At the beginning of Proletarian Poetry, I didn’t have a clear idea of what themes might emerge; I didn’t want to focus on the usual perceptions of working class lives being all about hardship, discrimination, etc.. But I did want to take the tradition of good poetry, that is ‘to tell all the truth but tell it slant‘; to seek out poems that picked something you wouldn’t imagine, such as This Zinc Roof by Kei Miller, and show how it has an impact on peoples’ lives.
Kate Wise’s poem, Fairytale does just that. Takes an idea of the past but tells it through an unusual example; of a young woman, her great Aunt Alma, whose first job is as a Fairy on top of a Christmas Tree. Is this a fairytale? On first reading you might think so. However, this poem takes another theme of PP, that of strong minded grandparents. Here we have a grandmother, who like Angela France’s Nana’s Luck knows what it is right and what is wrong with the world, and says it in a matter-of-fact way, although also with wit, that has no concern for any consequence.
Auntie Alma has her day when becoming a Fairy on top of ‘the best tree in town‘, which was a real treat for the daughters of the workers (the seamstresses) and made her sister, our narrator ‘a bit jealous‘. But only for a moment, as ‘Life wasn’t much of one for her after that’. And then as if of no particular importance, tells of a girl who visited from Belgium, who ‘went back in ’39, we never saw her again.’ These last few words, told almost in passing, foreshadow what we all know came after, and how life was never the same again for those that lived through it.
But as Kate explains, her grandmother “doesn’t go in for any sort of displays of emotion, dealing with everything in the same pragmatic, no-nonsense way – personal, domestic and national tragedies get given the same ‘time of day’ as an irritating rise in the price of teabags… She (along with many friends) worked as a machinist at Rolls in Crewe during WW2; she lost touch with her sister after Alma married a man who turned out to be very much ‘a Bad Sort’. She maintains a firm faith in ‘a nice biscuit’ as the solution to all ills – and the convenient closure of a conversation.” Kit Kat anyone?
Kate was born in Cheshire and now lives in London, fitting poetry in around being a mum to two under-fours. She has recently been published in New Trad Journal, Angle, Prole and StepAway magazines. She was commended in the 2013 Cafe Writers and 2014 Manchester Cathedral Poetry Competitions, and placed third in the 2014 Ware Poets Open competition. She would like to get more sleep…
Your Great Auntie Alma? A secretary.
Mind you, that wasn’t her first job.
Her first was being a fairy –
a Christmas temp. Yes. She stood at the top
of the tree of Lipman’s, the tailors,
down in Crewe.
They were Jewish you know. Exotic. For Crewe.
It was spectacular, every year. The best tree in town,
and each year, they employed a girl, you know, a local one,
the daughter of one of their seamstresses and so on,
to be its fairy.
On top of the tree?
Well, you know, balancing behind, up a step-ladder.
But it looked the real thing, the way they did it.
So clever. Beautiful. I was a bit jealous.
Still, best she had her chance then.
Life wasn’t much of one for her after that.
They used to have a girl visit them. From Belgium. Julienne
her name was. We played together.
Isn’t julienne a method of…
do you mean Juliet?
Such a pretty name. Anyway, after she went back
in ’39, we never saw her again.