Alan M Kent the renowned Cornish novelist, playwright, poet and academic has reviewed A View From A Cab…and let’s say it is favourable!
The edited review has appeared in Old Cornwall Magazine (Autumn 2017) but this is the complete review.
Gray Lightfoot, “A View from a Cab: The Poetry and Musings of a bus driver in Cornwall”, Graylight Publications, 2017, £8.99 pbk
Unless you are poet laureate, writing poetry is not an easy way to earn a living. Over time, most poets have had to find other ways of supporting their day-to-day costs, as well as writing their verse. Indeed, Cornwall itself has a long tradition of such writing: Humphry Davy supplemented his achievement in verse with his scientific work before realising he was more chemist than bard, Charles Taylor Stevens of St Ives was the famous postman poet of the town and its surrounding area, and even Robert Stephen Hawker was vicar of Morwenstow whilst developing his poetic response to Cornwall and Arthuriana. This tradition is perhaps partially where we may locate the fascinating poetic work of Gray Lightfoot. When Lightfoot moved to Cornwall some ten years ago, in looking for a new line of work, he found himself driving buses around the territory. As he freely admits in this first work of his, whilst sat at his cab, and negotiating the tight streets of villages and towns such as Mousehole and St Ives, Lightfoot has been able to think through his experiences of contemporary life in Cornwall, and later commit them to paper. What the reader receives in this aptly-named volume is a particularly comedic and wry slant on many of our experiences of living in the west of Britain in the early twenty-first century.
The volume mixes prose and verse fluidly; the former allowing more of Lightfoot’s musings, but it is perhaps in the latter where his serious talent lies. He begins in a self-declamatory way offering the fact that ‘He (Lightfoot) thinks he is a poet, My wife thinks I am a dreamer, and HMRC think I’m a bus driver’. Although amusing, there is perhaps a serious point here too. In order to be successful, in order to write at all, all poets at some point have to dream. The first poem on offer is the titular ‘A View from a Cab’. This is really an account of a bus route that runs past particularly Cornish places and what the poet witnesses there. He notes with relish, for example, the ‘golden tiles of St Ives’ observed by tourists, but also the ‘hundred foot waves’ and ‘hardy homes’ of Sennen. He notes too ‘Mousehole’s granite in close up’ suggesting an intimacy with people and place. This circuitous poem has the feel of a journey, visiting locations we all know, and have a familiarity to them, but which Lightfoot examines with fresh eyes. He tells of how he is ‘writing rhyme on his own Land’s End’. The journey taken feels glorious and uninhibited but he concludes with the annoyance of ‘having to stop’ to take on more passengers. Still, the poem itself is masterful. In prose that follows he examines the view of ‘Living the Dream’ in Cornwall which so many seek, and which so many encounter the reality of life on a western periphery. Both these pieces set the tone and agenda for many of the other pieces inside the collection. For readers here, poems such as ‘The Cornish Nation’ will be of interest – its distinction is argued for via the presence of the Cornish language, whilst earlier in the poem, he recognises that many other European countries have a specific name for Cornwall.
Poems such as ‘I’m in love with the B3306’ meanwhile show further the humorous side of Lightfoot, with a Kerouac-esque dally with the sense of the open road and the freedom that it brings. This good-natured humour also plays out in poems such as ‘The Sick Bucket’ based on some particularly stormy crossings to the Isles of Scilly. In this too, there is the reality of what life is actually like in Cornwall: it is the antidote to the picture postcard view. Further poems examine places such as The Lizard, Marazion Marsh and the evocative circle of standing stones of the Merry Maidens. There is also a powerful poem about the naming of Cornish cottages. ‘Why move to Cornwall?’ the poet asks, ‘And call your house Torremolinos?’ Lightfoot implies that with so much original exotica available, such a label is utterly incongruous. It is this kind of detail which readers will delight in.
For just under ten pounds there is much quality writing within this collection. Lightfoot is endeavouring to become a major voice within the Cornish poetic landscape. This collection demonstrates his potential but already delivers with a set of innovative and thoughtful pieces. Lightfoot also regularly performs at the Crown Pub sessions in Penzance, so is rapidly developing his skills as a performance poet. He has also filled the collection with numerous narratives of his life as a driver, and here he describes the ironies and bitter-sweet symphonies of driving both tourists and local people around west Cornwall. A number of high quality photographs are found in the collection; many illustrating buses and the experiences they must face around the highways and by-ways of Kernow. Lightfoot stands as an innovative new voice in Cornwall; one which I urge you to both listen to and read. The book can be purchased in many Cornish bookshops, or can be ordered via Amazon. It is also available directly from the author: firstname.lastname@example.org
Alan M. Kent