Oliver James Lomax

'God Missed The Last Bus And Walked Home'

Even before you read a single poem you know, this is something special!


There’s the intriguing, quirky title and the 69 acknowledgements listed at the end. Not a dreary collection of names that mean nothing to the reader but genuine loves and influences from Mr Potato Head to Percy Bysse Shelley by way of the likes of Jean Michel Basquait, Echo and the Bunnymen, Eric Cantona, Mark Rothko and Hilda Ogden!! The output is prodigious, this collection of 60 poems over more than 80 pages comes only a year after ‘The Dandelion Clock’ which contained 50. And then there are the endorsements on and in the book. Poets, Natalie Ann Holborow and Hugo Williams; comedian campaigner Mark Thomas; musician and broadcaster Tom Robinson (yes the Tom Robinson); Cerys Matthews (I mean, what Welshman wouldn’t covet a recommendation from Cerys!) and the inimitable Jeff Towns, the ‘Dylan Thomas Guy’, whose recommendation led me to buy the book. If Jeff Towns says this guy is good, I believe it! 


And he was right. 


These are lovely poems by a gifted writer. The subject matter of Oliver’s work is basic, human, caring. He lays bare scenes from working class life, his life, his childhood. Many poems reference his Lancashire family, especially his nan. ‘Working Class Love Poem’ about his grandparents is deeply touching, not sentimentalised but real, raw and beautiful, referencing the troubled interior of a love affair, with heart-wrenching lines like

                                   “she was perfecting his memory ever after

and once tore him from a photograph in grief and anger. I would

sometimes see her late at night, crying in the cantilevered light”


Oliver’s poems have that quality that comes from craft and talent, the simplicity and ease that is difficult to achieve. There is no pretention, no cloying ambition to his work. He writes so that his work reads comfortably, needs no contemplation or explanation to understand. It works because it is crafted and because its subject is common to us all, based in empathy and our shared experiences and humanity. These are impassioned, caring poems and God knows we need that after the year we have all shared, as we always need the love and illumination of poets. The great Russian actress and teacher Polina Klimovitskaya said to me of Dylan Thomas that she loved his work because there was no ego in it as there is with so many writers. She was right, I knew immediately what she meant about Dylan’s work. You experience it, the author does not put themselves in the way, even when writing about themselves. This is true of Oliver Lomax. We experience the subjects of his poetry, we feel them and – and this the great poetic achievement—they become a part of us.


Oliver investigates his own history and background with evident love and pride. ‘The Rucksack’ has the oblique method of the poet taking us stealthily from one simple human experience to another that is revealed to be of enormity, and we know that import because he connects the big stories with the human realities history tends to omit or mythologise.

“as he gathers up the silk of his future

and walks towards the war.”


All those sixty-nine diverse persons, real and fictional, listed in Oliver’s acknowledgements are there in these poems. He mixes them together with no thought of mordant propriety the same way Liverpool poets like Adrian Henri did half a century ago. ASDA and WW2 prison camps, Walt Whitman and pitmen (fabulous rhyme). But this is not pretention or irreverence because Oliver, like the marvellous poet Adrian Henri was, knows that this is how life is. You watch Peppa Pig with your grandchild, you glance away at portrait painted by a Spanish artist on your wall, then you hear the news of death somewhere in the world, after reading Byron and listening to an opera aria and a pop tune. Only the cramped conservative mind puts a demarcation between such things; between ‘art’ and the mundane, between culture with a capital ‘C’ and pop. So you get ‘Reading Crow by Ted Hughes On The Train To Liverpool’ (which begins with a quote from Captain Beefheart)


“I can hear my mother singing me

back to birth, as we cut deeper

into bedrock and earth, each chisel mark


blackened my page, pure verb

in its cage” 

This is not just poetry. In an era over-supplied with empty verse, this is wonderful poetry. And talking of titles; how about the magnificent ‘Northangerland (for Branwell Bronte 1817-1848)’? 


Or quoting Brancusi (“When we are no longer children, we are already dead”) after a childhood memory before


“And I'm older now and the world is new, and I'm lost in the places that once were the truth”


It’s inevitable that, if you are mentored by Jeff Towns, you write one poem ‘after Dylan Thomas’. Poems inspired by Dylan are plenteous, but they tend almost all to be about him or his subjects and often skirt close to the sickly. ‘Gun Turret From A Wellington Bomber’ has no reference to Dylan, his poems or their subject. It is, as its title states, about war. But the style, the evidence of internal rhyme and consonant chiming, is a fitting and rare tribute. And I say that as a lifelong disciple and angry defender of Mr Thomas!


                    “The only way to keep sane

is to find that place, in the heart of the heart

in the heart of the hearts heart” 


Beautiful? That, as we say in Wales, is Tidy.


For all the lack of pretention, for all the loving and humanity in Oliver Lomax’s poetry, there is no lack of humour, of wit or commitment. This poetry is not bombastic so when he takes on the government in ‘The Siege’ it’s with a quote from Mark E. Smith and begins


“Armed to the teeth

with their own history and red tape

they arrived at the city gates

the final letter of demand

still in Thatcher’s hand

like a bad remake of Lord of the Flies”


And later,


“but then, the ghost of Hilda Ogden

called heavenly over all of them

‘thou shall not pass’ "


As a lad from Lancashire, there is pride in that reference! There is fabulous humour too in ‘Free Range’ where two chickens abscond from a battery farm


“And if I die today hen, I know you'd never betray me,

but if they make a film of all this


Don't let Mel Gibson play me.”


But the poems are not froth and humour. They are, as Jeff Towns described them, “hyper-vivid”. ‘When Will It Rain In A More Democratic Way’ inspired by Albert Camus is a powerful, beautiful poem with lines like


“exchange a thousand truths

for one beautiful rumour

and let others construct sentences

capable of cluster bombing the heart”


It finishes with


“and unconscious of your own image

carry your sleeping body back across the border

undiminished

whispering I love my country too much

to be a nationalist.”


The last five poems are commissions. ‘Peterloo’ by The Working Class Movement Library who published this and the previous collection of poems was a tribute to the people slaughtered in Petersfield Manchester in 1819 on the orders of Wellington for daring to peacefully demonstrate for equality. It was performed by the actress Maxine Peake at a bi-centenary event. It is impassioned and moving but without the polemical tub-thumping most would-be poets would sink to. Oliver connects this historical outrage to today, gently, subtlety. It is such a brilliant poem it is impossible to select a couple of exemplar lines, you need to read it all. It ends with


“Look up two hundred years and see time like

a mirage, the ghosts of us, hold their dreams aloft

like something new-born.


And let us sit beside poverty, have a word in its ear.


Say, listen, ‘We are here’.”


I’m a slacker when it comes to reviewing poetry. I don’t bother with poems I don’t like or poets I don’t think are brilliant. I like to write with enthusiasm and direct people to poetry I think is truly worth the time and effort to read. I have the honour to lend my words to someone whose work astounds. Oliver is such a poet. The kind you want to press onto everyone you know, whose work you want to read, and re-read and can’t wait for the next one to be released. Oliver has written for film and TV and for the BBC during lockdown. He was Poet In Residence at the Dylan Thomas Birthplace in Swansea. He works in partnership with the WCML to bring workshops to schools and will be performing at this year’s Laugharne Festival (hopefully). I urge you to buy this and his previous collection. 


As Cerys Matthews said, “Tidy boy. Tidy poems. Spend your filthy lucre on this book!” 


Hell Yes!


‘God Missed The Last Bus And Walked Home’ and ‘The Dandelion Clock’ can be purchased from Oliver’s website --  

You can learn more about The Working Class Movement Library at wcml.org.uk

Oliver James Lomax 'The Dandelion Clock'

A review of Oliver's new poems with his earlier collection published in 2020

Sat in much needed lockdown eased sunshine re-reading Oliver James Lomax’s first collection ‘The Dandelion Clock’, I realised this book of wonderful poems deserves praise alongside his latest published a month ago. Poetry is booming but it is rare to find work that really takes your breath away. The mathematics alone is remarkable! Two collections published within a year of each other totalling an amazing 110 poems and not one of them could be said to be mediocre. Written by a poet who has served as Poet In Residence at the Dylan Thomas birthplace in Swansea, delivered successful projects with schools in the Manchester area and been commissioned by the Working Class Movement Library in Salford to write to mark the bi-centenary of the Peterloo Massacre. The WCML also published both ‘The Dandelion Clock’ and ‘God Missed The Last Bus And Walked Home.’


It is not often you get to describe work as ‘stunning’ but the word is right for both collections. Oliver’s poetry is based on his own, our own, experience, deeply rooted in family, locality and shared history. Love runs through all of it. 


Take, the opening poem, ‘Tonight’


“the moon is a searchlight

and it is looking for you

in the loneliest room

of your most abandoned night

remember that the Earth

has been waiting for you to happen

all its life.”

If that’s the benchmark for the book, those that follow do not fall short.


Oliver writes with sensitivity, understanding, love and humour. Poems that, like a wonderful confection, are so moreish you have to read the next until you have completed all fifty and then want to start again. Oliver mines his own past and family history, and love features in many of them in a way that is deeply personal and yet immediately identifiable to us all. Writing of his ‘Nan’ who features in many of his most touching poems –


                                      “you can see where she knitted and red, put us all to bed,

                                        where she ate, slept, got everyone dressed,

                                        where she eventually came to rest

                                        and I found her dead”


Others such a ‘The Payphone’ tell of family and those he has loved with a bitter sensitivity that makes your heart stop and think, think of those you too have loved and lost. Few poets make that happen.


He writes of common histories and persons from our own. A beautiful tribute to John Berryman the American ‘confessional’ poet who was the only friend present when Dylan Thomas died in New York and who took his own life years later. Told through a childhood memory of someone who looked like him it takes us to a personal guilt reminding us of the need to care rather than judge.


In ‘Extinction Rebellion’ he visits the issues wonderfully presented by Joanna Lilley in her “Endlings” collection also published last year. But while Jo contemplated the devastation we have reaped upon nature, Oliver imagines a world in which the lost animals return once we have rendered ourselves extinct. Another tells of a personal encounter with a fox, that rare link between urban humanity and the animal.


Class and heritage are present throughout Oliver’s work and, when he needs to, his poems can cut though to the realities that matter evidencing why the WCML supports the ethics of his poetry. ‘Council House’ is based around the ‘right to buy’ introduced by the Conservatives under Thatcher. It finishes,


                                       “I taste the air decades old

                                        and feel the lump in my throat


                                        each time I vote

Reading both collections, astonished at the output and the quality of his poetry I am moved to nail my colours to this mast. 

Oliver James Lomax poetry should be on the curriculum; on literature syllabuses. It is not just contemporary; it is damned good. I predict his work will still be read in decades time, his name more commonplace. Not every work in print is worth that claim.


©Josh Brown 2021