The 1984 miners’ strike here in the UK, had a huge social and political impact, and was indicative of a wider global shift towards the protection of big business to the detriment of working class people. I knew therefore a number of poems would cover this important moment in history as well as that of mining more generally. However, I have been surprised at the different angles poets have taken.
There was Paul Summer’s satirical North, “we are more than sharply contrasting photographs/of massive ships and staithes for coal, more than/crackling films where grimy faced workers are/dwarfed by shadows or omitted by chimneys.” Jo Bell’s Mute of brass bands: “A ringing out, a clocking on, a moan/of disappointment sure as klezmer;/pit music, factory music, punching out precisely,” and Jane Burns Gala Day, Durham Miners, with “ The Dearne Valley villages – always the backdrop/of pit-heads, men in donkey jackets, orange panels bright among/allotment leeks.” Both looked at the social side of the miners’ lives and their communities. In Seams, Kay Buckley juxtaposed dress making with mining, “those seams that/he picketed and you sewed,” and Paul Batchelor in To a Halver, took a more symbolic angle, “O half brick: your battened-down/century of faithful service in a pit village terrace/forgotten now you’ve broken loose.” Finally, Richard Skinner’s Dark Nook took us further back in time to the working conditions of the lead mines of the Isle of Man, “It takes two hours to descend the ladders,/our tallow candles round our necks/like white asparagus.”
The harshness and anger this gives you when reading these poems, like the mine, lies under the surface. But in Des Mannay’s “And the Dead Shall Rise,” there is no such holding back, when talking about such disasters as Gresford, “And what price did you pay for the silence?/The ultimate price: 266 men sent to the grave… the damps, the gases, suffocated you/You were betrayed – murdered – by your bosses.” These men are no longer able to rest in peace as there is a new threat, with a new search for energy in the ground in which they lie. “They want to desecrate your graves boys/They want to rip the poison gas from your lungs for profit.” This is Fracking and is now being rolled out across a number of countries, especially in the United States where they hope it will reduce their dependence on foreign oil. But the process is literally destabilising all around it. In Oklahoma for example, the state has gone from registering two earthquakes a year, to two a day (albeit minor ones). Without measures of security, due diligence and proper governance of such an approach, the impacts on local communities, especially here in the more densely populated UK, is tremendous. “And colliery widows march down pneumoconiosis avenues/To offer support to the protesters/Because if they fail the dead shall rise/Shattered into tiny fragments – along with the shale….” And that is why we should be angry.
About Des Mannay: ‘Focused on hard-hitting social issues…poems which made a statement’ (Sabotage Reviews) Des is a recent winner of the ‘rethinkyourmind’ poetry competition, which entails the poem being turned into a song and being released as a single and on a compilation album to raise money for the charity project of the same name. He was also shortlisted for the erbacce-prize for poetry 2015; (whittled down from more than 5,000 entries to just over 40). Des has had poems published recently in the ‘I Am Not A Silent Poet’, ‘The Angry Manifesto’ poetry magazine and the second ‘Rhyme and Real Ale’ anthology; “VoicesFrom the Present”. He was 2nd and ‘highly commended’ In the Disability Arts Cymru Poetry Competition, and is a finalist in the Creative Futures Literary Awards, with the winner to be announced on September 28th. Twitter: @hooliganpoet
And the Dead Shall Rise
And what price did you pay for the silence?
The ultimate price: 266 men sent to the grave
In Gresford in 1934 – most still underground
The mine, the pit – not just the beating heart of Wales
But of every mining community – within its borders and beyond
And made sclerotic by greedy coal owners
Who bought up Davy Lamps with the promise of safety
But used them to place men in greater danger in pursuit of profit
Until the damps, the gases, suffocated you
You were betrayed – murdered – by your bosses
And now their spiritual great-grandchildren are coming for you
They want to desecrate your graves boys
They want to rip the poison gas from your lungs for profit
They may not have God on their side – but they have politicians and Court Orders
Allowing them to pump chemicals and sand suspended in water
Into the ground – shattering the shale, and your bodies too
And leaving your relatives to cope with yet another disaster
But like a Canary in a coal mine, environmental activists are there
Warning of the impending danger brought on by a bunch of Frackers
When Bailiffs destroy their protest camp
Just like Canaries, they fly to another field and begin again
And colliery widows march down pneumoconiosis avenues
To offer support to the protesters
Because if they fail the dead shall rise
Shattered into tiny fragments – along with the shale….