Wednesday 6 March 2024

Martin Figura, "The Remaining Men"

Martin Figura was (some time ago now) described in a hospital referral letter (bad back) as ‘a pleasant 58 year old gentleman.’ His collection and show Whistle were shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Award and won the 2013 Saboteur Award for Best Spoken Word Show. Shed (Gatehouse Press) and Dr Zeeman’s Catastrophe Machine (Cinnamon Press) were both published in 2016. During the first lockdown he began the monthly Zoom event Live From The Butchery with Helen Ivory and Kate Birch. It won the Best Spoken Word Night Saboteur Award. In 2021 he was Salisbury NHS Writer in Residence, with a pamphlet My Name is Mercy from Fair Acre Press. Some of this work has been filmed with Olivia Coleman and published in the Guardian. A second pamphlet from Fair Acre Press, Sixteen Sonnets for Care, from a commission for Social Care charities was published in 2022. His new collection The Remaining Men came out with Cinnamon Press in February 2024. He lives in Norwich with Helen Ivory and sciatica. The show Shed is returning to the stage in April 2024, three years after its Covid postponement. Martin has performed his work all over the place from Diss to New York to New Delhi and on BBC 1 Breakfast. His website is here

About The Remaining Men, by Martin Figura
The collection is I suppose a reckoning - an attempt to make sense of how we and I got here, from when I arrived on the scene in 1956. It includes just a few autobiographical poems, but mostly looks outward to small human stories. There are some poems about political leaders, that I have mostly tried to reduce to that same human level, whatever the colour of their politics. I realise it is quite ambitious and wide in its range, but hope I’ve manged to pull the threads together in a convincing way.

As the title implies, I have touched on what has been expected of men, particularly working-class men, and how they have been discarded as the world has changed about them. In an age when men are widely looked on in a pejorative way, and with plenty of justification, I hope I’ve managed to do this with some tenderness and understanding. I am not tackling the so called ‘culture wars’ - that minefield doesn’t need another old white man blundering about in it. In addition to my own experiences, I’ve also drawn on residences including a Miners’ village in Durham, the NHS, The Soldiers’ Charity and Social Services. 

You can read more about The Remaining Men on the publisher's website here. You can read a review of the book by Peter Raynard on Everybody's Reviewing here. Below, you can read two sample poems from the collection. 

From The Remaining Men

The Remaining Men 

When the men surfaced for the last time and dispersed 
some were left over. These men wandered about the town 
until they each found their own particular sweet spot.  
Then they just stood there, looking out over the scarred coast
through red-rimmed eyes to the rough brown sea.  

As the days went by people gave up asking them 
why so still and could they fetch someone 
or something? They became like street signage, 
A-boards, parked prams or tied up dogs; something
to be manoeuvred around. As the months went by 

the men became hardened to difficult weather 
filling their coat pockets with hail. During the great storm 
of Eighty-Seven, their caps blew off and went cartwheeling 
down the streets with bin lids. As the years went by 
the slagheaps faded to green and saplings were planted.  

The men began to petrify into monuments. When 
the new road for the business park went through 
a lot of them were tipped back onto trollies, like the ones 
railway porters used to use, then loaded on to flatbed trucks 
with the traffic cones. Most were broken down for aggregate.  

The lucky ones were sold off as novelty porch lights 
and stood outside front doors on the new estate 
illuminating small front lawns and driveways.  
As the decades went by, saplings became sycamores 
and elms and named Colliery Wood. In autumn

the early morning light on them was glorious 
and cycle paths made their way there. The remaining 
men were defaced by graffiti and badly worn 
by then, many considered them to be an eyesore.  
When children asked what they were, not everyone 

could remember and of those that did, few were believed.  
As the centuries went by, they all but disappeared, 
only the circle in the park remained. Archaeologists 
and historians disagree about how they came to be there 
and what they might have been used for.

Harold Wilson Rows Towards Bishop Rock  

Harold, knees like little moons, bends 
his back, puffs through the clamouring
halyards of the bay. Always six moves ahead 
of the other buggers, be they Old Etonians 
or fellow grammar grubbers.  And where else 
to escape serious concerns, but these Scilly Isles.  
The cormorant is attentive company 
at the blunt end of the boat, kinked wings 
hung out to dry, Harold’s words gulped down 
like slippery fish. The oars are worn soft 
in their locks, while he rows he recalls himself
a boy in a school cap, at the steps of Number Ten. 
On the slipway, Mary diminishes to the red dot 
of her coat.  The lighthouse lays down her path, 
tugs the glow of Gannex mac and pipe smoke 
through the net curtain of mizzle. Mary turns,
heads up the slope towards the archipelago’s 
clustered lights and their ugly little bungalow.

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