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Acutely observed, incisive and precise, The Remaining Men sees Martin Figura combining precision, wit and compassion to produce a collection that is linguistically dexterous and deeply effective. Keeping his gaze on those whose lives are too easily dismissed by society and government, he achieves this potent clarity without a shred of didacticism. Instead we are drawn into worlds of his characters to have our vision enlarged.
Martin Figura’s The Remaining Men is a bold, ambitious collection, a Condition of England book, written from the inside and from below the salt. Personal tragedy and loss are part of the larger state of things, while the State as we have understood it since 1945 is collapsing under the weight of the indifference and hostility of those who govern. Figura’s response to these conditions is to keep his attention fixed on the telling detail, the sign of life, the endurance of ‘ordinary’ people. Sentimentality would ruin such a book, but Figura seems to have none of it, and the poems’ richness of feeling emerges from fidelity to craft – to phrasemaking, to comic timing, and to a sense of dramatic life.
Martin Figura’s poems are humane, clear-eyed, and compassionate without the least sentimentality. He has written directly out of people’s lives, particularly in hospitals, in the army and workplace. He is laureate of the ordinary and overlooked. For all those reasons The Remaining Men is a very powerful collection that deserves to be read widely.
Precise and powerful, these are portraits of ordinary and extraordinary lives, interwoven with the poet’s own remarkable story. They form a collection of great intellectual rigour, skill and emotional force – but written with such tenderness, such a light touch, that you are willing to follow him into the most challenging territory. A good thing, because this book will deepen your understanding of the messy business of being alive.
Fair Acre Press
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A collection of poems commissioned by The Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust – My Name is Mercy – inspired by some of the hospital staff’s experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The cumulative power of this slender collection is profound and memorable.
Matthew Paul Sphinx
It is full of humanity, and I was moved to tears by several of the poems. It will resonate with many and it serves as a powerful testimonial for those who were deeply, personally and occupationally affected by working through pandemic. Figura has crafted a beautiful collection of compassionate and respectful poems. It was a privilege to read it.
…..poetry of the everyday made extraordinary. I think it is a massive achievement and a book which will last long after the pandemic has passed. Carole Bromley – Ink, Sweat & Tears
Olivia Colman reads the poem Fifth Season that is based on a patient’s true story and Nightshift, which has recently been chosen by Poetry Archive Now as one of the poems of 2021. The poem Ridge Line, read by the poet Martin Figura, reflects on the very personal experiences of one staff member, Lizzie Swift, and her horse Drum.
Fifth Season: https://youtu.be/ppZDwIeOtd8
Night Shift: https://youtu.be/GY3eee7ugzI
The Ridge Line: https://youtu.be/gRioZiLC_Dw
The Trust commissioned award-winning poet Martin Figura in March of this year to interview staff from across the Trust, exploring how it felt to be at the frontline of the pandemic response. This has resulted in an emotional collection of poems, titled My Name is Mercy, also the title of a poem based on one of the series of reports that BBC’s Mark Urban produced for the Newsnight programme.
The life and work of staff in an out of the hospital form the subject matter of the poems, including experiencing Salisbury during lockdown and using horse riding to help cope with the stress and mental challenges of the pandemic, and the poet’s own experience undertaking this project.
Stacey Hunter, CEO of Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust said: “We all truly have been through an experience like no other in the history of the NHS. The emotional and inspiring poems in ‘My Name is Mercy’ capture the psychological challenges that our staff faced in working through the pandemic and coping as best they could at work and in their personal lives. Martin Figura’s poems resonate with our staff and provide a testament to their resilience.”
Martin Figura said: “Thank you to everyone who made this project happen. I am especially grateful to those who gave me their time to be interviewed. The lasting impact of the pandemic on their lives was palpable and deeply affecting. I hope the poems go some way towards honouring the experiences and sacrifice of the staff, those they cared for and their loved ones.”
The project was made possible with funding from the hospital’s League of Friends and The Stars Appeal charities.
Gatehouse Press 2016
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The pamphlet is an oblique response to a commission from film-maker Dominic Clemence http://dominicclemence.tv Shed follows the strange but familiar place of the shed as it morphs from ‘facedown book’ to ‘Wunderkammer, spider’s web, matryoshka’ in a witty and mercurial investigation of Shedness. Beautifully illustrated by Natty Peterkin,
Sheddism noun shed*izm belief that beauty and fulfilment
are found in solitary hours and the occasional performance
of useful tasks (should you so desire); that one’s existence
can be established through the hoarding of useful objects;
that true evil is the disposal of anything, however broken.
“… Inside, more artwork. These are Natty Peterkin’s full page responses…I could quote from every stanza, finding new connections between them: I don’t have enough space in this review. So, buy this, and read it. Treasure it. And, for the third time, it is all beautiful.”
-Davina Prince, Under The Radar
“I haven’t read a pamphlet as exquisite as this for some time. … In Figura’s hands the shed becomes poetry itself – a beautiful, primitive, sacred and (usually) solitary thing. …… skips away from any solid definition. Shed is being. Shed is fear. Shed is secrets. Shed is love, death, life.”
-Robert M. Francis Sphinx
Cinnamon Press 2016
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The collection takes its title from the work of mathematician, Christopher Zeeman, who encouraging the application of mathematics to behavioural science. His catastrophe machine was a physical manifestation of Catastrophe Theory, which Konrad Lorenz drew on and extended to apply to human behaviour.
Amongst the poems here is a set of “machine poems” — ‘Washing Machine’, ‘The Difference Machine’, ‘Knitting Machine’, and ‘Life Support Machine’ among them — which act as metaphors for human behaviour and are rich in social and historical context.
Other poems extend the themes of both the machine and human motifs. A wife retrieves herself from a controlling husband by reversing the order of words; a man, two years, from retirement is taunted by sparrows playing in a gutter while he does physiotherapy exercises; a mod’s handmade brogues symbolise social mobility; a reservoir drains away in the night, its drowned village’s occupants stirring back to life at dawn, …
You’re here he says smiling
in the fold
on the cusp of catastrophe
where I’ve written growl.
“In Stag’s Leap (2012) Sharon Olds invites us to share every painful breath of her divorce. Figura is more reticent and at the same time deeper, combining playfulness with a fearless generosity that makes this an enriching, unforgettable read.”
-Rosie Johnston, London Grip
“… Wonderful, poignant, remarkable poetry – absolutely bowled over by it…….. it’s a wonderful book: reads like a novel. … have been recommending it to lots of my students too.”
“On first reading they are deceptively spry, revealing in the absurd, even funny details of ordinary life….. an impressive book, almost childlike in its honesty, written from hard-won experience and crafted with great skill, tackling dififcult themes with grace and self-deprecating bravado, which is very appealing.”
-Pippa Little, Magma
“Figura displays a wizard’s sleeve full of poetic skill and fizz.”
-Charlie Bayliss, Stride
Cinnamon Press 2018
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The poem Victor from it won the Poetry Society’s Hamish Canham Prize in 2010. The collection along with the Spoken Word show was shortl-listed for the 2010 Ted Hughes Prize for new work.
My mother and I pose in Sunday best
in front of a cottage with roses
around the door. She dreams
it is our house, where white gloves
will not be smudged or snagged on a thorn
and be left with a pin-prick of blood.
I could print this photograph
so dark, there would only be
her hand on my shoulder.
“Martin Figura’s riveting sequence of poems about his childhood, his father killing his mother, and the consequences of that upon the whole family is remarkable for the story he doesn’t tell, as much as for the story he does. Exercising a humanising restraint, delicately balanced, these poems are an attempt to excise memory, to fill in some of the missing gaps, but the sense one is left with most of all is absence and loss. Moving, brave unsentimental, Whistle doesn’t blow the whistle on the family. Instead it rather heartbreakingly tries to piece together the fragments of a life, shattered by murder. Sometimes lyrical, rarely angry, often tender, Figura’s soul mate throughout is the understanding and watchful eye of the camera: ‘One day I shall hold them with white gloves,/carefully brush away the dust and look/through their shadows and fingerprints.”
“A rare gift, his photographer’s eye and poet’s ear tell his story with candour, restraint, and perfect detail…”
“…..scrupulously expressed and rewards even further re-reading as a description of how it feels to have your childhood wholly destroyed; how it feels to be aware of the finality of that obliteration; and how it feels to stare across, as through a film, to a far shore from which you’ve departed forever. …Of all the books of poetry I’ve read this year, Whistle is the one that haunts me most. It touches a place within you that will never heal. You push it away like a ghost. You pull it towards you in memory.”
-David Morley, Magma
“… a record of personal survival and renewal after the very earth of life and love has been scorched and devastated. Figura, keeping his nerve, guides us through a limbo of shifting and shadowed memories, through places where the encroaching Furies rampage, out into the clarity of comprehension and forgiveness, where it is possible for him, and for us, to claim life’s paradoxical riches.”
-Penny Shuttle, Ink Sweat and Tears
“………Last, but certainly not least, there was Martin Figura’s Whistle. …. a collection that’s genuinely uplifting and (this actually makes you feel guilty, at first) hugely enjoyable. It’s a genuine poetry page-turner, but for all the right reasons, with Figura’s precise, restrained telling of a story of family tragedy deserving great praise.”
-Matt Merritt, Best Poetry of 2010
Nasty Little Press 2010
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A book that adds some new funny poems to the best of the early funny stuff in Ahem (Eggbox) and Little Book of Harm (Firewater Press).
Middle aged people today don’t know they’re born.
What do they think they’re up to? They should be
occupying their time with: jigsaws, the litter problem,
gravy, coach trips to the Norfolk Lavender Fields.
But no, they’re at Glastonbury boring the arse of young people
about Dylan or how they saw The Who in their hey day in 68,
doing degrees with no possible practical application, motorcycling
across India to find themselves.
There’s even one reading you this poem, and look
he’s wearing red trainers with white stripes.
“Midnight walks where “the moon snags on the cathedral’s spire” rub shoulders with nightmares in which an ex-lover squeezes “the creams / for my skin diseases into the bag where my favourite cheese is” in a collection of poems guaranteed to warm the heart and tickle even the most grumpy of rib cages.”
-Michelle McGrane, Peony Moon
“There’s a literary sensibility that takes the poems beyond simple stand-up routines and into more complex territory. Take the haiku ‘Family Christmas’:
…….Every single year
…….we gather around the tree
…….opening old wounds.
Simple, but says it all.
-Nick Arbury, Sphinx
“….the humour, just like the humour in a Randy Newman song, is at its most effective when it’s used to set up a more serious pay-off……‘AHEM’, what starts light-heartedly develops into a low-key elegy for an entire generation “who knew their place and never thought the universities/ were for the likes of them, but prayed for office jobs/ for their children. . .”
-Matt Merritt, Sphinx
“….as much craft as Figura’s more ambitious and more serious work.”
Nasty Little Press 2010
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The Pamphlet is the result of a commission from Artist Caroline Wright.
Arthur was born three weeks premature , between the wars. 28th April 1923 to be precise, whilst his father was watching his beloved West Ham lose two nil to Bolton Wanderers in the first Wembley FA Cup Final. Arthur loved his parents and he loved buses and boats. He grew up as quite an odd, but happy boy. The Second World War broke out when he was sixteen years old and changed his life.
It’s her wild black hair and bare feet,
the way she unfurls a red blanket
onto thistled grass, the basket’s
rationed sweetness, that has Arthur
holding his breath under the ash tree.
“Enthralled by Martin Figura’s ‘Arthur’, poems of love, war and grief, sparely – and beautifully – written.”
“….it is those cinematic details that hold you – the image of a little man in his ARP uniform who finds “a dead man propped in a doorway/ the High Street broken apart” who yet just “bends his back to the rubble as the gulls regain their voices.”
-Geoff Sawyer, Magma
“Punchy and sensitively told, Arthur delves into the destructive impact of war on human relationships, with much to admire in its honest and assured language. If only the pamphlet were longer.”
-Jennifer Wong, Sphinx
A Happen Publication 2007
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A nice little catalogue of my exhibition of project in Dunstable. There’s an essay of mine in it that I’m quite proud of.
You can purchase it by contacting me.
Dewi Lewis Publishing 1998
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Photographs of the British Army. Essays by Liz Wells and Antony Beevor with an introduction from Billy Bragg. It had two colour supplement spreads and was exhibited at Side Gallery, Bristol Watershed, Norwich Arts Centre and other venues. Images were included in group shows at The National Portrait Gallery and The Photographers’’ Gallery and several are held in the Imperial War Museum Collection.
A fiver will get you one of the remaining copies. Contact me.