Book Review: Ian Young’s London Skin and Bones: The Finsbury Park Stories

London Skin & Bones: The Finsbury Park StoriesLondon Skin & Bones: The Finsbury Park Stories by Ian Young
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I met Ian decades ago when I was at university, but I never knew the stories of his years in London, living in Finsbury Park with a colourful cast of friends and lovers. These stories are very charming and engaging, and I remembered right away that he was a poet as the stories are crafted in a short and concise way and end beautifully. It is a visit to another world and time, and I think anyone interested in gay counterculture and working class London in the 80s, would be as charmed to read this as I was.

To expand on our meeting, while at university, at the tail end of the 80s, I was an aspiring writer and had published my very first poems in our university’s literary magazine. I had mentioned in my bio that I was gay. Somehow, Ian came across the magazine and sent me his anthology of gay poetry, Son of Male Muse. The thing is: I was away that year, the whole year, overseas on an exchange. So, I was lucky that my college simply left the envelope in a stack near the communal mailboxes, maybe for a whole year, and that one of my friends mentioned it to me when I returned to university that fall.

I was surprised and happy, but then: I recognised the name. For, as a much younger boy, perhaps 13 or 14, I had gone to my city library in Vancouver, and rather than search for some ‘how to’ manual about being gay, or to accept myself, what I was really interested in was who I was as a gay person, what was my shared culture. So, I looked up in the card catalogue, back then certainly not electronic, ‘gay poetry’, and found Ian’s first anthology of gay poetry, Male Muse (1973). One of the poems, simple and straightforward, about affection between two men, I liked so much, I photocopied and kept it with me in a journal for a time.

So many years after its publication, and another few years after I’d first found it (back then four or five years did seem like a long time!), the editor had personally sent me a letter. And about gay poetry!

Later, after meeting Ian in his home in Scarborough in Toronto, for a special issue of gay writing for the literary journal ARC, I did a profile of Ian and his poetry, including this same anecdote that I’ve written above. And, as another coincidence, when I worked at the Canadian Pavilion at Expo ’92 in Seville, one of my best friends was a Trinidadian-Canadian, Alana, who I found out not only lived in Scarborough but lived in the HOUSE NEXT DOOR to Ian’s.

Connections, connections. These day, people talk about the world being interconnected, and generally, I think they are referring to the way that we are receiving the same information and entertainment, simultaneously, around the world, and how COVID-19 or climate change is affecting us all because of our connections.

But what I’ve marvelled at in the last decades is the way that Facebook and email has allowed us to remain connected with people in our past lives so easily. When I was at university, we drifted off from each other, perhaps after a few letters. Now, though a few purposely stay disconnected, many of us are back in touch with enduring connections with people we may have crossed paths with only a few times.

So yes, how lovely to receive Skin and Bones in the post a few weeks ago, sent by Ian from Canada to Australia, after so many years. I hope this peaks your interest to track down a copy and read it!

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