Month: July 2017

Permission, Disability, Stairs and Whispers, and a poem by Nuala Watt

I only came across the term ‘permission’ in regards of writing when being mentored by Jo Bell. Her wonderful project, 52 had given over five hundred writers the safe space to share their poetry with others in a similar position; the project had essentially given many of them permission to write. Recently I received a different type of permission when attending the Stairs and Whispers event at Ledbury Poetry Festival; the permission to accept that I have a disability.

Stairs and Whispers COVERThis was the launch of the anthology of “D/deaf and Disabled Poets Write Back”, edited by Sandra Alland, Khairani Barokka and Daniel Sluman, and published by Nine Arches Press. From the perspective of someone whose hearing and sight is not particularly impaired the event was a multi-media experience of poetry films, readings, and questions, supported by sign, subtitles, and the full text of poems. The editors described themselves for those with sight impairment, and in a large hall it felt like the most intimate and captivating experience.

However, it was only afterwards, when I went away, sat in a café and took a breath that it resonated with me more personally. I have a number of autoimmune conditions; Addison’s Disease, Underactive Thyroid, secondary hypopituitarism (causing low testosterone), low Vitamin D, along with asthma, high cholesterol, chronic fatigue, periodic chronic pain, and depression. I am lucky, as I don’t have to rely on welfare, beyond NHS treatment and free prescriptions, and there are times when I am relatively healthy and able to exercise. So I have had no need to register as disabled and go through the horrendously cruel process that the austerity government has implemented in the past seven years.

I have recently been reading Lucia Perillo’s memoir, “I’ve Heard the Vultures Singing,” in which she talks about the pressure hope puts on us. She cites Emily Dickinson – “Hope is a strange invention –/A patent of the Heart.” Then later, “Hope is subtle glutton” who “feeds upon the fair”. Perillo sums it up beautifully with the line, “hope is ravenous like the gulls, and we are being eaten alive.” What the S&Ws’ event did was give me permission to feel confident to say I am disabled – even though in public I rarely present as such – without feeling it to be negative, and thus ‘giving up hope’. I’m not sure what this actually means for me in practice yet. But I do feel a sense of a weight lifted from my shoulders.

Nuala_Watt_by_Chris_Scott

image by chris scott

I will no doubt feature more poems from the collection; we mustn’t forget that the majority of disabled people lack wealth and power. For now though here is the poem, The Department of Work and Pensions Assess a Jade Fish by Nuala Watt, which really stood out for me on the day.

Nuala Watt lives in Glasgow. She has cerebral palsy, a visual impairment and epilepsy. She recently completed a PhD from the University of Glasgow on the poetics of partial sight. Her poems have appeared in Magma and Gutter, as well as on BBC Radio 3 and in an anthology of new Scottish Poetry, ‘Be The First to Like This’ (Vagabond Voices, 2014). In 2015 she received a John Mather Charitable Trust bursary from the Scottish Poetry Library.

 

 

The Department of Work and Pensions Assesses a Jade Fish

Once, I held three thousand pale green years

Should I compare myself to the jade fish?

I am in a museum of difficulties.
I feature in a national catalogue.
Handled, but not with care.

Juliet. Echo.
One. Five. Zero.
Treble Two.
C. That’s me.

I’m a fraudster who walks.

Tick this box. Tick this box. Tick this box. Now.

How often do you lose consciousness?
Exactly how much of your life is a mess?

Can you make a cup of tea?

We cannot pay you.

The law says. The law says. The law says.
The phone squanders an hour.
This is because you have as much or more…

By the power of brown envelopes
I miss my class on poetics:
‘Imagine the Voices of Things’.

Thank You for Waiting by Simon Armitage

boys and girlsBack home in one of the bars in my local, there was no women’s toilet (this was the mid-80s). The few women who did frequent the smoke room, had to go outside, in all kinds of weather, to the single female toilet in the other bar. At the same time an old school down the road still had signs showing the separate boys’ and girls’ entrances. Society remains divided in many ways, not only in gender. One of the most obvious, yet at the same time, nefarious, regards consumer preference.

Platforms (or are they publishers?), such as Facebook and Twitter, provide their services for free on the basis that its users give away great amounts of personal information. So we now have individual profiling to “guide” us in our purchase choices. You know how it works; you may have been browsing holidays online, then when searching a news item for example, adverts pop up with specific holiday options. Business relies on stereotypes and certainty; such a social contract gives them that. So whilst there is a feeling that the Internet enables free expression, the template-nature of such social media platforms constrains heterogeneity. One of the early pioneers of web development and now critic of its outcomes, Jaron Lanier believes: “The basic problem is that web 2.0 tools are not supportive of democracy by design. They are tools designed to gather spy-agency-like data in a seductive way, first and foremost, but as a side effect they tend to provide software support for mob-like phenomena.”

In the service sector, this translates into splicing customers in different ways according to the data gathered. We are all valued by them, it’s just some are more valued than others – they would claim it is just differently. For example, supermarkets use terms such as “everyday value” or ‘basics’ ranges, to the more ‘upper’ ‘taste the difference’ & ‘you’ve never had it so good’ products. Travel firms have always done such stratification, albeit quite basically – first & second class, or economy, business, first class when it comes to flying.

simonSimon Armitage’s satirical poem, “Thank you for Waiting”, takes this type of consumer division to another level. “Thank you for waiting. Accredited Beautiful People/may now board, plus any gentlemen carrying a copy/of this month’s Cigar Aficionado magazine, plus subscribers/to our Red Diamond, Black Opal or Blue Garnet promotion.” Throughout he uses the metaphor of precious, and not-so precious metals and other natural resources, to show the ridiculous nature of our present day consumer society, where status is defined by possessions. “Also welcome at this time are passengers talking loudly/into cellphone headsets about recently completed share deals/property acquisitions and aggressive takeovers.” Then finally, we reach the bottom of the pile: “Passengers either partially or wholly dependent on welfare/or kindness, please have your travel coupons validated/at the Quarantine Desk.” A poem that is funny but makes you angry at the same time. – that’ll do. And remember it’s your choice.

Simon Armitage is Professor of Poetry at the University of Sheffield, and in 2015 was elected Professor of Poetry at Oxford University. He has written many collections of poetry and translations, as well as plays, essays and novels. His latest collection is The Unaccompanied, published by Faber. And I owe him a pint for this poem.

Thank You for Waiting

At this moment in time we’d like to invite
First Class passengers only to board the aircraft.

Thank you for waiting. We now extend our invitation
to Exclusive, Superior, Privilege and Excelsior members,
followed by triple, double and single Platinum members,
followed by Gold and Silver Card members,
followed by Pearl and Coral Club members.
Military personnel in uniform may also board at this time.

Thank you for waiting. We now invite
Bronze Alliance Members and passengers enrolled
in our Rare Earth Metals Points and Reward Scheme
to come forward, and thank you for waiting.

Thank you for waiting. Accredited Beautiful People
may now board, plus any gentleman carrying a copy
of this month’s Cigar Aficionado magazine, plus subscribers
to our Red Diamond, Black Opal or Blue Garnet promotion.
We also welcome Sapphire, Ruby and Emerald members
at this time, followed by Amethyst, Onyx, Obsidian, Jet,
Topaz and Quartz members. Priority Lane customers,
Fast Track customers, Chosen Elite customers,
Preferred Access customers and First Among Equals customers
may also now board.

On production of a valid receipt travellers of elegance and style
wearing designer and/or hand-tailored clothing
to a minimum value of ten thousand US dollars may now board;
passengers in possession of items of jewellery
(including wristwatches) with a retail purchase price
greater than the average annual salary
of a mid-career high school teacher are also welcome to board.
Also welcome at this time are passengers talking loudly
into cellphone headsets about recently completed share deals
property acquisitions and aggressive takeovers,
plus hedge fund managers with proven track records
in the undermining of small-to-medium-sized ambitions.
Passengers in classes Loam, Chalk, Marl and Clay
may also board. Customers who have purchased
our Dignity or Morning Orchid packages
may now collect their sanitised shell suits prior to boarding.

Thank you for waiting.
Mediocre passengers are now invited to board,
followed by passengers lacking business acumen
or genuine leadership potential, followed by people
of little or no consequence, followed by people
operating at a net fiscal loss as people.
Those holding tickets for zones Rust, Mulch, Cardboard,
Puddle and Sand might now want to begin gathering
their tissues and crumbs prior to embarkation.

Passengers either partially or wholly dependent on welfare
or kindness, please have your travel coupons validated
at the Quarantine Desk.

Sweat, Dust, Shoddy, Scurf, Faeces, Chaff, Remnant,
Ash, Pus, Sludge, Clinker, Splinter and Soot;
all you people are now free to board.

From Doll House Windows by Lorraine Carey

I have spoken before about my maternal grandmother’s final home – a high rise flat in Gateshead. My paternal grandparents lived in a tenement block in Glasgow. It was on the bottom floor, with two bedrooms, a small bathroom, kitchen, and living room. Up to ten people at a time lived there (my grandmother had ten children, five of whom died before the age of five) from the 1930s to when I first went there in the 1960s. My father left when he was 17, but at 84 still calls Glasgow home.

Flintstones-HouseWhat do you think of when you think of home? Is it the history of wallpaper that reflects the changing times? The leather three-piece suite you bought off some bloke in the pub and had to drive down long country lanes to a hidden away warehouse – but was assured it was all totally legit? (I know someone who actually bought his house from someone in the pub). Was it the smell of chip fat in the kitchen as it cools back to white, a cracked window that was never fixed, the gradual wearing away of the staircase carpet?

20170517_150346Lorraine Carey’s beautifully evocative poem, From Doll House Windows, is about a childhood home and the memories it still holds. “An aubergine bucket served as a toilet,/in a two foot space. Mother cursed all winter/from doll house windows where we watched/somersaulting snowflakes.” And like the poem, many of us had a pet (mine was a succession of goldfish from the fair, that usually died after two weeks), “My father brought back a storm petrel/from a trawler trip. /I homed him in a remnant of rolled up carpet -/ that matched his plumage.” But in the chaos of a young family’s house, something dark goes beyond the everyday in Lorraine’s poem; a memory of home, which will never be forgotten.

(A small note: by pure coincidence, and a reflection of how small our worlds can be, Lorraine grew up a couple of streets away from me in Coventry – who would have thought that ‘County Coundon’ could be a place of such poetic nurturing).

Lorraine Carey was born in Coventry, England and moved to Greencastle, Co. Donegal where she grew up. Her poetry has been widely published in the following: Vine Leaves, The Galway Review, Olentangy Review, Dodging the Rain, A New Ulster, Quail Bell, Live Encounters, ROPES, North West Words, Sixteen, Stanzas and Poethead and is forthcoming in Atrium and Launchpad. A past winner and runner up of The Charles Macklin Poetry Competition, she was a runner up in the 2017 Trocaire / Poetry Ireland Competition. She has contributed poetry to several anthologies and her artwork was featured as the cover image for Issue 15 of Three Drops From A Cauldron. Her debut collection From Doll House Windows – Revival Press is available from www.limerickwriterscentre.com. She now lives in Fenit, Co Kerry.

From Doll House Windows

The woodlouse dropped off the ceiling
like flaky plaster, landing on the candlewick
that failed to keep me warm in the two roomed house.
In damp darkness feeding on their own waste.
Racing rafters for the little heat in a temporary dwelling,
five minutes from Grandma’s.

An aubergine bucket served as a toilet,
in a two foot space. Mother cursed all winter
from doll house windows where we watched
somersaulting snowflakes, as evening fell.
Icicles sparkled, hung from gutters
in tapered spikes.

My father brought back a storm petrel
from a trawler trip.
I homed him in a remnant of rolled up carpet –
that matched his plumage.
Our kitchen cum every room smelt of children,
resentment, the flapping panic of his final days.

Slaters scuttled through my dreams
I tugged on my bedspread, shook them off,
disrupted my mother’s sleep as she manoeuvred
with her ghost breath sighs caught by streetlight.
She pulled the candlewick taut over her belly
the skin marked with angry tracks,

as my unborn sister stretched
in the safety of her amniotic sac.

Index of Poets

Hi Everyone,

peoplepowermonumentJust a short post to let you know that I have now compiled an alphabetical index of the poets (with their poems) who have appeared since the site began in September 2014. There are over 120 poems, from the great and the good of poetry, to the great and the good of poetry. I will be updating it to include a couple of lines from each poem, as well of course adding to it, as and when.

Here is the link:  https://proletarianpoetry.com/index-of-poets/

Thank you all for following the site, I really appreciate it. I will continue in my quest to get more poems of working class lives out there to show that we are much more than hard work. I still have hope of writing/editing a book on the project in the future, and to do more events; but this may not happen until next year when my own collection is published by Smokestack Books in April (which as you can imagine has a few poems about the working class in).

Best wishes,

Peter