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Review of Eggshell: A Decorator’s Notes by John Froy

This review of John Froy’s poetry collection,  Eggshell: A Decorator’s Notes, appeared in the April 2007 issue of South.

‘Gloss’, the first section of Eggshell: A Decorator’s Notes, is surely the first extensive group of poems to emerge from the world of painting and decorating. Its twenty-one poems use imagery and metaphors from housepainting to explore life with subtle psychological and social insight and a Zen-like sense of contemplation. They also subvert common cultural distinctions, for example, those between craft and art, or manual and intellectual work. They are some of the most distinctive poems it’s been my pleasure to read since Tony Harrison’s sonnets opened that elite form to working-class life.

Foy’s unusual job (for a poet) helps him to create very fresh poems, with lines like ‘Spiders are always in these nooks and crannies;/ soon dozens of dot-sized spider babies/ will abseil down – he’ll try not to hurt them.’ which combine defamiliarizing imagery with a final clause which epitomises the gentle, thoughtful tone of many of these poems.

Foy explores the ambiguity of ‘painting’ and why society values one sort of painting so highly and one so little. His job also gives him the chance of dipping into other lives’ so that in Call Out he evokes different dwellings and their occupants, while Ragged Trousered contrasts his work with that of ‘superior’ classes – ‘Have you seen how the fatter cats,/ don’t do the full five days anyway?/ Not you, you’re there till the finish, Friday night, whatever the weather.’

There’s a pride in his work here. The opportunities it gives for contemplation and inspiration, as well as being useful, are caught well in ‘He puts on his overalls, opens the cans of paint,’ sets the music and a pad on the stairs, in case.’

‘Eggshell’, the second section contains poems about childhood, his parents’ failed marriage and growing old. Some are very moving, but the distinctive achievement is in ‘Gloss’, poems which are genuine eye-openers . ~ by Malcolm Povey