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…)

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…)

Mute by Jo Bell


Jo Bell on her canal boat

I know there are brass bands where I come from in the Midlands. I know there are some further South. But just like Rugby League, brass bands conjure up a vision of the North (of England). (Have a scan of the English brass band population if you don’t believe me).

Jo Bell’s poem for her friend, the poet Tony Walsh (Longfella), is fully aware of the stereotypes associated with perspectives of the ‘muck and brass’ North and the men behind the horns (‘and yes, they’re fat and balding, with beer wet lips/and skin grown pale in club backrooms’). Apparently, one of the reasons favoured by a local owner for setting up the original band in the mid-19th century, was that it would be ‘most likely … a way of keeping his employees from the pub!’ – well it seems that he failed on that count. This reminds me of The North by Paul Summers (‘we..are more than foul-mouthed men in smoky clubs…but not much more’) featured on this site. (more…)

Meat is Murder by Roy Marshall

roy marshall pic

Roy Marshall (photo by Nick Rawle*)

Today’s featured poem Meat is Murder is, as the title suggests, not for the squeamish (‘bled down the step’, ‘hanging those soft stretched bodies’) but there is such beauty in the imagery (‘dew-clawed and raspberry eyed’, ‘ruby jewels and red jellies’, ‘lifted on a diesel breeze’). The butcher of the poem is under attack and turns to drastic action in order to keep the family business going (‘the son of a butcher, who was son of a butcher’s son) to the point where this time it is possibly not the animals whose blood has been spilled.

The poem is based on a true story from Roy’s home town in the 1980s, when a butcher’s shop had paint thrown over it, I am sure is inspired by The Smiths’ song. Now, vegetarianism has become a more popular choice of many people and there appears less antipathy towards your local butcher, although this is probably to do with a decline in independent traders. The world is a more corporate place where pressures on profits mean economies of scale translate into ‘mixed meat’ solutions as the revelation of horse meat in the EU food chain showed. It is this development I think that makes the poem very poignant; the decline in family and independent businesses and the rise in large corporations whose income matches that of small countries and whose political influence is much greater. Ironically, it has always been the capitalists that have understood Karl Marx better than the Marxists (read John Lanchester on Marx at 193). (more…)

Nanna’s Luck by Angela France

angela france

Angela France

On first reading Angela’s poem recalling her somewhat cunning (winked at her cronies) grandmother, it appears to be all about superstition (the four leafed clover in her purse) and luck (they called her a jammy beggar) especially when set in a bingo hall at a holiday camp.

But this is also a poem about a strong matriarch, her strength of belief and of those who believed in her (I spent hours on my knees, counting leaves on clover). And there, at the end is the poignant twist, that when used to ‘lend strength, bolster radiation, shrink tumours’, even when you find the perfect clover, and it still doesn’t work, the reason? I’ll let Angela’s grandmother tell you. (more…)

A Cento from October’s Poems

photo (3)It has been a great pleasure to have featured eleven poems up to the end of October. In order, these were:

1.  Birmingham Roller by Liz Berry (with a video of Liz reading it so beautifully).

2.  Hoxton Stories by Karen McCarthy Woolf

3.  This Zinc Roof by Kei Miller.

4.  North by Paul Summers

5.  Shitneck. Playing the Name Game by Steve Ely (with a video of him reading his poem Arthur Scargill)

6.  Quality Street by Debris Stevenson (with a great performance from her at Wordsmiths & Co)

7.  Portraits of Women – East London 1888 by Anna Robinson

8.  Living Space by Imtiaz Dharker (with a video of her reading two poems for Bloodaxe)

9.  Last Orders for Chesterfield by Helen Mort

10. A Conversation with a Man in Wetherspoon’s by Raymond Antrobus (with a video of him acting it out)

11. I Beg to Apply for the Post by Catherine Graham