The Ofi Press Magazine

International Poetry and Literature from Mexico City

Poetry Review

The Time Office - New & Selected Poems by Tom Kelly

Red Squirrel Press (2012)

Published in Issue 21


Having reviewed several of Tom Kelly’s collections in previous Bulletins, it is no surprise that this New and Selected Poems continues the themes of place, loss and longing.

Kelly’s work is rooted in his native north-east, especially Jarrow, where he was brought up. His short, spare pieces speak in a direct, unfussy voice and Kelly continues to excel when he is

fusing emotion and location, a wonderful alchemy that touches on a range of experiences common to us all. Despite the huge feeling of disenfranchisement and loss which permeates these poems – “‘Nowt’ stamped on foreheads / leaden hands and hearts”, Kelly resists the well-trodden political response of lesser poets which detracts from the tenderness present in these poems. From harrowing tales of PoW camps retold through a father’s letter to his children, to aphoristic pieces written in the broad Geordie dialect, Kelly is a versatile writer. Taken together, these poems are a raw, direct assault on the senses.

 First Published in Poetry Book Society Bulletin, Spring 2012


The Time Office, 1965

In the dock a boat straddles, a big man wearing a too small jacket;
my corduroy trousers run to Chelsea boots,
glowing with impossible dreams as the Tyne ruffles,
nudges nervously dock gates, a pulsing lung,
yet I can barely breathe with ignorance.

The tank cleaners' cigarette smoke crawls from clawed fingers,
they throw cruel jokes, cigarette butts and disappear into toxic;
wrapped in oil, painting everything.
It is all about money: the quicker they work,
the sooner they leave phlegm, rags and buckets of oil.
I calculate their wages, dry figures under ochre light.

At half-two in the morning, shipwrights, labourers, riggers,
embrace a boat, leaving after a refit,
heading out the Tyne without a backward glance to Amsterdam,
Limassol, badges rusted to their sterns:
a bad bruise after a rough night.

Workers' bikes creak in hold-your-breath early mornings,
night giving in inch-by-inch to light:
I still see them heading home,
as I whisper lives into a black ledger.



The Crying Game

I thought of you today:
cheap make-up,
rouge billowing,
halo on your cheeks.

I thought of you today:
stuck in traffic,
cut off the radio
with silence.

I thought of you today:
after your death,
another world.

I thought of you today:
didn't cry,
tell anyone,
you were with me
all day.