Month: May 2018

Guest Post by Ali Jones: Is Home Really a Choice? (with poem ‘Overspill’)

housingHousing in the United Kingdom has always been an area fraught with disparities. When cities began to expand post-industrial revolution, and more places to live were needed in urban settings, people began to move on a scale that hadn’t been seen before.  This flocking of people from rural settings towards employment, allowed opportunistic private builders to provide densely populated and disorganised developments, which subjected many families to poor and overcrowded living conditions, without effective sanitation or natural light. There was pressure on the Government to begin looking at housing issues, and they were slowly persuaded to intervene.

Governments began to pass various Acts mainly aimed at addressing the worst areas of housing unfit for habitation, or to improve or demolish existing houses. The most important Act came in 1890: the ‘Housing for the Working Classes Act’. Efforts were made to build and regulate private Common Lodging Houses that catered for those in most need; often single men who lived in dormitory style accommodation. The Housing and Town Planning Act of 1919 (The Addison Act) was seen as a watershed in the provision of corporation (council) housing.

After World War Two, and the escalation of the housing crisis in relation to slum clearance programmes, many councils began to develop peripheral estates on the edges of towns and cities. Sometimes, boundary lines were expanded to include these new places, and people were moved from overcrowded inner-city areas out onto the far edges of communities.

There were many common problems with such new suburban developments, such as distances from town centres and lack of adequate bus services. People were often moved in before road and pavements were complete and had to deal with feelings of loss and isolation amongst thick mud, while they tried to settle into their new spaces.

Profile PicI grew up on an estate that had been made to house an ‘overspill’ population who were moved from London as part of slum clearances in the 1950s. I have often wondered who came up with that label, and whether a better term might have been used. It has always struck me that rehousing must have been a traumatic experience, even for stoic communities who had lived through bombing raids and been trained to keep calm and carry on, no matter what was happening.

Sense of home and belonging are powerful things, and the poetry of landscape and identity is something I am working on in my own writing. In this poem, I aim to address what it might have been like, to come from London to a middle England market town, reliant on farming as its main industry, and try to put down roots amongst a population who were both hostile and voyeuristic in their approach to the moved-in city dwellers. Such feelings ripple through generations. I don’t know if things have moved on, with current house prices rocketing, legal changes around lead tenants, multi occupancy tenancy, shared housing and overcrowding a common experience; and those at the lower end of earning possibilities, once again being placed at the mercy of the more economically powerful. Occasionally the media shine a light on stories of those who are moved far from family and friends, as was shown in the film ‘I Daniel Blake’, and unfortunately such cases are more often than not shown through negative and critical constructs. Perhaps where we call home isn’t really a choice?

 

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.

 

 

Overspill

                                       *

Rainy Saturday afternoons
winds ripple coffee over puddles. Below privet,
slugs stream out among an elaborate calligraphy
of dogshit and cigarette ends, the discarded and unwelcome.

Behind lines and thresholds, reproduction masters
hang in gilded frames. Chintz, Wedgewood kept for best,
plastic imitating willow, to hold prizes of Golden Delicious.

In the kitchens, Five Spice, Angel Delight,
a brick of Neapolitan wrapped in newspaper,
crouches low in the cool beneath Formica.

Radios speak into silence.

*

At night, the old country seeps back into the estate,
a new-born place, abstract finding form.  Foxes root
beneath manicured hedges and turn over ashcans.
Moths ghost around sodium lights, mist hovers over lawns.
Spirits laugh in dark alleys, and whistle down chimneys.

When they first arrive, children walk the streets,
spying on houses of  ones they think better off,
those only joined to one other, or even completely detached;
eying interiors, rooms with spaces in the middle of them.

In winter, it is at its harshest, the most unforgiving.
Stone statues squatting by gateposts,
bulbs pricking the soil like neatly stitched seams,
blackened branches of plum and  cherry reaching
for a watercolour sun. The edges punctuated
by a shock of red; a phone box or an idling Post Van.

At the boundary, more open to the sky, a spit of wildwood,
elder, and spindle, treading mythical lines, along the periphery.

To stand there here is like peering over the rim of the world
into a fairy-tale. Only the post-box, for some reason placed
at the end, on the wrong side of the road, stands like
a crimson exclamation mark, in solidarity with suburban sprawl

New-borns need to find their own patterns and rituals,
the lineation of milk bottles on steps, washing flying
early as possible to beat the neighbours in a competition
that was always unspoken. Its heartbeat becomes rhythms
of daily chores, conversations over chestnut palings, chain-link,
the ongoing geometry of connection and distance.

New people cannot be avoided, made insubstantial
by bricks and mortar. They cluster and constellate;
meteorites travelling far from their origins. Imagine them,
stepping home from work into waiting warm slippers,
unwinding in cool gardens that smell of lavender and honeysuckle.

At twilight, stars appearing, maybe someone raises a hand,
as if to touch their brightness, the sky here so much clearer
than damp squibs spied through London smog.

*

What is a home anyway? A place with four walls, and a roof,
with your people and things in it, a place to lay your head.

A place that doesn’t threaten to collapse and wall you up in dust.
Separation is deception, there is simplicity in taking people,

lifting them out and placing them elsewhere. Distance is a long thread
that pulls in a new town, all factories, farming, warehouses, shift patterns,

shopkeepers, safety boots. Happiness is implied. Here is your own house.
You will have a garden, clear air to breathe, jobs a plenty, here is a fresh start.

Maybe moving was like picking at the edges of an old wound,
or ripping a plaster off too quickly and taking the scab away.

At night, in empty roads, a chorus of wings passes over dark rooftops,
fields beyond stretch silently, and at a window a single bulb burns

where someone sits up late, sips tea; remembers.

For Display Purposes Only by Emily Harrison

Second from the archives for Mental Health Awareness Week, from the brilliant Emily Harrison

Proletarian Poetry

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…

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Accident, and Hangings by Melissa Lee-Houghton

It is National Mental Health Awareness Week, so here is a poem from the archives by the inimitable Melissa Lee Houghton

Proletarian Poetry

wspdToday’s post is not about class. It is given over to World Suicide Prevention Day.

Three days before his GCSE exams, a boy in my sons’ school committed suicide. It was ‘out of the blue’, as was that of the well-known human rights barrister Michael Mansfield’s daughter. It is something we are all close to; one it twenty think about suicide, in the UK thirteen men a day kill themselves. WHO figures estimate that around 800,000 people commit suicide each day across the world. It is an epidemic we should not ignore.

The poet Abegail Morley has been posting poems in the run-up to the day by a number of poets, including today’s featured poet Melissa Lee-Houghton (you can read here). Melissa sent me a number of poems for Proletarian Poetry, which I was privileged to read, and will be included in her forthcoming collection. They are…

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Guest Blog & Poem ‘Voices’ by Lorraine Carey

20150622_113326 (2)Article 40.3.3, known as the Eighth Amendment, was voted into the Irish Constitution by referendum in 1983. The amendment states: ‘The states acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.’ It equates the life of a pregnant woman with that of an embryo or foetus, and has created an unworkable distinction between a pregnant woman’s life and her health.

On Friday May 25th, Ireland will hold a referendum to Repeal the Eighth Amendment.

This is a highly emotive, divisive debate with both sides passionate about their beliefs and the choices available. I wrote the poem ‘Voices’ (see below) after I read of an attack on an individual collecting outside a Catholic Church, after being subjected to vile abuse from a Pro-Life Campaigner. The sheer level of hypocrisy and turning a blind eye just baffles me. The individual was quoted as saying ” I found it totally insensitive, totally disrespectful and indeed insulting, looking for money to promote abortion outside the Catholic Church”.

I found it sickening when the discovery of infant remains were unearthed in a septic tank, little babies thrown in like refuse, without a second thought or the dignity of a name to mark their short existences.

As a mother, I found it heartbreaking to read of tragedies and ruined lives because of childhood sexual abuse by priests and nuns and the lengths the Church went to, to cover up and keep these individuals quiet. It is disgusting, insensitive, totally disrespectful and indeed insulting that the voices trying to silence those (women), are at the centre of this tsunami in changing culture. Misogyny’s alive and kicking within Ireland and the Church.

The Catholic Church’s control and influence in Ireland has taken a severe hammering with accounts of clerical abuse, mistreatment of women in laundries, selling children and babies to Americans (and subsequently faking these children’s deaths) the discovery of infant remains in Tuam, Co. Galway and a total disregard for the suffering and psychological damage inflicted on siblings, mothers and fathers and relatives who search for any scraps of answers.

Respect, dignity and basic humanity have been lost in a vortex.

So many lives have been destroyed by these atrocities and the traumas never go away.
As an Irish woman and mother, it’s imperative that we vote, as choice is the bottom line here. I have had successful pregnancies and know the pain of an unsuccessful one.

Let’s remember contraception was only legalised in Ireland in February 1985. Though it was still illegal to advertise contraceptives and use of the birth control pill remained restricted, the vote marked a major turning point in Irish history, the first-ever defeat of the Catholic Church in a head-to-head battle with the government on social legislation.

amnesty-03I would like to live in an Ireland, where I know the health of my twelve year old daughter is deemed important and valued, and not at the expense of a malformed foetus, or that her mental health is compromised, because a medic deemed her unborn child’s right to life more important than her own. I would support my daughter in her choice, whatever that choice may be. That’s what mothers do. There have been avoidable deaths in Irish hospitals, because of this Eighth Amendment; and the subsequent court cases brought by grieving widowers / partners have brought this issue into the public domain. Had these women been granted abortions (many in the case where the pregnancy was unviable and/or the foetus had died) a lot of these women would be alive today.

And whoever thinks abortion is an easy option is deluded. I don’t think any woman ever undertakes this decision lightly. She must live with the consequences for the rest of her life.

This is about choice. Women will continue to have abortions and travel to England for them if this Article remains. Women will continue to have unplanned and unwanted pregnancies for many complex reasons. Women are at the forefront. Our bodies should be treated with respect and integrity, as should our minds and mental health. Compassion doesn’t have a price. I respect choice and differing opinions. I respect democracy.

https://www.repealeight.ie/background-to-eighth-amendment/

Donegal poet and artist Lorraine Carey has had poetry widely published in: Prole, Epoque Press, Ariel Chart, Poethead, The Honest Ulsterman, Atrium, Live Encounters, The Lake and Picaroon among others. An advocate for mental health awareness, she has had two articles published on the website ‘A Lust for Life’ – an award winning Irish well-being movement. http://www.alustforlife.com/about-us. A runner up in the 2017 Trocaire / Poetry Ireland Competition and The Blue Nib Chapbook Competition, she has contributed poetry to several anthologies. Her artwork / photography has featured in Three Drops from a Cauldron, Dodging The Rain, Riggwelter Press, and Olentangy Review. Her debut collection From Doll House Windows is published by Revival Press. She lives in Fenit, Co. Kerry.

Voices

I have felt the flickers,
the flutterings of little arms
and legs in utero.
I have felt the drain of first trimesters,
the indescribable exhaustion,
sleeping afternoons away
as I waited for that glow,
I was told would definitely come.
I have felt that lioness love,
in the small hours watching
tiny fingers uncurl, pawing for
my milk like a blind kitten
as I fought to stay awake.
I have felt sadness for the child I lost,
would never feed, nor walk hand in hand to school.
Amending a clause for women’s rights
won’t quell the drain, the hastily booked, lonely flights
across the Irish Sea. The shame and fear incessant,
weaved within our culture.

Don’t think these women forget,
living the rest of their lives
reminded by a date, a newborn’s cry,
a boarding card stub.
Hear the voices, the tragic stories,
the denial of rights for the living,
the breathing, the menstruating,
the sepsis stories, the widowers accounts.
Save the judgement for reflection,
mirror in hand.
Those shouting loudest about rights,
are happy to preach about sin and contrition,
how soon they forget, selling children
to visiting Americans, dumping infants
in unmarked graves. They grasped dollars
and pubescent bodies with equal ferocity.
Undocumented abuse brushed under, relocated,
as thuribles belch loudly with incense and hypocrisy.
Save the throwing of stones, the shattering of glass
and hold that mirror close.

King of Eggs by Bobby Parker

Imagine you are top of the tree. You have power, real power over many people. You got there with promises to change things around – a lot. It’s taken you a long time to get there, so you want action, for people to see that you are true to your iron fist words. But when there, you are frustrated by the fact that the path to your power is paved with countervailing forces; put there to curb the potential for your excess. You realise that you can’t do all that you wanted; all that you told people you would do. Frustrating, isn’t it? What would you do?

‘I would throw eggs/ onto the street/ late at night/ after the clubs had closed/ they weren’t rotten or anything/ they were perfectly/ good eggs’

Iron-Throne-Egg-Cup-king_grandeOne critical element of power is ‘threat’; in fact, most power is dealt in this currency, otherwise with the arsenal of nuclear weapons on offer, a peopled earth wouldn’t be long for this universe. With threats thrown around like deferent confetti at a royal wedding, things can get quite routine. Your frustration turns to boredom, so you sit in front of the telly watching the world watching you. You fire a few missives out there, shake the markets up a bit – gives you your morning fix.

I couldn’t see/ where my eggs landed/ I aimed for voices/ avoiding the odd passing car/ hoping for a headshot/ it gave me a silly buzz.’

You like the sound you are making, even if it is only at the pitch of a baritone’s breath. But you might begin to question yourself (in the privacy of your own mind).

‘sometimes I felt quite mad/ standing on the wet grass/ with a cold egg/ in each hand’.

But you carry on regardless. Surely, by keeping this up, the threats, the posturing, the elaborate signing of your name, that the change you wish for will happen, and people will see you in the same way your sycophantic mirror sees you. And maybe you’ll get to a point where you feel like Ozymandias, and command, ‘look on my works ye Mighty, and despair’. Or maybe, just maybe, after a chaotic two years or so, you’ll,

‘look down/ from the bedroom window/ at all the shattered shells/ and glistening yolks/ on the silent road/ astonished/ by [your] work/ and slightly/ afraid.’

Image-1Bobby Parker is a poet and artist who grew up and currently lives in Kidderminster, West Midlands. His publication history starts around ten years ago, published widely in poetry magazines in print and on-line. His first full-length poetry collection ‘Blue Movie’ (Nine Arches Press) was published Halloween 2014. He has written articles on poetry for The Quietus, and his controversial poem ‘Thank You For Swallowing My Cum’ was included in Best British Poetry 2015 (Salt Publishing – edited by Emily Berry). In 2015 he was awarded a grant from the Society of Authors. He has taught poetry workshops for Buzzwords in Cheltenham and The Poetry School. Bobby has toured the UK consistently for the past few years, promoting his books, mental health awareness and encouraging people to explore the possibilities of poetry. His new collection – Working Class Voodoo – is available here from Offord Road Books: https://www.offordroadbooks.co.uk/working-class-voodoo and you can check out his artworks on his website https://www.bobbyparkerpoet.com/

 

King of Eggs

When we tried to quit
drinking
        again
I got so bored
I would throw eggs
onto the street
late at night
after the clubs had closed
they weren’t rotten or anything
they were perfectly
good eggs
my usual target
was drunk lads
shouting awful things
at girls walking home alone
there was a tall fence
around our property
since I couldn’t see
where my eggs landed
I aimed for voices
avoiding the odd passing car
hoping for a headshot
it gave me a silly buzz
and made Katy laugh
that’s all I wanted
we rented a house with a big garden
there was a pond
surrounded by lawn ornaments
birds dogs and a small boy pissing
creepy in the moonlight
sometimes I felt quite mad
standing on the wet grass
with a cold egg
in each hand
watching
the neighbours’ lights
go out
one by one
often the street was dead
but I threw eggs
       anyway
listening for the sound of them
smacking the pavement
so satisfying
like ice cracking
or popping the cork from a bottle
then I would go back in the house
to stare into the light
of the empty fridge
the way I stare
into open churches
       eventually
creeping upstairs to look down
from the bedroom window
at all the shattered shells
and glistening yolks
on the silent road
       astonished
by my work
and slightly
afraid.

List of Items Which Fall Through the Letter Box After I’m Dead by Dave Eales

_45592638_inflation_basket446x288One of the key indices for measuring consumer habits, and their effect on the economy, is the Consumer Price Index (CPI); called a basket of goods, its contents influence a number of policy decisions, one of which is inflation. The CPI is also an interesting measure of changes in cultural taste, and as ever on this site, this has implications for class; for example, as the Grauniad highlighted, this year’s index saw the following: “Women’s active wear leggings, quiche and raspberries are in vogue while pork pies and bottles of lager drunk in nightclubs are out.” I’m too much of a coward to make judgement of how this affects class habits, particularly as the influence of advertising is often high.

uk debt clockThe year before also saw the inclusion of gin, cycle helmets, and non-dairy milk. It’s an interesting exercise (at least I think it is), to go through the index and look at what you consume yourself. It gives you a distant sense of how you influence, or are influenced by, consumerism. However, this also shows how connected and co-opted we are by the products we consume, and the mechanisms we use to do so; a big one being debt. Debt is the diesel that fuels the economy. Years ago when I finally decided to get a contract for my mobile, I couldn’t get it because I didn’t have a debt record. I had never borrowed money (we don’t have a mortgage) so I couldn’t be trusted, at least by the computer which kept saying no.

Dave Cropped BWLife, as they say, goes on when we die, and in today’s poem by Dave Eales, List of Items Which Fall Through the Letter Box After I’m Dead, we find a fascinating and depressing set of missives from bodies that don’t know your body is no longer sentient. I’ll leave you to read the poem to see the detail, but for a moment, think about yourself dead (apologies) and what your letterbox would receive after you’ve gone. How much capitalism still chases you; still tries to get you contribute further to the nation’s debt; doesn’t discount you completely from the ever-changing consumer price index. Given the limited amount of spare landfill we have left, I’m sure coffins must be way down the list of consumer items these days. By the way of an end, a fun fact; we are now a global population of 7+ billion – do you know how many people have died since the dawn of people? (c107 billion). Have a great week y’all.

Dave Eales was born in Apapa, Nigeria in 1962. He grew up in Nigeria, South America & UK. He spent many years working in IT in London, as well as writing and drinking in his spare time. Dave lives in France and is currently working on his first novel.

List of Items Which Fall Through the Letter Box After I’m Dead

A letter inviting me to apply for a gold credit card at 17 % APR;
A bill from the Electricity company for £46.22;
A voucher entitling me to enjoy any king size pizza for £4.99 (garlic bread not included);
A letter sent to the wrong person, she no longer lives here;
An advertisement from a bank, promising the lowest rate mortgage available;
Some dust;
A postcard from a long forgotten girlfriend;
A demand for council tax from Islington Borough Council;
An offer to invest in Jupiter’s high income fund ISA;
A reminder from Central Islington Library concerning overdue books;
More dust, leaves too;
A First Direct bank statement, showing a credit balance of 342.39;
A birthday card, (unopened).