Poetry Review: The Healing Next Time by Roy McFarlane

Poetry Collection by Roy McFarlane - The Healing Next TimeLast year I read Claudia Rankine’s powerful collection Citizen: An American Lyric, which tackles the thorny issue of racism in modern America. Roy McFarlane has produced a UK equivalent in his second collection The Healing Next Time, which begins with a narrative sequence covering the years 1999 to 2006, interrogating what it means to live as a black man in Britain, merging the personal and the public in an exploration of family, politics, love and hate.  

The initial narrative sequence, titled ‘New Millennium Journal’, is so gripping that I read the entire thing in one sitting, but it is also unusual, experimenting with form, made up of extended sonnets which emphasise the dichotomy at the heart of the book, that between love and hate. It is set against a backdrop of constant change, from the strange mix of fear and elation on the eve of the new Millennium, to the horror of 9:11 and other key events in recent years.

The narrative takes a distant, third person perspective, allowing the poet to explore a variety of situations using generic characters – ‘the family man’ and ‘the activist’ – as well as referring briefly to numerous others including ‘the lover’, and ‘the mother’. But this is not just a straightforward description of racist incidents, it is far more subtle than that, teasing out the complexities of private blame and responsibility as ‘the family man’ is both appalled and dumbfounded by racist attacks, whilst embarking on an illicit love affair, seeking refuge and succour from his mother:

In his mother’s kitchen he walks in a silent rage.
She knows, and places her hand on his troubled heart.

McFarlane also explores the complicated history of race, religious division and activism in the UK, acknowledging the fact that even those who actively work for peace don’t always succeed:

An anti-racism football game is not going well. Brown boys beating; white boys
red and bruised…
…the activist awaits, leaves it hanging, squeezing the air out, and then
he pulls them apart, Boys, we need to go. Now!

He refers to significant events, both widely known, such as the 9:11 attacks, and those smaller, more private, but no less significant, moments in the lives of his characters:

A manager thanks him for all the work he’s done but funds are coming
to an end. You kidding me, seven years and they’re closing us down.
Seven years to re-write centuries of hate. Seven years to plant seeds of hope.
Always waiting for riots, or a Stephen Lawrence, do they ever learn?
A table is turned upside down.

Whilst Rankine’s book is focused more on the female perspective, centred around the experience of tennis star Serena Williams, McFarlane’s book takes a more masculine view, focusing, in one or two poems, on the experience of the famous footballer Zidane:

Zidane leads France to the finals of the World Cup. He scores a penalty.
The world watches as this champion is provoked by his nemesis;
words exchanged, Achilles exposed, Zidane walks away, turns, headbutts
his tormentor in the solar plexus. We knew the anger, we knew the rage.
We Black knew the point of no return.

The entire middle section is made up of poems in memory of young black men, and a few women, who have died as victims of racist attacks. The final section contains some thought-provoking, experimental pieces depicting love, the plight of the victim, and survival, whilst interrogating the whole concept of what McFarlane is doing in this book, as he uses generic characters again:

Rasta: Write it bloody and true, write the Passion of Black, write the psalms of a people, write the jazz, write the gospels, write it plain, write the protest songs from cover to cover. Illuminate the pages with love.

Writer: How do you write about the hate of centuries and not tear down and burn up?

Each poem is strong, uncompromising in its honesty, unafraid to say it like it is, and together they form a powerful collection of poems which speak to those written by Rankine across the water. These are more than poems; they are calls for justice.

Buy The Healing Next Time by Roy McFarlane.

Declaration: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher. The quotes do not follow the exact arrangement of lines due to the limitations of my blog theme.

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