Month: October 2017

Anger in Poetry: Fran Lock’s Muses and Bruises

muses bruises imageIs there enough anger in mainstream poetry today; in the journals/magazines and collections? In the US from Audre Lorde to Claudine Rankine, Terrance Hayes to Danez Smith, there is great anger in poems about the discriminations upon which that country is founded and governed. They make it into the pages of POETRY, and sell many books. Here in the UK, I’m not so sure. We may not have the scale of discrimination as felt by the US, but black men are still killed by police here, women are discriminated, abused, and killed by men, and let us not get started on the implications of Brexit and the hatred it has stoked.

This is not meant to be a comprehensive survey of anger in UK poetry, but off the top of my shiny head, there were the Liverpool poets, the original ranters of the 1980s who came out of punk; some still going strong like Tim Wells who chronicles those times in his site Stand Up and Spit. There are others in performance poetry and spoken word (as it is known); Anthony Anaxagorou’s Outspoken Press in London, which includes a number of BAME poets, such as Sabrina Mahfouz and Raymond Antrobus. There are other BAME poets, such as Kei Miller, Malika Booker, Roger Robinson, Nick Makoha (the latter published by the wonderful Peepal Press) who have great subtlety to the anger in their poems. Tony Walsh and Salena Godden from Burning Eye Books (to name only two from that stable) who have been treading the boards with their distinct brand of anger that is often done with humour. Smokestack Books, has consistently published radical, global voices, such as Amir Darwish and Steve Ely, for many years now.

Penned in the Margins publishes the aforementioned Tim Wells, and one of my favourite poets, Melissa Lee Houghton (who recently published Cumshot in D Minor, by Offord Road Press), whose poems of sexual abuse and misogyny burn. Of course, there are other publishers whose catalogue will include poets or poems of anger, e.g. Bloodaxe and Nine Arches Press, two of my favourite publishers, as well as some of Kim Moore’s past and present poems published by Seren. Then there are the online publications, with an overt social and political stance, which include Reuben Woolley’s ‘i am not a silent poet’ and Jody Porter’s ‘Well Versed’. (apologies for any glaring omissions I’m sure I’ve made, please feel free to add to the list in the comments below). However, I do feel these are on the margins.

fran lockFran Lock, who has appeared on this site a number of times, is, along with Melissa Lee Houghton, one of those electrifying poets both on the page and the stage. Since Flatrock in 2011, to the wonderful The Mystic and the Pig Thief (Salt – which no longer publishes poetry), through to Dogtooth (Outspoken Press), and our feature collection Muses and Bruises (published by Manifesto Press) Fran has consistently shouted down those who discriminate against the working class, women in particular. As she says in her introduction to the collection: “I was told once that my writing was inauthentic because working-class women don’t think or speak that way. Bollocks. I am a working- class woman, and I do write and think and speak this way. There is no one homogeneous working-class voice, any more than there is a single monolithic working-class culture. No one has any right to set limits on the way we sound or the words we use.” The collection is complemented beautifully with collages by Steev Burgess, which “bring this to the fore,[with] a mixture of decadence and squalor; grind and grime with a lick of glitter.”

The collection is in two parts; the first is a set of poems based on the muses of the arts from Greek mythology. Here is Clio, muse of history: “My mother was a Goddess, she could charm/ bees and her cheekbones were stunning./ Her silence gathered dust like an heirloom. //I am an unquiet child./ I see things and I must tell: //That man, grinning out from under/ the redacted oblong of his eyes, crawled/ from the comic opera of the past, dragging his period costume;” Similarly in the poem, Erato (muse of love poetry), there is the question of female identity from a patriarchal expectation: “And to top it all off, I’m expected to ride on
a float, my face scraped on in a strong wind, all
tits and teeth, rigid as any a hood ornament: winged Victory, pigtailed and pinioned. Bow to the crowd
like Jackie O, glamming it up at an airport.” Fran is imagining Erato as a Connemara beauty queen who is not allowed to be seen as having any other ‘attribute’ than her physical beauty, and thus like the Greek muse, is imprisoned by it.

m&bThe second part of the collection is a wonderful grotesque imagining of a place called Rag Town and the girls who inhabit it, in particular the ubiquitous La La. In her notes on this section Fran says: “We have the right, and we deserve the space in which to be angry. I started writing the Rag Town sequence with this one thought looping endlessly in my head.” This was driven by Fran’s disillusion with what International Women’s Day has become; originally called International Working Women’s Day, the dropping of the ‘Working’ de-classed the day, so that in Fran’s words it has become divisive to raise issues of class as they relate to women’s oppression. “It’s divisive, for example, to say that white, settled, middle-class women “escape” from unlovable and undervalued domestic labour at the expense of working-class women, immigrant women, women in poverty.”

Towards the end of the collection, in the poem ‘Rag Town Girls see God’, there is almost an inverted elegy in its telling of the end of man as represented by the deity. “There he is, eyes half closed, doing the math of a difficult miracle, wrist-wearied, leaning into his swig, his pull of smoke. We assume he is God. He reminds us of a man we once knew: slender and insulted by life, mixing his blessings like strong drink, suicidally agile, tying a nimble noose the minute your back was turned.” The final poem in the collection has undoubtedly the longest and angriest title, aimed at the mainstream poetry world that ignores the ‘likes of us’: “Rag Town Girls Don’t Want to be in your Shitty Fucking Magazine/Anthology/Stable of Wanky, Middle-class Poets Anyhow.” These following lines from the poem end what is a brilliant collection masterfully complemented by the collages of Steev Burgess.

“How to fake it? How to keep it in, that jittery, impassable grief? Don’t scratch yourselves, girls. Bathe. Point your toes. Glowing in a backward light cast by everything you flee from. You like proper edges, incline a tin ear to the shrug and flutter of our debateable music. If we could only sing like you, a proficient, accredited language. But we can’t, so we won’t. La-la lit a fire instead. It ate a hole in everything.”

You can listen to Fran read two of the poems here and here. You can buy the collection published by Culture Matters/Manifesto Press here.

 

Fran Lock is a sometime itinerant dog whisperer and author of three poetry collections, ‘Flatrock’ (Little Episodes, 2011), ‘The Mystic and the Pig Thief’ (Salt, 2014), and ‘Dogtooth’ (Out Spoken Press, 2017). Her work has appeared in various places, most recently Communist Review, The Morning Star, POETRY, Poetry Review, and in Best British Poetry 2015. She is the winner of various competitions including the 2014 Ambit Poetry Competition, the 2015 Out Spoken Poetry Prize, and the 2016 Yeats Poetry Prize and was shortlisted for the 2017 Bread and Roses Poetry Award.

 

Steev Burgess has juggled his career with an interest in music and art, releasing records and holding his debut art exhibition of collage art in “Red Bologna” with the help of the Circolo Ricreativo Aurora ARCI. Taking a break from music, he concentrated his efforts on making better art and extending his writing skills by “writing proper poetry” and founding the Y Tuesday poetry club at the Three Kings in Clerkenwell. His work caught the attention of the Libertine’s John Hassall. Steev and John now have a song writing partnership with his new band John Hassall and the April Rainers, whose debut album “Wheels to Idyll” has recently been released.

(images by Steev Burgess)

 

 

 

Saving for the Hamper by Ali Jones

oxfam coop stampsWhen I was young, my mum used to collect stamps. We had a Co-op on the corner. I remember she would come home with the shopping and blue stamps, letting me stick them in to slowly fill the pages until you had enough for a dividend (the books are low value collector’s items these days). The Co-op’s stamps were a response to their competitors’ schemes, especially the catch-all Green Shield stamps, which were very popular during the 1960s and 70s. Its founder, Richard Tompkins went on to set up Argos. These were the precursor to modern-day loyalty cards that now involve you giving them information about your habits through your purchases thereby capturing your ‘loyalty’.

The stamps were first introduced in the United States towards the end of the 19th century; given to customers who paid in cash as opposed to credit. There are though other schemes, especially saving for Christmas, which is implied in Alison Jones’ poem, “Saving for the Hamper”: “There was more to it than I thought, the pulling together Profile Picof pennies/ in a small leather purse and counting them when no one was looking,/ the card left face down on the kitchen table, in anticipation of a stamp.” These schemes were/are targeted at those who may not have bank accounts, or a way in which they have enough extra money at the beginning of December. This was the case for the grandmother in this poem, “I did not see the strange woman/ who woke in the dark and went digging through her pockets,/ knowing she would find nothing more than ghosts and prayers.” The schemes are now fairly widespread, the latest being Toys R Us; this despite a number going bust, sometimes before the Xmas return to its customers, such as Farepak where people tried for years to get their money back without success. Pleasures change, whether it be a computer game, or as in our poem, “The sweetness of boxed dates was as surprising as summer rain,/ and now I know that hope was a wellspring beneath the ground.” Merry Christmas everyone, whatever your faith or time of the year it may be, at least when it comes to the concerns of capitalism.

 

Ali Jones is a teacher, and writer, living in Oxford, England. She holds an MA in English, focused on poetry in domestic spaces and has written poetry in a variety of forms for many years. She is a mother of three. She is interested in the relationships between place and personal, in terms of ancestry, the everyday, geology, folk lore and fairy tales.  Her work has appeared in Fire, Poetry Rivals Spoken Word Anthology, Strange Poetry, Ink Sweat and Tears, Snakeskin Poetry, Atrium, Picaroon Poetry, Mother’s Milk Books, The Lake Magazine, Breastfeeding Matters, Breastfeeding Today and Green Parent magazine. She writes a regular column for Breastfeeding Matters Magazine, and blogs for The Motherload. She was the winner of the Green Parent Writing Prize in 2016, the runner up for the Mother’s Milk prize for prose in 2016, and has also written for The Guardian. Her poetry pamphlets, Heartwood and Omega are forthcoming with Indigo Dreams press in 2018.

 

 Saving for the Hamper

There was more to it than I thought, the pulling together of pennies
in a small leather purse and counting them when no one was looking,

the card left face down on the kitchen table, in anticipation of a stamp.
There’s more to making a celebration than I ever expected,

the small processes of finding one thing to set against another
one thing to leave out, to make do without. The chill of the larder,

the echoes in the meat safe that I did not hear, stilted to lift it
from the reachings of hungry mice. I did not see the strange woman

who woke in the dark and went digging through her pockets,
knowing she would find nothing more than ghosts and prayers.

It was always better than I hoped, the old need keeping us strong,
the anticipation of cardboard boxes and shredded newspaper,

spam, Dundee cake, jellied fruits, Baxter’s soup and beetroot relish,
My grandmother’s cooking always tasted the best. At those times,

I think we had something else with us all along, in the way she worked
hour after hour, back bent beneath the heat, drifting between

house and garden, bringing everything in, currants and plums,
potatoes and peas, turning the soil, not a scrap wasted, ever.

The sweetness of boxed dates was as surprising as summer rain,
and now I know that hope was a wellspring beneath the ground,

as she worked, letting things in, immersed in the purr of the wireless,
bleeding carols through the air, making things possible, gathering us in.

For Display Purposes Only by Emily Harrison

My son is now eighteen, has a full-time job and is happy. He is ‘functioning’. This comes after almost three years of depression which at its worst involved self-harm and suicidal ideation. He left school in Year 10, couldn’t cope with another school, nor a part-time one. All schools found it difficult to support him, besides giving him extra time to do tasks, which was not what he needed. In fairness to them, although we didn’t realise it at the time, he simply needed to be withdrawn completely. So for him, no qualifications, no ‘normal’ pathway that as parents you just assume they will take (but boy, can he play guitar and knows his way round a recording studio).

world mental health dayFluoxetine and psychiatry didn’t help; it wasn’t until he was free of daily commitments, went on mirtazapine and saw a therapist fortnightly, that he slowly came back to us. He is now just at the beginning of withdrawing from the medication as it makes him very tired and sluggish. We will see how it goes. The reason I mention this, is that this year’s theme for World Mental Health Day (WMHD) is what’s termed, ‘wellbeing in the workplace’. For the coming weeks therefore, I will be seeking out advice and monitoring how he gets on at work as he begins the withdrawal process.

emily picThe poet, Emily Harrison, in her brilliant collection, ‘I can’t sleep ‘cause my bed’s on fire’ chronicles her journey through the teenage years and into her twenties of dealing with psychiatric institutions. She often does this with humour, as in the poem ‘Stockholm Syndrome’, and importantly on the theme of love, which has its own challenges. There are some beautiful and stark poems, and as I say some are very funny. But a poem that stuck out for me in light of WMHD is ‘For Display Purposes Only’, as it describes what goes on behind the closed doors of hospitals; where the prospect of work isn’t even a distant mirage. “Far from my window,/ I can see across the courtyard/ into the maximum security ward./ I watch violent outbursts/ I watch forced sedation/ I watch men of my father’s generation/ lose every way of expressing themselves/ because talking therapy never suited them.” Like Dan Duggan’s Luxury of the Dispossessed, this is a first-hand account of mental health crises and challenges (as well as other musings as in ‘Swindon makes me feel like a Russian Bride’), which don’t necessarily end because the person is now seen to be ‘functioning’ in the workplace.

 

Emily Harrison performs regularly in London and across the UK. She was awarded Best Spoken Word Performer 2016 at The Saboteur Awards. Emily has performed at Latitude, WOMAD and Glastonbury festival. “Astute and at times painfully humorous”, her first full-length collection ‘I Can’t Sleep ’cause My Bed’s On Fire’ was released with Burning Eye Books last year. She is currently working on a second collection. You can find Emily in East London. She’ll probably fall in love with you on the tube.

 

 

For Display Purposes Only

Jacqui leaves old orange peel and banana skin on my radiator,
says it smells just like potpourri.
To me it’s week-old bin liner on a hot day
but I don’t have the heart to tell her that.

When a nurse asks,
I don’t want to drop Jacqui in it.
I adopt her backward thinking reluctantly,
explain word for word
until the word potpourri loses all meaning.
He nods himself through it like I did.
It’s not that he doesn’t have the heart to tell me,
he doesn’t have the time.
There isn’t a box for that on the form
and he’s only allowed one Biro.

The last time I dobbed Jacqui in
they took her artwork away.
She got 7.5mg and couldn’t talk without dribbling.

From my window
I can see across the courtyard
into the maximum security ward.
I watch violent outbursts.
I watch forced sedation.
I watch men of my father’s generation
lose every way of expressing themselves
because talking therapy never suited them.

And now they sit in armchairs –
                the ‘if you’re sat on it you can’t throw it’ theory.
They watch paint climb the walls –
                the ‘stare at it long enough and it disappears’ therapy.
They wait for nothing to happen
twice.

Over this side we know to let things slide.
I’m staring hard at everything, hoping it all just disappears.

Everything,
except the smell of burning orange peel
and the word potpourri.

 

the spaces left bare by matt duggan

Homage_to_Catalonia,_Cover,_1st_EditionIt is seventy years since George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia was published; his personal account of the Spanish Civil War. Now, the papers’ headlines carry the same title, as the people of Catalonia once again go against the Madrid government in a so-called ‘illegal’ referendum on independence. Irrespective of one’s views about the subject of the vote, the state response of violence against all and sundry was abhorrent. Scenes across the region, but in particular Barcelona where much of the media was concentrated, and lest we forget where a terrorist atrocity was carried out along the famous Las Ramblas, showed an elderly woman with blood pouring from her head, another with a woman’s fingers being broken, and many other such beatings.

But this is not the only concern the people of Barcelona have had to fight against. In August of this year there was a demonstration on the streets and beach of the city against the continued building of tourist apartments, which is having a negative effect on local peoples’ access to housing. The head of the local federation of neighbourhood associations (the FAVB), Camilo Ramos who supported the protest, said it ‘demands that Barcelona reconquers spaces that were previously … in citizens’ control, such as la Rambla…; there are increasing problems in the city, such as expulsion of lower income people due to the increase in prices of rents and shopping halls, as well as a growth of flats altered into tourist houses.’

20150808_152657Matt Duggan’s poem, The Spaces Left Bare, reflects on such a protest during a stay in Barcelona; one that can be seen as a wider indicator of heightened capitalism and its effect on peoples’ ability to afford housing in major cities and conurbations throughout the world; something that echoes developments from San Francisco to Delhi and no doubt beyond. And like in London leaves many places uninhabited, at night the room lights up for no one/ then fades as dusk wakes the clock; / where guests will never reserve or stay.’ In the future, will they say this is a homage to capitalism? Is the Spanish government’s actions a homage to democracy? I think not.

Matt Duggan’s poems have appeared in Osiris, The Journal, Ink, Sweat, and Tears, Into the Void, Black Light Engine Room, Prole, The Dawntreader, Algebra of Owls. In 2015 Matt won the Erbacce Prize for Poetry with his first full collection Dystopia 38.10 http://erbacce-press.webeden.co.uk/#/matt-duggan/4590351997. In 2016 he won the Into the Void Poetry Prize with his poem Elegy for Magdalene. In 2017 Matt did his first reading in Boston in the U.S. and has been invited back to be headline poet at the prestigious Poetry Reading Series held at Cambridge Public Library in April 2018 where he will also be doing his first readings in New York with beat poet George Wallace. Matt is working on a new collection Look What We’ve Become.

 

 

The Spaces Left Bare

The only human figures to pass on these walls
are the shadows in opposing rooms
those reflections

                              during the summer months
bounce from the ceiling like ghosts dressed in black suits.
Air is stale and needs recycling
windows gleam with no visible fingerprints,
immaculate laminated tiles

                              underfloor heating
                                                  the spaces are left bare. ……

Where beneath the plush gothic balcony
a homeless man sleeps in the open air
at night the room lights up for no one
then fades as dusk wakes the clock;
where guests will never reserve or stay.