Smoking big cigars

David Herd

  • Goodstone by Fred Voss
    Bloodaxe, 180 pp, £7.95, November 1991, ISBN 1 85224 198 5

The first collection from the West Coast poet Fred Voss takes its title from the mythical aircraft company which is an amalgam of all the Californian machine shops that Voss has sweated in for the past 15 years. From his inconspicuous position as a machinist on the factory floor, Voss describes the conflicts and frustrations which daily beset the American blue-collar worker. He does so in a voice so unassuming it is sometimes only barely audible behind his technical diction. He is rigorous in his resistance of polemics, and the result of this forbearance is a patient and perspicuous narrative which rarely betrays the immense pressures from which it is forged. As Voss explained to me during a reading tour of this country, he doesn’t want to do anything ‘stylistically’ which might ‘get between his subject and his reader’. This, as he is well aware, is what Whitman was prescribing when he urged the poet not to be meddlesome, but to allow experience to go from the composition without a shred of the composition. Whitman’s word for this is ‘candour’.

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