Sofa Surfin, and Pound Shop Politics by Mike Jenkins

sofa surfinWhen I was eighteen and hanging out on an estate back home doing not very much, I had a friend who always carried a rucksack round with him. We’d be round someone’s flat and he’d stay there when we all left for the night. I didn’t think much of it at first, but gradually as I got to know him better, I found out he was homeless, aka a ‘sofa surfer’. Odd nights, when his mother wasn’t drunk (there was no known father), he would stay with her, the rest of the week, wherever he could find a friend. He didn’t come from a stable background, like I did, but that wasn’t why he was homeless.

It is a common misconception that homelessness is down to the individual’s misfortune, whether self-inflicted or not. Yes, there are such factors as drug misuse, crime, family breakdown that result in the person becoming homeless. But it doesn’t mean they have to remain out on the streets, or more commonly and less obviously, in B&B accommodation or a friend’s spare room or sofa.

mike jenkinsMike Jenkins’ poem Sofa Surfin, written in the vernacular, shows how easily it can be for many people to end up with nothing. “Ee’ve kicked me out/it woz a stewpid argument/’bout a juke-box/’Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep’.” And with homelessness comes bureaucracy, “Ever tried ridin the waves/of forms an offices,/find an answer in impossible paper?/Ever tried goin under,/I mean drownin alive/below all yewer memrees?” People find different ways to deal with their situation, as Ian Duhig’s poem Jungle showed in a previous feature on PP. But often it can end badly, “I stood on-a board/f moments before bein dragged down/t the subway, like an underwater tunnel/where I could ardly breathe.” Sofa surfin is the hidden away, unaccounted for, story of homelessness, where friends and distant family are called on because of the lack of affordable housing, a cruel benefits system and the exploitation of landlords.

Mike kindly offered me a number of his poems, and I am pleased to also include Pound Shop Politics, which also heavy with dialect is a humorous antidote to Sofa Surfin.

Mike Jenkins is an award winning Welsh poet and author. He won Wales Book of the Year in 1998 for his collection of interlinked short stories ‘Wanting to Belong’. He has also won an Eric Gregory Award from the Society of Authors, The Young Writers Prize from the Welsh Arts Council for Empire of Smoke and the John Tripp Award for Spoken Poetry. Mike is at the forefront of contemporary Welsh writing and is a fellow of the Academi, the Welsh Society for Authors. He is a former editor of Poetry Wales magazine and has co-edited Red Poets for 19 years, an annual magazine of left-wing poetry from Wales and beyond. Poetry forms the bulk of Mike’s published work, though he has recently written two novellas, one for children entitled Barbsmashive and another, The Fugitive Three, which is for adults. His latest book of poetry is published by Seren and is called ‘Moor Music’. Mike’s next big project is ‘Barkin!’, a book consisting of poems and stories in Merthyr dialect to be published by Carreg Gwalch. He is known amongst Cardiff City football fans as the club’s ‘unofficial poet’.

SOFA SURFIN

Ee’ve kicked me out
it woz a stewpid argument
’bout a juke-box
‘Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep’ –
I fuckin sayd ‘No way! ‘
(shame no Beef’eart).

Ee’ve kicked me out
without even a key
t get all I owned,
a sleepin-bag ; my phone
woz dead as my life become.

Ee wuz the final one.
Ever tried it mun?
Ever tried balancin
on a fuckin sofa
when yewer ands shake
like it’s always winter?

Ever tried ridin the waves
of forms an offices,
find an answer in impossible paper?
Ever tried goin under,
I mean drownin alive
below all yewer memrees?

Coz I’m talkin ’bout the breakers
ewger than any sea’s –
divorce an booze, gettin sacked an speed.
Ow I stood on-a board
f moments before bein dragged down
t the subway, like an underwater tunnel
where I could ardly breathe.

POUND SHOP POLITICS

This bloke see,
ee didn know nothin
bout pol’tics whatsoever.

Nearest ee got to it
woz drinkin in-a Labour Club,
or votin f’r a neighbour oo stood.

If yew arst  im
ee’d problee say – ‘Labour,
I always vote Labour!’

Ee always ad an eye
f’r a bargen, tha’s why
ee loved it in Merthyr.

Charity an Pound shops galore
an ee seen this new one open
down by-a Lucy Thomas Fountain.

It ad a bright purple sign
an a £ clearly displayed.
Ee entered in anticipation.

Expectin loads of is favourite
Belgian chocolates, German beers
an, o course, Italian pasta ;

all ee seen wuz a table
fulla leaflets an posters
an a man in a sewt be’ind.

‘Wha yew got f’r a quid?’ ee arst
an a man showed im two pamphlets :
‘No To EU’ an ‘Cutting Immigration’.

‘Got anythin ot as peri-peri
Portuguese sauce like in Nandos?
Or spicy as a tasty chorizo?’

‘This is the UKIP shop, my friend,
not another Pound Store.’
Pissed off, ee visited the Polish shop nex door.

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