Month: December 2017

Dr Lee and the Apple Tree/Silencing Big Ben by Katherine Lockton

lemn sissay christmas dinnersWhat is a working class Christmas? It is two hundred homeless people spending the day in Euston train station, out of the cold and being fed. It is the Christmas Dinner’s Project founded by the poet Lemn Sissay, which provides dinners for those aged 18-25 leaving care. It is organisations like Crisis, the Quakers, the Sally Army, supporting the homeless. There are a whole host of volunteering initiatives on the day. Christmas is about not forgetting those more in need than ourselves, whether they are Christian or not and whatever class and/or religion you may be. And yes, it is the escape from work (not from family though), over-indulging, getting ratted, forgetting what Boxing Day is really about & having a punch up instead, the list I am sure is endless on depending on your inclinations.

Then there are the children, no not the children I hear you scream, well yes, the children. This government has put increasing numbers of children in poverty; this is because of falling wages (the majority of people in poverty in the UK are in work – one of Labour’s great failings was subsidising capitalism through tax credits thus allowing businesses to keep wages low) and the general cuts to benefits, compounded by the Universal Credit debacle.

21122459_10155764293890337_9149087267056264227_oBut there are also the children who will spend Christmas day in hospital, where small acts of kindness can mean a lot, as Katherine Lockton describes in her poem, Dr Lee and the Apple Tree, I lie in Westminster Hospital on Christmas day/ and Santa visits me and tells me while I play// that I will walk, and says this with so much/ knowing that I believe his words and blush.’ But some children will not be as lucky to have a visit from Santa, and live in fear of their own family, as Katherine shows in her second poem, Silencing Big Ben, ‘My father’s mood swings, a steel pendulum, cold and shiny as Big Ben’s./ I learn to say yes, sorry and yes again.’ So give it up for any excuse to reflect on where and who we are in a year we didn’t think we could top the misery of 2016, but it has, and with knobs on. Let’s hope for an impeachment of the large orange one. Cheers!

This will be the last post from PP this year. Thank you to all who have kept reading and supporting the poetry of working class lives. Have a great end of year, whether you celebrate Christmas or not, and we’ll see you on the other side.

 

Katherine Lockton is a poet living in London who runs exciting workshops at South Bank Poetry. She has experience teaching and running workshops with beginner and advanced students, teenagers, the elderly and those with health problems. Her work has been published in publications such as: Magma, Rising, Morning Star, Northwords Now, The Delinquent, and ‘Hallelujah for 50ft Women’ out with Bloodaxe. Katherine has won a number of awards including the Inaugural International Travel Bursary by The Saltire Society and British Council Scotland, shortlisted for Girton College’s Jane Martin Poetry Prize, and won first place in the Field Poetry Competition judged by Martin Figura.

 

 

Dr Lee and The Apple Tree

The walking stick that Doctor Yung Lee
has gifted me is made from an apple tree.

I can still smell the apples the tree once grew.
The apples are like the ones that I once drew.

I lie in Westminster Hospital on Christmas day
and Santa visits me and tells me while I play

that I will walk, and says this with so much
knowing that I believe his words and blush.

No one will ever love me again I cry.
The man in the red suit hides his eyes.

Love is the small details in life; the giving
of clay buttons instead of gold rings;

when words simply cannot do
and life gets in the way of it all too.

Silencing Big Ben

My father’s mood swings, a steel pendulum, cold and shiny as Big Ben’s.
I learn to say yes, sorry and yes again.

The day they silenced Big Ben, my father learnt to speak, to say things other than “fuck” and “fuck”.

As a child I clung onto that steel. Now all but gone, my body swings with the music of it all. I used to wish

I had that very same metal boldness; now only that I could, with the braveness of a duckling swimming in its first rain, give up.

A Short History of San Antonio by Charles G Lauder, Jr.

One of the things I like about doing PP, is learning from the poems – not only the universal themes that have been the mainstay of poetry, but predominantly the history, past figures critical to left wings movements, whether at the global level, or in their own country at a particular time. I tend to be more interested in figures who fought against power, than those who went on to hold it (although being in power is the harder job, as countless leaders have shown in their failure). The lives of people like James Baldwin, Rosa Luxembourg, Langston Hughes, Paul Robeson, Audre Lorde are fascinating in the paths they took to try to change the structures of power, and arguably did so in the more difficult pre-Internet, world war and revolutionary times.

Poets thus far on Proletarian Poetry have covered a number of prominent, yet sometimes not so well-known individuals who tried to hold power to account. Ian Duhig’s poem about the Mexican revolutionary Manuel Palofax who advised Zapato; Malika Booker’s lament to Walter Rodney, the Guyanese academic activist who was assassinated in a car bomb; Matt Duggan’s poem about Wat Tyler the 14th century leader of the peasants’ revolt; Catherine Graham’s poem about the writer Jack Common feted by George Orwell; John Mole’s poem of the ‘peasant poet’ John Clare; Lemn Sissay with Sparkcatchers, about the Bow Matchwomen’s strike, and Jon Tait’s Kinmont Willie, a 16th century border raider against the English. Then of course there are the poems about people, (relations, friends of poets) who led so-called ordinary lives, yet did extraordinary things when looking back from our comparative prosperity and safer lives.

I’m very pleased therefore to add another such poem to the site, with Charles Lauder’s A Short History of San Antonio, which in fact brings the two aforementioned aspects into one; as Charles explains, ‘it started as a personal tale of my great-grandmother’s pecan tree but as poems often do, expanded into one also of Emma Tenayuca (pictured) in the Pecan Shellers Strike of January 1938, her life as a union organizer and fighter for workers’ rights (especially Mexican women).’ As Charles refers to her, she was also known as La Pasionaria (the Passion Flower), like the more well-known (in Europe at least), Isidora Dolores Ibárruri Gómez, who became General Secretary of the Communist Party after her role in the Spanish Civil War and coined the phrase, ‘no pasaran’ (they shall not pass). The juxtaposition of these OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAof stories two women in Mexico and Texas, is so impressive in connecting the personal with the more general sweep of history, and makes for a great read.

Charles G Lauder, Jr, was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas, and has lived in the UK for the past seventeen years. His poems have appeared internationally and he has published two pamphlets: Bleeds (2012) and Camouflaged Beasts (2017). ‘A Short History of San Antonio’ is part of a new series of political poems. He is also the Assistant Editor for The Interpreter’s House.

 

A Short History of San Antonio

Sixteen men in dungarees and Zapata moustaches,
the dustiness of their skin revealing
how long they’ve been in Texas,
drink coffee on the newly built
front porch, legs dangling over the edge
while the foreman’s wife hangs doors,
strolls along the garage’s tin roof
hammer in hand, looking for loose sections.
This will be her house, this tree
her personal supply of pecans.

                                        (barefoot La Pasionaria eats ice cream
                                        with her grandfather in Plaza del Zacate
                                        after Sunday morning mass at St. Agnes’s,
                                        listens to an anarchist read newspaper accounts
                                        of revolution in Mexico, of the FBI snatching
                                        and deporting radical leftists, of the Klan’s plan
                                        to parade through the city; it will be a few years
                                        before La Pasionaria organizes her first strike,
                                        spends her first night in jail, two hundred of them
                                        in a space meant for sixty)

Underneath this canopy, the foreman’s wife thinks,
there will be a patio of crazy paving
with places to sit and drink iced tea,
a red-and-silver two-wheeled barrel
flavoring pecans overhead with barbecued
pork shoulder and chuck roast; in October
the tree will throw down a gauntlet of pecans,
their husks like swollen wrinkled yellow eyelids
that must be peeled back, the shell heel-smashed
or delicately cracked over a tin baking tray.

                                        (La Pasionaria discovers Thomas Paine
                                        and Karl Marx, marches and demonstrates
                                        for Mexican women rolling cigars, sewing clothes
                                        in dirt-floor homes lit by kerosene lamp
                                        with no running water or electricity; she learns
                                        about those in white aprons and thin cotton dresses,
                                        with their Si and ¿Baño, por favor?
                                        
herded onto long benches in airless rooms
                                        facing a line of washed-out oil cans and piles of pecans
                                        that must be spun into gold by day’s end)

The foreman’s wife doles out pecans piecemeal
to children and grandchildren like an advance
on an inheritance to see what they make of it,
returning at Christmas with pies and candied yams,
sugar cookies and snickerdoodles,
served after mass to East Coast cousins
with a la mode tales of stupid Mexicans
and an admonishment that ‘a pee-can
is what you keep under the bed in case of emergency.’

                                        (twelve thousand women gather in the park
                                        chanting La Pasionaria’s name; she organizes
                                        pickets, hands out leaflets, ladles soup;
                                        police and Anglos fear the West Side tide
                                        is turning from brown to red, storm picket lines
                                        with bricks and bats while the Klan burn effigies;
                                        the union fears she is too much a communist
                                        and puts a man in charge to end the strike;
                                        the shellers get three more brown pennies
                                        and someone to fix the scales
                                        while men roll cracking machines
                                        into the spaces where they used to sit)

The foreman’s wife has to tear down
and rebuild the garage for being two inches
over the property line, her hammer stained
with the squirrel that bit her son’s calf.
On the garage walls, she hangs
old license plates, tools, and a bathtub
for making gin. Sometimes, she stays up
all night playing cards. She makes
her grandchildren hold the chickens
while she wields the axe. As a widow,
she transforms the house into a duplex,
takes in tenants. Her great-grandchildren
find her on the garage roof mending leaks.

                                        (La Pasionaria runs through an underground tunnel,
                                        as protestors storm the auditorium, rip out seats,
                                        smash windows, where she was just speaking;
                                        she tries to find work, but even under an alias
                                        she is known; she flees to the West Coast
                                        for twenty years; when she returns, she discovers
                                        murals of herself on the walls of laundromat, gas station,
                                        elementary school; she teaches literacy
                                        to Mexican children in the old barrio;
                                        mourners bring pieces of steel to her funeral)

Winner Stays On by Katherine Owen

17843-carters-barn-showroom-pool-tablesMonday nights in pubs was games night. My father was in the dominoes’ team (5s & 3s) at his local at the bottom of the street, and I was in the pool team at my local at the top of the street. This was a strictly male affair, at least in the way traditions don’t change. We played pool across the city; it was the one time you could go to the roughest pubs and not fear a beating – sometimes the locals left that to taking chunks out of each other. The main fear however, was when the opposing team had a female member, sometimes even two, out of the eight. In that male repressed world of banter, if you drew the ‘bird’, you were in a no-win situation – you get the picture.

5170f458a2ff2113c14c63fb591ef0a4Society has been set up for men; whether in their increasingly outdated role of breadwinner, although this is still the predominant form of gender relations, or in social activities – pubs, sports events and team sports. Participation rates in sport between the genders has been massively skewed. In the US for example, 40% of boys played basketball compared with 25% for girls, and that’s one of the better examples. Walk around your local park on a Saturday or Sunday morning and you will see it populated by boys and men, from six to their mid-fifties, playing football. Things are however, improving; women’s football is becoming more prominent, and other sports such as swimming and cycling are being given a certain level of equal coverage.

638x759Katherine Owen’s evocative poem, “Winner Stays On,” depicts a night when a woman takes on the men at pool in their habitat, similar to my own experience back in the 80s. It’s winner stays on at The Brown Jack./ But after our game, Graham and I slip back/ to the shadows./ Not good enough to play the regulars.” On hearing this poem at the Swindon Poetry Festival, Katherine explained how she had been recovering from ill-health, and simply being able to stand at a pool table was a personal advance. “The balls go down in a slow, consistent way./ Now all eyes are on the table:/ the only woman in the pub shoots pool./ Inwardly, I laugh./Even to walk is something new.” I won’t give the game away (sic) by saying how it turns out, but as with any good poem, there is a lot more going on than appears on the surface; much the same as happens in a game of pool, of football, or more generally when looking at the gender make-up and politics of sport.

Katherine Owen started dictating poems during the 14 years of her life she spent bedbound with severe Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. A prize winning poet, Katherine is published in various anthologies, including The Book of Love and Loss. She is author of Be Loved Beloved– a collection of spiritual poetry. Katherine has given talks and readings throughout the country, as well as radio and blog interviews. She runs the popular websites: www.HealingCFSME.com and www.a-spiritual-journey-of-healing.com.

Winner Stays On

It’s winner stays on at The Brown Jack.
But after our game, Graham and I slip back
to the shadows.
Not good enough to play the regulars
we invite up someone new.
But the man insists
so I, the winner, step up
apologising for ineptitude.

The balls go down in a slow, consistent way.
Now all eyes are on the table:
the only woman in the pub shoots pool.
Inwardly, I laugh.
Even to walk is something new.

The man gets anxious.
“Don’t let a girl win,”
shouts a voice from the crowd.
But she does.

Another man takes his place.
Now the atmosphere builds.
I resist apologies for misses,
silently chanting,
‘I can pot the balls’,
‘I can pot the balls’.
And I do
benefit from mistakes made by a man
in fear of losing to
a woman.

Another fills his place.
This time, at last, I lose and take my seat.
My friend smiles,
sharing the extraordinary.

Months later, back at The Brown Jack,
I chat to a regular.
He says:
“I was there that night.”

That night a woman walked
and won.