Month: February 2015

Poems of Working Class Lives by the New and Next Generation Poets

As part of this project I seem to be developing, I will be giving a paper at the Institute of English Studies conference: “New to Next Generation 2014: Three Decades of British and Irish Poetry” on March 13th (come along). I am on a panel entitled Promoting an Inclusive Poetics (I should be careful what I wish for). So as part of developing the paper, I thought I better get to know who the ‘Generation’ poets are.

I have featured four of the Generation Poets on the site so far – from 2014: Hannah Lowe, Kei Miller and Helen Mort; and one from 2004, Patience Agbabi. None from 1994 as yet.

In line with my belief that all poets have written a poem of working class lives, I am going through the poems (at least the ones that are available online at this stage) of each Generation poet to find out if there is any truth to my belief. So this first instalment is a selection from the 1994 ‘New’ Generation – I have looked at eleven of them so far, there are others such as Don Paterson and Kathleen Jamie I know I will find poems from, but there are still a few that I haven’t found one for (e.g. Glyn Maxwell, Lavinia Greenlaw), though I haven’t lost hope.


Moniza Alvi: The Country at My Shoulder is about Moniza’s country of origin, Pakistan, the poverty and gender divide there and how it weighs heavily on her identity.
the women stone-breakers chip away/at boulders, dirt on their bright hems./They await the men and the trucks….I try to shake the dust from the country,/smooth it with my hands.’

Simon Armitage: Clown Punk is very much a poem about identity, of how for some it changes, whereas others may believe it remains the same as exemplified in fading tattoos.
don’t laugh: every pixel of that man’s skin,/is shot through with indelible ink;/as he steps out at the traffic lights/think what he’ll look like in thirty years time.’ (more…)

Dance Class by Hannah Lowe

At fifteen I was a punk. I don’t have the spiky hair anymore (don’t have any in fact) but I still like to think I have a little bit of the ethos. My son is fifteen and into much the same type of alternative music, although his relates more to the various genres of heavy metal.  It is only now, however, I have spotted a contradiction in our choices, for although I reveled in being different, I also wanted to be part of a group who looked and felt the same.

Hannah-Lowe-wpWhat we all have in common, whatever identity we feel we have, is the need to belong to something. It may only be with four other boys playing Warhammer in Games Workshop on a rainy Sunday afternoon, or as in Hannah Lowe’s poem Dance Class, being with ‘the best girls posed like poodles at a show‘. But it is often not that easy to fit in, you may not be good at the game; you may be ‘a scandal in that class, big-footed/giant in lycra‘. (more…)

Wit is it? by William Letford

Having a laugh. Taking the piss. Bit of banter. Up for the craic. All are the stereotypical currency of conversation in the workplace. All assume a set of common of interests and culture amongst the workers: betting, beer, birds and football (obviously male dominated ones that is). And certainly a lot of such talk goes on in the mail rooms, building sites, pubs and changing rooms across the country.

Image 1However, you wouldn’t necessarily assume that such a group would be talking about something ‘deeper’, about who they are, their purpose, or the meaning of life itself. But in Billy Letford’s poem, Wit is it? such a conversation is going on, presented as an unknown question answered differently by the stonemason, plumber, sparky, labourer, joiner, gaffer and roofer. ‘it’s aw in yur heed’…’It’ll ‘stope yur hert deed’…’It’s aw in the mix’…’wit diz it mettur‘.

I can imagine this as an opening scene of a Samuel Beckett type play; them all in their positions on a building site looking down at something beneath them that we can’t see, that we never see. (more…)


In 1930 the economist John Maynard Keynes, predicted that by the beginning of the 21st century, capitalism would have been so successful people would only need to work a fifteen hour week in order to maintain a decent quality of life. As great and influential an economist as he was, he missed the carnivorous quality of capitalism to feed off others and to not know when it is full. So today, near on a century since his prediction, most people are still working a forty (or more) hour a week, just to stand still.

Yes, in global terms there is more wealth, improved health, and wider variety of leisure, at least in developed countries, but we are far from being a ‘leisure’ society. However, there is greater competition for jobs at lower wages with a growing global population and a predicted reduction in employment due to technological advances.

Dargan - Copy (800x480)All of these developments affect people in developed and developing countries alike and these global shifts are reflected beautifully in Kyle Dargan’s poem, “Two years from retirement, my neighbour contemplates Canada.” An ageing neighbour, whose arthritis is ‘now a hymn sung/by the choir of his bones’ will not be having the retirement he hoped for, and looks to work his final years in Canada, where its map is “speckled with throbbing circles,/bull’s-eyes. Those are the job sites—so many,/one must wonder what is Canada building.(more…)

January Review – it wasn’t all about London!

william carlos williamsJanuary by William Carlos Williams

Again I reply to the triple winds
running chromatic fifths of derision
outside my window:
Play louder.
You will not succeed. I am
bound more to my sentences
the more you batter at me
to follow you.
And the wind,
as before, fingers perfectly
its derisive music.

IMG_2830The year kicked off with the poem Midlands Kids by Jane Commane. This took me back to my home town of Coventry where we ‘grew up on the back seats of the long-gone marques of British manufacturing‘ and those who worked in their factories didn’t end up with jobs for life and  vanished from view like ‘the legendary square steering wheel of a paintshop-fresh Allegro.’ (more…)

Speechless by Jacob Sam-La Rose

Where were you when….? This is often a question that roots us to a place, a memory where the global meets the local. For my parent’s generation it was either the end of the Second World War or when Kennedy was shot (I was probably asleep in my pram). For my generation it was when Thatcher was elected, fall of the Berlin Wall, or when Princess Diana died (I think I was asleep for that one as well). And for today’s generation it must be 9/11 or when Simon Cowell appeared on the Simpsons. But of course there are many less tragic memories that take us back in time.

IMG_2104-Sam BurnettIn Jacob Sam-La Rose’s epic five part poem Speechless, he takes us through the stages of his life with references to major events (both good and bad), linking them to his own family’s history and those that affected him personally. It begins in 1950: ‘Uruguay beats Brazil 2-1/to win the World Cup, China invades Tibet’. In Guyana his mother who ‘has a voice like ripe Jamoon wine‘ is trying to find her freedom in the shadow of her Father who is a Police Sergeant and whose ‘word is law’ and on the wall is ‘a poster/proclaiming that Britain needs you.’ (more…)

I Dream a World by Langston Hughes

langston hughesToday would have been Langston Hughes (one of the original Proletarian Poets) 113th Birthday. Google has marked the occasion with a Googledoodle.

Here is the link to it, Langston Hughes, I Dream a World, and here it is in words. Enjoy.


I Dream A World

I dream a world where man
No other man will scorn,
Where love will bless the earth
And peace its paths adorn
I dream a world where all
Will know sweet freedom’s way,
Where greed no longer saps the soul
Nor avarice blights our day.
A world I dream where black or white,
Whatever race you be,
Will share the bounties of the earth
And every man is free,
Where wretchedness will hang its head
And joy, like a pearl,
Attends the needs of all mankind-
Of such I dream, my world!