For quite a few years now, Biroco’s online journal has been periodically emitting caustic observations from the author’s seclusion on the fringes of the Lea Valley. World of Dust is a welcome extension of these meandering missives into the world of print.
This writing emerges from a deep solitude, a peculiar and hallucinatory realm in which a cynical weariness with the world blends with a deep fascination and love for nature, and hard-won compassion for others blundering through life. Woven through a dense experience of flat-dwelling, and occasional brushes with the streets and shops, are multiple threads of memory, fractured and slippy, yet at times astonishingly vivid, and all the time deceptively building tensions and sustaining ungraspable atmospherics.
While it’s certain that the author’s observations are penetrating and finely wrought enough to resonate with people from many backgrounds, the childhood that is being processed and let go of here is a very specific locale and time—the Black Country around Wolverhampton in the ’60s and ’70s. A semi-urban, semi-rural, post-industrial wasteland of abandoned buildings, endless summer days and eternal gazes out of the window at lashing rain. An unsourced Wikipedia reference suggests that Tolkien’s Mordor was inspired by the Black Country. Such a claim, though, conjuring the vast drama of a volcanic bastion of evil, reflects very little on the mundane and humble miseries that are unfolded here. And when the author pleads at one point for us to “realise the seriousness of this … miracle, this accident”, the solitary cosmos that has been accumulated—in gestures, regrets, delightful insights, and fierce determination—seems more gravely real than any clash of epic forces. The abyssal abstractions of isolation are pitched against the concrete particulars of a post-war, pre-internet English childhood, concrete moments lost in time and yet still glimmering with life.
I’ve been immersed for a while in studying the way of life we’ve lived in for most of our existence as humans—the foraging band, where solitude would only ever have been a brief communion with nature. The image of the lone oriental sage, which Biroco’s style (in life and writing) certainly owes something too, thus stands out to me as a relatively recent phenomena on the historical scene. A product, in fact, of civilization, with its odd ability to create loneliness out of dense crowds. So the philosopher in me wonders at whether anything fundamental is discovered in isolation, since we are fundamentally social creatures. But it is poetry rather than philosophy that is closest to the heart of this book, and the author never falls into the trap of seeing his insights as fundamental in any sense apart from the primacy of immediate experience, in all its depth, complexity, and evanescence.
This is a powerful book, fueled by exacting attention, hazy vagrancy, and a brutal honesty that cuts straight through.