T.S Eliot once claimed that “...genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood” and Allen Ginsberg described the job of the poet as depicting the montage of thoughts when "It's that time of night, lying in bed...making the private world public..." The best poets spark our imagination with less words then an academic text. Hence why some of the most potent anti-war writing came from the trenches of the First World War.
So it's right that the recent conflict serves as Beano Niblock's muse.
Troubles Curriculum has been described by Niblock as covering:
...the years 1969 (when I was 14) to 1973 and charts those days when I was a young gang member and subsequently a teenage paramilitary and young prisoner.
The title itself perfectly sums up that tension that many felt at the time: between a normal life and stepping up to aid your community in such dire times.
The language used throughout is sensory, harsh, bleak and somehow reflective. The reader can feel themselves wandering through these war torn streets, constantly on the look out for suspicious types and wondering where the bliss and tranquillity of childhood went to. Coupled with Niblock's eye for a telling photograph, these poems tell the tale of a descent into hell (even though the narrator does not fully recognise it until the end) as the surroundings around him follow suit.
What immediately jumps out is the frank narrative. No attempt at justification nor romanticism, just stark reality. Take 'Across the Line' as such an example. A moment where "taking the next step" was moving on from childish games into deadly serious adulthood. Something we all face at some point, but rarely does it come with such cold realisation.
The same applies with 'One on B Wing', where the solitude and reality of what the narrator has done hits us in the face. This is the end of the line, for the time being. The starkness sends chills through the body and the old saying "there but for the grace of God go I" as the reader takes into account the full journey.
With only 15 poems, Niblock manages to capture the visceral feelings of those trapped in a war, torn between having a normal life and defending their community. His writing is evocative and immediate, a true working class voice.
Once again, poetry goes where fact cannot.
Robert Niblock, 2019, Troubles Curriculum and Other Poems. ACT Initiative. Privately Published.
⏩ Christopher Owens was a reviewer for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland.