Month: June 2018

Tipton by Roy McFarlane

‘In our Coventry homes! We speak with an accent exceedingly rare, you want a Cathedral we’ve got one to spare, in our Coventry homes.’

three spires 1Ah, the poetry of football chants. Often it is football that defines what home is for the working classes. And in the League Two play-off finals, that sound rang around Wembley Stadium; forty thousand of us, compared to Exeter’s ten, when we got promoted to the heady heights of League One at the end of May.

Going back to my home town Coventry, and the Cathedrals as alluded to in the chant, it is the fact that the ‘old’ cathedral was destroyed in the Second World War that characterises the city. The city centre was totally rebuilt, divided into quarters, and encircled by a brutalist ring road. But I think, time and again, although it is a cliché, it is the people who define a city; and where I came from, it was migration which alongside the physical rebuilding, came to make what Coventry is today – the Irish and Scots, Polish, West Indians, Pakistanis, Indians, and others.

roy mcfarlaneRoy McFarlane’s poem, Tipton is a paean to a home town, made up of its people and sometimes ‘strange’ characters, usually not thought to be seen in an urban setting: ‘I’m 10 and visiting the cousins,/ the only black family in Princess Ends./ Streets wide enough to pass on gossip/ and a horse in somebody’s garden.’ Family is nearby, but not necessarily understandable. My own parents were from Glasgow and Gateshead, and it was often very hard to understand my cousins. This is the case with Roy’s family, ‘Ow’s ower kid their father would say/ with vowels big and round as his obese body,/ then he’d give me a sweet, slap me on my back/ and laugh his way into the kitchen/ I asked my cousin what did he say?’ This reminds me of a recent series on Radio 4 on poetry and dialect, looking at the East Midlands, Northumberland, and North West (check it out).

But common to all such cities, is the factories; though for Tipton they may not be cars, bicycles or telecommunications, like in Coventry. ‘once the father/ left to go to the pub or to the steelworks// 40 years later I’m back/ walking past the pie factory where they serve/ soul nights on sawdust covered floors.’ And like many such cities, the factories go and are replaced with shopping centres, and people forced to work further afield, thus becoming commuters on privatised travel networks. On reading Roy’s poem, I see the uniqueness of Tipton. Coventry is also unique, but both are only unique in the same way as every other non-Metropolitan town or city is made unique, by the people who live there.


Roy McFarlane was born in Birmingham of Jamaican parentage and spent most of his years living in Wolverhampton and the surrounding Black Country. He has held the role of Birmingham’s Poet Laureate and presently the Birmingham & Midland Institute Poet in Residence. His publications include, Celebrate Wha? (Smokestack Books 2011) and Beginning With Your Last Breath (Nine Arches Press 2016). Roy’s latest collection The Healing Next Time will be out in October 2018 and he is also completing his MA in Writing Poetry with The Poetry School and Newcastle University.




Tipton, this tongue-tipping
double syllable of a word,
this Bermuda Triangle
between Brum and Wolves.
This lost city quintessentially
Black Country, God’s belly button
of the Universe has got me.

I’m 10 and visiting the cousins,
the only black family in Princess Ends.
Streets wide enough to pass on gossip
and a horse in somebody’s garden.

I watched cousins as dark as the cut,
larger than life, colourful as the Caribbean,
speak another language.
Only laughter, sweets and pots of soup
translated us back to a common understanding.

Ow’s ower kid their father would say
with vowels big and round as his obese body,
then he’d give me a sweet, slap me on my back
and laugh his way into the kitchen.
I asked my cousin what did he say?
Yam saft
, she’d say gurgling,
everybody laughing like the locks at the back,
where water poured in and everybody rises,
whether you wanted or not,
a lock that levelled off once the father
left to go to the pub or to the steelworks.

40 years later I’m back
walking past the pie factory where they serve
soul nights on sawdust covered floors.

Industries put to an eternal sleep
turning into a commuter town, it
still draws on you, pulls on you.
Yam olright it’s dem lot
that are causing de problems
with syllables that jab and slash,
sentences like the Tipton Slasher
the bare knuckle verbosity of it.
And there’s an oss everywhere,
in somebody’s garden, along the street
and a metal oss frozen in time
by the railway station
and an anchor
on the side of the road.
Not all things are anchored
in time or in a living museum;
cultures flow, merge and make
their own journeys into front rooms
as I say to me bab bending over
I cor walk past ya without
putting me ond on ya
and I know that

Tipton, this tongue-tipping
double syllable of a word,
this Bermuda Triangle
between Brum and Wolves.
This lost city quintessentially
Black Country, God’s belly button
of the Universe has got me.

‘Precarious’ & ‘The Combination: a poetic coupling of the Communist Manifesto’ (please scroll down to exit via the gift shop)


Precarious CoverPrecarious was published by Smokestack on April 1st this year, and I have been on a Precarious Tour around the country, with the novelist and poet Richard Skinner (whose book The Malvern Aviator is also published by Smokestack) . So far we have read in Oxford, Huddersfield, Newcastle, and London – with Bristol and Swindon to come later in the year. I have also read in Derby, St Albans, and London (at the launch of Jane Commane‘s book launch of Assembly Lines), and later at Ledbury Poetry Festival, Cork, and Merthyr Tydfill.

Here is a poem from Precarious about a night when my son was changing his anti-depression medication, which caused suicidal ideation.

Night Watchman

Bed by midnight, I set my alarm for two a.m.
At its sound I pad to my son’s room. The floor
is a rubble of clothes, guitar leads, a trophy cabinet
of sticky bowls residue in a corner.

In bed, he holds the glow of his screen,
perched in fear of the grave hymns that sing
in his dreams.             He says he’s okay, without shifting.
I fail by saying ‘try to get some sleep’.

I retreat to my bed, risk an hour.
At three he’s still glowing. Says he tried.
I know.                        Best rise for a time.

I wipe last night’s words from the kitchen table.
We eat cereal to silence, see if that works.
It’s being tested with everything else outside
the covers of a book.  Back in bed,

he turns to the wall.   Now I stay, see him to sleep.
At the inhale of day, the sun cracks its knuckles
behind the curtains.    ‘Come on then,’ I say.


The COMBINATION: a poetic coupling of the Communist Manifesto.

CM book Peter Raynard cover (1)In January this year, with prompting by a workshop run by Karen McCarthy Woolf, I began to write a poetic coupling of the Communist Manifesto. Coupling is a line by line poetic response (that includes rhyme, repetition, and assonance) to an existing text. To my surprise and delight, Mike Quille of Culture Matters offered to publish it, and the resulting book; The Combination came out on June 1st.

I think the form devised by Karen is a great way to respond to political speeches, policies, or books. Breaking the line of the original text is great fun of itself, but this then turns each line into a writing prompt. The book took me three months to write and I had so much fun going back to read Marx’s classic text.

I am now working on a fifteen minute multi-media version for public performance.

Here is an excerpt from The Combination.

The “dangerous class”, [lumpenproletariat] the social scum, that passively rotting mass thrown off by the lowest layers of the old society,
steady on, this suit is clean on, Sunday’s best, they’ll be no rat catching on this day of rest.

may, here and there, be swept into the movement by a proletarian revolution
there is much sweeping to be done, until we form a Vanguard and become all for one

its conditions of life, however, prepare it far more for the part of a bribed tool of reactionary intrigue
does this less than ‘precariat’ class lack the luxury of refusal?

In the conditions of the proletariat, those of old society at large are already virtually swamped.
just to be clear, this is a premonition – not yet a reality, it is just a welcome fear

The proletarian is without property; his relation to his wife and children has no longer anything in common with the bourgeois family relations;
any chance of the sex tonight love? Reproduction or pleasure? Er, pleasure? Ooh, come here you sexy bourgeois bastard!

modern industry labour, modern subjection to capital, the same in England as in France, in America as in Germany, has stripped him of every trace of national character.
yet stereotypes remain, just ask any stand-up comedian of old

Law, morality, religion, are to him so many bourgeois prejudices, behind which lurk in ambush just as many bourgeois interests
coming ready or not, we seek him here, we seek him there

All the preceding classes that got the upper hand sought to fortify their already acquired status by subjecting society at large to their conditions of appropriation.
and you can’t exactly fortify something that is nothing – nought plus nought still equals nowt

The proletarians cannot become masters of the productive forces of society, except by abolishing their own previous mode of appropriation
which be the doffing of the cap, and mucking of the hands

and thereby also every other previous mode of appropriation
that’ll be the thieving and gambling, womanising and fighting, at least that’s what the tabloids say
They have nothing of their own to secure and to fortify
for you may be prisoners, but there is no dilemma

their mission is to destroy all previous securities for, and insurances of, individual property
and don’t be giving us any of your French, La propriété, c’est le vol! – Karl thinks it’s self-refuting

All previous historical movements were movements of minorities, or in the interest of minorities
shall we ask the Diggers & Levellers, ask Gandhi and the 400 million Indians in 1947, ask Nelson Mandela, ask the Suffragettes, ask ourselves, is that not now in our past?

The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority.
Now you’re sucking diesel. Yes, let’s give it to the Rees Moggs and all those weasels.

Though not in substance, yet in form, the struggle of the proletariat with the bourgeoisie is at first a national struggle.
If you ’bout this revolution, please stand up/ We ain’t got no one to trust/ Time is running up, feel the burn in my gut/ And if you got the guts, scream, “Fuck Donald Trump” (JB$$)


You can buy Precarious directly from me for £8 (incl P&P UK only), or £10 (incl P&P worldwide).

You can buy The Combination from Culture Matters for £6 (plus £1.50 P&P) here.


You can buy both directly from me for £12 (incl P&P – UK only), or £15 (incl P&P worldwide)