Month: August 2016

The Hatred of Poetry and Social Realism, and the Love of the Poetry of Social Realism

I have just read The Hatred of Poetry by Ben Lerner. Lerner’s thesis is that poetry is hated because it can never live up to its ultimate aim of conveying the universal truth. “Poetry isn’t hard, it’s impossible.” It is impossible for a poet to translate their thoughts into a poem that achieves universality. In the words of Socrates, “Of that place beyond the heavens none of our earthly poets has yet sung, and none shall sing worthily.”

Lerner uses the cliché of the creative dream where you have some kind of enlightened idea, only to see it dissolve when you wake. “In a dream your verses can defeat time, your words can shake off the history of their usage, you can represent what can’t be represented.” But then life gets in the way, with its ‘inflexible laws and logic.” And so he concludes: “Thus, the poet is a tragic figure. The poem is always a record of failure.”

He ends the book quite cheekily and somewhat grandly with, “All I ask the haters – and I, too, am one – is that they strive to perfect their contempt, even consider bring it to bear on poems, where it will be deepened, not dispelled, and where, by creating a place for possibility and present absences – like unheard melodies, it might come to resemble love.” It is essentially that comment you got from that teacher you were sure hated you; “not good enough, try harder.”



Putting aside my initial reaction that Lerner should maybe lower his expectations a little, I feel there are comparisons in his argument to the ideals behind social realism and portrayals of the working classes. Social Realism began as a movement of artists and photographers in the early 1900s (peaking in the 1920s & 30s); it was a counter to the idealistic and one sided bourgeois depictions of life at the end of the 19th century. It was hugely important and is one of the lesser regarded aspects of modernity. It exposed the harsh realities of working class life with endemic poverty and consequent poor health and high rates of mortality. It challenged the aesthetic in order to change the system. You could argue that the New Deal and the Welfare State were positive policy reactions to the exposure of social realism. (more…)

Chip Van by Lorraine Carey

tesco farmsThe supermarket giant Tesco did a funny thing recently. They invented farms. They began selling food items produced on farms that don’t exist. So now you can buy chickens from Willow Farms, diced beef from Boswell Farms, and a variety of fruit from Rosedene Farms. The amazing thing is, they can get away with it. But the reason they did it actually makes sense, for they realised that people still want to feel that the food they buy is made locally, and not in a factory. The tragic irony is that it is the real farms upon which these imagined ones are modelled, which are suffering at the hands of this type of big capitalism.

vans shoesOne of the contradictions of capitalism, or should I say one of its cons, is the issue of choice. On the ugly face of it, your choice of purchase, whether it be an earring or a car, is endless. You can get a seeming boundless range of designs; for example, when researching chip vans for this feature, I came across the popular shoe brand Vans, and yes, you’ve guessed it (unless you haven’t) was an image of a pair of shoes covered in chips – you can also get a pair with pepperoni pizza design. But the contradiction in all of this, is that as consumers we tend not to go outside our comfort zones. We wear remarkably similar clothes, eat a small range of foods. Hence trends emerge, promoted by social media, the most recent of which sees half the western world running around playing Pokemon Go.

Within this advanced stage of capitalism, a concentration of ownership by large corporations, puts pay to many small businesses which simply can’t compete with such economies of scale and bullying marketing tactics. You have to go ‘niche’ if you want to succeed; to carve yourself a slice of choice no-one has yet had a taste of. But even here, big business will eat it up. Take real ale, for example. For years the likes of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) supported such producers, but now it has been taken up and turned into ‘craft’ ales so as to make you feel that is more artisanal. Similarly, local coffee shops are under attack from the main chains such as Starbucks.

lorraine careySmall family run businesses and trades have been squeezed from such practices for many years. But I think one of the businesses that hasn’t been corporatised in this way, is your fish and chip shop (with the exception of Harry Ramsden’s in the UK, which is now a series of franchises). Lorraine Carey’s nostalgic poem, “The Chip Van,” takes us back to a time when such food outlets were more ubiquitous. (more…)

The Rainbow Club by Yomi Sode

My Father, who was born in 1933, said to me recently, that during his life he had seen so many inventions that had now become everyday utilities. The radio was the decade before his time, but FM was patented in 1933. Television began broadcasting in 1936 but poorer families such as his weren’t able to see it from the luxury of their own home till decades later. Computers started to emerge during the 1960s, and then in the 1990s the internet and mobile technologies. We are at the frontier of extraordinary technological developments, of which we have little clue of what its short, let alone, long-term impact will be. Whilst such communications have opened up a great deal of fantastic opportunities, at the same time there are many horrors (e.g. live killings by terrorist groups).

If you are below the age of 18, you won’t remember a time when people’s lives were private. It is now a given that at the click of a button, you can know what almost anyone in the world is up to. Facebook in particular is a black hole of personal information and can be used for peer pressure or cyber bullying. I fear this has put a greater pressure on young people than any other generation in history.

One of the more dark sides of this use of the internet is grooming and sexual exploitation of young people, especially girls. The NSPCC highlights the ways in which grooming take place online: “Groomers can use social media sites, instant messaging apps including teen dating apps, or online gaming platforms to connect with a young person or child. They can spend time learning about a young person’s interests from their online profiles and then use this knowledge to help them build up a relationship. It’s easy for groomers to hide their identity online – they may pretend to be a child and then chat and become ‘friends’ with children they are targeting.”

yomi sodeYomi Sode’s poem ‘The Rainbow Club’ highlights the end point of this type of child sexual exploitation. As Yomi explains:

“Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) is an issue within the borough that I work in. Young people engage in one to ones, giving examples of what (for the most part) they consider to be harmless fun but in its greater context, they are being exploited.  The Rainbow Club is an example of this. It’s to raise awareness as well as creating discussions as to how best support young people in flagging up when they are put in these predicaments at present and in the future.”  

This poem is a tough and disturbing read, and that is exactly what poetry should be.


Yomi Sode balances the fine line between Nigerian and British cultures, which can be humorous, loving, self-reflective and uncomfortable. He is a member of Malika’s Poetry Kitchen and has just been selected for phase 3 of The Complete Works mentoring programme, following in illustrious footsteps including Mona’s (phase 2) and Karen’s (phase 1) – watch this space!

The Rainbow Club

Kí Ọbìnrin to atorìn, ka wo eni tí o ma lomi leyìn esee ju ara won lo – Competition between people reveals who is stronger.

Their Lolita hearts are not prepared
for the smoke or vodka. Each burn tugs
a tolerance soon ignored for the sake

of cool. they wear different colours
on lips, plump and ready. lips
they press together then wipe the smudge,

their skirts short as patience. Shivering as if
the warmth they seek reside in their homes.
he calls them by their rainbow colour – red and orange

and pink and green. not by names their mothers’
gave them. maybe to avoid feeling that this could be
his daughter or sister.

they stand in line. he is sat, trousers below his knees
watching this shadow approach him like a myth,
shaping into a physical being.

red giggles as she walks, each strut
insinuates sex, each curved hip holds air
and let’s go. she stares him down, prying

his pupils for a weakness because
an erect man awaiting service means
he’s vulnerable. she bends, hovering over

a pre-ejaculated cock, opening her mouth,
going deeper until it lightly taps
the back of her throat, the aim is to reach the base

of his manhood but she can only go so far.
when Red reaches her limit,
she marks her personal best with her lips

and stands upright. The other girls applaud.
next it’s Orange, followed by Pink, swapping spit,
Blue, Violet, Yellow

leaving him, trousers down staring
at the ring of colours
red and orange and pink and green,

each other