Readers of this blog are well aware of the impact Thatcher’s policies had on the coal mining industry during the 1980s. There have been a number of poems addressing the experience faced by the miners in their fight to secure the livelihoods. However, the impact was much wider than just those working at the coalface (sic). Besides the local shops gaining from a miner’s income, there were also those who delivered the coal – the coal merchants.
Like many in the industry this was hard work, and given the fact it was most needed in winter, the delivery of coal was often freezing work. Delivery was the end point, there was much work to get the coal into the sacks; heavy shovelling and when frozen, the coal would come in great lumps that needed separating. Horse and cart made way for trucks by the middle of the 20th century. The ‘coalies’ didn’t have a uniform as such, but there was a dress code as they were dealing with the general public. They would wear leather backed hats, to protect their shoulders and head; they also wore ‘spankers’, which were straps just above the knee to stop coal dust going up their legs.
Patrick Barron’s poem “The Coalmen” takes the point of view of a young child looking out their bedroom window at these black and grey men, carrying huge sacks weighing up to 50 kg, “as if they were carrying their own mothers across a river.” There is something of the mythical about these men, as though they were in disguise, as though they weren’t meant to be seen, shadows almost. (more…)
Many poets improve their skills through writing classes and groups; whether with organisations and colleges or with self-organised like-minded people. But what happens when the course or group finishes and you’re poems are ‘ready’ for the world to read. Competition in publishing, as we all know is immense and can be a very dispiriting and lonely experience. Here is how one group of women in the North East of England responded.
Marilyn Longstaff of Vane Women
Vane Women is a women’s collective celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. It promotes good writing by organising workshops, mentoring and hosting masterclasses by established writers. It was founded in 1991 to support the development and recognition of women writers in the North East. The writing, publishing and performing collective has come a long way from its beginnings in a women’s writing class at the late lamented Darlington Arts Centre, Vane Terrace.
This past Sunday (the 8th May), was the penultimate day of the English summer. The weight of people walking around London, was lightened by their lack of clothes and perspiration. We are now descending into autumn, whilst Scotland still basks in the mid-20s. But I spent much of Sunday indoors, preparing and fretting over that evening’s events in Kentish Town.
The first was a conversation with David Turner and Lizzy of Lunar Poetry Podcasts. David, in little over a year has carried out 75 interviews with people here in the UK poetry world. It is a great endeavour, and one I hope gains a lot of interest. We spoke of course about Proletarian Poetry, but also issues relating to class more generally, poetry genres and readers, and valuing poets (i.e. with £). Have a listen, and try to check out some of the other interviews.
Then, I was very proud to be part of the long tradition by hosting the Sunday poetry reading at the Torriano Meeting House. The Torriano has been going for many years; in fact, my mother-in-law who came along on the night, used to go there more than twenty years ago. I was so pleased to have Anna Robinson and Tim Wells as the guest readers, along with some great open mics from Grim Chip and Nadia Drews, and a short set from myself. So although it was one of the hottest days of the year, which I didn’t see much of, it was well worth the effort. Onwards (with a brolly!).