Month: November 2014

November Review – From Nana’s Luck to The Last Gang in Town?

It’s been a great second month for Proletarian Poetry (I would give you the stats but that’s a bit too geeky. I am however, warming my hands over them now).

I have got to know some great poets who have kindly agreed to have their poems featured on the site. As I’ve said before, in terms of working class lives, this is about the poems not the poets; I secretly believe that all poets have written a working class poem, they just don’t know it yet – it’s a class consciousness problem 🙂 Also as I write this, I am reminded how many of the poets I have seen read this month; all are great performers in their own right and way – you really can’t beat live poetry. For example, on Saturday I was at The Shuffle where two featured poets on PP, Inua Ellams and Karen McCarthy Woolf read alongside, Tom Chivers, Holly Corfield Carr, Gale Burns, and Harry Mann. The theme was the environment and there were a great range of poems on the subject.

This month’s poems have covered a number of themes to do with: family, gender, identity, racism, urban life, work and industry, food, and music (got to have the music). There are mothers, fathers, grandparents, butchers, assembly line workers, brass bands, activists, priests, loan sharks, and (to use the title of Inua Ellams’ poem) Lovers, Liars, Conjurers and Thieves. (more…)

The Last Gang in Town? and Englishman/Irishman by Tony Walsh (Longfella)

There aren’t manTony Walshy advantages to being fifty (or thereabouts), but one of them is to have been around when Punk broke the windows of mainstream music. Tony Walsh’s (Longfella) poem The Last Gang in Town?, is more than a piece of nostalgia though with its lines from Clash songs (who’ll fight the law, who’ll rock the casbah); it is a call to arms for the bands out there today, to find their voice in political action in the same way as The Clash and many other bands did at that time. The late 1970s was in many ways a different country, as Tony’s other poem Englishman/Irishman demonstrates very well (‘I would often tell Englishman, Irishman, Scotsman jokes/to my Irish father‘). As he explains, this was ‘written about my own childhood and the experience of being half-Irish in the troubled and racist 1970s – a situation with parallels to that faced by Muslims today. Also about male working-class emotional inarticulacy in the days before Trisha!(more…)

Welcome to the Bike Factory by Derrick Buttress

Derrick ButtressIn some ways, Derrick Buttress‘ darkly satirical poem from his latest collection could have been titled, Welcome to the Factory, for it reads as a manual of how all major industrial companies were set up and are run. This is especially true for the part, ‘followed by advice‘, where you are shown how ‘not to get crushed‘, ‘what to do if you find a finger missing‘ (we must assume it isn’t your own), and ‘of course’ ‘what to do with the missing finger‘ (no mention is made of the fingerless casualty). Then later ‘what we will pay you and what it will cost you‘.  And finally the very clever repetition of the line,

after which will we convey you
to the assembly line
to the assembly line
to the assembly line (more…)

Directions (after Billy Collins) by Inua Ellams

Inua Ellams Pic

Inua Ellams

The two poems featured here by the multi-talented Inua Ellams take us through London streets at night. Directions (after Billy Collins’ poem. Please read this before you read Inua’s) is a hand-on-our-shoulder poem, talking to us as a friend familiar with the poet’s home (‘you know the wild bush at the back of the flat/the one that scrapes the kitchen window’).

The poem was written in response to Billy Collins’, closely following his structure, tone, line breaks and mirroring his epiphany. Where Collins’ Directions takes us into the beauty of nature: high up ‘you will eventually come to a long stone/ridge with a border of pine trees/which is as high as you can go’, Inua’s is rooted in a deep urban setting where your journey takes you ‘to a rough rise/of stairs that reach without railings/the run-down roof’. Nature is there but it ‘struggles for soil and water/and fails where the train tracks scar the ground?’ (more…)

The Pay Poke by Owen Gallagher

Owen Gallagher PicEvery Thursday in the bookies, men would rush in after four o’clock, look up at the board of an upcoming race and the prices of the horses, quickly scribble something on a betting slip and hand it over to me. As I looked at the bet to see if I needed to lay it off, I would hear the crackle of cellophane and the tear of an envelope. The man’s wage packet. His ‘pay poke’. Opened in front of me instead of his wife. They would often go home with an empty envelope.

Owen Gallagher takes the ‘pay poke’ and writes from the perspective of a son who has to deal with the death of his father and the payments to be made from his father’s last wage packet: to the man from the loan company and the Priest, who was paid in silver and made them ‘feel special when he gave the house/a blessing, called each of us by our name.’ Thereafter there is a change in roles where the ‘mother became the man‘ and ‘now I set aside the money‘.

This is a rights of passage poem; (more…)

I Come From by Dean Atta

Dean Atta Pic

Dean Atta

Following on nicely from Kim Moore’s My People, is Dean Atta’s kaleidoscopic ‘I Come From’. Here is a biography of many lives lived; ‘a wonderful mother‘, ‘griots and grandmothers, and her storytellers”, with people with a ‘story or poem that never made it into a book‘.  The poem moves at pace from food and its origins of the UK, Jamaica, and Cyprus (shepherd’s pie and Sunday roast/Jerk chicken and stuffed vine leaves), to travel, home, music, and how they make us the people we are. Dean has put everything into this pot and you truly get a sense of the person he is and the history of ‘his’ people, who have come from different parts of the world.

I will feast on this poem for quite some time (more…)

My People by Kim Moore

Kim Moore PicI always try to read the poems I feature many times before knowing what I want to say about them. But for Kim Moore’s My People it took many more. When I heard Kim read it at The Shuffle in the Poetry Café I knew straight away I wanted to include it on the site but wasn’t sure how I felt about it.

Take the title – My People. The term conjures up so many mixed and opposing images; from those whose ancestors were the victims of slavery through to its use by dictators to legitimise their rule. And I think this extremity of use of the term mirrors the paradox in how Kim describes the people of My People. On the one hand they are the backbone of what politicians call ‘hard working families‘ (nee working class); ‘I come from scaffolders and plasterers and shoemakers and carers‘, low paid people who have to strike for their livelihoods. Yet on the other, they have been in prison, can dip lightly into casual racism, and ‘in the time of slavery my people would have had them if they were the type of people who could afford them, which they probably weren’t.‘ (I love the irony of that). Kim then throws us a curve ball when saying, ‘If I knew who my people were before women got the vote, they would not have cared about the vote‘, which raises issues to do with apathy towards political elites, the role of working class women, as well as whether we are ever part of a people. I think it is a problem the Left has in political terms (and I like to think I am part of their People). The Right don’t care really. (more…)