Fran Lock’s poetry takes its cues from a broad swathe of sources, ranging from Irish and traveller cultures to Jacobean drama. Her strong political sensibility blends with folklore, Classical influences and a rich seam of English literature to create an exuberant and musical poetry. After making a name for herself in the London open mic and spoken word scenes, in 2014 she won the Ambit Poetry Competition and placed third in the 2014 National Poetry Competition. Her second collection, The Mystic and the Pig Thief, was one of the last solo collections published by Salt, in November 2014.
Fran Lock is one of a number of poets who are breaking down the so-called 'page/stage' divide – between poets who mostly write to perform their work, and those who write for the page – by working on both sides of it. This seems very appropriate for this poet, who appears to work across several other divides as well: the urban (she lives in London) and the rural of her upbringing; her joint Irish and traveller backgrounds; the way society would have us all live, and the ways in which people actually manage to survive. Her work is political, in the 'personal is political' sense, like that of John Clare in the 19th Century with his descriptions of a life, and use of local language, that was under threat. Her poems explore the ways in which one's identity can be both one's entrapment and a source of strength.
Lock is not at all troubled by her identity or what to call herself; a self-described 'sometime itinerant dog-whisperer', she says that: 'I write from the folk tales and traditions of my pikey, pagan roots, and the bleak, wild landscapes of my childhood. I draw a lot from Irish history; from quantum mechanics; the occult . . .'
The most noticeable feature of Lock's poetry is an immediate engagement with all this material through sound, texture and music – with densely woven consonants, as well as assonance and internal rhyme. Add to this a slightly off-kilter quality to the words, and the poems seem to evoke a somewhat dreamlike, internal world.
Both of her backgrounds – Irish and traveller – present huge opportunities for widening the lexicon with rich traditions of poetry, linguistic invention and song. London has also added to this. Without descending into neologisms or a private idiolect, her language is not quite like anyone else's. In an interview with Little Episodes, the publisher of her first collection Flatrock (2011), she talks about the lure of words for their own sake:
From 'Poem in which I entertain a little fuchsia of the mind', from her second collection, The mystic and the pig thief:
out, from the dark annals of psychosis, a cautionary looner.
The moral of their story's always there but for the grace, yet
still I insist, in my own world, on the credulous enriching
of the real. I tolerate the contingent universe with a bare
minimum of aggrieved benevolence. This is my mode
of life. No one will convince me that the dead don't walk.
Lock's poems teem with characters and landscapes. This can be problematical for writers who don't want to be simply personal, or 'confessional' – but, like Dylan Thomas with his Llaraggub before her, she has solved the problem by presenting a fictionalised place. Her town, Flatrock, is a place in Northern Ireland that 'doesn't exist'. She describes it as:
The mystic and the pig thief has two sections: the first is poems mainly about dogs, about humans from the point of view of dogs, and otherwise doggy; and the second, the title section, is a long, epistolary sequence of poems and prose poems. These are written between correspondents 'Pig Thief' and 'Biddy', Pig Thief back home in Flatrock and Biddy away:
There are things I cannot tell you. I am ashamed. I have gone to be English in an A line skirt, and to practice erotic austerities. The first of these is a folding in of fire: incanting on the carpet in front of daytime television, brushing blueblack hair to the point of near combustion, waiting for the telephone to ring . . .
I do not like this version of myself, but even less I like the underwhelming menace of home, little town of kickbacks and fiddles, where women are squirreling victims who hide money under floorboards. Pig-Thief, I hate my own mildewed come-hitherness, a bloody repurposed trollop with violet dumplings for tits.
The exchange of letters charts not only a togetherness which transcends apartness, but also a disintegration of one way of being and a settling for another, which Lock describes as 'claustrophobic urban squalor'.
This tug of war between an urban present and a rural past – or the two states coexisting uncomfortably – is made flesh in the piece 'Poem in which I explain to the stag why no more stag poems will ever be written'. In this poem, the narrator, driving down a country road, meets a stag and is catapulted back to childhood, when her dog was gored by one:
of your headgear, nightly: a Godfather goring
my poor grey lurcher, who never did nothing
to no one, who never did nothing to you. I kept
coming back to your sudden bulk, big as an end
of level boss, on the ridge, on the right, tossing
your head, snapping your neck like a Madchester
wideboy strung out on speed. My poor dead dog . . .
In this one moment, all romanticised urban sentimentality about the majestic animal is flooded out by a tidal wave of distinctly pre-urban, atavistic fury.
The words she imagines the stag speaking to her might be taken almost as a mission statement:
about Beauty and Strangeness
Lock's work has also appeared in Poetry Wales, The Stinging Fly, Poetry London and in Little Episodes' Expressions of depression anthologies. Her work was featured in The Best British Poetry 2012 (Salt) and in the anthology of young poets, Lung jazz (Cinnamon Press, 2012), edited by Todd Swift and Kim Lockwood.
The mystic and the pig thief, Salt, Cromer, 2014
Flatrock, Little Episodes, London, 2011
Lock's profile at The Poetry Society
Lock goes 'Behind the Poem' for The Poetry Review
Lock's author page at Salt
Interview with Ambit
Lock's 'Poem in which my grandfather is a unicorn'
Lock's 'Poem in which I explain to the stag why no more stag poems will ever be written'