Greg Freeman is a former newspaper sub-editor, and now, news and reviews editor for the poetry website Write Out Loud. He co-comperes a monthly poetry open-mic night in Woking with Rodney Wood, and his debut poetry pamphlet Trainspotters was published by Indigo Dreams Press in 2015. Marples Must Go! is his first full-length collection.
The writing is on the wall. MARPLES MUST GO! So who was Marples before he was consigned to history? Being of the same era as Freeman, I remember the name well but, for the sake of the younger generation, I will add that Ernest Marples was a British Conservative politician who served as Postmaster General and then Minister of Transport in the late 50s and early 60s. Nothing unusual about that, you might think, but he was responsible for many things that we now take for granted such as the introduction of Premium Bonds, postcodes, the opening of the M1 motorway and the appointment of Richard Beeching whose drastic cuts abandoned more than 4,000 miles of railway track. Details of his later life were colourful resulting in him fleeing to Monaco at very short notice to avoid prosecution for tax fraud. Freeman delivers Marples’ life story in five stanzas touching upon every detail. Apart from anything else, it is a model of precision, honed no doubt after years spent in a career in journalism.
In this generous collection of 60 poems, Freeman draws inspiration from politics, popular culture, football and family. The earlier part of his collection is primarily about growing up in the post-war era and the swinging sixties. There are poems about iconic TV programmes such as Space Patrol and Juke Box Jury; popstars such as Dusty Springfield, Cilla Black, Chuck Berry and the Dave Clark Five and one about an influential, if somewhat unconventional, teacher whose readings from the Penguin Book of Contemporary Verse gave Freeman his first introduction to the world of poetry.
Freeman has a journalist’s eye for detail. He knows instinctively what makes for a good story. Out of all the stories recast as poems, the title poem must be at the top of the list. Other ‘scoops’ include an account of Margaret Thatcher’s visit to a girl’s school in Leamington Spa which sparked a large student demonstration (Dust-Up in Leamington) and the discovery of a huge cannabis farm on disused private land near Berrylands station (Berrylands). Freeman’s description of the station which I used to pass through on my daily commute into and out of London is spot on:
An apology for a station
on the way to Hampton Court,
the place where the fast
slowed down for Surbiton.
It overlooked a sewage farm
we’d cycle past, a short cut.
Lower Marsh Lane
more or less summed it up.
This extract is a good example of how Freeman condenses his words to their essence, omitting anything that is unnecessary while getting to the heart of the subject.
His years spent in newspaper journalism are celebrated in poems such as ‘The Overmatter’, ‘Classifieds’ and ‘The Local Rag’ where the ageing aroma of old newspapers brings to mind:
Crashing typewriters bashing
out wedding details, film previews,
match reports. Telephones
shrill with complaints, demands,
In ‘Goodbye Farringdon Road’ Freeman records the historic moment when the Guardian newspaper relocated its London offices from Clerkenwell to King’s Cross and refocused its priorities from print to the internet. There is a telling line in the final stanza:
Print’s long goodbye, but at what cost?
A series of poems on the subject of football betray more than a passing interest in the sport. In one of them, (The Battle of Hastings as Summarised by Roy Keane), Freeman deftly combines his love of football with history. This is something he is particularly good at. Other poems that simultaneously work on more than one level include ‘Fine and Dandy’ which is an interesting cocktail of comic characters, politicians and history, ‘Clacton’, a clever fusion of pop song titles, film titles, place-names, politicians and Brexit, and ‘Return of the Daleks’ which uses a TV series as a hook on which to hang a poem about Brexit. In a further poem on the theme of Brexit, Freeman reminds us how times have changed with these telling lines:
Back then you couldn’t speak your mind;
now you can shout it out loud.
Freeman admits that he is very much a poet of place and this is reflected in his poetry, whether he is writing about places in his native Surrey or places further afield such as Marbella, Barcelona, the Stockholm Archipelago, the Loire Valley or Bruges. These references help to ground the poems, establishing a backdrop to the stories that he unfolds.
Towards the end of the book, there is a sequence of poems about four bronze statues in Woking town centre by Woking-born sculptor Sean Henry. These poems represent a series of back-stories for the figures, as Freeman saw them. These four statues are ‘Woman (Being Looked At)’ at the entrance to the Peacocks shopping centre, ‘Standing Man’ in Jubilee Square, ‘The Wanderer’ outside Woking railway station and ‘Seated Man’ inside the station on a seat on platform one. Freeman’s tribute to these works has received a nod of approval from the sculptor who told him he had accurately captured some of the thoughts that went into the works as well as bringing in ideas of his own which he felt were somehow right. These verbal descriptions of a visual work of art represent a new exciting departure for Freeman.
Poems closer to the present moment bear references to the pandemic (there is one about clapping for the NHS), Nigel Farage scanning the channel for migrants, the anniversary of V.E. Day and a retrospective on the singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse.
These engaging poems are more than one man’s memory of significant moments in his life. They are my memories too and they will resonate with many other readers. They are the kind of poems that work well in performance as well as on the printed page. The collection captures with wit and compassion ‘our time’. Fully recommended.
Marples Must Go! by Greg Freeman is published by Dempsey & Windle (2021).
Neil Leadbeater is an author, essayist, poet and critic living in Edinburgh, Scotland. His short stories, articles and poems have been published widely in anthologies and journals both at home and abroad. His publications include Librettos for the Black Madonna (White Adder Press, Scotland, 2011); The Worcester Fragments (Original Plus Press, England, 2013); The Loveliest Vein of Our Lives (Poetry Space, England, 2014), Sleeve Notes (Editura Pim, Iaşi, Romania, 2016) Finding the River Horse (Littoral Press, 2017) and Penn Fields (Littoral Press, 2019). His work has been translated into several languages including Dutch, French, Romanian, Spanish and Swedish.