We tend to think of migrants as those who only cross borders. However, Internally Displaced People (IDP) are a huge issue facing countries experiencing humanitarian disasters and wars. All of which puts a great burden on a country’s resources when they are at the most strained. In Syria there is estimated to be 6.6 million IDPs. By the end of 2014, a record level of 38 million people were displaced within their own country as a result of violence; countries such as Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Nigeria, South Sudan and Syria making up 60% of the world’s IDPs.
In more wealthy countries people are also pressured to move. For example, because of past policies of selling off council housing, people are being forced to move to a different part of the country if they need a home. Margaret Thatcher’s henchman, Norman Tebbitt, once infamously said, “you dirty worthless working class scum, I’m going to wipe you off the face of this country.” Okay, maybe he didn’t say that exactly, but he did once say in response to the riots of the early 80s, “I grew up in the 30s with an unemployed father. He didn’t riot, he got on his bike and looked for work and kept looking till he found it.” Setting aside the fact that he did as much to dismantle the bedrock of his heritage, and the fact that not everyone can move to find work, the internal migration, to which he is essentially referring is one driven by economic hardship and capitalist discrimination. People don’t generally move because they are happy with their circumstance, unless they may be going to University or have been offered a job they willingly applied for.
Nonetheless, whether a refugee who has left their country, or internally displaced person, the majority of people still call home the place they were born. Joe Horgan’s poem, “The Maps You Took With You When You Went,” tells of the place he was born, Birmingham and the situation facing many working class people during the 1980s. The irony being that many came to the city, as they did to my own home of Coventry, from Ireland and Scotland, only to see a number of their own children leave; some went back to Ireland during the Celtic Tiger bubble, whilst others dispersed to various corners of the country and abroad.
Here Joe tells the story behind the poem and how he came to write poetry.
“I tried for a while to get a shape on this poem as it was based directly on a time in the mid-eighties when myself and my Uncle Michéal went to tat some floorboards from a row of derelict houses in order to put up a shed. I was on the dole and about a year away from escaping to a northern polytechnic. It was Birmingham and everyone was on the dole but even at that time when we passed along the wasteland around the houses and this kid looked up from his bag of glue I remember thinking this is like some kind of documentary and when I speak of this most people will always think it is a kind of exaggeration. It isn’t. I grew up in inner city Birmingham in a big Irish immigrant community and I have tried in my work to capture some of the character of that. I always remember that after my first book came out I was talking to a poet, I didn’t know many so it sticks in my mind, and I said to him that I really wanted to write poems about the city and the people and the urban environment and the lived politics of our lives. Of, you know, the truth of our working class experience. That’s what poetry aims for, doesn’t it, some stab at the truth? Some attempt at drawing out the prisms and phosphenes of our life? He politely told me that poetry was, perhaps, not the form for that ‘kind of thing.’ Isn’t it? I mean how many poems about beautiful flowers is it possible to fucking write?”
Joseph Horgan was born in Birmingham, England, of Irish immigrant parents. He has lived back in Ireland since 1999. He is the author of three poetry collections and a prose work. He has previously been the recipient of The Patrick Kavanagh Award and has been shortlisted for a Hennessy Award, amongst others. His prose book, The Song at Your Backdoor, a meditation on place and identity was serialised on Irish national radio. His collections are, Slipping Letters Beneath the Sea, Doghouse 2008, An Unscheduled Life (with Brian Whelan), Agenda Editions 2012, and The Year I Loved England (with Antony Owen), Pighog Press, 2014.
THE MAPS YOU TOOK WITH YOU WHEN YOU WENT
the link between me and the factories
is broken, I have no money.
When we tatted around the back
there was a kid in a derelict toilet
sniffing glue from a paper bag;
this way ladies and gentlemen,
for our theatre of urban deprivation.
You smoked in the open air unconcerned.
The last free man.
At home the light beneath the Sacred Heart
never ceased its red insistence
and those lost accents continued
their meandering accumulation.
Alcoholism, cancer and accident waited.
I’m going back there now,
to walk the red brick length,
the disused road to Mass,
the cold, forgotten Angels
and as I’m passing I’ll do what you did,
take off my shirt and fight myself
bare-chested in the street.
A brilliant piece of writing. Would be great to catch up and discuss those Flann O’Brien and James Joyce books we studied at A level plus Irish Political History.
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