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Litany of Coal by Jean Taylor

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In Litany of Coal, Jean Taylor draws on family history and her childhood in Scotland and Nigeria to explore the legacy of the mining industry and the issues of inequality and ancestral guilt.

 

‘I love this reflective pamphlet for its insight and warm emotional connection to coalmining from a poet born into that community. Rich in the imagery and vocabulary of the families who served that industry, these poems address its customs, superstitions, brutalities and ongoing legacy.

  There are shifts in perspective from a blacksmith in central Scotland to a Scottish surveyor in a Nigerian colliery, from a scullery maid to a woman who “marries in”.

  These burn into memory and remind us how strongly the culture and landscape of this country is defined by coalmining. I swear I can smell the coal.’

 

—Anne Hay

 


‘Jean Taylor’s voice here is one of lived experience. She combines the political and the personal with skill and perception. The nub of what makes this collection so memorable is there in the second stanza of “In his Shoes”:

 


  She puts on her grandfather’s helmet with the lamp
  that replaced the canary,
  peers through the undergrowth,
  tries to see what he saw,
  understand how keenly he wanted
  fresh air for his children
  the chance to grow tall.

 

The historic dangers of the pits continue into the author’s own generation in “Mossmorran”: “Behind our grandparents’ house, beyond the play park / with its rust-bucket swings... / lay a forbidden field. A bog, we were told, / ready to suck children into the lurking maw of the earth... / Though we knew the whole town was rotten. Abandoned / pit-shafts lay in wait like cats for spiders.”

  This collection is notable for its highly readable autobiographical thread, peopled with characters reimagined from the author’s childhood. Luck, superstition and the grim reality of the mines is never far from the surface here.’

 


—Aileen Ballantyne

Red Squirrel Press

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