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.
Our first poem this month was Nana’s Luck by Angela France, which at first appears to be about superstition and luck but really concerns the belief in the ways of a strong grandmother, who provides guidance on how to win at bingo, and if you don’t win it’s because, ‘you ‘ent thinking right !’
Roy Marshall’s Meat is Murder, as the title suggests is a dark visceral tale of a local butcher who comes under attack by animal rights’ activists during the 1980s and turns to drastic measures to keep the family business going. I felt the poem also covered the decline in local shops (how many butchers, bakers and that other-thing-makers do we see on our high streets these days?).
Then we had the ‘brassy’ Jo Bell’s ‘Mute‘. Dedicated to Tony Walsh (Longfella) – see below – it is a beautiful poem about a brass band in the North of England, who keep up the tradition of making music both as a way of socialising and maintaining their identity of being strong and proud.
Kim Moore’s ‘My People‘ took a close look at the people she knows, is in contact with, and lives amongst. She so starkly (and I think bravely) addresses the heterogeneity, history, and contradictions, of a class of people who are either lionised, patronised, or vilified by the media and politicians as the lumpenproletariat.
Dean Atta is very much a true performer, but his poems work so well on the page. I saw Dean perform ‘I Come From’ at Keats House (on the same bill as Jo Bell). This really is a wonderful mash-up of identity, family, education and food. There is just so much in this poem, it is Dean’s life story and many other people’s as well, in just over twenty lines. Amazing.
Owen Gallagher’s The Pay Poke, also has many layers, to do with, religion, politics, gender, the loss of the ‘head of the family’ and how they manage to carry on, all from the perspective of the boy who has to quickly become a man, even if this means him taking on the traditional female role.
I saw Inua Ellams read Directions (after Billy Collins) on Saturday at the Poetry Cafe. The poem was written in response to Billy Collins’, closely following his structure, tone, line breaks and mirroring his epiphany. But whereas Collins’ is a rural setting, Inua’s is deep in the urban environment of London he knows so well.
Welcome to the Bike Factory by Derrick Buttress is a darkly coruscating satire of how artisan trades such as bike making were changed by large companies from being an art to a function, and a skill into a unit of wealth. But there is also advice on how not to get crushed and what to do with a missing finger if you find one on the factory floor (always worth knowing, that one).
Last up this month, but by no means least, comes a barnstorming performance by Tony Walsh (Longfella). Tony’s ‘The Last Gang in Town?‘ is a ‘call to arms to young bands’ (not my words but Billy Bragg’s no less) in the form of sonnet that takes lines from famous Clash songs. Now, my friends (both male and female) don’t read or listen to poetry (I am working on them) but they liked this, a lot. One friend told me, “Fuckin’ great. Made me really angry. But in a good way!”
There are also other poems from each of the poets, most on video.
So that was November. I’m going to try and get as many poems in as I can before that end of the year thing. I want to widen the net to include poets whose work has been translated, such as Najwan Darwish. But also, I am hoping to have Patience Agbabi, Malika Booker, and a few more. Thanks very much for reading, liking, and commenting; please keep sharing and sending in any suggestions for poems or if you have comments about the site.
Oh, and of those stats? Sorry, couldn’t resist. Over 3,000 views in two months, not that it matters, right?