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.

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THE POETS

FRAN LOCK: “…in those hotbed-of-non-event towns, / she dug in her heels, and she bit back her/ anger…” – From ‘our mother’s day will come.

Fran is the author of four books: Flatrock (Little Episodes, 2011), The Mystic and the Pig Thief (Salt, 2014), Dogtooth (Out-Spoken Press, 2017) and Muses & Bruises (Manifesto Press/Culture Matters, 2017). Her work is concerned with the unlikely strategies for resistance in the lives of working-class women and girls.

PETER RAYNARD: ‘some of us are trench-foot perfect-fit coffin fodder taken in by the pointed finger of men bred from a moustache to dig a scar down France to bury ourselves in’ – From Tommy and the Common Five-Eighters.

Peter is the author of two books: Precarious (Smokestack, 2018) & The Combination: a poetic coupling of the Communist Manifesto (Culture Matters, 2018).

MARTIN HAYES – “...because in the end/ don’t we need these jobs/ for more than just their money don’t we need these jobs/ so that we can stand in front of mirrors/ and look at ourselves/ without feeling worthless/ or disconnected…” – From stitching this Universe together 

Martin has worked in the London courier industry for over 30 years. He is the author of four books: Letting Loose The Hounds, (Redbeck Press). When We Were Almost Like Men,(Smokestack). The Things Our Hands Once Stood For, (Culture Matters, 2018) and Roar! (Smokestack, 2018).

NADIA DREWS“It was in the way she spit./Jutting jets, tongue-funnelled,/Through a rizla-thin grimacing gap./Like a mill-misting drizzle.”– From The things she did not say

Nadia grew up in San Francisco sun and Greater Manchester mizzle. She is a former Farrago Poetry Slam Champion who protests through songs and plays including the pub-staged I Love Vinegar Vera (What becomes of the Broken Hearted). She is currently working on a collection for Culture Matters to be published later this year.

ALAN DUNNETTCrucifixions/ on either side and winter/ coming on although it is still warm./ In the streets are banners/ and megaphones sounding/ through open shop doors,/ marching, democracy, discussion,/ disagreement. Let me help you up./ It’s not too late.”– From When The Well Runs Dry

Alan works mainly at Drama Centre, CSM, where he is also a UCU rep. His poetry has appeared online and in print including Stand, Skylight 47, The Rialto, The Recusant, The Robin Hood Book, The Best New British and Irish Poets 2016 (Eyewear). A Third Colour is Alan’s debut collection (Culture Matters, 2018).

ALAN MORRISON “…it’s permanent open season for press-/ Persecution of the unemployed as/ “Parasites” –fleas of unearned leisure;/ Stigmatizing strugglers as “scroungers”/ Is England’s guiltless pleasure…”From ‘“St. Jude” & the Welfare Jew’

Alan is author of eight books, including Keir Hardie Street (Smokestack, 2010), Captive Dragons (Waterloo, 2011), Blaze a Vanishing/ The Tall Skies (Waterloo, 2013), Shadows Waltz Haltingly (Lapwing, Belfast, 2015), and the Forward-nominated Tan Raptures (Smokestack, 2017). His epic poem-in-progress, Odour of Devon Violet, can be sampled online (www.odourofdevonviolet.com). His forthcoming collection, Shabby Gentile, is due out with Culture Matters later this year.

 

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.

The problem of discrimination is usually seen to be individual or institutional; but a collection of the individual across a spectrum of institutions, is the opaque face of ‘steady-as-we-go’. Organisations such as the English Defence League, are quite rightly the poster boys of racism and violence. And evil clowns like Toby Young or Katie Hopkins feed this extremism. But the tut-tutting of the liberal middle is not enough. Well-meaning and instructive journalists like George Monbiot, Larry Elliot, and Johnathan Freedland, who expose the corruption and inequality of the elites, are part of that privileged collective. We don’t see them resigning and making way for a more diverse set of journalists; and we see the same with politicians, academics, and I’m afraid to say those who gate-keep poetry (there are some exceptions, with Michael Mackmin at the Rialto introducing the editing development programme some five years ago).

WWM DEB ALMA (50 of 50)Deborah Alma’s poignant poem ‘Pink Pyjama Suit’ I feel encapsulates this ‘problem’ of difference, in particular when identity is far from monolithic and when you have to walk out that door, conscious of who you are and what people might think of you. I must have been just five,/ in my pink, shiny shalwar kameez.// Mummi-ji, I don’t want to wear it to school./ North London laughs too easily,/ makes fools of us and this mix-up family, this/ half-caste council-estate bastard.’ I have never been one to use identity in selecting poets, it has always been about the poem. But I also know that I won’t get the diversity of voice, without the diversity of the individuals. As you will see from Deborah’s bio, she is part of that diversity of voice, both in background and foreground.

This sentiment of the oblivious liberal elite, was more succinctly and directly made by Lisa Mackenzie, (author of Getting By) at an Oxford Union debate of all places, when saying: “I met Jonathon Dimbleby the other day, he thought it was hilarious that he met a working class academic, couldn’t understand it, he said: ‘how can you be a working class academic, You’ve got a Phd?’ my response was, ‘Working class people can read books’.” QED.

You can hear Deborah read her poem on BBC Radio’s Woman Hour here (from 32 mins)

Deborah Alma is a mixed-race Indian/ English woman, born in London and now living in the Welsh Marches. She is a UK poet with a MA in Creative Writing, Honorary Research fellow at Keele University & taught Writing Poetry at Worcester University. She has worked using poetry with people with dementia, in hospice care & with vulnerable groups. She is also Emergency Poet prescribing poetry from her vintage ambulance. She is editor of Emergency Poet-an anti-stress poetry anthology, The Everyday Poet- Poems to live by (both Michael O’Mara) and #Me Too – rallying against sexual assault & harassment- a women’s poetry anthology (Fair Acre Press).  Her True Tales of the Countryside is published by The Emma Press and a first collection Dirty Laundry (published by Nine Arches Press, May 2018).

Pink Pyjama Suit

I must have been just five,
in my pink, shiny shalwar kameez.

Auntie, Karachi, pinched my cheeks,
Chorti pyara, like a doll
like a little blonde doll.
Walk this way, try some dancing.
Behen! Now you have
your little blonde doll to play with!

Mummi-ji, I don’t want to wear it to school.
North London laughs too easily,
makes fools of us and this mix-up family, this
half-caste council-estate bastard.

Miss Minchin, one arm shorter than the other
knew how North London could laugh, and said:
Knock on all six doors and tell them
Miss Minchin says I must show the children
my clothes from Pakistan.

Mummi-ji, the glass on the doors is too high
and all those eyes
as I turn round and round, up on teachers’ tables
to twist in my pretty pink pyjama suit
like a little blonde doll.

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.

The Other One percent? by Peter Raynard

Much is written about the top 1% in our society; the single percentage who were privately educated, have a family history of exclusion from the masses, hold the majority of the world’s wealth, and thus political power. This situation was borne out of the neo-liberal emphasis on the individual; that if you give someone the means to progress, through education, economic freedom, free market, etc., then society as a whole will prosper. Much of this thought is behind the promotion of social mobility, in particular enabling those who have been born into a low economic and social status, who without some help in terms of wider opportunity, will remain both inactive and unproductive. (more…)

‘Barbie’ & ‘Freedom’ by Elaine Baker

barbieNext year Barbie will be sixty years old. Some might say she hasn’t aged a bit; still has that long blond hair, 19 inch waist, the perfect match for the most eligible bachelor in the world. Others would agree that she hasn’t aged a bit, but argue that is the problem. In 2010, Mattel produced a book with Barbie as a computer programmer – impressive? Well, not when she is still reliant on men, “I’m only creating the design ideas,” Barbie says, laughing. “I’ll need Steven and Brian’s help to turn it into a real game!” Then in 2015, Barbie was said to be a feminist in an advert entitled, ‘Imagine the Possibilities.’ I have to admit, it is a good advert. A number of girls, aged around 8 or 9, take on adult roles with responsibility – football coach, Professor, Museum tour guide; and in those roles their audience is the general public who have no idea this is an advert for Barbie. That, however, is the problem. The lead Barbie at the end, is still the iconic, soon-to-be 60 year old, never looked better, blonde haired version, who is surrounded by those more reflective of today’s society. Although, all of them are still tall and slim. In response to such developments, in Nigeria there is now a ‘Queen of Africa’ doll that outsells Barbie. (more…)

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. (more…)