Poetry, according to William Wordsworth (himself no mean practitioner of the art) is “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility… it is the breadth and spirit of all knowledge.”
“Emotion recollected in tranquility” is a perfect introduction to the latest volume of poetry by Charles Flores. Entitled Time… and Time Again, Flores himself describes it as a limited selection of poems spanning five decades and it certainly justifies the link to Wordsworth’s definition. Charles Flores is, of course, a very well- known and highly respected Maltese journalist, writer, broadcaster, and poet. He is also much appreciated as a staunch defender of, and advocate for, the Maltese language and literature.
It was therefore a pleasant surprise to open Time… and Time Again and discover that it comprises poems entirely in the English language. It was, needless to say, no surprise at all to discover that Charles Flores’ writing is equally skilled and equally powerful in English as it is in Maltese. I have been an admirer of his – mostly journalistic – work in English for many years now. In fact, I discovered Charles’s writing before I even came to live in Malta, on a holiday visit in the mid-1990s when I read Shadows of Lockerbie, his masterly examination of the circumstances surrounding that disaster which holds so much meaning and so much emotion for us Scots.
And so to the poetry. As Wordsworth put it, it is the overflow of powerful feelings – a wonderful description for a wonderful art form. But poetry puts a particular responsibility on anyone charged with reviewing it. Prose is comparatively straightforward – if it’s fiction the question is: is it entertaining, a good read? If it is fact such as history or biography, the yardstick is whether it is accurate and if its opinions and judgements are sustainable. Poetry poses a different challenge altogether. Reading poetry gives you a unique insight into the heart and, indeed, the very soul of the poet. It demands that you treat it with all due sensitivity and respect.
And, believe me, Time… and Time Again deserves all the sensitivity and respect you can give it. It is, in short, a remarkable record of one man’s passage and emotional journey through fifty years; fifty years which form a turbulent and fascinating period of history, especially for those of us who have lived through it.
In a powerful introduction Daniel Massa, a Professor of English at the University of Malta and himself a poet of considerable talent, described Charles Flores’s poetry as “powerful, positive, but always ambiguous. Poetry definitely not for the faint hearted!” That is a judgement to be valued.
Time… and Time Again is indeed very much not for the faint hearted. It is not poetry for those who enjoy an “easy read”. It is challenging, it is demanding, and it deserves the reader’s full diligence.
Not that the language used is of itself difficult. Far too often poetry is ruined because the poet believes that, to be significant, it has to employ extravagant phrases and overblown metaphors and similes. Charles Flores is too experienced a newspaper man at heart (there’s that word again) to fall into that trap. His writing is straightforward, taut, and disciplined. But, by God, what a punch it packs! I hope that argument will justify my decision not to quote extensively from these verses – it would be both unfair and unwise to do so.
Too many excerpts would undermine the strength and the validity of each poem which needs to be taken as a whole. We are dealing here with the memories of a long life over a period of time which I have already described as a very turbulent history and they are written with what I can only describe as nostalgic melancholia which reflects the zeitgeist of its time. I will use brief quotes to demonstrate – “the whole of my brain, the whole of my soul are sadly lost in the feverish dispatch of what could be but hasn’t been, where lies the shadow of my real self. It is too late now.” And “bring back the memories, the moments, the wins and misses of yesteryear.”
These, I believe, reflect the disappointments of my (and Charles’s) generation who look back over our lives and examine the legacy we have bequeathed our children and their children with the sad realisation that we could have, indeed should have, done so much better. That lament is given added sadness when I realise that I am writing this on the 60th anniversary of the saddest squandered opportunity that generation has lived through – the murder of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas on 22nd November 1963, The Day The Music Died and with it the hopes and dreams of young people like me of that time when for all too brief a spell we were allowed to believe in Camelot.
I cannot recommend Time… and Time Again too strongly. I will compare it to my favourite English poem, A. E. Housman’s A Shropshire Lad.
“That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.”
Charles Flores’ land of lost content is a work of brilliance.