The warming of the sea is a waking beast; and so, the main effects of climate change are being felt by small islands and those on the coast, particularly in developing countries. I am currently reading Richard Georges’ forthcoming collection ‘Giant’ for a review for the Poetry School. The collection, which focuses on Georges’ home the British Virgin Islands is riven by fragility. Here in the UK, we often talk about the weather – a day of snow will make headline news. We too are an island, but are world away from the experiences of those whose coasts have always been open to the whims of nature, and now compounded by the impact of human consumption. And as I’m reminded by today’s poet, as a colonial power the UK was instrumental in sucking out the resilience of island populations through the extraction of natural resources. (more…)
What 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. (more…)
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 of 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)
Monday 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.
Society 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.
Katherine 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,
‘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
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.
“I was there that night.”
That night a woman walked
The two sides of the same football coin can sometimes be summed up as being humour and violence; and what they both have in common is camaraderie, whether for good or ill. The depths of a football fan’s self-deprecating humour can be many leagues under the sea. At one of the rare Coventry versus a Premier League side games I went to, Arsenal beat us 6-1 in the League Cup at the Emirates. A night game in London, everyone had a blast, pissed up, singing the old songs that harked back to our own Premier League days. A few months later, we played Tottenham in the FA Cup 3rd round at White Hart Lane, and were duly beaten 3-0. So, what did the Cov fans sing to the jubilant Spurs fans? ‘You’re not as good as Arsenal’, because they put six past us and their North London rivals could only manage three.
Next Summer the English fans, for it is only they after the near misses of Scotland, Wales, and both Irish teams, will be heading to Russia for the World Cup. The media are already licking their lips at the prospect of trouble. A BBC documentary on Russian football ‘hooligans’ interviewed a number of organised gangs; those who caused the violence in Marseille in 2016, and were more than looking forward to the arrival of their English counterparts on home soil. There was no hint of irony in explaining how they were merely copying what English fans had been doing domestically for decades; but their perspective felt very dated, as though the UK terraces were still all-standing, and lads with mullets wearing bomber jackets, were going at each other. They are already planning pre-tournament jollies of violence, with the upcoming game between Manchester United and CSKA Moscow, where they plan to team up with their domestic rival like Zenit St Petersburg to cause havoc. No doubt Putin has a hand in it, even if it is only by riding a horse with his top off, and doing judo with giant fish in the Baltic Sea.
It is therefore nice to have a poem such as Mike Jenkins’ humorous “Alternative CCFC CV”, (his CCFC is Cardiff, not Cov) that marries the comedy of football fans with their penchant for a little bit of aggro. “I’ve stood on the North Bank, Vetch Field,/ supporting the wrong team/ (lucky we never scored!).// I’ve carried on striding/ straight into a marauding Chelsea firm/ saying ‘I’ve lived in Belfast’ to a fleeing friend.” It reminds me a little of the loveable rogue Robbo in Patience Agbabi’s poem, “A Devil in Cardiff”, ‘who would sell his nan for a pint’. But for all their love of the game and roguish ways, would you really want those types of activities on your CV? Maybe.
Mike Jenkins is a retired teacher of English at several Comps. Novelist, short story writer for both adults and young people; he blogs regularly at: www.mikejenkins.net. He’s a Dedicated Bluebird. Latest books – ‘Sofa Surfin’ (Carreg Gwalch), poems in Merthyr dialect and ‘Bring the Rising Home‘ (Culture Matters) poems accompanied by images from paintings of Merthyr artist Gustavius Payne.
Alternative CCFC CV
I’ve stood on the North Bank, Vetch Field,
supporting the wrong team
(lucky we never scored!).
I’ve carried on striding
straight into a marauding Chelsea firm
saying ‘I’ve lived in Belfast‘ to a fleeing friend.
I’ve had a whole pint
poured down the drain
by Devon cops, just because City.
I’ve met the leader of the Soul Crew
running away from trouble,
but urging us to join in.
I’ve reached the depths of despondency
after the play-off loss to Blackpool
and vowed not to eat oranges again.
I’ve been to games in the Dungeon
on wet, freezing Tuesdays
when the police outnumbered fans.
I’ve seen droogies in bowlers
carrying umbrellas on the Bob Bank;
had an umbrella confiscated as a weapon.
I’ve witnessed Boro fans doing the Ayatollah
after we beat them in the FA Cup,
when Whitts scored with a rare right-footer.
I was there when Pompey took the Grange End
and our fans climbed the floodlights
as Man U threatened to invade.
I’ve broken my mobile and glasses
in goal celebration ecstasy.
Can I have that job in Security?
I have been heartened by a number of things in poetry recently. As previously featured, Poetry on the Picket Line, is a great initiative to support striking workers in dispute with their employers; most notable in London has been the refusal by Picture House cinemas to pay their staff a Living Wage, as well as cleaners at the LSE. Saturday before last, I read alongside a number of poets, in a benefit gig at the Betsey Trotwood (a good pub in Farringdon) to raise funds for the strikers. It was a great night and raised over £300 – I bid successfully for Billy Bragg’s solidarity signature. Hats off to the organisers, Nadia Drews, Mark Coverdale, and Chip Hamer, and hosting from Tim Wells and Janine Booth.
Last week, I received my contributor’s copy of On Fighting On, an anthology of working class poetry published by Manifesto Press (supported by Unite union), through the Culture Matters, which is skillfully edited by Mike Quille. It was part of a competition they ran earlier in the year. I am alongside a number of poets who have appeared on Proletarian Poetry, such as Fred Voss, Fran Lock, Owen Gallagher, Mike Jenkins, Steve Pottinger, and coming up soon, Martin Hayes.
In keeping with the punk ethic of working class poetry and do-it-yourself, I got a fantastic pamphlet by the poet Robin Houghton, of the indie co-operative Telltale Press. It is called Footwear, and is a short memoir-like set of poems to do with, yes, you’ve guessed it, ‘footwear’. Robin made the pamphlet herself, as well as the poems of course. With my Proletarian hat on (I must get an actual one), I really liked the penultimate poem, ‘Handmade in Guangzhou 2.’ “Long tables in the machine room/ ribbons of women/ pressed together in pairs, bowed/ as if praying to the Western god/ of sports & leisure.” You can find out how she did it here. Robin made fifty (mine is number 9), it is a great idea.
Finally, on that note, I want to give mention to Tim Wells poetry fanzine ‘Rising’, which he hands out for free at different events, the latest of which is Issue 69 and includes the brilliant Paul Birtill, Phil Jupitas (Porky the Poet), Jemima Foxtrot, Salena Godden, and many more.
So the true meaning of the word ‘anarchism’, i.e. of doing it yourself, is alive and well, in working class poetry at least.
I’m no historian of the Conservative party, nor have I any wish to be. However, in thinking about this feature, I looked at the idea from the posh boy anti-establishment-lite Monty Pythons with their sketch of ‘what have the Romans ever done for us’, in terms of the Tories. They are the oldest political party, which is not surprising given that it was very hard during the 19th century for labour to get organized never mind form a political party; it was the Liberal Gladstone who increased the suffrage to include working class people in 1884, and it wasn’t until 1906 that the Labour Party had its first formal meeting, finally taking power in 1924, albeit having to rely on the support of the Liberals.
So what have the Conservatives ever done for the likes of us? First off, they killed many many Irish people during the protracted so-called Troubles, and used Unionist paramilitary groups to their own illegal ends. Similarly their imperial and colonial endeavours have killed unknown amounts of people in the countries of Africa, South and East Asia. Obviously, they have continually restrained, if not tried to completely wipe out, the Trade Union movement; the ironic hypocrisy of this historic relationship recently came in the setting up in 2015 of the Conservative Trade Union and Workers (named: Tory Workers). The party’s mantra of free trade has forever been to line their own land with the hedgerows of wealth that separate the worker from the landlord, landowner, businessman in similar pre-industrial ways.
Then, since the setting up of the Welfare State by the Atlee government, they have continually tried to dismantle it, not only from their small state ideology, but in order to spend as little on people who are most in need by lowering the taxes of the most well off So, we knew it all along, but now it’s official; the Tories kill poor and disabled people. It may not be murder, nor manslaughter, if only in the eyes of the beholder of laws they invented themselves. The new austerity age of the past seven years or more, has seen many people die as a direct result of Tory policies on welfare. In a Grauniad article recently, the following facts were put on bloody display: 90 people a month die in the UK as a result of being deemed fit for work; in 2015 there were 30,000 excess deaths, the greatest rise in mortality in fifty years; suicides in prisons reached a record high with a 40% drop in prison officer numbers. I could go on, but we’d never get to the poem, and it’s all very depressing.
Therefore, to cheer you up, I give you the wonderful Janine Booth with her wonderful “Mostly Hating Tories”. By the way, she has a whole oeuvre of Tory hating poetry. Check them out here.
Mostly Hating Tories
What shall I do on this fine day?
There’s so much on my list
A mix of work and rest and play
I’m sure you get my gist
And maybe I’ll compose a rhyme –
But my unwritten law is
That every day I’ll spend my time
Mostly hating Tories.
I’ll go to work, some bills I’ll pay
That’s if I’m feeling rash,
To see her through to payment day
I’ll lend my friend some cash,
I’ll probably make my kids some tea
And read them bedtime stories
Of homeless piggies one, two, three
And why they hate the Tories.
I’ll hate them for the bedroom tax
I’ll hate them for the cuts,
For living off the workers’ backs
I’ll hate their very guts,
Look, see the depths to which they’ll sink,
They don’t know where the floor is,
That’s why I’ll spend my day, I think,
Mostly hating Tories.
What’s that you say? That hate’s not nice?
Please love thine enemy?
Well yeah, I tried that once or twice
It doesn’t work for me,
And if you think that’s not fair play
Remember this, you must:
The Tories, they will spend their day
Mostly hating us.
A history of evil done
Will justify my hate,
I still detest the Tory scum
For Section Twenty Eight,
Nye Bevan built the NHS
So he knows what the score is:
And he said vermin come out best
Compared with bloody Tories.
I’m sure I’ll find time to revile
That UKIP and its drivel
And I’ll locate a little while
To loathe a lonesome Liberal,
I’ll maybe pause to show regret
For Labour’s missing glories
But save the fiercest fury yet
For mostly hating Tories.
For generations and hereon
Our class and those before us
Grew up to know which side we’re on:
The side that’s not the Tories,
So when I die, do this for me –
Inscribe and sing in chorus
Here lies Janine, her life spent she
Mostly hating Tories.