The Past Is a Dangerous Driver

Neal Mason


Sample Passages

  • Derelict Classroom

    Derelict Classroom

    Foxgloves face the windows, vacantly
    gaze out, but learn nothing
    from chattering thrushes and blackbirds
    or the sky blank as doubt;
    knowledge and order are lost in overgrowth
    and Nature’s grown up a lout.

    What were pellets flicked in fun
    are flies. Lazy chalk dust
    used to drift like pollen,
    motes in young eyes,
    where now the beams of a blinding sun
    glare in rank surprise.

    The walls are covered in graffiti, the vandal
    moss. The green blackboard
    fails to instruct brambles
    which increase, oblivious of loss,
    while a snail’s trail, looping and curling
    beneath, serves for a gloss.

    Where the red roof was is white and blue
    sky; clouds, unformed
    and uninformed of nimbus
    or cumulus, writhe as they try
    outlines a teacher might approve
    and on which textbooks can rely.

    A puffball is the globe that children held
    in awe, its national colours
    now brown, not the variety
    primary childhood saw;
    the spores would mature to khaki, then fall,
    obeying some natural law.

    Beyond the broken glass grow pampas
    and canes; wind-punished nettles
    sting empty air
    while butterflies play games
    on buddleia. The wilderness encroaches, unaware
    of culture, geography or names.

Sample Information


The Past Is a Dangerous Driver is inspired by Neal Mason’s fascination with the past, not only in the way it exists as general history but also as it is formed by one’s own personal recollection.

Through his poems, Neal links the past to the present, in a way that puts events in a new light and exposes discovery of hidden complexities.

History is no longer seen as being made up of facts and artefacts but instead it is presented as the manifestation of the human spirit.

The poems also conjure up an eclectic view of Britain, its values, history and even future.

The title of collection is a hint that the past does affect the present, not always for the best, but its influence needs to be acknowledged. This is lovely expressed by this stanza from Reflecting on Water, a long poem, which takes us on a rowing tour across the Thames through the centuries.

Today, like the motorway
speeding nearby,
is a concrete illusion, a constant diversion
the spirit tries to defy.
For the survivor, unassimilated,
powerful, the past is a dangerous driver.

The poems in this collection reflect upon, among other topics, the sunken lands of Dunwich, York’s defenders throughout the ages, Mendel’s experiments, women’s troubles, WW2 bombs, how the past mixes up with the present, and reflections on ancient Rome. In the remarkable final poem, the passing hours over the course of one day are marked by historical events.

The poems

After Dunwich
Derelict Classroom
The Long Campaign
7th December
Holiday Romance
Martello Tower
Wooden Ruler
Mendel, Shopping
Reflected on Water
S.S. Saxon Star
The Figure
Not as a Medal
Slowing Down
World War II Bomb
Journal of a Tree
The Stratagem
The Grand Nitrator
The Museum of Lost Art
The Pied Piper

ISBN: 9781907320958
Number of pages: 78
Price: £0

Published: 8 September 2022


‘Here is poetry as history book, almanac and calendar, suffused with humanity and glowing with empathy.’ – Ian McMillan

‘We live in a world which tolerates the past only as costume drama. So it’s a delight to alight on a poet who understands that we can’t shake off the past as easily a dog does water. Neal Mason’s appreciation of this simple truth is one of the many riches of his collection. His poems, with their often striking images and subtle rhymes, feelingly explore the contradictory nature of the past, how it is both remote and ever present; how can it unfold like a rose or go off like a bomb.’ – Gary Day on Everybody’s Reviewing 

‘His title for the collection is apt as the poems included testify to the reckless unpredictability of the past and the various ways it comes crashing into the present.

Mason writes beautifully and evocatively about places, but never with sentiment. There is no cloying nostalgia when he writes about the past, and where he does compare unfavourably the present to what has been he doesn’t lose sight of the follies of both. All the poems are complex and all merit or demand deeper reading.’ – Ian Tattum in Pilgrim House

‘With the past as a pinning undercurrent, Mason takes to playing with form and cadence through the use of rhyme and alliteration. Perhaps reminiscent of the songs of soldiers used to maintain morale, or even of the great Grecian and Roman poets who often pondered their ancestry and how the fate of their lives was out of their hands. Mason’s bravery is evident in this vulnerable and empathetic collection, asking readers to sit with uncomfortable, unanswered questions. Yes, perhaps the past has corrupted the present, but maybe it also gives way to necessary evolutions and reflections.’ – Abigail Hebert in October Hill Magazine, Winter 2022, volume 6, issue 4, page 39

‘The Past is a Dangerous Driver looks at how the past seeps into the present and the consequences of that. In some poems nature reclaims human structures, reminding readers of man’s relatively short time on the planet. In others the boundaries between past and present are more permeable.  Mason’s structured poems guide readers through a journey where people might be ready to move on but the past isn’t ready to let them go yet.’ – Emma Lee on her blog