Poem

this is not your beautiful game by ben banyard

england under 20

future stars?

This past Sunday (June 11th) saw the greatest achievement in English football for 51 years. The Under-20s won their World Cup in South Korea, beating such senior giants as Argentina and Italy, but also less renowned countries like Guinea and Venezuela on the way. Talk (prematurely of course) is now whether they can go on and do the same for the senior team in Qatar 2022. The team is made up of players on the books of top Premier League clubs, but hardly any have played more than a handful of games for the first team. They play their games at lower league grounds, such as Oldham and Rochdale, which I think is good, as it brings international level games to a wider audience and at lower prices.

Football, as we have seen previously on this site with Rishi Dastidar’s poem, “We are Premier League”, is dominated by big money, whether it be players’ wages, ticket prices, or television rights and subscriptions. But as with many sports, top success is underpinned by the misnomer of non-league football, which itself starts with youth leagues, where parents volunteer for the child’s team as manager, trainer, team secretary, running the line, or putting up the nets (the latter two were my job, and at 5ft 7in, the crossbar was out of reach).

Support for their local teams is part and parcel of this territory. It is there that I go by the ‘blighted by birth or where you live’ rule when it comes to supporting a team – there is no pick and mix (I was born in Coventry for the sins of my parents). However, that doesn’t mean you can’t contradict that rule by making your children support the god forsaken team you were born from.

Ben BanyardBen Banyard’s poem ‘This is Not Your Beautiful Game’ nicely captures the reality and sometime excitement of such wind-blown support, “This is not Wembley or the Emirates./We’re broken cement terraces, rusting corrugated sheds,/remnants of barbed wire, crackling tannoy.” You don’t get prawn sandwiches here (not that you would want them), it’s “pies described only as ‘meat’,/cups of Bovril, instant coffee, stewed tea.” But out of such masochistic adversity, comes great strength, as well as pride. “Little boys who support our club learn early/how to handle defeat and disappointment…./We are the English dream, the proud underdog/twitching hind legs in its sleep.” It is never too late for some players’ dreams; many have risen out of the lower ranks, to play in the Premier League, like Chris Smalling, Charlie Austin, Jimmy Bullard, Troy Deeney, and Jamie Vardy. And of course not forgetting Coventry’s own Trevor Peake, who at the age of 26 was bought from Lincoln City and was part of the 1987 FA Cup winning side.

[NB: for one time only, I am allowing a Birmingham fan to grace the pitch of Proletarian Poetry. There are times (and poetry is one of them), when the game must trump the tribalism – aka pride before a fall. But don’t tell any Cov fans]

Ben Banyard grew up in Solihull but has lived in the West Country since the mid-90s. His poems have appeared widely in the likes of The Interpreter’s House, And Other Poems, Under the Radar and Popshot. Ben’s pamphlet, Communing, was published by Indigo Dreams in 2016 and his first full collection, We Are All Lucky, is due out from the same press in 2018. He edits Clear Poetry and blogs at https://benbanyard.wordpress.com


This is Not Your Beautiful Game

This is not Lionel Messi, balletic, mercurial.
We have a journeyman striker with a broken nose
no pace, poor finishing, very right-footed.

This is not Wembley or the Emirates.
We’re broken cement terraces, rusting corrugated sheds,
remnants of barbed wire, crackling tannoy.

Here, the captain winning the toss
chooses to kick uphill or down
considers which half his keeper will stand in mud.

We have pies described only as ‘meat’,
cups of Bovril, instant coffee, stewed tea.

Our shirts feature the logo of a local scaffolding firm,
can’t be found in JD Sports.

Don’t tell us about football’s grass roots.
We don’t worry that all of this must seem small-fry,
that our team comprises keen kids and sore old pros.

Little boys who support our club learn early
how to handle defeat and disappointment,
won’t ever see us on Match of the Day.

We are the English dream, the proud underdog
twitching hind legs in its sleep,
tapping in a last-minute equaliser as the rain
knifes down on tonight’s attendance: 1,026 souls.

because my home town has a hand between its legs by Julia Webb

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Image by Aslan Media*

Testing, testing, one, two three. Here in the UK (and elsewhere I am sure), we are in the testing season; ‘tis the season when the educational lives of teenagers (as well as pre/post-teens in many cases) are put under scrutiny to ‘determine’ their future. This ritual, particularly written timed exams, puts huge pressure on young people, often when they are at a critical time of their emotional development. A survey in 2016 carried out by ChildLine, found a 20% increase in the numbers of children needing counselling, because of fear of failure, wanting to please their parents; that triggered eating disorders, anxiety attacks, depression and inability to sleep. The Conservative government has even increased the type of written testing that causes this worrying increase in stress for young people.

The second decade of a person’s life is one of the most important; it is when they move from dependence towards independence, before in later years hopefully moving to interdependence in their familial relationship. And of course, with the Internet their lives are displayed on social media – their peers can amount to thousands of people. It is when the extremes of experience are at their height – when they are doing many things for the first time (sex, drink, drugs, travel, voting, working).

julia authorJulia Webb’s poignant (and wonderfully titled) poem ‘because my home town has a hand between its legs’, encapsulates this precarious, exciting, and frightening time from the perspective of girls/young women, “we spend too much time in public toilets – /smoking, scratching boy’s names onto cubicle doors,/rolling clear lip gloss onto kissable lips.” We all remember hanging out on the streets, when there may have not been a youth club, and the pubs were beyond reach. “Spaces find you: the concrete slope under the road bridge,/the shadowy space beneath the walkways at the bottom of the flats.” And sadly, the vulnerability and dangers that one can be open to, “make sure your Mum’s friend never gives you a ride home alone.”

This all makes me wonder what decade is the most satisfying, rewarding, of our lives; is it those teenage years of first-time experiences, the independence of your 20s (and30s if you’re lucky), or the later freedom of old age if you have made it that far with your suitcase of faculties still intact?

 

Julia Webb grew up on a council estate in Thetford, Norfolk. She graduated from UEA’s poetry MA in 2011. She has had work in various journals and anthologies. Her first Collection “Bird Sisters” was published by Nine Arches Press in 2016. She is a poetry editor for Lighthouse.

 

 

because my home town has a hand between its legs

we spend too much time in public toilets –
smoking, scratching boy’s names onto cubicle doors,
rolling clear lip gloss onto kissable lips.
Imagine the shock of touching an unexpected pickled egg
buried deep inside his hot wrapper of chips.
No myths here, only rumours, streets you can’t walk down
because you have been warned off, boys it’s best not to look at
if you want to avoid the girl with frizz-hair and her pummelling fists.
Spaces find you: the concrete slope under the road bridge,
the shadowy space beneath the walkways at the bottom of the flats.
You’d rather lie through your teeth than confess your sins –
you might get a good hiding or your friend stops being your friend?
There’s a spyhole in the wall of your best friend’s bedroom
through which her brother watches her get undressed.
Shake the boy on the pushbike off at the entrance to the estate,
make sure your Mum’s friend never gives you a ride home alone.

 

*Image by Aslan Media

 

At Letterfrack by Doireann Ní Ghríofa

Deference. That key ingredient for soft power, even if it is enforced by hard methods (think of Putin or Trump). A lot would argue that deference is in decline. Figures on trust in public individuals, such as politicians, but also the media, are in decline. The internet allows for a greater challenge to authority than ever before (notwithstanding the ongoing battle over who controls it). Still, I think deference has a lot to answer for when it comes to injustices meted out by those who hold power.

When the archaeology of child abuse is finally dug up, a lot of what was allowed to go on, could be put down to deference. When I was at school, I was once hit on the head with a toffee hammer by a PE teacher for suggesting we play football instead of rugby for a change (this was a Hogwarts type grammar school, that allowed a few of the likes of us in). He cut my head and left a large lump. But I never thought to report it to anybody (not even my parents) because given the regime, I didn’t feel anyone would believe me. But this is such a minor example, given what is now being uncovered in other schools, churches, and institutions where children are under the tutelage of adults (scouts, football). Trust and deference go together.

In the past there were never the type of safeguards that are in place now. An authority figure, be they a priest, teacher, or coach, would command a level of trust given the position they held. But challenging that position, especially when your own values (e.g. religious) are invested in such people, meant that many were afraid to speak out. I know this from the experience of my local community growing up where the priest was a paedophile. Today, many of those parishioners can no longer look at photos of the happiest days of their lives (weddings, christenings, confirmation) because he is in the picture.

letterfrackIt seems there are never ending examples still emerging; in just the past week I have read reports of alleged abuse of children at a ‘therapeutic’ Christian farm in the US state of Georgia, and the discovery of mass graves of young children by unwed mothers in Tuam, Ireland. Doireann Ní Ghríofa’s haunting but beautifully written poem, At Letterfrack is an account of similar abuse at the Industrial School in Ireland that went back to the 1930s. It was so bad that boys would try to escape.Ice grows on dormitory windows. Inside, rows of snores./Together, two boys whisper and dress in the dark. Hand in hand,/they run through white fields towards home.” But as the Ryan Report found, “they would usually be apprehended, sometimes by local people, and returned to the school.” On return, “they are beaten and sprayed with a hose.” One can hardly imagine how the perpetrators could defend such treatment. But people have great belief in the Faith and the institution of the Church; this trust is passed onto those who represent it, and were thus rarely challenged or questioned about their cruel practices.

 

Doireann Ní Ghríofa is a bilingual writer working both in Irish and English. Among her awards are the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature, the Michael Hartnett Prize, and the Ireland Chair of Poetry bursary. Her most recent book is ‘Oighear’.  www.doireannnighriofa.com

 

At Letterfrack

From the Ryan Report on Industrial School Abuse, Volume 1,
Chapter 8, paragraph 162: “The children would run away at night
but they would usually be apprehended, sometimes by local people,
and returned to the school soon after.”

 

          I
This bog of flattened bracken was once a vast forest,
filled with wildcats and wolves.
The bog still dreams of trees, buried deep, unseen.

          II
Centuries ago, people build tougher roads here —
slats of wide wood hauled up and laid side by side
so treacherous wetlands of bog could be crossed.
These roads remain, far below the surfaced,
where years of peat grow over the past like scabs.
The bog swallows people and their paths.
The bog swallows itself.

          III
Later, few trees grow
so people hunt the wood that lies below,
trunks of sunken forests buried in the bog.
At dawn, they seek patches of peat
where dew has disappeared, then pierce
the surface and push long rods deep,
deeper, through gulping ground
until they strike solid wood.
They pull chunks up and make rafters,
doorways, window frames.
From this land, a school and a spire rose.

          IV
Behind the school, a path ends at a small gate–
small plot, small stones, where smalls letters spell small names.
Leaves whisper: there is nothing here to fear.
The earth holds small skulls like seeds.

          V
Winter.
Ice grows on dormitory windows. Inside, rows of snores.
Together, two boys whisper and dress in the dark. Hand in hand,
they run through white fields towards home.
Does the land betray them?
No, a wizened hawthorn holds out hands to try to hide them.

          VI
In winter, runaways are easily found. Even in the dark,
small bootprints break through white to the ground below.
Does the land betray them?
Yes, it shows their path through snow.

          VII
They do not cry as they are dragged back, stripped of clothes,
pushed against the wall, their small feet sinking into snow.
There, they are beaten and sprayed with a hose.
Does the land protect them?
Yes, it holds their hands in the dark?

          VIII
In dormitories of sleeping boys, they shiver and bleed
and weep black bogwater tears. Overhead, rafters dream
of their sunken mothers, submerged still,
deep in the bog.
Does the land protect them?
Yes, it stays under their fingernails forever.

          IX
By March, the snow has returned to air, the footprints
disappeared. From the earth, buds open white petals to light
where wood anemones fill bog-paths with stars.
Do they hold onto this land?
No, they forget. They let go.

          X
They boys grow up. They walk away.
They leave Letterfrack, and go to London, Dublin, Boston.
Through their dreams, the mountain cuts a stark shadow.

Do they hold onto this land?
Yes, it holds them hard always – as a scar silvers from a red welt,
it tightens at the throat like the notch of a belt.

At Letterfrack is from Doireann’s collection Clasp, published by Dedalus Press

Market Scene, Northern Town by Catherine Graham

salt1

middle class vs working class salt

We have two types of salt dispenser in our house. One is the traditional one with holes in the top, which you shake over your food, the other is a small pot with a lid and a tiny wooden spoon on the side. I call the first one our working class salt, the other our middle class. I am fully aware of the madness of this categorisation, which I am sure has not been part of any analysis of social stratification. However, when it comes to food more generally, the divisions in class are legion. Getting beyond the vital mushy peas/mashed avocado debate, food is political in many ways. But it always seems that it is the working class whose eating habits are under scrutiny and held as being essentially unhealthy. In recent times, the fat-tongued mockney Jamie Oliver (who I concede did a good job when it came to school dinners), decided to highlight the ‘poor’ diets of the poor, suggesting they get creative with stale bread.

One point I did agree with him on though was, “going to your local market, which is cheaper anyway, but also they don’t dictate the size.” The supermarkets have recently been criticised for the convoluted way they price their ‘offers’. But like a lot of big capital, supermarkets are winning the day, and local markets are in decline (setting aside the rise in higher priced farmer’s markets, which the supermarkets have cottoned on to). And with that decline comes a loss of community cohesion; a study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that markets were a significant site for social interaction of communities and could play a role in promoting social inclusion and healthy eating.

Catherine GrahamCatherine Graham’s poem Market Scene, Northern Town evokes this scene of bustling activity and its mix of goods: “The lidded stalls are laden with everything/from home-made cakes to hand-me-downs.” This is a tradition that is woven into daily activities: “They’ve/spilled out from early morning mass,/freshly blessed and raring to bag a bargain,/scudding across the cobbles, like shipyard workers/knocking off.” And from the food bought, you will “smell the pearl barley,/carrots, potatoes and onions, the stock bubbling/nicely in the pot.” We shouldn’t be too doom laden when it comes to the decline in markets, because they haven’t died out altogether, and I’m not sure they will. I for one would miss the market trader shouting, ‘Come ‘an ‘av a look. Pand a bowl!

Catherine Graham grew up in Newcastle upon Tyne where she still lives. Her poems have been published in magazines and anthologies in the UK, USA and Ireland as well as online. Catherine’s first full collection “Things I Will Put In My Mother’s Pocket” was published by Indigo Dreams Publishing in 2013. The featured poem Market Scene, Northern Town is taken from Catherine’s pamphlet Like A Fish Out Of Batter, ‘Poems that bring Lowry’s paintings to life,‘ also published by Indigo Dreams Publishing, 2016.

Market Scene, Northern Town

The lidded stalls are laden with everything
from home-made cakes to hand-me-downs.

Just gone eight bells and the church clock
grinds to a tock. It must be Sunday,

women are wearing hats. They’ve
spilled out from early morning mass,

freshly blessed and raring to bag a bargain,
scudding across the cobbles, like shipyard workers

knocking off. One woman bends over to take
a closer look; holier than thou, she’ll pinch the goods

between finger and thumb in gloves she has
worn in bed since that night on her honeymoon.

Note how ‘the hats’ keep their backs to the woman
in the shawl. Martha, mother, sister,

miracle worker; she can turn bones into broth.
Walk by The Dwellings tomorrow and you will know

her home: the polished letter box, sash windows,
open just enough to let you smell the pearl barley,

carrots, potatoes and onions, the stock bubbling
nicely in the pot; steam rising up like a prayer.

Working Class Poem by Josephine Corcoran

bernard rightonLet’s start with a joke: “There’s a black fella, a Pakistani, and a Jew in a nightclub. What a fine example of an integrated community.” Here’s another one for ya, “Two homosexuals in the back of a van, having sex. They’re over twenty-one! What’s wrong with that?” These are the anti-stereotype jokes of ‘Bernard Righton’, a character acted by the comedian John Thompson in the Fast Show from the 1990s. The second joke in fact shows how far we have come as the age of same sex consent is now 16. Although progress has been made in challenging stereotypes, many still exist, and often they target the working class.

The latest to be challenged, is that of the Essex girl; Essex is a county in England, and the stereotype is that it is populated by bleach-blonde, high-heeled, promiscuous women of low intelligence. This has gone on for years and has been promulgated by such TV shows as Birds of a Feather and The Only Way is Essex (TOWIE). Although some people might argue that it’s only a laugh, for many women it is a real problem. Sadie Hasler is a playwright from Essex, who left acting because she was only offered roles that involved wearing cat suits, going topless and always being sexual. A number of initiatives are ongoing to challenge the Essex Girl tag; these include a petition, social media campaign, a walk (The Essex Way), and a charitable foundation, the Essex Women’s Advisory Group.

A recent article by the poet Andrew McMillan, with echoes of Richard Hoggart some fifty years ago, forcefully argued for the need to hear more stories of working class lives in order to counter the void filled by the far right: “There must be an urgency, now, to help disenfranchised communities of all different types express their identity, to celebrate their history, to see themselves as belonging to part of a bigger picture, and this must include a refocusing on the working classes.” Similarly, another article called for politicians to better understand the working class vote, getting away from the belief they are only white; “mixed-race is the fastest growing demographic category, and that the growth is largely among the working class.”

Me in March 2017If this site does one thing, I hope it shows that the working class are not a one dimensional, culturally barren, single type of person. Poems from Kim Moore, Dean Atta, Jacob Sam-La Rose, and many more have debunked such stereotypes. Josephine Corcoran’s “Working Class Poem” strongly adds to that story, because “This poem went to a state school and a university.  This poem left school at 16.  There are no whippets in this poem.  This poem isn’t going down a mine.  This poem doesn’t buy The Sun.” Josephine wryly highlights the cultural stereotypes, “this poem doesn’t recognise itself in soap operas,” and debunks them with “This poem goes to art galleries, museums, poetry readings,” spelling it out succinctly, “There is no tick box for this poem.” But going back to our start, there is also humour in, “this poem is an embarrassment” and ending, “this poem doesn’t have a glottal stop.” There is no cultural coagulation that defines this large swathe of people; and this goes beyond a joke when such stereotypes are used by the powerful dictate the life chances of those they employ or represent.

Josephine Corcoran blogs at www.josephinecorcoran.org and is editor at www.andotherpoems.com. Her poetry pamphlet The Misplaced House was published by tall-lighthouse.

Working Class Poem


This poem was born in a council house, rented flat, NHS hospital, caravan, servants’ quarters, bed and breakfast, children’s home, mortgaged house.  This poem went to a state school and a university.  This poem left school at 16.  There are no whippets in this poem.  This poem isn’t going down a mine.  This poem doesn’t buy The Sun.  This poem had free school dinners and uniform vouchers.  This poem got into trouble.  This poem went to night school.  This poem had a social worker.  This poem has no formal qualifications.  This poem has a PhD.  This poem was top of the class.  This poem was a teenage parent.  This poem is childless.  Little is expected of this poem.  This poem is framed on its parents’ living room wall.  This poem works as a university lecturer, shop assistant, hairdresser, teacher, call centre worker, filing clerk, police officer, bricklayer, food scientist, teacher, software consultant, sales person.  This poem hasn’t disclosed its occupation. This poem is unwaged. This poem likes films by Pasolini, Truffaut, Rohmer.  This poem reads The Beano.  This poem’s father was a gas fitter.  Its mother washed other people’s floors. This poem watches live opera and ballet streamed to cinemas.  This poem doesn’t play football. This poem drinks beer, wine, spirits, tea, cappuccinos, is teetotal. This poem has never eaten mushy peas. This poem does not recognise itself in soap operas. This poem goes to art galleries, museums, poetry readings. This poem is an embarrassment. This poem goes to the pub.  There is no tick box for this poem. This poem grew up on benefits. This poem pays higher rate tax.  This poem isn’t in an anthology. This poem doesn’t have a glottal stop.

(Working Class Poem was previously published in Under the Radar)

We Are Premier League by Rishi Dastidar

The footballer Colin Kazem-Richards was born thirty years ago in east London to a Turkish/Cypriot Muslim mother and a West Indian Rastafarian father. He has played for 13 clubs in as many years, in seven countries, winning titles in Turkey, Greece and Scotland. He currently plays for the Brazilian team Corinthians, is married to a Brazilian woman with whom he has two children, who are their mother’s nationality. His national team is Turkey. Kazem-Richards is an embodiment of what the philosopher, Kwame Anthony Appiah (himself of mixed-heritage and has lived on three continents) calls ‘cosmopolitanism’; being a citizen of the world through shared values and culture.

Chertsey Town vs Mole Valley SCR

Image by Chris Turner*

It could be argued that today’s elite football at least, is one of those shared cultural experiences, being played and watched by billions of people across the world (China is the latest country to spend big on the game). In the UK, the Premier League is a polyglot of players from different countries (in 2015 it was 64 countries, compared with 50 in Spain’s La Liga). But whilst this is a positive illustration of cosmopolitanism, it is also a negative illustration of globalisation in terms of the economic foundations that prop it up. If the Premier League is the London Square Mile of football, the lower leagues are the forgotten inner city and rural pockets of deprivation (ask any fan of my team Coventry, or Leyton Orient). Where players in the Premier League can command long and rich contracts (they are paid five times more than a Championship player), a League Two player will not only be paid much less but will have much more precarious employment conditions (short-term/loan). And then there is the totem ‘tea lady’, who is barely paid a living wage.

Rishi 9 FINAL BW suggested cropRishi Dastidar gives us a wonderful carousel of images of today’s modern Premier League players in his poem “We are Premier League”. The lines “We are Nando’s skin on X-box wings/We are charitable visits, making dreams come true”, shows the seeming contradictions of characters who command such wealth but still enjoy the ‘finer’ delights of chicken shops whilst visiting hospitals and schools. Many of these players themselves come from disadvantaged backgrounds, with little education (they were too good at football in their teens to worry about A levels, if not GCSEs) and travelled little. But like a lottery winner, the money can go to their head, and without proper guidance, they become: “We are court appearances in Armani suits/We are playthings of offshore corporations.” I wouldn’t go so far as to say they should be the foundation of a social mobility strategy, but neither should they be made the scapegoats of global capitalism. Many of the leading players, when retiring do a lot of good work supporting different communities. But there should be a way in which the benefits of cosmopolitanism can spread the income from globalisation more equitably; the football authorities are in a position to show leadership here, especially in these times of a resurgence in reactionary nationalism.

Rishi Dastidar’s poetry has been published by the Financial Times, Tate Modern and the Southbank Centre amongst many others, and has featured in the anthologies Adventures in Form (Penned in the Margins) and Ten: The New Wave (Bloodaxe). A fellow of The Complete Works, the Arts Council England funded programme for BAME poets in the UK, he is a consulting editor at The Rialto magazine, a member of the Malika’s Poetry Kitchen collective, and also serves as chair of the writer development organization Spread The Word. His debut collection, Ticker-tape, is published by Nine Arches Press.

 

We are Premier League

We are Nando’s skin on X-box wings
We are charitable visits, making dreams come true

We are role models and bandwagon drivers
We are baby Bentleys on private roads

We are gold tattoos on choking necks
We are orange spider mohicans on the backs of heads

We are dating on TOWIE and fit well jel
We are boys made good on our roasts

We are court appearances in Armani suits
We are playthings of offshore corporations

We are sponsored elite, and we are endorsed
We’ve parked the bus and we want more

We are the wages of underachievement
We are 17th place and we are class

(“We are Premier League” is taken from Rishi’s debut collection, Ticker-tape, published by Nine Arches Press)

* Image by Chris Turner