lot on the way back to the car, I didn't have the coat for that. That felt adept. Oh what a night.
Beginning on May 15th, Outsideleft will host RM Francis Week, we’re certainly thrilled about that.
Francis is also heading up the Outsideleft Quiet Night Out in Bearwood on June 7th at the Bear Bookshop in Bearwood. This showing made me feel very excited about that event. The Outsideleft Quiet Night Out will feature Rob alongside acclaimed Black Country novelist, Kerry Hadley-Pryce. In addition we’ll see poetry from Jay Lewis and Wayne Dean-Richards. Woodenhand will feature too, promising introspective modal interludes… It’s going to be a night.
It’s free to attend The Quiet Night Out but an advanced free ticket from Eventbrite is recommended as capacity at the Bear Bookshop is limited.