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Review: The Autumn Myth, by Joel Lane

Bring on the blues - The limits of Europe and Autumn

The Birmingham that Joel Lane writes about is not the one the tourist board has in mind when it pushes the charms of Britain's second city.

Nobody wants any trouble. The back streets
around Holloway Head are clear.
No drunks, drug dealers, or girls
pretending to wait for taxis.
No drivers making the slow trawl
through the shallow waters of midnight.

But there are plenty of saunas, massage parlours and gentlemen's clubs in the small factories, recently converted.

This is where refugees end up.
Behind tinted or shuttered windows
the limits of Europe are exposed.
Wherever you walk on the blameless street,
you are no more than nine yards
and one wall from a naked woman.

Lane was born at Exeter in Devon in 1963 but has lived and worked in Birmingham for many years. He has written lots of short stories and a couple of novels as well as editing several anthologies. This is his third collection of poetry and you can forget any notion of John Keats and his season of mellow fruitfulness.

In the title poem he contends:

The only autumn's in your head:
the slow dissolution of childhood

and he is keen to debunk the myths and dreams he thinks permeate our world.

What becomes of humanity
when it's soaked in crude oil?
Does it go up in flames, like paper?
Or does it just spoil?

There is a savage poem about one of the Bay City Rollers -

angels with golden cocks
and nothing under their haircuts -

who, after

they grew up. And split up.
As if by magic, his money

and Red Bastards is a frightening tale about delivering Searchlight on an estate in north Birmingham where anti-fascists aren't exactly welcomed with open arms:

He pokes
at his mobile, starts talking hard.

One of us wants to stay and fight.
He's outvoted. They've been known
to use paving slabs.

In The House of Lies twelve / ex-rebels at a reunion dinner

We fought for years, and we lost.
There's little talk of the company:

the preening managers, their suits
coated with the snail-tracks of lies


the gollum clones of Human Resources
hiding behind their computers.


We fought in the meeting room, we
fought through the union, we fought
at our desks. We were shafted.