Month: July 2018

Working Class Poetry at The Torriano Meeting House, London July Twenty Second

This coming Sunday, 22nd July five working class poets will be reading at the Torriano Meeting House (the Torriano has a rich history of supporting working class poets for a number of decades). Each of us are, or will be published by Culture Matters, a co-operative, which promotes socialist and progressive art, culture and politics. The authors are Fran Lock, Alan Dunnett, Martin Hayes, Nadia Drews, Alan Morrison and myself. Our books cover many aspects of working class life, including work, politics, and culture.

Below are details for each poet: we hope to see some of you on Sunday.

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FRAN LOCK: “…in those hotbed-of-non-event towns, / she dug in her heels, and she bit back her/ anger…” – From ‘our mother’s day will come.

Fran is the author of four books: Flatrock (Little Episodes, 2011), The Mystic and the Pig Thief (Salt, 2014), Dogtooth (Out-Spoken Press, 2017) and Muses & Bruises (Manifesto Press/Culture Matters, 2017). Her work is concerned with the unlikely strategies for resistance in the lives of working-class women and girls.

PETER RAYNARD: ‘some of us are trench-foot perfect-fit coffin fodder taken in by the pointed finger of men bred from a moustache to dig a scar down France to bury ourselves in’ – From Tommy and the Common Five-Eighters.

Peter is the author of two books: Precarious (Smokestack, 2018) & The Combination: a poetic coupling of the Communist Manifesto (Culture Matters, 2018).

MARTIN HAYES – “...because in the end/ don’t we need these jobs/ for more than just their money don’t we need these jobs/ so that we can stand in front of mirrors/ and look at ourselves/ without feeling worthless/ or disconnected…” – From stitching this Universe together 

Martin has worked in the London courier industry for over 30 years. He is the author of four books: Letting Loose The Hounds, (Redbeck Press). When We Were Almost Like Men,(Smokestack). The Things Our Hands Once Stood For, (Culture Matters, 2018) and Roar! (Smokestack, 2018).

NADIA DREWS“It was in the way she spit./Jutting jets, tongue-funnelled,/Through a rizla-thin grimacing gap./Like a mill-misting drizzle.”– From The things she did not say

Nadia grew up in San Francisco sun and Greater Manchester mizzle. She is a former Farrago Poetry Slam Champion who protests through songs and plays including the pub-staged I Love Vinegar Vera (What becomes of the Broken Hearted). She is currently working on a collection for Culture Matters to be published later this year.

ALAN DUNNETTCrucifixions/ on either side and winter/ coming on although it is still warm./ In the streets are banners/ and megaphones sounding/ through open shop doors,/ marching, democracy, discussion,/ disagreement. Let me help you up./ It’s not too late.”– From When The Well Runs Dry

Alan works mainly at Drama Centre, CSM, where he is also a UCU rep. His poetry has appeared online and in print including Stand, Skylight 47, The Rialto, The Recusant, The Robin Hood Book, The Best New British and Irish Poets 2016 (Eyewear). A Third Colour is Alan’s debut collection (Culture Matters, 2018).

ALAN MORRISON “…it’s permanent open season for press-/ Persecution of the unemployed as/ “Parasites” –fleas of unearned leisure;/ Stigmatizing strugglers as “scroungers”/ Is England’s guiltless pleasure…”From ‘“St. Jude” & the Welfare Jew’

Alan is author of eight books, including Keir Hardie Street (Smokestack, 2010), Captive Dragons (Waterloo, 2011), Blaze a Vanishing/ The Tall Skies (Waterloo, 2013), Shadows Waltz Haltingly (Lapwing, Belfast, 2015), and the Forward-nominated Tan Raptures (Smokestack, 2017). His epic poem-in-progress, Odour of Devon Violet, can be sampled online ( His forthcoming collection, Shabby Gentile, is due out with Culture Matters later this year.


Gala Day, Durham Miners by Jane Burn

For Gala Day, July 14th 2018

Proletarian Poetry

In 1984 I was twenty-two and having a nervous breakdown. I had taken an English A Level (which I failed) and I remember the question of whether Hamlet was mad or not really fucking me up. Turns out the madness rubbed off 5921322055_790552265b_mon me for a time. Hospitalised with short-term psychosis (thankfully) the faces in newspapers would be staring at me; there were men in the corner watching me; the doctors seemed extra-terrestrial. One day, when supposedly in recovery, I sat in the TV room trying to catch some kind of normality but happened upon the news and the heightened social realism of men standing in a dusty field being charged at by the riot police. I started hyper-ventilating, feeling like I was going to pass out, then the belief that something worse was about to happen. The fighting continued but no-one would turn the TV off. Finally, a nurse…

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Pink Pyjama Suit by Deborah Alma

white middle classWhen a person walks out their door, whether going to the shop, to work, or for a night out, I imagine it is only the lucky ones, who are not conscious, or made conscious of, who they are. I imagine the stereotypical, white middle class male, irrespective of their political hue, on this journey imbibing the day without constraint; not physical, psychological, nor spiritual. They may believe they are completely unbiased in respect of how their position, influences their decisions, or perspective when dealing with other people. They may give to charity, volunteer, despise racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination, whilst at the same time, feel totally at peace with the world – that for all its faults, see the world moving in the right direction. And on the whole, they are right – headline figures, which the late Hans Rosling so eloquently showed, see many indicators of human development (child mortality, mortality, rates of disease, etc.) on a positive trend. However, this position is also the problem. On whose backs were these improvements in quality of life carried? Often, it was either the existing poor, and when there weren’t enough of them, immigrants, such as the Windrush generation.

The problem of discrimination is usually seen to be individual or institutional; but a collection of the individual across a spectrum of institutions, is the opaque face of ‘steady-as-we-go’. Organisations such as the English Defence League, are quite rightly the poster boys of racism and violence. And evil clowns like Toby Young or Katie Hopkins feed this extremism. But the tut-tutting of the liberal middle is not enough. Well-meaning and instructive journalists like George Monbiot, Larry Elliot, and Johnathan Freedland, who expose the corruption and inequality of the elites, are part of that privileged collective. We don’t see them resigning and making way for a more diverse set of journalists; and we see the same with politicians, academics, and I’m afraid to say those who gate-keep poetry (there are some exceptions, with Michael Mackmin at the Rialto introducing the editing development programme some five years ago).

WWM DEB ALMA (50 of 50)Deborah Alma’s poignant poem ‘Pink Pyjama Suit’ I feel encapsulates this ‘problem’ of difference, in particular when identity is far from monolithic and when you have to walk out that door, conscious of who you are and what people might think of you. I must have been just five,/ in my pink, shiny shalwar kameez.// Mummi-ji, I don’t want to wear it to school./ North London laughs too easily,/ makes fools of us and this mix-up family, this/ half-caste council-estate bastard.’ I have never been one to use identity in selecting poets, it has always been about the poem. But I also know that I won’t get the diversity of voice, without the diversity of the individuals. As you will see from Deborah’s bio, she is part of that diversity of voice, both in background and foreground.

This sentiment of the oblivious liberal elite, was more succinctly and directly made by Lisa Mackenzie, (author of Getting By) at an Oxford Union debate of all places, when saying: “I met Jonathon Dimbleby the other day, he thought it was hilarious that he met a working class academic, couldn’t understand it, he said: ‘how can you be a working class academic, You’ve got a Phd?’ my response was, ‘Working class people can read books’.” QED.

You can hear Deborah read her poem on BBC Radio’s Woman Hour here (from 32 mins)

Deborah Alma is a mixed-race Indian/ English woman, born in London and now living in the Welsh Marches. She is a UK poet with a MA in Creative Writing, Honorary Research fellow at Keele University & taught Writing Poetry at Worcester University. She has worked using poetry with people with dementia, in hospice care & with vulnerable groups. She is also Emergency Poet prescribing poetry from her vintage ambulance. She is editor of Emergency Poet-an anti-stress poetry anthology, The Everyday Poet- Poems to live by (both Michael O’Mara) and #Me Too – rallying against sexual assault & harassment- a women’s poetry anthology (Fair Acre Press).  Her True Tales of the Countryside is published by The Emma Press and a first collection Dirty Laundry (published by Nine Arches Press, May 2018).

Pink Pyjama Suit

I must have been just five,
in my pink, shiny shalwar kameez.

Auntie, Karachi, pinched my cheeks,
Chorti pyara, like a doll
like a little blonde doll.
Walk this way, try some dancing.
Behen! Now you have
your little blonde doll to play with!

Mummi-ji, I don’t want to wear it to school.
North London laughs too easily,
makes fools of us and this mix-up family, this
half-caste council-estate bastard.

Miss Minchin, one arm shorter than the other
knew how North London could laugh, and said:
Knock on all six doors and tell them
Miss Minchin says I must show the children
my clothes from Pakistan.

Mummi-ji, the glass on the doors is too high
and all those eyes
as I turn round and round, up on teachers’ tables
to twist in my pretty pink pyjama suit
like a little blonde doll.