Poems from a Runaway – Ben Westwood
Poetry is deeply personal to the poet, it has meaning and an outpouring of emotion; nostalgia, pain, love and truth. As much as trying to appreciate a poem for its face value there is always a draw to appreciate the underlying personal expression taking place. Ben was a young boy of eleven when he started running away from home and lived on the streets until about 16. He also became a homeless man, living without the constraints he perceived. Ben no longer lives on the streets, he is a busker and now works as a social worker.
The narrative starts when Ben from his earliest years and illustrates his growing disaffection with his mother’s partner and life around him until he starts to run away. Reading about Ben’s life through his poems has a revealing feel to it because as a child he resists explaining his angsts, and finds it difficult to articulate his thinking and intention to those around him, yet commits his thoughts to poetry as a way of exercising this inner voice. The emotional context within each poem is very minimal, almost in an attempt to subvert any pity and sympathy that may arise. This is a story of a runaway boy – an example of runaways and homeless people – expressed through the personal experiences of Ben Westwood. The threats, exposure to drug addiction, prostitution, are all encounters Ben has witnessed and are revealed from a destructive and humorous perspective. I can’t imagine a life like this and it is heart-breaking and distressing that many young people live like this in our society.
The collection of poems are structured chronologically as narrative poems and each poem delivers a mix of stanzas and rhymes. My knowledge doesn’t extend to identifying the various mechanisms or styles in poetry but as a reader, I enjoyed this style of telling a personal true story. Like a lot of poetry collections, I find it more rewarding to read the poems in small bursts and consider each poem for its own spirit, rather than an amalgamation of thoughts and feeling, incidents and experiences, and a summary personality.
I came across this book after chatting with Jane Corry on her latest book, I Looked Away, and I appreciate the recommendation and the insight she gained from reading Ben’s work. I would recommend reading this book.