Guest Blog by Matt Duggan on Henry Hunt, with poem ‘The Orator of Peterloo’.

IMG-20180113-WA0002Henry Hunt also known to some as the ‘Orator’, realised his talent for public speaking in the electoral politics of Bristol. Henry was highlighting the corruption of the ruling classes and the high tariffs given through mercantilist trade, where only landowners would benefit from it. Henry gave a radical speech at St Peter’s Field in Manchester on the 16th August 1819 which is known today as Peterloo (Named after the Battle of Waterloo). The Peterloo Massacre was caused by the over-reaction of local authorities, where 18 people were murdered.

After the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, there was a brief boom in textiles which was followed by periods of chronic economic depression, particularly among textile weavers and spinners (the textile trade was concentrated in Lancashire). Weavers, who could expect to earn 15 shillings for a six-day week in 1803, saw their wages cut to 5 shillings or even 4s 6d by 1818. The industrialists, who were cutting wages without offering relief, blamed market forces generated by the aftershocks of the Napoleonic Wars. Exacerbating matters were the Corn Laws, the first of which was passed in 1815, imposing a tariff on foreign grain in an effort to protect English grain producers. The cost of food rose as people were forced to buy the more expensive and lower quality British grain, and periods of famine and chronic unemployment ensued, increasing the desire for political reform both in Lancashire and in the country at large.

I find this protest very significant and similar aspects of uncertainty like Brexit looming around the corner, and we, as a nation, are becoming very nervous about the outcome of Brexit and trade, and where economically we will all stand as a nation. I believe that now is the time to send this poem ‘The Orator of Peterloo’ out into the world. It is included in my new full collection Woodworm, which is due to be published in Spring 2019 http://www.hedgehogpress.co.uk/forthcoming-titles/  also of interest and coming out in November of this year will be the new film Peterloo, directed by the legend Mike Leigh, check out the trailer  ,https://youtu.be/Dj5h1kKjVYc

 

Matt Duggan lives in Bristol with his partner Kelly and their dog Alfie. His poems have appeared in many journals such as Osiris Poetry Journal, A Restricted View from Under the Hedge, Ghost City Review, Riggwelter Literary Journal, The Journal, Proletarian Poetry, Into the Void, Ink, Sweat, and Tears. Matt won the Erbacce Prize for Poetry in 2015 with his first full collection Dystopia 38.10 (erbacce-press) and the Into the Void Poetry Prize in 2016, Matt recently did a reading tour across the east coast of the U.S. reading in Boston, New York and Philly and has two new chapbooks available One Million Tiny Cuts https://www.claresongbirdspub.com/shop/poetry/  and A Season in Another World https://www.thirtywestph.com/shop/aseasoninanotherworld his second full collection Woodworm (Hedgehog Poetry Press ) will be published in Spring 2019.

 

The Orator of Peterloo

The Orator travelled the length of the land through bare corn field to busy city street; kicking sand into the face of the landowner – Repel these laws of mercantilism and allow small and broken mouths to feed and eat. Do not let this highly taxed trade be our prison. Wavering poles topped with the red cap of liberty, the ear of a nation gathered to listen to a man who wants to blind the parliamentary horse giving every man and woman the right – a voice – not lost inside a crowd; the vision of an eye that directs the government’s sight. The Orator saw bones in red mud, a shrill from daughter to mother; fists and shrugs of the disempowered stealing breadcrumbs from their neighbours; the banners held high, read of REFORM, SUFFAGE, EQUAL REPRESENTATION, and LOVE. Words delivered that day echo how we all feel – we heard the sound of long blades withdrawing – the Hussars approached on horseback preparing for the final charge; murdering children, men, and women as the Orator’s words could not stop the unfolding of this bloody mindless slaughter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Collier’s Life by Steve Xerri

I have often said on this site that it is about the poems, less about the poets in terms of their social standing. In the readings I’ve done this year, I’ve met many people from different class backgrounds/foregrounds. I recently spoke with someone who had the least working class accent you will hear (think a notch or two down from William Rees MUG); yet, on talking with them, they spoke of their grandfather who had fought in the first world war, survived and went to work in the factories. I won’t go into accent as an indicator of class here, but there is sometimes a lineage from ‘Eee-by-gum’, to ‘Oh-Golly-Gosh’ (forgive the caricature) within a family.

working class grandadI think in general, for those whose families have been in the UK for the past hundred years or so, you often don’t have to jump too far back to find a working class parent, or more likely grandparent. I hear it more than most in the context of Proletarian Poetry, but if you talk to someone long enough about their family history, it’s rare not to find a working class family member. One of the indications of this shift in ‘category’ is when someone says, I was the first person in my family to go to University; and although I personally don’t believe that makes you middle class, it does show that opportunities have widened somewhat.

s_xerriOn that note of who you are, I don’t know the class of our poet today, Steve Xerri, but quite clearly in his poem ‘A Collier’s Life’, there is the story of a working class grandparent. ‘In the sweep of his cap lamp,/ air glinting with particles,/ men’s faces caked black/ but for eyes and teeth.’ This was on his first day down the pit; one of hundreds more. ‘Thousandth day, days/ unnumbered: the steady seep/ of crystalline dust locks/ the recoil of his lungs.’ As the last poem by John Duffy showed, many of these men never made it into old age. Our protagonist lived long enough to be a grandfather, but at great cost to his health. ‘Grandad sitting outside/ under the flowering/ cherry, spitting black/ into his handkerchief,’.

Our working class parents or grandparents, who found themselves in the factories and shipyards, down pits, or on the buildings, did so not only to feed and house their family, but to make sure they gave us a better life than they had. However, in these late days of capitalism, it seems that such hope of advancement is on hold at the moment, if not in reverse.

 

Steve Xerri has been a teacher, musician, illustrator, digital imaging trainer and web designer but now concentrates on writing poetry and making pottery. Recently published in Acumen, Amaryllis, Brittle Star, Clear Poetry, Envoi, Ink Sweat & Tears, Stride Magazine, The Interpreter’s House and The Poetry Shed. He has a poem forthcoming in Cinnamon Press’s Wheel of the Year anthology. He won the title of Canterbury Festival Poet of the Year 2017, with two poems included in the Festival’s Anthology.

 

 A Collier’s Life

First day: jaw braced
against fear, he rides the cage
rattling down through dark
to the sloped pit floor.

In the sweep of his cap lamp,
air glinting with particles,
men’s faces caked black
but for eyes and teeth.

Second day: he drops
the contents of his snap tin,
feels soused in filth,
spends the day in hunger.

Digging, he pictures
thrushes half a mile
above his head, tugging
worms out of the turf.

Third day: sees a fern-form
perfect in the coalface
uncovered by one pick-stroke,
demolished by the next.

Tenth day – hundredth
day: when the seam runs
thin, he has to hew it out
stooping till shift’s end.

One time, nothing clean
to hand, he soothes a mate’s
frantic pain by tonguing
his eyeball free of grit.

Another time, along the shaft
he hears the loosened rock-
roof roar down to smash
his cousin’s backbone.

Thousandth day, days
unnumbered : the steady seep
of crystalline dust locks
the recoil of his lungs.

*
Grandad sitting outside
under the flowering
cherry, spitting black
into his handkerchief,

watches the bairns
at their play, filling
little buckets with falls
of pale pink petals.

 

‘Up and Away’ and ‘Full Strength’ by John Duffy

Up to the age of fifteen, my aunt and uncle would come over on Christmas day with my two cousins. They would arrive mid-morning, and we’d open presents, and my Uncle would crack some jokes and be on his best behaviour. Then at midday, he and my father would go down the pub, and my mum and aunty would prepare the dinner (my dad had already cooked the Turkey – up at 5am, slow roasting it). Us kids would play in the front room, which mainly involved me (some eight years older than my cousins and sister) trying to stop them from breaking my Subbuteo players.

tumblr_mxvel4FAtz1qzh561o4_250On returning from the pub, my Uncle would be a little worst-for-wear with the drink, and that’s when the fun would start. Sitting at the table, he would compliment my mum on the dinner, with lines like, ‘these parsnips are fucking lovely Gladys’ – us kids would giggle away, as my aunt tried to tame him – ‘James, no swearing at the table’. ‘Shall I wait till we go into the front room then?’ he replied winking at us. He’d go back to eating his dinner, and we watched and waited from him to forget my aunt’s instructions, and tell us stories of his time in Glasgow, his stay in Barlinnee Prison, and occasional fights in gangs growing up (although to be fair, my dad told us similar stories of his own exploits). And of course, such tales with replete with expletives as bastards, fucks, shits, etc., as my aunt gave up and just got on with her dinner. He was pure entertainment, without a smidgeon of malice, and plenty of roguishness that us kids were totally in awe of. He is still going, although his past has caught up on his health.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_5c0eJohn Duffy’s poem, ‘Up and Away’ tells of such uncles, and their decline, and how we as nephews and nieces, look back at their special place in our childhood hearts ‘Uncles, those fabulous/ heroes, dwindled in strength,/ wit and story-telling/ into wee men with jabbing/ opinions, old jokes.’ But these men were also workers who built this country. ‘I dream: a vision of men,/ arms full of harvested stones,/ gathered, cleared, carried,/ put into walls, paths, altars,’ Then in John’s second poem, ‘Full Strength’, furthers this story in telling of a father, and the life such men led in the 1950s working and socialising. ‘He explained the work of casting,/ and how in Colville’s, he had fired/ explosive bolts at plates of steel,/ and sifted fragments that might still/ explode, or cut, or burn. He left/ that job. Full Strength was what he smoked,/ he let me sip dark stout, bitter taste/ for men.’ This was a time prior to the 1970s, and the rise of women in the workplace with the introduction of the Equal Pay Act and Sexual Discrimination Act of 1970 & 1975 respectively. But as John’s poems show, the men had worked in tough conditions before and after WW2, with many having to leave work or retire for health reasons, often dying in their sixties and seventies.

 

John Duffy is one of the founders of Huddersfield’s Albert Poets (now in its 25th year). He has retired from his varied careers as civil servant, social worker, childminder, community worker and bibliotherapist, and has run writing workshops with community groups across West Yorkshire. His most recent collections are Glamourie (Calder Valley Poetry) and The Edge of Seeing (High Window). Some of his poems are in Scots (traditional Lallans or Contemporary Glaswegian), but are largely intelligible to English audiences.

 

Up and away

Uncles, those fabulous
heroes, dwindled in strength,
wit and story-telling
into wee men with jabbing
opinions, old jokes. Now
I’ve grown up and away
I dream: a vision of men,
arms full of harvested stones,
gathered, cleared, carried,
put into walls, paths, altars,
stones traced with the knotwork
of our origins, milestones
from Rome, red sandstone,
cool granite, handfuls
of sea-stained marble, cobbles
from Causeyside Street,
a procession,
the men trying not to bend.

Full strength
(for David)

My father made stones whistle,
skiting them across the flat
frozen loch, the whine of each
bounce tapering in the distance;

that was the fifties when spanners,
books, kettles, footballs disappeared
weekly into the throats of ostriches
in comics. By Parkhead Forge,

Guinness glass snug in its gullet,
the bird grinned at the zookeeper
on the high hoarding. Do they really
swallow things?
He told me something.

Dark stripes like iron bars, a tiger
of stillness succeeded to this space
above the traffic, beside the huge
shed of hammers, chains, growling

furnace. This was the biggest place
I knew; it was where my father grew.
He explained the work of casting,
and how in Colville’s, he had fired

explosive bolts at plates of steel,
and sifted fragments that might still
explode, or cut, or burn. He left
that job. Full Strength was what he smoked,

he let me sip dark stout, bitter taste
for men. This year I will be fifty;
my son brings me a gift, a tin picture-
ostrich, keeper, hidden pint –

he has remembered me telling him
all this, when I stood in the street, light
shining from forge and tiger,
his strong hand to hold, the lurch

of trams taking the bend, whining
uphill. Today I throw a stone across ice,
it casts a deeper note than I remember,
drops in pitch with every bounce,

with every bounce.

Working Class Poetry at The Torriano Meeting House, London July Twenty Second

This coming Sunday, 22nd July five working class poets will be reading at the Torriano Meeting House (the Torriano has a rich history of supporting working class poets for a number of decades). Each of us are, or will be published by Culture Matters, a co-operative, which promotes socialist and progressive art, culture and politics. The authors are Fran Lock, Alan Dunnett, Martin Hayes, Nadia Drews, Alan Morrison and myself. Our books cover many aspects of working class life, including work, politics, and culture.

Below are details for each poet: we hope to see some of you on Sunday.

culture matters image

THE POETS (more…)

Gala Day, Durham Miners by Jane Burn

For Gala Day, July 14th 2018

Proletarian Poetry

In 1984 I was twenty-two and having a nervous breakdown. I had taken an English A Level (which I failed) and I remember the question of whether Hamlet was mad or not really fucking me up. Turns out the madness rubbed off 5921322055_790552265b_mon me for a time. Hospitalised with short-term psychosis (thankfully) the faces in newspapers would be staring at me; there were men in the corner watching me; the doctors seemed extra-terrestrial. One day, when supposedly in recovery, I sat in the TV room trying to catch some kind of normality but happened upon the news and the heightened social realism of men standing in a dusty field being charged at by the riot police. I started hyper-ventilating, feeling like I was going to pass out, then the belief that something worse was about to happen. The fighting continued but no-one would turn the TV off. Finally, a nurse…

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Pink Pyjama Suit by Deborah Alma

white middle classWhen a person walks out their door, whether going to the shop, to work, or for a night out, I imagine it is only the lucky ones, who are not conscious, or made conscious of, who they are. I imagine the stereotypical, white middle class male, irrespective of their political hue, on this journey imbibing the day without constraint; not physical, psychological, nor spiritual. They may believe they are completely unbiased in respect of how their position, influences their decisions, or perspective when dealing with other people. They may give to charity, volunteer, despise racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination, whilst at the same time, feel totally at peace with the world – that for all its faults, see the world moving in the right direction. And on the whole, they are right – headline figures, which the late Hans Rosling so eloquently showed, see many indicators of human development (child mortality, mortality, rates of disease, etc.) on a positive trend. However, this position is also the problem. On whose backs were these improvements in quality of life carried? Often, it was either the existing poor, and when there weren’t enough of them, immigrants, such as the Windrush generation. (more…)

Moonstomp by Tim Wells

003Tim Wells has been (still is, in fact) one of the great stalwarts of poetry; as a poet, promoter, and historian of all things working class, for the past four decades. One of the original ‘ranters’ of the 1980s, he has been a regular on the London poetry scene, as well as wider shores, giving it large with poems about working class lives; poems that don’t pander to the type of melodrama or demonisation which undermines the notion of class as being some drop out numpty who drives a van with its break lights not working. “I was a teenage suedehead. Dressing sharper than the posh kids and our style was crucial to us. That, and I don’t drive,” he told me.

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Tim’s running a Crowdfunder with Unbound (who published the hugely successful The Good Immigrant) and is over halfway there. Have a read below, and at the work he has done so far with the campaign. If you can bung it a cock & hen or two to help it over the line, the world will be a slightly better place, and you’ll be helping one of the good ‘uns.

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001Through his site, Stand Up & Spit, he documents the poetry of the 1980s & many steps beyond, putting it into context with music, politics and sport. The site looks back to working class and spoken word poetry from around the world and through history. The site draws from a variety of music papers, and other rare finds. He is also the editor and publisher of the poetry zine ‘Rising’ (tough on poetry, tough on the causes of poetry), which has been going since 1993 and has just put out its 70th issue. Tim’s also a great supporter of poets, always bigging up the old and the new, with his legendary all-dayers at the Betsey Trotwood pub in Farringdon, and taking Stand Up and Spit on the road.

He previously featured on Proletarian Poetry, with his poem Version, a tribute to the Jamaican poet Michael Smith, who was murdered following an altercation at a political rally. The poem comes from Tim’s Penned in the Margins collection, Everything Crash.

Tim gives nostalgia a proper name, and he is doing it again in venturing into an old love of skinhead/horror pulp novels, with his own take on the genre, Moonstomp. As he says:

AlbionThose New English Library skinhead, football aggro, and Hell’s Angel books were read by all my mates back when we were lads. We liked the Pan anthologies of horror stories too. They were a big part of my generation’s youth. Moonstomp brings youth cult to occult and I’ve pretty much written up my teenage years with an added werewolf. The book is set in 1979, the music and clothes are precise, which is something you rarely get when people write yoof cults.”

I’ve read a sample chapter and it’s banging. But don’t take my word for it (although you are welcome to):

The novelist John King (he of the Football Factory, Human Punk, Skinheads) says:

“Howling back to the days when we used to pass the Skinhead and Hell’s Angels books around school, and watched Hammer Horror films at home on our black-and-white televisions, Tim Wells has written a fiendish tale of a skinhead werewolf rampaging through London in 1979. Being a sharp-dressed lad (still), the clothes and music are spot on. Snap up a copy before it bites your hand off.”

And the alternative UK national treasure, Phill Jupitus sings along:

“Skinheads and werewolves and reggae and boozers, lager and kicking in fat city losers, Punk rock and Sta-prest when Lene she sings. Tim Wells has written a novel about a few of my favourite things… You can feel the sticky floors of the gigs and the sweaty menace is tangible as you read Tim Wells’ swaggering prose. This is no rose-tinted amble down memory lane. The landscape of his world is a London that was swallowed whole by the eighties. For a book so full of life, there’s a lot of death in it as well. Beautiful. Brutal. Brutus. It’s got the lot! “

So, as I say, if you want to keep working class fiction alive, then kick a bit of pocket here. You won’t regret it.