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

But on reading the collection as a whole you are given the history of Derrick’s Nottingham through his own experiences, which deepens the poem’s meaning. Of a city, much like my own of Coventry, where it’s industrial development was founded on artisan trades such as making bikes (in Coventry’s case this arose out of an expansion of the watch-making industry) and how it ‘broke down the art into function/the skill into units of wealth‘. In other poems Derrick goes further back in that dark time such as with his heartbreaking found poem Working Girl (here is an excerpt).
Sarah Gooder, aged 8
I’m a trapper in the Gawber pit.
It does not tire me,
but I have to trap without a light
and I’m scared.
I go at half-past three in the morning
and come out at half-past five in the afternoon.

Sometimes I sing when it is light,
but not in the dark.
I dare not sing then.
I go to school on Sunday
and learn Reading Made Easy.
They teach me to pray:
God bless me and make me a good servant.

But Derrick’s collection is not all horror stories for it is also tinged with humour throughout . One of my favourite lines was in ‘After the Accident’ (he had fallen off his bike), where he talks of a great local poet:
‘My limp made me a poet.
It gave me an affinity with Lord Byron,
although I hadn’t read any of his poems.’

Derrick Buttress left school in Nottingham in 1946 at the age of fourteen and went straight into a factory. After thirty years he ripped up his clocking–in card and set off for York University where he read English Lit. Since then his poems have been widely published in magazines. Two television plays were produced by BBC 2 and several radio plays were broadcast on BBC Radio 4. His poetry collections are: Waiting for the Invasion 2002; My Life as a Minor Character 2005; Destinations 2009. A Memoir, Broxtowe Boy was published in 2004 and its sequel, Music While You Work, in 2007.  All the above published by Shoestring Press. A collection of short stories, Sing to Me, was published in 2011. At the age of 82, he has no plans to return to the factory.

Welcome to the Bike Factory

We will begin with the history of the Company,
how six artisans of the old school
sweated over the manipulation of steel
until even their skill could not keep pace,
how the genius with an eye on the future
broke down the art into function,
the skill into units of wealth
that paid ten thousand numbers
clocking on, clocking off

followed by advice

on how not to get crushed, cut or torn,
what to do if you find a finger missing,
(what to do with the missing finger)
how to deal with the shock, electrocution,
broken foot bones and skin disease
(through no fault of ours)
what to say with the man with the tang
of a file thrust through his wrist
and other information
relevant to your survival:

your point of departure
your chance of promotion
what we will pay you
what it will cost you

after which we will convey you
to the assembly line
to the assembly line
to the assembly line

One comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s