Frettin’ Joseph Ramsbottom
Publication:Manchester University Press
Like most of Joseph Ramsbottom’s poems in his 1864 collection Phases of Distress this poem is presented in iambic tetrameter octaves, though it maintains a conversational register, and gives a strong sense of an individual voice. This is another dialect poem which is effectively a dramatic monologue. There is an interesting formal effect in the penultimate stanza, when there is a clever variation on the common poetic/rhetorical device of anaphora – where each line begins with the same word or words (think of Churchill’s ‘We will fight them on the…’). Here a similar effect is reached through alliteration (A, At, An, Aw) in the last four lines of the stanza, achieving the same build up of tension and emphasis.
‘Frettin’’ is particularly interesting for its explicit foregrounding of the emotional effects of the crisis, and adds ‘fret’ (and in the last line ‘pine’ and ‘mope’) to ‘panic’ and ‘distress’ as descriptive emotional indicators of the prevailing social mood. Ramsbottom is adept at capturing the affective registers of the people of the region and his ‘characters’, poetic speaking voices which are often not clearly identified, are never less than believable. This is one of eleven Cotton Famine poems which feature in Brian Hollingworth’s Songs of the People: Lancashire dialect poetry of the industrial revolution (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1977), the most significant anthology of such works during the twentieth century.