On Ventriloquism by Fran Lock

4334544653_5f0fa8ce37_m“When I first heard some geezer called Martin Anus had written my life story I was chuffed. Weren’t surprised like cos I know I’m a top bloke and that. But then me mate told me it was what you would call an unauthorised biography and that he hadn’t painted a good picture of me. And I thought, how could some no mark write about my life without me knowing, or without even speaking to me? So before taking the time to find him and chop off his head off, I took to reading it. And what a load of old bollocks it is was as well. Okay, a lot of it is true, such as the beatings I dished out, and prison, and how me nephew is shagging my mum, but the rest is bullshit.”
(Review of Lionel Asbo by Martin Amis by Lionel Asbo)

There is a long history of cultural appropriation far worse than that done by the likes of Amis when usurping the voice of the working class. Most notable is racial theft that ranges from the Black and White Minstrels to people self-identifying as being of different heritage to that they were born into. In terms of art, it is like a venal plagiarism; passing your own work off as authentic is the height of disrespect to the heritage it was derived from. Just ask Chuck Berry.

Proletarian Poetry is about the poems, not the background of the poets. It doesn’t matter if the poet doesn’t play bingo or leave their kids in the car with pop and crisps while they get pissed in the pub. Of course, that might help if that’s what the poem is about and it doesn’t demonise. But a poem needs to be truthful and authentic, have imagination and resonance. Just read the poems on this site, for example by Kim Moore (My People) to see the diversity of the working classes.

meandbaby2A reader or listener can tell if the poem lacks these ingredients, which betrays, what Fran Lock, pointedly describes as ventriloquism. And as much as I try not to provoke class war on the site, there does come a time when you get angry at such false representation, especially when you read ‘On Ventriloquism‘, such a brilliant and unrelenting poetic diatribe in response to a recent experience at an open mic. So Martin Amis, fuck off will you!

Fran Lock is a dog whisperer, cardigan wearer, and author of two poetry collections, ‘Flatrock’ (Little Episodes, 2011) and ‘The Mystic and the Pig Thief’ (Salt, 2014). Her work as appeared in various places, most recently The Mechanics’ Institute Review, POETRY, and Poetry Review. She is the winner of the 2014 Ambit Poetry Competition, the 2015 Out Spoken Poetry Prize, and the 2016 Yeats Poetry Prize. Her poems ‘Last Exit to Luton’ and ‘Gentleman Caller’ came third and were commended in the National Poetry Competition 2014 and 2015 respectively

On ventriloquism

I’m dead on my feet at five o’clock,
dragged down by day-job’s jetlag. No
light at the end of this, my carpal tunnel,
twitching skinny wrists for minimum
wage. And I wish I was more in love
with the achtung! slang of slamming
doors, the tribal niceties of sport; all
the brittle delinquencies of Friday
night. But I’m not. And you say you
know me, you’ve poeted me, sifted
my bitter statistics like loose-leaf tea.
You’re reading this shit, and I shake
with fury’s cold usurping fever, just
sprained with rage and ready to knock
a diamond from a deadtooth, ‘cause
you know nothing. My people, you
said: ceasefire’s mutineers, cripples
of industry, martyrs to progress. My
people, the buckos, the fella-me-lads,
the follow-me-up-to-Carlows; boys
as bog-standard as sparrows, battery
bred and factory farmed, and limping
between canteen teas and cash in
hand. You think you know them,
my beautiful boys, horny and earnest
and spreading my denim against
the warm stone wall of the local
cinema. My boys, my ghosts, heaving
their thin music like broken bagpipes,
downing shot-after-shot that tastes
of their own sucked knuckles, under
yellow light, cheaply caramelised. My
people, you said. And the malnourished
North squats in its shanties and howls,
picks at its stitches and howls, howls
the dread we’re feral with. And this is all
you know: our blemishes and zealotries,
the black hills we have hid behind; wives
as quaint as a kitchen sinks, their old men
blowing the dust from their knuckles.
My people: girls in white minis with
permatanned waistbands, with Sunday’s
grim blisters from Saturday’s sling-backs.
Girls and the second-hand dresses
they’ve crammed their slack flesh in
for years. You think you know us, our
luckless delight in our bodies, our
wheezing repertoire of modesties, our
tattle and remorse. You think you know
us, our sixth-form selves in chain-
smoke and swimwear, breathing
chlorinated mischief at the public
pool; the dreams we floated
and ducked with. My people: Daddus,
his short fuse thwarted in a court of law,
a hobbled cunning trounced, caught,
caught out and gavelled flat as hammered
shit; Mother, a blond job, brassy with angst
and wailing her faint praise to Christ
in a Sally Ann coat. Criminal or victim
and nothing in between. Fuck you for that,
for everything you do not, cannot, will not
understand. Fuck you from the gorgeous
shattered galaxy of windows, from
windshields suckered to Hackney
diamonds. Fuck you from the stars
like hen’s teeth scattered in a parable
of seeding. Fuck you from a kiss in
the canned heat of a Ford Cortina,
his tongue tasting like solid gold
and sorcery. Fuck you from the love
we blurred and dithered with,
holding hands on mornings when
it mattered. Fuck you from the blame
we rocked in box rooms, learnt to lay
to rest alone. Fuck you from the poetry
we rokkered with, the healths we
toasted and the plans we made. You
don’t know us, me, my people; how
it is to look down from the mountain,
see the whole town meticulously
trinketted, shimmering with orange
lights. You never saw the ruin
of the prison, its mirrored lid cracked
outwards like a jewellery box.
You’ve never seen white horses
hallow the spring frost, moving
through rolling fog like Victorian
ghosts. There’s a blatant grace you’re
blind to. There’s a cherishing you
can’t undo, like a complicated knot.
You can’t poet this. The blood traffics
in rhapsodies. The stale air smokes
with it. A full heart hums and swarms.


  1. Just to say a huge thank you for this, for a variety of reasons, one of which is that I so much enjoy Fran Lock’s writing, and at least one other is that of being working class. That’ll do for now. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Loved this great to see someone allowing their voice to say how things are and not pussy foot around on literary eggshells.


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