(Waterloo Press) 2011; Pbk: £10
Moss Rich was a new name to me when I picked up his book, A Psalm of Consequences for Those Who Can’t Keep Up Monthly Payments, but the title promised originality and quirkiness, and the collection subsequently did not disappoint. With both serious and comic insights into the everyday, Rich seeks to turn the humdrum into poetry. Many of the poems in this selection deal with loss – the loss of loved ones, of self-respect, even the life that you have had to settle on. In “Found Dead”Rich mourns a friend who died alone:
Do you die on the floor?
Do you die in a bed?
Who can be there with you
If you are found dead.
Here, he uses alternating rhymes, suggestive of doggerel. This creates greater poignancy; the jauntiness of style being cleverly unsettling for such a sad theme.
Rich does not moralise, nor does he spell out grand truths. He deals with the small meaningful moments which connect us to our humanity. I had read three quarters of the collection before I turned to the introduction by Simon Jenner. Although I had sensed that the poet is an older person I was amazed and delighted to discover that Rich is an astonishing 101 years old. While he has been writing for most of his life, Rich was first published in 1966, when he was already over 50. It is refreshing, therefore, that he does not use his poetry to indulge in nostalgia or to impart wisdom. His poems are fresh, lively and direct. As a counterpoint to those poems dealing with life’s inevitable tragedies of illness and death, he also includes poems of quiet humour– as in “Formidable!”:
Mrs Jones and Mrs Harris
Are on holiday in Paris;
They came direct from Wigan
on the plane.
Mrs J. says to improve ‘er
Mind she must go to the Louvre-
”You just bin, dear Mrs H. Says
Word play and limericks sit easily alongside cantos and psalms. No subject is too big or too small from which to coin a poem. Setting many of his pieces in public places – in hospitals, trains, art galleries, hotels, and in the street itself – Rich focusses on ordinary experiences, particularly the experiences of those who have least in society: the dispossessed and those troubled by poverty or its threat. His “Morning Prayer for Devout Bankers” is a prose poem poking fun at those very city types, capturing their arrogance and sanctimony in italics and archaic English: ” For, behold, do we not ourselves wax great increase by borrowing from him that hath to lend to him that wanteth?”
The last line of his five Cantos, “A Patch of Land to House Six Million Ghosts”, -“Words are for writers, meanings are for readers” – sums up Rich’s own approach to his poetry. While he tackles religion, he is no preacher; while he cares about inequality, he is no campaigner; while he has wise words to offer, he does not seek to be a sage. Rich is a simple human voice talking to all of us, describing those that he meets and also what he notices in life. That matters. A Psalm of Consequences for Those Who Can’t Keep Up Monthly Payments is a collection for all who want poetry to touch the heart. Moss Rich certainly does that.