I first met Ford Dagenham smoking roll ups on Greenwich Meridian line. He wore dark glasses and an old t-shirt. He was enrolled on the same course as me. Both of us, poets, with no qualifications, trying to get an education and escape our dead-end jobs. Ford only lasted a term, but in that short time I was lucky enough to read some of the poems that form the basis of his debut collection, A Canvey Island of the Mind.
Editing this book has been a tough call, because Ford is an incredibly prolific poet. I must have read thousands of Ford Dagenham poems in the past five years, each one containing something special, so compiling a ‘best of’ hasn’t been easy.
If you are looking for an authentic voice from the English hinterlands then you are lucky to have stumbled across Ford. Based in the backwaters of Basildon, Essex, these poems are an interior landscape of a hospital storeman. Full of joy, pain, love, hope, despair and shopping malls, the poems show an honest depiction of nowhere towns in the 21st century. Realistically, this could be anywhere.
What makes Ford stand out from the stifled, oblique, over-written academic verse that strangles the life out of the contemporary poetry scene in Britain is his complete rejection of what a poem is supposed to be. There are no delusions of grandeur in Ford’s writing, yet there is something strangely compelling about his small, internal world. Tony O’Neill once described his work to me as like ‘being trapped in a lift with a mad man, except the more you listen, the more the mad man makes sense, and the more you realise that you too are losing your mind.’
Comparing Ford to Bukowski is, I feel, a bit short-sighted. Yes, you have the hallmarks of Bukowski’s dead-end job and whiskey sodden nights, the clear voice free of similes, adverbs and metaphor. But Ford’s work does have many stylistic comparisons to the Meat Poets. Ford is a reincarnation of d.a. levy. And chews up and spits out Steve Richmond’s gagakus into a new form. He wrestles with the demons of boredom like Doug Blazek. And writes in a free verse vernacular like the San Quentin poems of William Wantling. Ford takes the metonymy of Meat Poetry and bastardises it for his own means. He has created his own distinctive voice that punches holes in the page.
Seeing his work published on Blackheath Books shows a leap of faith and good judgment from Geraint Hughes. This will be the first of many. Treasure this book, take it home, make it yours. Read it in the bath, before bed, on the bus. A Canvey Island of the Mind will take you into the shadows of Essex’s new poetic visionary. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I’ve enjoyed compiling it.