January by William Carlos Williams
Again I reply to the triple winds
running chromatic fifths of derision
outside my window:
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.
The 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.’
Then I wrote a piece in praise of the Poetry Cafe and other such hidden treasures, where you can listen to and read poetry to a great bunch of people. This has been one of the revelations to me about the poetry scene but I feel the opportunities they offer are sometimes undersold. I think they are critical to a more inclusive approach to poetry (see below).
I did the first book review of the site and I couldn’t have picked a more moving one than The Hundred Years’ War: Modern War Poems, edited by Neil Astley of Bloodaxe. This was written on the day of the shootings in Paris and related events in the Yemen and Nigeria. Sadly, war will always be a subject that poets can draw on.
Then it was back to the poems with the satirical Diagnosis: Londonism (which hopefully this site can’t be accused of) by Rishi Dastidar who took on the wry and arrogant voice of a man who believes London to be the centre of the (i.e. his) universe because of the wealth it generates to the point there is no need to think beyond its borders. ‘What must we know of life beyond zone 6?/It is a fine rumour, but does not exist.‘
More London (ahem) poems came from Hilaire and Joolz Sparkes as part of their London Undercurrents project, which is unearthing the voices of strong, feisty women who have lived and worked in the capital city over many centuries. Hilaire’s Nightlight Wicking at Price’s looked at the working life of women and the friendships they forged. “Us wickers sing our lungs out/to the rafters/and my sisters’ hollering voices/cheer me/as they never do at home”. Joolz took us to Holloway and the cinema, to the pure escapist delight of Hollywood classics, where “Men light cigarettes for you,/or pull down the moon.”
Kay Buckley whisked us away from London (see!) with Barnsley Chop and Seams. Meat took centre stage for the royal visit of the Prince of Wales who came up against the fearsome figure of the Barnsley’s mayor with his tell-it-how-you-see-it sense of humour. ‘“If tha’ don’t eat that, I’ll tell thee mother.” Seams at first appeared to be a more gentle affair with a scene of a mother making her daughter clothes, but what lay behind it was the dark seams of the coalface and the miners’ strike.
Then finally sneaking in on the penultimate day of the month, Roz Goddard’s Hammersmith Hospital 1968 (another London poem you say!). This was a great juxtaposition of two institutions, a hospital and a prison; it focused on the effect long periods of waiting around whether in a hospital ward or prison ward can have on the imagination as it did with the narrator, “warders wearing navy will intervene,/arm wrestle them over the cobbles, push them/through a dark door into cells with no light./I have never been this close to badness in my life/and I like it.”
February has started powerfully with Jacob Sam-La Rose’s Speechless and next week I hope to be featuring poems from Kyle G. Dargan and William Letford.
Finally, next month I will be taking Proletarian Poetry into the halls of academia for the “New Generation to Next Generation 2014: Three decades of British and Irish Poetry,” conference at the Institute of English Studies, in (yes you guessed it) London. I am on a panel looking at the Poetics of Inclusion where I will be talking about the poems featured on the site and what issues this raises for such initiatives as the Next Generation Poets. If you have any thoughts about how inclusive you feel poetry is and how it can become more so, please comment below. That would be most welcome. It will be writing more about this in the coming weeks.
Enjoy the rest of February, Spring is near. Venceremos!