I 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.
From my own personal concern it is also about how the working classes are portrayed in the media (Jeremy Kyle, ahem), film and literature, and was one of the reasons I began this blog. Novels, for example, (and their cinema adaptations), tend to portray Horror Stories of a dysfunctional, criminal, and/or abusive existence (e.g. Trainspotting, Nil by Mouth, Lock Stock, etc.) or Fairy Tales of the need to escape from discrimination and poverty (e.g. Billy Elliot, Educating Rita). What these stories don’t tell is the complexity of working class people’s lives, which are not simply about heroes and villains but also universal themes of love, family, gender, health, etc., outside of any reference to class.
I think poetry goes some way to redressing this imbalance, but not necessarily far enough. So on this blog I want to show the whole panoply of working class lives and I think Kim’s My People does all that within one single poem, summed up by ‘There are many arguments among my people. Nobody likes everybody‘.
Oh, and let’s not forget to ask ourselves that pachyderm in the room question; is the notion of having a ‘People’ a good or a bad thing? What impact does it have on our identity and how we relate to those we may not see as ‘our people’?
Kim is very funny by the way, as you will see here with her reading at the Eric Gregory Awards in 2011.
Kim Moore was born in 1981 and lives and works in Cumbria. Her first full length collection “The Art of Falling” is forthcoming from Seren in April 2015. She won a New Writing North Award in 2014, an Eric Gregory Award in 2011 and the Geoffrey Dearmer Prize in 2012. Her first pamphlet ‘If We Could Speak Like Wolves’ was a winner in The Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition, judged by Carol Ann Duffy, was chosen as an Independent Book of the Year in 2012 and shortlisted for the Michael Marks Pamphlet Award as well as the Lakeland Book of the Year Award.
I come from people who swear without realising they’re swearing.
I come from scaffolders and plasterers and shoemakers and carers,
the type of carers paid pence per minute to visit an old lady’s house.
Some of my people have been inside a prison. Sometimes I tilt
towards them and see myself reflected back. If they were from
Yorkshire, which they’re not, but if they were, they would have been
the ones on the pickets shouting scab and throwing bricks at policemen.
I come from a line of women who get married twice. I come from
a line of women who bring up children and men who go to work.
If I knew who my people were, in the time before women
were allowed to work, they were probably the women who were
working anyway. If I knew who my people were before women
got the vote, they would not have cared about the vote. There are
many arguments among my people. Nobody likes everybody.
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. In the time of casual racism, some of my people
would and will join in. Some of my people know everybody
who lives on their street. They are the type of people who will argue
with the teacher if their child has detention. The women
of my people are wolves and we talk to the moon in our sleep.
(My People appeared in The North magazine)