Month: March 2018

happy poem & sad poem by Jake Hawkey

Stop_the_FOBTs_Machine-e1360155648590Besides cleaning the toilets, one of the hardest things I had to do when I used to work in the local bookies, was taking bets from Dads of some of the lads I knew; especially Dads who had too much to drink. Coming over from the pub after three o’clock closing, they would empty their pockets on the horses before trailing off home to sleep it off and face the consequences. This was a time when there were far fewer races to bet on and no Fixed Odd Betting Terminals (like the old one arm bandit).

Lies, damn lies, and statistics, damn the betting industry over problem gambling. On the one hand, it is claimed that problem gambling hasn’t risen at all over the past fifteen or more years, since FOBTs were introduced. Yet, there are questions about the relevance of the methodology to today’s market. Putting that to one side, there is undoubtedly an increase in advertising in gambling and it also makes me wonder the correlation with the increase in payday loans. There is far too little regulation in this market. Although gambling and betting are synonymous, I think there is a difference between someone studying the form and placing a bet on a particular nag, dog, or football team, and someone coming into a betting shop and dropping their money in a machine of luck.

Jake Hawkey PictureToday’s poems by Jake Hawkey, takes on the juxtaposition of a loving husband and problem gambling and drinking. They remind me a little of Simon Armitage’s ‘Poem’ in the duality of a man’s personality: ‘And every week he tipped up half his wage./ And what he didn’t spend each week he saved./ And praised his wife for every meal she made./ And once, for laughing, punched her in the face.’ Jake’s poems are split neatly into ‘happy’ and ‘sad’: in ‘happy’ our narrator tells of his boss who had a drinking problem, but ‘she gave him a chance./ she stuck by him./ it’ll be seven years soon without a drink/ and they’re off to Spain next week.’ However, as you can guess from the title, in ‘sad’ it doesn’t turn out so well. ‘George has just been escorted by the police from/ the premises./ £900 went missing and George took it from the safe/ and spunked it in a local bookmakers.

It was the mothers of my friends (as well as my friends) who were the collateral damage of problem gambling and drinking done by the ‘head-of-the-household’ – although I do have to emphasise they were a minority. There are multiple reasons why someone becomes addicted to some form of stimulant; but what doesn’t help is when the ‘free market’ whether through advertising or deregulation is allowed to feed on the vulnerable. It’s like giving a drunk driver a bottle of whisky on the motorway, it is a car crash waiting to happen, with the family sitting in the back.


Jake Hawkey was born in south London in 1990, studied Fine Art at the University of Westminster and released his debut chapbook ‘all the flowers at the petrol station’ in 2016. He is currently teaching and listening for his next poem. You can get Jake’s debut chapbook here – Twitter: @jake_hawkey


happy poem


my boss George
said his wife hated him when he used to drink.
she used to pray for him to go to sleep;
staring up to the ceiling.
she still flinches to the sound of a can opening.

he had no control.

now, he tells me,
they travel the world.
they’ve been to Singapore,
Italia and many more.
he’s lighter on his feet.
ocean liners, one-liners,
making love in big hotel beds.
Sunday dinners joking with the in-laws.

now she adores him.

she calls the desk at work and I put her through
and even I can feel the warmth through the phone.

she gave him a chance.
she stuck by him.
it’ll be seven years soon without a drink
and they’re off to Spain next week.

this is a happy poem

and George you guys just might be
my hero and heroine.


sad poem


in a previous poem
I wrote about my boss George finding some balance.
George has just been escorted by the police from
the premises.
£900 went missing and George took it from the safe
and spunked it in a local bookmakers.

this man with a family, a beautiful wife and a mortgage
won’t be trusted around money again.

betting on Charlton to win when he doesn’t even know
who’s in the team.

maybe this is how he affords holidays.
maybe he just wanted to take his wife away again,

to make up for lost time.

I hope George figures out what’s driving him.

I hope George finds some balance.

I hope George slays his demons.

his wife phones in to ask what’s happening –
her loving voice down the phone –
I don’t know what to tell her.


Three Books from Smokestack in April: Stephen Sawyer, Richard Skinner, and Peter Raynard

Radically good poetry from Smokestack, April 2018


Stephen Sawyer’s debut collection is a book about public dreams, private desires and common fears. From a Merseyside housing estate in the 1960s via Pinochet and Thatcher to the floods in Sheffield in 2007, these poems trace the sutures of power and resistance on the body and under the skin through the mediations of love, death, class, art and oppression.

Paperback £7.99 – ISBN 9781999827601


Novelist Richard Skinner’s third collection tips certainties on their heads, making familiar objects in the world unfamiliar. From the Lollards to Saint Fabiola, questions of faith run through these poems as they engage with different poetic forms – the cento, the cinquain, the unrhymed sonnet, cut-ups and free verse.

Paperback £4.99 – ISBN 9780995767584

Peter Raynard, PRECARIOUS

A book that  tackles questions of masculinity, class, mental health and work head on. Rosa Luxembourg, Orgreave, 11-plus failures – it’s a book about precarious times, hard lessons and fragile lives, a defiant celebration of British working-class life and the people ‘who make the wheels go round’.

Paperback £7.99 – ISBN 9780995767591

Different Perspectives by Mike Gallagher

FullSizeRender (4)I have just received a great little publication by my friend and comrade in poetry, Rishi Dastidar; ‘95 Reminders’ is designed like an extra-large packet of cigarette papers, with front, back and insides adorned with epigram-type directions. The idea is based on Martin Luther’s 95 theses; some 500 years old, they were ‘arguments against what he viewed as corrupt practices of the Catholic Church, and now considered the start of the Protestant Reformation’. Rishi’s 95 reminders are a wonderful mix of wry powerful statements, from the personal (a reminder that your kids are not as interesting as your thought they were), to the global (a reminder that the world will always be on fire, whether we are here or not), to the political (a reminder that bearing witness can also be an act of resistance).

In light of today’s poem, and my interest in power, I particularly like ones such as his pop-picking Number 1 – ‘A reminder that no one – OK, very few people – ever gives up power willingly’. But the one that really rings in my ear, is probably one of the most simply put – ‘A reminder that solidarity is not a swear word’. Yes! If you look back to the miner’s strike of ’84 for example, Thatcher stopped workers from other parts of the country, going to support the likes of the Yorkshire miners. It was a brazen obstruction of solidarity.

White House PoetMike Gallagher’s poem ‘Different Perspectives’ juxtaposes two examples of oppression; the first ‘Morant Bay, Jamaica, Seventeen Fifties,/ in close order a line of black women/ file up a ship’s gangway, overladen/ panniers of coal balanced on their heads.’ There is some comparison here with Mike’s own heritage, as the Irish were the first to be exiled to Jamaica by the British, and today still make up a large minority in the country. The second ‘perspective’ is ‘West Hartlepool, Nineteen Sixties, on a hard/ winter day, a line of unemployed men scratch/ the shoreline for nuggets of coal, shipbuilding/ gone, steelworks moved on to cheaper climes.’ Although some fifty years past, this feels so contemporaneous. And as Mike says of the two, ‘Different? Hardly! Just different perspectives.’ It is this type of solidarity of thought, experience, of action, that Thatcher knew to rail against when saying: ‘Morality is personal. There is no such thing as collective conscience, collective kindness, collective gentleness, collective freedom.’ I think the opposite to be true – it is immorality that is personal, and the aim and success of the collective, is solidarity, which she made into a swear word.


Mike Gallagher, writer, poet and editor, was born on Achill Island and worked in London for forty years before retiring to Kerry. His prose, poetry, haiku and songs have been published in Ireland and throughout Europe, America, Australia, Nepal, India, Thailand, Japan and Canada. His writing has been translated into Croatian, Japanese, Dutch, German, Italian and Chinese. He won the Michael Hartnett Viva Voce competition in 2010 and 2016, was shortlisted for the Hennessy Award in 2011 and won the Desmond O’Grady International Poetry Contest in 2012. His poetry collection Stick on Stone was published by Revival Press in 2013.



Different Perspectives

Different pictures in my Sunday paper:
Morant Bay, Jamaica, Seventeen Fifties,
in close order a line of black women
file up a ship’s gangway, overladen
panniers of coal balanced on their heads.
From an upper deck, a white overseer
looks down on the scene; no doubt, he fumes
when the woman slips, spills her load
onto the floor below; no doubt, he takes
appropriate action just as I would in Achill
all those years later when the donkey got
stuck in the bog, lashing out with whip and clog
at my own clumsy beast of burden.

West Hartlepool, Nineteen Sixties, on a hard
winter day, a line of unemployed men scratch
the shoreline for nuggets of coal, shipbuilding
gone, steelworks moved on to cheaper climes.
Balanced on the bars of Rudge or Raleigh bikes,
jute bags hold half-crown promises; Woodbines
dangle from bottom lips; half hidden under the
peaks of cloth caps, cowering despair scowls
its irresistible, irredeemable fate.

Different? Hardly! Just different perspectives
on nationhood, on history, on gender on race,
snares set by an unscrupulous elite to divide us,
to persuade us to hate, to slaughter each other
while they, the bankers, the masters of war,
the ministers, the moguls, the rapacious
minority, rob our Earth of its resources; by choice,
will starve to death eleven million children
in this one year alone; through their predator instincts,
their manic obsession with profits, will lead us into wars,
into famines, maybe annihilation, lure us, slavishly.
to the insatiable trough of commerce, make us
even more unequal. Greed makes us all the poorer.

Message from my Aunt on her son’s death anniversary by Zeina Hashem Beck

MOMS_EIn almost every country, in particular those where guns are prevalent, the murder rate is overwhelmingly men killing men; whether in gangs, organised criminal activities, or random acts of violence. Yet, it is women, mothers especially, who are at the forefront of the grieving and action to stop further killings of their sons and partners. In the UK, there are initiatives such as the Mothers Against Violence in Manchester, in a number of US states MOMS Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, there is even a Grandmothers version of this group.

Of course, in zones of conflict and state-sanctioned violence, the pattern is even worse. In Argentina, during military rule in the 70s & 80s, it is estimated that 30,000 people went ‘missing’. It is the mothers, sisters, aunts, who turn up at political institutions, holding pictures of their loved ones who were taken by the junta, asking for information. In the once besieged town of Raqqa in Syria, families are now searching for their men who went ‘missing’ at the hands of Islamic State. And one can only imagine how widespread this is in Syria at the hands of the government.

Beige DressZeina Hashem Beck’s poem, ‘Message from my Aunt on her son’s death anniversary, beautifully tells of the narrator’s relationship with her aunt who lost her son ‘to a shooting on the street’. This is done through the seemingly blunt tool of texting and emoticons, but what is told is poignant, sad, and also uplifting, about a love between an aunt and niece – two women grieving over the loss of another man to gun violence.

Zeina Hashem Beck is a Lebanese poet. Her most recent collection, Louder than Hearts, won the 2016 May Sarton NH Poetry Prize. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, won Best of the Net, and appeared in Poetry, Ploughshares, World Literature Today, the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day, and elsewhere. Her poem “Maqam” won Poetry Magazine’s 2017 Frederick Bock Prize.


Message from my Aunt on her son’s death anniversary

My aunt, the one who lost a son
to a shooting on the street, the one slowly losing
her sight, sends me voice messages and emoticons,
prayers like A fortress, my love,
protect you from harm in all directions –
above and below you, behind and before you.

Today, the emoticon is an orange.
Perhaps it’s a mistake. Perhaps she means
a kiss, or a heart, or a flower,
her eyes and aging fingers failing her.

But perhaps she means the fruit, remembers
how she used to sing me that song
where I was the orange she wanted
to peel and eat and not share with anyone,

remembers how much I love sour winter oranges,
the way they are round and whole, yet break
into many bright crescents hidden beneath their skin.

Perhaps she’s saying what she always says
when she opens her arms and walks towards me,
I was telling myself you must have arrived.
The whole town smells of oranges when you are here.