A lot of waiting goes on at a hospital and consequently a lot of thinking, where the imagination takes over. My first son was born in St Thomas’ Hospital in 1999. He was put into the neo-natal unit for the first week of his life and my wife was given a room facing the Houses of Parliament as we waited for his recovery (he was fine). Anyhow, at night I would look across at Parliament’s golden facade and wonder what the MPs were up to at that particular time; yes, sessions would still be going on, and possibly committee meetings, but I also imagined there to be lots of drinking and other intra-party ‘extra-curricular activities’, all in the name of oiling the cogs of democracy. I was almost tempted to go down to A&E to see if I could spot an errant MP.
I am reminded of this by Roz Goddard’s delightful poem Hammersmith Hospital 1968. The hospital is situated in an area of scrub land in West London. What’s interesting about it, is it sits right next to one of the most well-known (notorious?) prisons in the UK, Wormwood Scrubs. And like myself, our poet is waiting, and whilst waiting is looking out the window at the prisoners during recreation time. ‘I can see men in the exercise/yard larking about.’ But she has a very active imagination, ‘I imagine/them issuing threats and swearing and a fight/breaking out.’ (more…)
I’ve moved us away from ‘that London’ and back up to the North of England for two poems that tell a story of the town of Barnsley, through its ‘chop’, and in ‘Seams’ that of Yorkshire more widely during the 1980s.
Like Roy Marshall’s poem, ‘Meat is Murder’, Kay Buckley’s description of the butcher’s in ‘Barnsley Chop‘ is visceral and time-bound; ‘Back in day, when meat came in brown paper,/the blood soaked right through‘, and ‘those rubbery links hung like fat lips/from uppercuts on S shaped metal hooks‘. The ‘Barnsley Chop’ is being prepared for a visit by the Prince of Wales and comes to symbolise that mix of ceremony and tradition with a down-to-earth truth to self. So the meal is served on best china and the chop has ‘more meat than you can eat’, as though setting up the Prince (who is no ‘trencherman’) for a fall; and then the Mayor, ‘the host, ex-workhouse and a big union man./He didn’t stand on ceremony‘ with his stern humour when telling the Prince, ‘“If tha’ don’t eat that, I’ll tell thee mother.”’ (more…)
It is said of Truman Capote that his book, In Cold Blood was the first non-fiction novel. Based on in-depth research, the book tells of a family murdered by two young men in Holcomb, Kansas in 1959. It was part of what became known as the New Journalism by the likes of Tom Wolfe, Norman Mailer and Joan Didion, who used literary devices to tell factual stories. Today, this type of writing has become known as creative non-fiction. Their approach was a form of social archaeology, where the writer is led by the subject, often taking them into strange situations (read Hunter S Thompson for more of that).
Poetry being the most (ahem) truthful of writing forms, I think could be described as creative non-fiction. It often tells true stories either of the poet or others’ lives, and relevant to PP giving voice to to people who are rarely heard or depicted truthfully; Anna Robinson did this beautifully on this site when portraying the lives of the women who were killed by Jack the Ripper.
The same is true of the two poems featured here by Hilaire and Joolz Sparkes as part of their London Undercurrents project; this is a fascinating ongoing poetry project to unearth the voices of strong, feisty women who have lived and worked in the capital city over many centuries. Each poet focuses on her different patch of London – Joolz north of the river and Hilaire, south – bringing to life the imagined, real, everyday and extraordinary women whose untold stories lie just beneath the surface. (more…)
“Capitalism has subjected the country to the rule of the towns. It has created enormous cities. Capitalism has agglomerated population, centralised means of production, and has concentrated property in a few hands.”
Karl Marx was 195 on May 5th last year, and wrote these words albeit using the word ‘bourgeoisie’ instead of capitalism. John Lanchester used this trick when quoting Marx to show how prescient he was in describing the structure of capitalism and the way in which it changes the landscape (I sometimes think that capitalists understand Marx better than Marxists). (more…)
‘There is nothing one man will not do to another.’ (The Visitor, Carolyn Forché)
On 7th January 1915 the war in Europe was at a stalemate. Soldiers were still dying for an unknown cause but the papers in the UK at least, were headlined with floods that covered much of the country. On the following day, the future UK Prime Minister David Lloyd George, in response to the war not ‘being over by Christmas’, said that half a million new volunteers should not be ‘thrown away in futile enterprises’ and by ‘this intermittent flinging …. against impregnable positions’.
‘Tumbling over hills, likes waves of the sea/Staggering on, attracted magnetically by Death.’ (At the Beginning of the War, Peter Baum, 1915) (more…)
Last night I intended going to the Poetry Cafe but life got in the way. It was the second London event of Telltale Press, a poetry collective (this site likes collectives) set up by ‘poetgal’ Robin Houghton. There were some great poets on the card and besides wanting to meet Robin for the first time, I was looking forward to hearing Catherine Smith reading from her new collection, The New Cockaigne. Instead, after doing many other things, my thoughts veered towards that dark, featureless street in the heart of Covent Garden. (more…)
Like Jane Commane I was born in Coventry; my parents came to the city in the late 1950s from Glasgow and Gateshead as part of one of the biggest internal migrations of the post war era.
So I count myself as being one of Jane’s Midland’s Kids, who ‘grew up on the back seats of the long-gone marques of British manufacturing‘. Our first car was a second hand Wolseley, which was so big its backside stuck out of the garage. Not one for patriotism, we nonetheless bought Midland made cars thereafter – the ones ‘slightly crap even new‘. Coventry was a car park, like lots of Midlands cities, and there was many a child left on back seats, particularly in pub car parks, brought out pop and crisps, whilst Daddy had a few jars for the road. (more…)