THERE’S a Jimi Hendrix song called “Bold as Love”, and that’s what comes to mind when reading Full Blood, the newest collection of poetry from British poet John Siddique. These are not poems to be slavishly learnt and fallen asleep over in an English class; these are strong, resonant paeans to the resilience of men and women who live full lives, yearning to understand something of the mysterious forces that bring them together and push them apart.
As his name suggests, John Siddique is a mixed-race child of an Irish mother and Indian Muslim father. Resident of artsy Hebden Bridge, a small market town in West Yorkshire, he got a late start writing poetry at the age of 27, and in the following 20 years wrote four collections of poetry: Full Blood, Recital — An Almanac, Poems from a Northern Soul and The Prize. He also co-authored Four Fathers. His poems have appeared in publications such as Granta, the Guardian, the Poetry Review and The Rialto. But more importantly, they are living poems.
Full Blood is a collection of 78 poems written over many years, published in various places, but brought together to show a man at the full peak of his creative powers. Written in direct language that is no less beautiful for its straightforwardness, the poems read as smoothly and lucidly as any short story or novel, their simple structure and style never getting in the way of their clarity. Their accessibility makes them poems that can be understood by anyone, regardless of age or experience. They come from a place of humility, offering themselves as gifts to the reader: a reward for coming along with Siddique on his multiple journeys.
The themes of the poems are bold, too. Love. War. Death. Life. Sex. Racism. Childhood. Adulthood. Siddique doesn’t shy away from the important topics, and he isn’t scared to talk honestly about the detritus and mess that we have managed to create for ourselves in our 21st century ways of living. But in his poems, he strips life down to the things that matter most: union between lovers, links between fathers and sons, relationships between people and nature, the country and the city.
He bends words like wires in order to fashion them into structures strong enough to hold the big ideas within. Unblinking, clear-eyed, shamelessly erotic and surprisingly tender, they are the imaginings of a man fully in touch with his ‘feminine’ side and unafraid to mine it in order to fully illuminate his way in the world.
Speaking in the direct, straightforward voice of a born-and-bred Northerner, Siddique’s simple words belie the complexity beneath the questions and statements.
In “Thirst”, he asks us to “imagine thirst without knowing water”. His metaphors, too, are no-nonsense, powerful and muscular. In “The Knife”, racism is “a moment of orgasm” that “lights in fists and feet and slogans”, while in “Become”, he describes the land of his father: “India is my wife, with her I lay down my burdens/Become a man again.” But his directness doesn’t mean Siddique doesn’t know how to write of nature and beauty: marriage becomes a garden in “Making” where the two lovers “ate apples of life, pears of hope, berries of love”; while in “Kabul”, Siddique describes “a Pashtun boy with the face of a goddess, eyes lined with kohl, and a smile for the eye of the heart”.
Standout poems in this collection include “The Knife”, a series of five interlinked poems about growing up in a rough Northern city, falling in love while escaping skinheads on the streets. Then there’s the stunning middle section, Reclaiming the Body, in which Siddique explores the physical, emotional and psychic landscapes of love.
Another interlinked series of poems, “Jai/Kitying/ Abha/Maria/Jummo” examines how immigrants transform themselves in order to fit into their adopted nation. Whatever your favorites, however, Siddique is a poet to be discovered, like a new country, his poems savoured like sips from a forbidden cup of wine.
The reviewer is the author of Slum Child
Full Blood (POETRY) By John Siddique Salt Publishing, UK ISBN 1844718247 124pp. $15.95