I have read Jim Burns’ fine 1996 poetry collection Confessions of an Old Believer this afternoon, sitting in the occasional sun, which when out was rather hot, and always genuinely warmed whatever the sky situation by the common sense of Burns’ poems where insight and honesty are so casually walked, without pretense, through ordinary streets of experience and memory.
These are largely reflections on writing poetry, a love of his parents [debunking in two poems Larkin’s famous negative aphorism on this], communism/Marxism and the working class, his growing up in the North, a disdain for lofty intellectualism, his travels to the USA and a few on Paris, and the world of the 90s [so just before too] where social inequality and other aspects of daily impoverishment in mind and body would seem to be as they are today.
He can be wry, teasing, always honest and candidly so at times, affectionate and knowing. Above all, there is such humanity in these poems, and their apparent simplicity – what I have called ‘common sense’ above – make them all the more resonant as you encounter their accessibility and then ponder the wisdom.
I suspect Burns would also debunk such observations with a healthy dose of genuine humility, so I’ll leave readers to experience his personal qualities for themselves when reading this collection – and I do encourage you to do so. Poems like Philosophy with George and Democracy both demonstrate how little has changed, these droll observations as pertinent today:
A number of Burns’ poems are lovingly reflective of his mother and father, the first here fondly conferring a philosopher’s gown to his mum; the second is another that reminds how little has changed in the UK’s social milieu:
I am closing with a fond reminiscence of his father, and I trust these extracts exemplify the appeal in their accessible wit, wisdom and warmth: