Tipton by Roy McFarlane

‘In our Coventry homes! We speak with an accent exceedingly rare, you want a Cathedral we’ve got one to spare, in our Coventry homes.’

three spires 1Ah, the poetry of football chants. Often it is football that defines what home is for the working classes. And in the League Two play-off finals, that sound rang around Wembley Stadium; forty thousand of us, compared to Exeter’s ten, when we got promoted to the heady heights of League One at the end of May.

Going back to my home town Coventry, and the Cathedrals as alluded to in the chant, it is the fact that the ‘old’ cathedral was destroyed in the Second World War that characterises the city. The city centre was totally rebuilt, divided into quarters, and encircled by a brutalist ring road. But I think, time and again, although it is a cliché, it is the people who define a city; and where I came from, it was migration which alongside the physical rebuilding, came to make what Coventry is today – the Irish and Scots, Polish, West Indians, Pakistanis, Indians, and others.

roy mcfarlaneRoy McFarlane’s poem, Tipton is a paean to a home town, made up of its people and sometimes ‘strange’ characters, usually not thought to be seen in an urban setting: ‘I’m 10 and visiting the cousins,/ the only black family in Princess Ends./ Streets wide enough to pass on gossip/ and a horse in somebody’s garden.’ Family is nearby, but not necessarily understandable. My own parents were from Glasgow and Gateshead, and it was often very hard to understand my cousins. This is the case with Roy’s family, ‘Ow’s ower kid their father would say/ with vowels big and round as his obese body,/ then he’d give me a sweet, slap me on my back/ and laugh his way into the kitchen/ I asked my cousin what did he say?’ This reminds me of a recent series on Radio 4 on poetry and dialect, looking at the East Midlands, Northumberland, and North West (check it out).

But common to all such cities, is the factories; though for Tipton they may not be cars, bicycles or telecommunications, like in Coventry. ‘once the father/ left to go to the pub or to the steelworks// 40 years later I’m back/ walking past the pie factory where they serve/ soul nights on sawdust covered floors.’ And like many such cities, the factories go and are replaced with shopping centres, and people forced to work further afield, thus becoming commuters on privatised travel networks. On reading Roy’s poem, I see the uniqueness of Tipton. Coventry is also unique, but both are only unique in the same way as every other non-Metropolitan town or city is made unique, by the people who live there.


Roy McFarlane was born in Birmingham of Jamaican parentage and spent most of his years living in Wolverhampton and the surrounding Black Country. He has held the role of Birmingham’s Poet Laureate and presently the Birmingham & Midland Institute Poet in Residence. His publications include, Celebrate Wha? (Smokestack Books 2011) and Beginning With Your Last Breath (Nine Arches Press 2016). Roy’s latest collection The Healing Next Time will be out in October 2018 and he is also completing his MA in Writing Poetry with The Poetry School and Newcastle University.




Tipton, this tongue-tipping
double syllable of a word,
this Bermuda Triangle
between Brum and Wolves.
This lost city quintessentially
Black Country, God’s belly button
of the Universe has got me.

I’m 10 and visiting the cousins,
the only black family in Princess Ends.
Streets wide enough to pass on gossip
and a horse in somebody’s garden.

I watched cousins as dark as the cut,
larger than life, colourful as the Caribbean,
speak another language.
Only laughter, sweets and pots of soup
translated us back to a common understanding.

Ow’s ower kid their father would say
with vowels big and round as his obese body,
then he’d give me a sweet, slap me on my back
and laugh his way into the kitchen.
I asked my cousin what did he say?
Yam saft
, she’d say gurgling,
everybody laughing like the locks at the back,
where water poured in and everybody rises,
whether you wanted or not,
a lock that levelled off once the father
left to go to the pub or to the steelworks.

40 years later I’m back
walking past the pie factory where they serve
soul nights on sawdust covered floors.

Industries put to an eternal sleep
turning into a commuter town, it
still draws on you, pulls on you.
Yam olright it’s dem lot
that are causing de problems
with syllables that jab and slash,
sentences like the Tipton Slasher
the bare knuckle verbosity of it.
And there’s an oss everywhere,
in somebody’s garden, along the street
and a metal oss frozen in time
by the railway station
and an anchor
on the side of the road.
Not all things are anchored
in time or in a living museum;
cultures flow, merge and make
their own journeys into front rooms
as I say to me bab bending over
I cor walk past ya without
putting me ond on ya
and I know that

Tipton, this tongue-tipping
double syllable of a word,
this Bermuda Triangle
between Brum and Wolves.
This lost city quintessentially
Black Country, God’s belly button
of the Universe has got me.

‘Precarious’ & ‘The Combination: a poetic coupling of the Communist Manifesto’ (please scroll down to exit via the gift shop)


Precarious CoverPrecarious was published by Smokestack on April 1st this year, and I have been on a Precarious Tour around the country, with the novelist and poet Richard Skinner (whose book The Malvern Aviator is also published by Smokestack) . So far we have read in Oxford, Huddersfield, Newcastle, and London – with Bristol and Swindon to come later in the year. I have also read in Derby, St Albans, and London (at the launch of Jane Commane‘s book launch of Assembly Lines), and later at Ledbury Poetry Festival, Cork, and Merthyr Tydfill.

Here is a poem from Precarious about a night when my son was changing his anti-depression medication, which caused suicidal ideation.

Night Watchman

Bed by midnight, I set my alarm for two a.m.
At its sound I pad to my son’s room. The floor
is a rubble of clothes, guitar leads, a trophy cabinet
of sticky bowls residue in a corner.

In bed, he holds the glow of his screen,
perched in fear of the grave hymns that sing
in his dreams.             He says he’s okay, without shifting.
I fail by saying ‘try to get some sleep’.

I retreat to my bed, risk an hour.
At three he’s still glowing. Says he tried.
I know.                        Best rise for a time.

I wipe last night’s words from the kitchen table.
We eat cereal to silence, see if that works.
It’s being tested with everything else outside
the covers of a book.  Back in bed,

he turns to the wall.   Now I stay, see him to sleep.
At the inhale of day, the sun cracks its knuckles
behind the curtains.    ‘Come on then,’ I say.


The COMBINATION: a poetic coupling of the Communist Manifesto.

CM book Peter Raynard cover (1)In January this year, with prompting by a workshop run by Karen McCarthy Woolf, I began to write a poetic coupling of the Communist Manifesto. Coupling is a line by line poetic response (that includes rhyme, repetition, and assonance) to an existing text. To my surprise and delight, Mike Quille of Culture Matters offered to publish it, and the resulting book; The Combination came out on June 1st.

I think the form devised by Karen is a great way to respond to political speeches, policies, or books. Breaking the line of the original text is great fun of itself, but this then turns each line into a writing prompt. The book took me three months to write and I had so much fun going back to read Marx’s classic text.

I am now working on a fifteen minute multi-media version for public performance.

Here is an excerpt from The Combination.

The “dangerous class”, [lumpenproletariat] the social scum, that passively rotting mass thrown off by the lowest layers of the old society,
steady on, this suit is clean on, Sunday’s best, they’ll be no rat catching on this day of rest.

may, here and there, be swept into the movement by a proletarian revolution
there is much sweeping to be done, until we form a Vanguard and become all for one

its conditions of life, however, prepare it far more for the part of a bribed tool of reactionary intrigue
does this less than ‘precariat’ class lack the luxury of refusal?

In the conditions of the proletariat, those of old society at large are already virtually swamped.
just to be clear, this is a premonition – not yet a reality, it is just a welcome fear

The proletarian is without property; his relation to his wife and children has no longer anything in common with the bourgeois family relations;
any chance of the sex tonight love? Reproduction or pleasure? Er, pleasure? Ooh, come here you sexy bourgeois bastard!

modern industry labour, modern subjection to capital, the same in England as in France, in America as in Germany, has stripped him of every trace of national character.
yet stereotypes remain, just ask any stand-up comedian of old

Law, morality, religion, are to him so many bourgeois prejudices, behind which lurk in ambush just as many bourgeois interests
coming ready or not, we seek him here, we seek him there

All the preceding classes that got the upper hand sought to fortify their already acquired status by subjecting society at large to their conditions of appropriation.
and you can’t exactly fortify something that is nothing – nought plus nought still equals nowt

The proletarians cannot become masters of the productive forces of society, except by abolishing their own previous mode of appropriation
which be the doffing of the cap, and mucking of the hands

and thereby also every other previous mode of appropriation
that’ll be the thieving and gambling, womanising and fighting, at least that’s what the tabloids say
They have nothing of their own to secure and to fortify
for you may be prisoners, but there is no dilemma

their mission is to destroy all previous securities for, and insurances of, individual property
and don’t be giving us any of your French, La propriété, c’est le vol! – Karl thinks it’s self-refuting

All previous historical movements were movements of minorities, or in the interest of minorities
shall we ask the Diggers & Levellers, ask Gandhi and the 400 million Indians in 1947, ask Nelson Mandela, ask the Suffragettes, ask ourselves, is that not now in our past?

The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority.
Now you’re sucking diesel. Yes, let’s give it to the Rees Moggs and all those weasels.

Though not in substance, yet in form, the struggle of the proletariat with the bourgeoisie is at first a national struggle.
If you ’bout this revolution, please stand up/ We ain’t got no one to trust/ Time is running up, feel the burn in my gut/ And if you got the guts, scream, “Fuck Donald Trump” (JB$$)


You can buy Precarious directly from me for £8 (incl P&P UK only), or £10 (incl P&P worldwide).

You can buy The Combination from Culture Matters for £6 (plus £1.50 P&P) here.


You can buy both directly from me for £12 (incl P&P – UK only), or £15 (incl P&P worldwide)


Tom Palin at Cinderloo by Jean Atkin

cinderlooI’m sure most of you will know Shelley’s poem, the Masque of Anarchy, written in Italy in response to the Peterloo Massacre. It was 1819 in Manchester, and a crowd of up 80,000 people had gathered to listen to the ‘radical orator’ (a term of disparagement by his opponents) Henry Hunt speak about widening the franchise and challenging the corrupt political system. Due to a massive over reaction by local yeomanry, fifteen people were killed and hundreds injured. Hunt ended up in prison for two years. A widening of the franchise has always been fought for, and against. (I personally think, we should rise up to lower the voting age to sixteen).

jean-atkin-wigtownHowever, eighteen months later, a lesser known event – the subject of today’s poem ‘Tom Palin at Cinderloo’ by Jean Atkin – took place in Shropshire, some eighty miles south of Manchester. The miners of Dawley, quite rightly took umbrage at a proposed wage decrease by the colliery owners, who said this was due to a decline in the iron industry, ‘the rain blowing in as we gather/ sixpence a day lopped off a weekly wage/ of fifteen bob.’ An initial strike was violently put down by the yeomanry, but some months later, the miners rose again and marched on the local iron factory halting production. ‘we grip our sticks & walk to Donnington Wood/ & strip the furnace plugs at Old Park Ironworks/ & on to Lightmoor, Dawley, Horsehay/ when down come the Yeomanry & Constables’. Like Peterloo, a call for help saw Colonel Cludde and his Shropshire Yeomanry, open fire on the crowd, killing two miners and arresting nine ‘ringleaders’. One of which was Tom Palin, who was subsequently hung. ‘the executioner lifts the cap he’s put over Tom’s face/ so Tom looks up & sees.  He nods./ They put the cap back on./ And then he swings.

Jean’s poem ‘Tom Palin at Cinderloo’ is part of ‘Understories’, her collaboration with Shropshire-based band Whalebone www.whalebone-music.com ‘Understories’ is a brush with the new folklore of Shropshire, tales just out of living memory, and both urban and rural myths.  Performances start later this year.  Jean and Whalebone are also working with the Cinderloo 1821 Remembered group on Facebook @cinderlooriot.

You can listen to Jean reading the poem to music of Whalebone, here

Jean Atkin has published ‘Not Lost Since Last Time’ (Oversteps Books), five poetry pamphlets and a children’s novel.   Her poetry has been commissioned for Radio 4, and featured on ‘Best Scottish Poets’ by the Scottish Poetry Library.  Her recent work appears in The Interpreter’s House, Magma, Lighthouse, Agenda, Ambit, and Poetry Salzburg. www.jeanatkin.com



Tom Palin at Cinderloo

the rain blowing in as we gather
sixpence a day lopped off a weekly wage
of fifteen bob, a sixpence out the mouths
of our kids & pray for help on Sundays.
So we grip our sticks & walk to Donnington Wood
& strip the furnace plugs at Old Park Ironworks
& on to Lightmoor, Dawley, Horsehay
when down come the Yeomanry & Constables
& hem us in on the cinder hills & back us up
so up we goes slipping & cramming our boots into slag
& the shouting starts We’ll have our wages
If we’re to fight for it, we’re all together

iron is durable

below us the Peace Officers arrest & thrash our boys
so we throw down the slag & stone from off the cinder hills
we rain a rain of iron & rage
a rain of sixpences & hunger
& Tom runs down with some mates & looses our prisoners
& then the Yeomen open fire –
a rain of iron & power
a rain of wealth
their bullets hunt us off the cinder hills
the women tumbled on the trampled children
& William Bird is dead at eighteen
& Thomas Gittins gone
& our Tom will face the rope.

iron is durable

the rain blowing into the crowd by the gibbet
& our lad stands to his end
& someone sings out
Farewell Tom
& the executioner lifts the cap he’s put over Tom’s face
so Tom looks up & sees.  He nods.
They put the cap back on.
And then he swings.

The Battle of Cinderloo took place in 1821, two years after the more famous Peterloo. The iron industry was in stagnation and faced with harsh pay cuts, the Dawley ironworkers went on strike. The site of Cinderloo is now Forge Retail Park in Telford.


Love Letter to the NHS by Emma Ireland

nhs_march_logoWhen I was born in the early ‘60s, I put my mother through a two day ordeal of labour, then was extracted via C-section; this was in the days when the scar of such a section was twice as long as it is today. So, it is little wonder that when leaving the hospital with my dad, my parents forgot to take me with them. Thank God for the NHS and all its efficiency, for an eagle-eyed nurse came running out of reception saying: ‘Haven’t you forgot something?’ Just over two years later, and my parents were playing cricket with friends in the stretch of scrubland outside our flat; when I was in need of something, I ran up to my mother who was in bat. The ball arrived at her stump the same time I did, she missed the ball and broke my nose. Thank God for the NHS. Aged sixteen, down to five stone in weight, everything had been tried, to understand why I was slowly dying – a nurse’s strike delayed final test results coming in, but eventually they discovered I had Addison’s Disease. Thank God for the NHS. And subsequently, I have frequented various hospitals as more diagnoses of auto-immune attacks have been found. Thank God for….yes, you get the picture. (more…)

Guest Post by Ali Jones: Is Home Really a Choice? (with poem ‘Overspill’)

housingHousing in the United Kingdom has always been an area fraught with disparities. When cities began to expand post-industrial revolution, and more places to live were needed in urban settings, people began to move on a scale that hadn’t been seen before.  This flocking of people from rural settings towards employment, allowed opportunistic private builders to provide densely populated and disorganised developments, which subjected many families to poor and overcrowded living conditions, without effective sanitation or natural light. There was pressure on the Government to begin looking at housing issues, and they were slowly persuaded to intervene.

Governments began to pass various Acts mainly aimed at addressing the worst areas of housing unfit for habitation, or to improve or demolish existing houses. The most important Act came in 1890: the ‘Housing for the Working Classes Act’. Efforts were made to build and regulate private Common Lodging Houses that catered for those in most need; often single men who lived in dormitory style accommodation. The Housing and Town Planning Act of 1919 (The Addison Act) was seen as a watershed in the provision of corporation (council) housing.

After World War Two, and the escalation of the housing crisis in relation to slum clearance programmes, many councils began to develop peripheral estates on the edges of towns and cities. Sometimes, boundary lines were expanded to include these new places, and people were moved from overcrowded inner-city areas out onto the far edges of communities.

There were many common problems with such new suburban developments, such as distances from town centres and lack of adequate bus services. People were often moved in before road and pavements were complete and had to deal with feelings of loss and isolation amongst thick mud, while they tried to settle into their new spaces.

Profile PicI grew up on an estate that had been made to house an ‘overspill’ population who were moved from London as part of slum clearances in the 1950s. I have often wondered who came up with that label, and whether a better term might have been used. It has always struck me that rehousing must have been a traumatic experience, even for stoic communities who had lived through bombing raids and been trained to keep calm and carry on, no matter what was happening.

Sense of home and belonging are powerful things, and the poetry of landscape and identity is something I am working on in my own writing. In this poem, I aim to address what it might have been like, to come from London to a middle England market town, reliant on farming as its main industry, and try to put down roots amongst a population who were both hostile and voyeuristic in their approach to the moved-in city dwellers. Such feelings ripple through generations. I don’t know if things have moved on, with current house prices rocketing, legal changes around lead tenants, multi occupancy tenancy, shared housing and overcrowding a common experience; and those at the lower end of earning possibilities, once again being placed at the mercy of the more economically powerful. Occasionally the media shine a light on stories of those who are moved far from family and friends, as was shown in the film ‘I Daniel Blake’, and unfortunately such cases are more often than not shown through negative and critical constructs. Perhaps where we call home isn’t really a choice?


Ali Jones is a teacher, and writer, living in Oxford, England. She holds an MA in English, focused on poetry in domestic spaces and has written poetry in a variety of forms for many years. She is a mother of three. She is interested in the relationships between place and personal, in terms of ancestry, the everyday, geology, folk lore and fairy tales.  Her work has appeared in Fire, Poetry Rivals Spoken Word Anthology, Strange Poetry, Ink Sweat and Tears, Snakeskin Poetry, Atrium, Picaroon Poetry, Mother’s Milk Books, The Lake Magazine, Breastfeeding Matters, Breastfeeding Today and Green Parent magazine. She writes a regular column for Breastfeeding Matters Magazine, and blogs for The Motherload. She was the winner of the Green Parent Writing Prize in 2016, the runner up for the Mother’s Milk prize for prose in 2016, and has also written for The Guardian. Her poetry pamphlets, Heartwood and Omega are forthcoming with Indigo Dreams press in 2018.





Rainy Saturday afternoons
winds ripple coffee over puddles. Below privet,
slugs stream out among an elaborate calligraphy
of dogshit and cigarette ends, the discarded and unwelcome.

Behind lines and thresholds, reproduction masters
hang in gilded frames. Chintz, Wedgewood kept for best,
plastic imitating willow, to hold prizes of Golden Delicious.

In the kitchens, Five Spice, Angel Delight,
a brick of Neapolitan wrapped in newspaper,
crouches low in the cool beneath Formica.

Radios speak into silence.


At night, the old country seeps back into the estate,
a new-born place, abstract finding form.  Foxes root
beneath manicured hedges and turn over ashcans.
Moths ghost around sodium lights, mist hovers over lawns.
Spirits laugh in dark alleys, and whistle down chimneys.

When they first arrive, children walk the streets,
spying on houses of  ones they think better off,
those only joined to one other, or even completely detached;
eying interiors, rooms with spaces in the middle of them.

In winter, it is at its harshest, the most unforgiving.
Stone statues squatting by gateposts,
bulbs pricking the soil like neatly stitched seams,
blackened branches of plum and  cherry reaching
for a watercolour sun. The edges punctuated
by a shock of red; a phone box or an idling Post Van.

At the boundary, more open to the sky, a spit of wildwood,
elder, and spindle, treading mythical lines, along the periphery.

To stand there here is like peering over the rim of the world
into a fairy-tale. Only the post-box, for some reason placed
at the end, on the wrong side of the road, stands like
a crimson exclamation mark, in solidarity with suburban sprawl

New-borns need to find their own patterns and rituals,
the lineation of milk bottles on steps, washing flying
early as possible to beat the neighbours in a competition
that was always unspoken. Its heartbeat becomes rhythms
of daily chores, conversations over chestnut palings, chain-link,
the ongoing geometry of connection and distance.

New people cannot be avoided, made insubstantial
by bricks and mortar. They cluster and constellate;
meteorites travelling far from their origins. Imagine them,
stepping home from work into waiting warm slippers,
unwinding in cool gardens that smell of lavender and honeysuckle.

At twilight, stars appearing, maybe someone raises a hand,
as if to touch their brightness, the sky here so much clearer
than damp squibs spied through London smog.


What is a home anyway? A place with four walls, and a roof,
with your people and things in it, a place to lay your head.

A place that doesn’t threaten to collapse and wall you up in dust.
Separation is deception, there is simplicity in taking people,

lifting them out and placing them elsewhere. Distance is a long thread
that pulls in a new town, all factories, farming, warehouses, shift patterns,

shopkeepers, safety boots. Happiness is implied. Here is your own house.
You will have a garden, clear air to breathe, jobs a plenty, here is a fresh start.

Maybe moving was like picking at the edges of an old wound,
or ripping a plaster off too quickly and taking the scab away.

At night, in empty roads, a chorus of wings passes over dark rooftops,
fields beyond stretch silently, and at a window a single bulb burns

where someone sits up late, sips tea; remembers.

For Display Purposes Only by Emily Harrison

Second from the archives for Mental Health Awareness Week, from the brilliant Emily Harrison

Proletarian Poetry

My son is now eighteen, has a full-time job and is happy. He is ‘functioning’. This comes after almost three years of depression which at its worst involved self-harm and suicidal ideation. He left school in Year 10, couldn’t cope with another school, nor a part-time one. All schools found it difficult to support him, besides giving him extra time to do tasks, which was not what he needed. In fairness to them, although we didn’t realise it at the time, he simply needed to be withdrawn completely. So for him, no qualifications, no ‘normal’ pathway that as parents you just assume they will take (but boy, can he play guitar and knows his way round a recording studio).

world mental health dayFluoxetine and psychiatry didn’t help; it wasn’t until he was free of daily commitments, went on mirtazapine and saw a therapist fortnightly, that he slowly came back to us. He is…

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Accident, and Hangings by Melissa Lee-Houghton

It is National Mental Health Awareness Week, so here is a poem from the archives by the inimitable Melissa Lee Houghton

Proletarian Poetry

wspdToday’s post is not about class. It is given over to World Suicide Prevention Day.

Three days before his GCSE exams, a boy in my sons’ school committed suicide. It was ‘out of the blue’, as was that of the well-known human rights barrister Michael Mansfield’s daughter. It is something we are all close to; one it twenty think about suicide, in the UK thirteen men a day kill themselves. WHO figures estimate that around 800,000 people commit suicide each day across the world. It is an epidemic we should not ignore.

The poet Abegail Morley has been posting poems in the run-up to the day by a number of poets, including today’s featured poet Melissa Lee-Houghton (you can read here). Melissa sent me a number of poems for Proletarian Poetry, which I was privileged to read, and will be included in her forthcoming collection. They are…

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