Richard Easton was in my year at high school. Though our form rooms were a few steps across the corridor, I didn’t know him, but almost 40 years later I did remember his name.
I’m not aware of any other schoolmates working with words, although by the law of averages, some at least must be. Anyway, our schooldays connection made me extra curious about Richard’s work, so I ordered a copy of his book, ‘Words, Thoughts, Observations’. It arrived speedily, and I was (and still am) impressed. The volume is pretty thick, the cover satin and classy, and the first impression gained from ‘Words, Thoughts, Observations’ by JR Easton, was of quality. And that didn’t change when I opened the book.
Let’s begin with the contents which are split into five sections: the police service, Covid, ‘Our Prison’, the Hollins Vale Nature Reserve, and ‘Others’.
The first section, ‘30 years, 3 months and 15 days in ‘The Job’ refers to Richard’s main career in GM Constabulary. I love how these 25 or so poems follow a start-to-finish chronology. There’s humour and nostalgia in plenty, and many memories will resonate even with those of us who have never been in the police force. I particularly liked ‘The division have five computers that we couldn’t use’ (from ‘When I Joined’), and ‘No need for cardboard cut-outs in shops’. Richard’s observations allow outsiders to view the human behind the uniform. One great example is in ‘The Custody Sergeant’ where a young PC cringes when working alongside a growling custody sergeant. Even worse that the young PC grows to become just the same type of sergeant.
The overwhelming impression gained from this section is of the incessant work, responsibility, stress, and sadness inherent to a police officer. The circle of chaos disturbs a little, and officers appear namelesss and faceless in the justice-challenged system. Even so, the author doesn’t forget the dark mortuary humour in ‘Rachel Street’, and the genuine humanity behind ‘Heart Shaped Scar’ touches the heart.
“I hear on the radio, that the news has broken
‘A Police Officer’s in hospital…’ my mum will be shaken
I give her a call, before she discovers the truth
That I am the cop, talked about on the news.”
The 2 final poems in this section, ‘Moving On’ and ‘ACAB’ resonate, as does ‘30 years, 3 months, 15 days’.
“Some coppers didn’t book off,
At the end of their shift,
An eternal duty,
Their families bereft.”
It is hard to to imagine a working life that’s so eventful, even though I’ve watched a few thousand detective dramas in my time. How does such day to day grime and crime tally with the spirit of this sensitive and perceptive writer? And that, of course, takes me to the real dilemma. How can one retain a sense of being true to one’s self, sometimes in incredibly difficult conditions?
The book’s second section, COVID19, is filled with insightful and observant poems covering the pandemic, hoarding, losses, and key workers. The writer discusses the best and worst of society, including keyboard warriors in “Locusts’ and ‘The Fake Newsers’. And Richard is right – the news does make us feel depressed, lied to and vulnerable.
The book’s third section ‘Our Prison’ isn’t what you might expect from a retired police officer. It is our planet that Richard refers to as a prison, and he produces thoughtful poems of compassion, environmental concern, compassion towards creatures, and disdain for hunting. We are ‘human monsters’ for sure. I found Richard’s poem ‘The Bull’ to be particularly powerful in its explanation of the barbarity behind The Running of the Bulls.
Many of these poems are complex, but often it is the simplest sentiments that get to me. For example, in the final stanza of ‘The Elephant’.
“Grief, joy, play and anger, as your journey continues
The unjustifiable evil on your route, pursues
A mother falls, the herd is bereft
All ivory is murder, desecration and theft”
And the final stanza of ‘Natural Causes’:
“We’ve thrived and evolved to a point of domination.
What’s next for Nature’s 8 billion, ignorant guests?
An unintended position with a natural solution
A species of all consuming, out of control pests”.
The Hollins Vale section of ‘Words, Thoughts, Observations’ reveals the author’s love of nature. I was particularly touched by the author’s sadness at the non-hatching of cygnets during lockdown.
“The hope that was once promised
It seems has sadly passed.
These pods of love, of life and hope
Lie silent in the nest.”
The ‘Others’ section of this book includes verses on diverse subject matter: headaches, ‘what if’ scenarios, the Bury tram, a storm, an NHS waiting room, and even 'Marmite' – a poem that would work well performed, owing to its humour and subject matter, as would the staccato ‘Thunder’.
My personal favourite is “Resting but Elsewhere” a comparatively long poem that resonates with my own vivid, disturbing and confusing dreams.
'Brief memories of the performance
Already fading away,
Soon lost, forever,
Dismissed, as today’s activities, distractions, commerce,
Their meanings, messages reasons, lost,
With my mind, subconsciously, making notes,
for the next nocturnal odyssey.”
The author’s compassion for humanity and the natural world shines through every page. Having said that, this is not a elysian pastoral symphony of pointless lyricism dedicated to brooks, lambs and scenic prettiness. Some of the poems could easily be performed slam poetry at an open mic event and Richard even provides a list of helpful websites at the book’s end. This book is well written, well put together, moving in parts, and funny in others, but is never thoughtless or shallow.
I am aware that ‘Words, Thoughts, Observations’ is virtually sold out. But I’m hoping that Richard does produce further works and that this review will go some way towards encouraging potential buyers. Our English teachers at Unsworth High School would be proud of him.
The author’s website is JeffersonPoetry.co.uk.
Review by Lesley Atherton, Words are Life, February 2021.
Richard's comments - By the way, the links at the back of the book relate to charities that I supported. The idea was that when you bought the book, you chose a charity and £1 from your purchase would be donated to that charity. At Christmas, I 'bought' the remaining books and settled with the charities. It raised £150 in total including done over payments and I then rounded each one up to a meaningful level. It was a great experience and resulted in some social media coverage from some of the charities I was supporting.