Poem

Guest Post: Launch Day for ‘Wild Persistence’ by Katrina Naomi with poem ‘Boasting Sonnet’

I am very excited about today’s guest post by Katrina Naomi, because today is the LAUNCH DAY of her third collection, Wild Persistence published by Seren Books. Katrina is a great supporter of poets and poetry, running workshops, mentoring, as well as active in the Society of Authors as member of their Poetry and Spoken Word Group. Katrina previously appeared on Proletarian Poetry back in 2015. So why not celebrate Katrina’s launch day by reading her guest feature, and if you can, buying Wild Persistence here. She is also doing a virtual launch on June 11th, details here.

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Head n Shoulders“I’ve chosen to write about the poem ‘Boasting Sonnet’, from my new collection, Wild Persistence, (Seren, 1 June 2020) partly because it’s joyful and partly because the poem considers questions around class.

I was brought up working class, ‘me from a council estate’ in Margate, Kent, and was expelled from school. Since then, I’ve gone on to do any number of things that I might not have seen for myself, including moving to Cornwall. I was commissioned to write ‘Boasting Sonnet’ by Alyson Hallett and Rachel Bentham for Project Boast, a project which asked women to write about their achievements. To begin with, I found the idea of boasting about myself difficult. Then I thought of Sharon Olds’ poem ‘The Language of the Brag’ – how it takes on male entitlement – and I began writing.

wild persistenceOnce I had my first line, I really enjoyed myself. I decided to mix things up, in what is a pretty personal poem, placing areas of my life that I might consider to be showy, alongside things that are more flippant. Everything in ‘Boasting Sonnet’ is true. Sharon Olds did write me a poem, after I interviewed her back in 2011, and I have no truck with marriage.

I love receiving commissions – I’m working on one at the moment – I like how they take me out of my comfort zone, when I’m asked to write in a new way, or to write in response to a subject I know next to nothing about. And as a poet, I think it’s good to be taken out of your comfort zone, to have your foundations shaken up a little. (Although perhaps there’s enough of that at the moment?)

Still, ‘Boasting Sonnet’ reminds me that I still think of myself as working class – and that I’ve very much been taken out of my comfort zone – going to Poly, then University, entering into a new language, and only then – much later, not until my early 30s, discovering poetry.

This mix up is what makes a life, and is possibly what makes a poem. I don’t usually write sonnets – and usually avoid rhyme – but once I’d opened up on the boasting, I needed a way to contain it. I’d been re-reading Patience Agbabi’s wonderful sonnet, ‘Transformatrix’, so I thought I’d see if the form might work for all of this showing off. I feel it does. ‘Boasting Sonnet’ told me things I’d perhaps forgotten. It also enabled me to say things I might not previously have been brave enough to share.”

Katrina Naomi received an Authors’ Foundation award from the Society of Authors for her third full collection, Wild Persistence, (Seren, June 2020). Katrina has published four pamphlets of poetry, including the Japan-themed Typhoon Etiquette (Verve Poetry Press, 2019). Her poetry has appeared on Radio 4’s Front Row and Poetry Please, and on Poems on the Underground. Katrina was the first poet-in-residence at the Brontë Parsonage Museum and was highly commended in the 2017 Forward Prize for Poetry. She has a PhD in creative writing (Goldsmiths) and tutors for Arvon, Tŷ Newydd and the Poetry School. She lives in Cornwall. www.katrinanaomi.co.uk

 

Boasting Sonnet

I’m not one to brag but Sharon Olds wrote
me a poem; me from a council estate.

I’ve done handstands, on a skateboard, downhill
yet failed both Maths and English O level.

I’m still in love with the man I met at
eighteen. I don’t believe in marriage but

I once won an award for headbanging
and chaired human rights talks at the UN.

Expelled from school, I’m now a PhD.
I don’t wear make-up, this is the real me

unless I’m doing panto. In Cornish.
I’m a qualified mountain leader. Wish

you could see my scything and lindyhop.
I’d say much more but sonnets make you stop.

(from Wild Persistence, Seren, 2020, which you can buy here)

 

‘A Class Act’ by Chip Hamer (of Poetry on the Picket Line)

I am more than happy to be featuring Chip Hamer today. Chip has been a stalwart of the political poetry scene for more than a decade now. A proper selfless person he has led Poetry on the Picket Line raising thousands of pounds for striking workers. ‘A Class Act’ is Chip’s debut collection published by Flipped Eye, the incubator for many of our most highly regarded poets such as Warsan Shire and Malika Booker. Oh, and you’ve got to love the BJ pic from Chip’s day job back in 2012 (if you like, you can put a caption to it in the comments section below). So why not buy Chip’s book. You can get a copy here:

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Cyaant cummin“It’s good to have the book published. Though the timing has been strange. Just a bit off from the start. First spoke to Paul, from Lunar Poetry magazine, about the collection, in 2012. In 2013, I asked Niall O’Sullivan to do the editing and got stuck into pulling the poems together. Did a good job there, I think (though we left out one particularly dystopian poem ‘Planet of the Apes’, that doesn’t seem quite so unlikely in current circumstances. It might get an airing again, one day. We’ll see). Some quite political poems in there, some quite personal ones.

Then a few things happened, and few things didn’t happen. I had a living to earn, the Poetry on the Picket Line thing kicked off (worked hard on the anthology, published by Culture Matters) and this book wasn’t a priority. Nevertheless, we finished the editing, chose the title poem ‘A Class Act’, and gave Paul a nudge.

class act coverHe did a few edits and then… it all went a bit quiet. Niall suggested Flipped Eye and I was keen (a pretty good fit, I reckon) but didn’t want to let anybody down. Anyway, it drifted a bit. Waited too long, to be fair. In the end, to cut a long story short, a big thank you to all at Flipped Eye for getting it out and doing such a good job with it. Published on May Day too! By then, though, we were all on lockdown. So, no big do at a pub. No little do, either. There will be one, though, trust me.

I’m very pleased with the way it has turned out. None of the poems in there are from later than 2013, and I’m proud of the way they stand up. Looking forward to gigging them again, too. Particularly to doing them with some of the newer material. I really hope this book shifts a few copies, as I’m keen to get the next one out in much shorter order (the poems are written, and the early edit work is underway). How to sell it, though? Proper gigs are out of the question for the time being. The only way right now is with a soft launch and a bit of an online push. Any positive reviews most welcome!

Considering doing some short films of the poems, reading them and talking a little about them. Maybe answering some questions I’ve had about particular poems. Then putting those clips online and seeing what sort of response they get. I’ve always said that my poems need to work both on the page and on the stage, so I can’t complain, but I do miss the live work. That little bit of crackle and nervous energy. Never quite know how it’s going to turn out, now do we?

I’m going to leave you with the last verse of ‘Hippy Chicks’. Just to capture that tension between hope and experience. It’s still happening, even now. Especially now.”

‘The fierce young patriots go out and put the fear of someone’s god
Into some women who have chosen an identity behind the veil.
The politicians argue about matrimony, man to man,
The trickle down they spoke of now revealed as faecal gravity.
It’s a hard rain, watch it fall.
They keep calm and carry on regardless,
We carry the can,
Suppress the rising tide of panic in our hearts
And hope the hippy chicks are proved right, after all’.

An active trade unionist and founder member of Poetry on the Picket Line, Chip Hamer is not the man you hoped to meet. He never forgets his mates, nor who his friends are. His first collection ‘A Class Act‘ was published by Flipped eye in May 2020. You can get a copy here.

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Boris 2012

BJ: Hello, who are you? Chip: Your worst f**king nightmare!

Guest Post: War Dove by Troy Cabida

Today’s guest feature by Troy Cabida is an honest account of coming to terms with his bisexuality, the responses from those close to him, and how he found his way through this time. It’s a beautiful piece of writing as is his poem War Dove, the title of his debut pamphlet by Bad Betty Press. You can buy the pamphlet here.

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Troy-18

credit: Ray Roberts, 2020

“Around the time I began coming to terms with being bisexual, the DC Extended Universe had just released its fourth film, the triumphant Wonder Woman. Coming into this film, I knew I was about to watch the best movie ever (I was right), but watching Princess Diana charge towards World War I Belgium with unconditional love and protection over innocents fuelling her every move, was a spectacle I didn’t expect to stay with me for a long time.

Upon discovering this new aspect of my sexuality, tectonic plates had started to shift within my inner circles, tremors that feel twice as hard if you’re still going through your healing stages. In the background were comments; internalised homophobia through jokes, I apparently can’t be upset about. There were side eyes. There were warnings of suffering in the afterlife.

war doveOn the other side of the conversation, hearing phrases like “it’ll get better over time” and “everything will be okay at the right time” felt like blanket statements disregarding the shame and heartache flooding through my body. A simple overreaction, they call it. The fact that these emotions have been pent up for years, some taught from a young age, can fly so easily over people’s heads.

Some people will show how they respond to a problem. Some people will walk around eggshells, tripping over you in the process. Some will use you against yourself. Some will remain silent. Some will be a surprise. Some will become a bright light, constant and reliable.

In the midst of all of the noise, I gave myself two choices: either sink into resentment and let the tides decide how I’ll turn out, or use the tender state I’m left in, listen to my parents and practice something radical, something people may not even deserve.

And as if in a movie, Wonder Woman’s words echo in my mind: ‘it’s not about deserve. It’s about what you believe’. As in how you choose to function during a critical moment, will be a reflection of your intent, your conviction, and the person you’re choosing to grow into. Once you decide which path you want to take, the next step is knowing exactly how to do so.

badbettypressThe poem I chose for this post is called “War Dove”, the title poem of my debut pamphlet. In dismantling the concept of forgiveness, the poem studies the separated pieces through weary eyes, working to prove its own cynicism wrong.”

 

Troy Cabida is a Filipino poet and producer based in south west London. His recent poems have appeared in harana poetry, TAYO Literary, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, Bukambibig and MacMillan. He is a former member of the Barbican Young Poets, the Roundhouse Poetry Collective and is a current member of Liwayway Kolektibo, an arts collective providing space for UK-based Filipinx artists. His producing credits include his debut show Overture: An Evening with Troy CabidaPoems for Boys, a night exploring masculinity through poetry and the London open mic night Poetry and Shaah. His debut pamphlet War Dove was released with Bad Betty Press in May 2020.

 

War Dove

I.
The tenderness that can be achieved
in firming the world’s many beatings,
in uprooting necessary truths out of yourself,
in driving yourself so far from sane and still
you are to bounce back solid.

II.
In front of the face that knows only one-sided healing,
I’ve come to know the kind of tender
that packs muscle, that doesn’t cower
even to my own desires.
In front of the face that profits from my labour
but doesn’t know how to give back,
the doves around me fought to remain.

III.
Much has been said about forgiveness
yet no one has managed to expound
the technical requirements necessary
to make the execution successful for both parties,
such as the understanding of the apology,
the need for it to be verbalised and accepted
to release the victim of their past, which can explain
why many find this a tricky action to perform,
like softening hardened honey,
crystallised and unflinching.

 

You can buy Troy’s pamphlet here.

 

A Map Towards Fluency by Lisa Kelly with crown of sonnets ‘Corona/Cuts’ (after John Donne).

Today we have a special treat, as Lisa Kelly has kindly given us a crown of sonnets ‘Corona/Cuts’ (after John Donne). Here she writes about the sequence and the persistent problem of knife crime. It comes from Lisa’s collection A Map Towards Fluency (published by Carcanet). It is a wonderful book about a life lived, as well as a great lesson in variety of form and tone. I highly recommend it. You can buy a copy here.

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lisa kelly“Think back to 2017, another time, another crisis. The London Bridge terrorist vehicle-ramming and stabbing, alongside daily updates about knife crime and teenage boys – young victims of the virus of violence. Visiting any public building in London, I was frequently searched, opening up my bag to scrutiny, feeling somehow momentarily guilty of something, somehow accused.

A small insight into how it must feel to be routinely, stopped and searched. Anxiety, anger at the government’s absence of strategy for tackling knife crime, failure to acknowledge that poverty and lack of opportunity fuels gang recruitment, all of this and the fact I have a teenage son, was behind the need to write ‘Corona/Cuts’.

map towardsLike many poets, I write to try and make sense of what cannot be made sense of by logic or argument alone. Aside from the unintended foreshadowing in the poem’s title of the current unfolding horror story, there are connections of powerlessness. Holding a pen in your hand, or having computer keys do their bidding under your fingers, is an outlet for some processing of inadequacy in the face of something you would like to solve but basically can’t. Form is one way of marshalling what you want to say, to help shape chaos into a creative act.

I chose to write a crown of sonnets because it gave me the scope and permission to pursue different but interlinked emotions and experiences as well as reportage on a societal level – the way the last line of each sonnet kickstarts the subsequent sonnet creates an uninterrupted energy, while allowing for sharp changes of direction.

john donneThe stamp of John Donne is evident throughout, with lines taken from various poems. His metaphysical poetry, with discoveries from life and science, married to violence and passion in a bid to explore difficulties in his relationship with a lover or God, has an intensity that shaped some of the thinking. No doubt, there is a collage effect, but just as there is no single answer to any one crisis, the poem tries to reflect the fact the sequence is not a political response, but a personal response subject to shifting moods that inevitably raises political questions.

348px-Knife_Angel_installation_5Some of the sonnets are more indirect explorations of moods – others have a more sustained and obvious focus. Knife Angel pays tribute to the sculpture created by Alfie Bradley with knives donated by police forces around the country at the British Ironworks Centre at Oswestry, Shropshire. The sonnet with reasons for carrying a knife is from interviews in various articles researched on the BBC and Guardian sites. The listing of the parts of the knife and the abecedarian in the final sonnet was a way of trying to control my response to the idea of the knife, a kind of play between signifier and signified. When you say knife, we all have our own picture conjured, but all the names for it in other languages as well as the slang reveals a collective tragic mythology.”

Lisa Kelly’s first collection, A Map Towards Fluency, was published by Carcanet in 2019. Her poems have appeared in Stairs and Whispers: D/deaf and Disabled Poets Write Back (Nine Arches Press). Her pamphlets are Philip Levine’s Good Ear (Stonewood Press) and Bloodhound (Hearing Eye). She has single-sided deafness and is also half Danish. She co-edited the Deaf Issue of Magma Poetry which was awarded Arts Council England funding; and the Conversation Issue. She is Chair of Magma Poetry,

 

Corona/Cuts
after John Donne

They search my bag like an abandoned flat,
raking for answers to unformed questions,
fumbling with tissues and bits of old tat,
unable to grasp haptic impressions.
What do I know of my son’s compass point?
Why did this prick try to hide in the seams?
Have they not heard we all have a fixed foot,
how the other hearkens after, and leans?
My circle is just. My son is secure.
Absence expansion in a foreign land.
Sharp reminders and tokens underscore
each search a charade, til steel is in hand.
Let us close this bag and let me go through.
This flat is unoccupied, the rent due.

This flat is unoccupied, the rent due.
We salvage the mattress from Spain’s dark street.
Erect steel bars for a four-poster view,
lie on the bloodstain covered by a sheet.
From here, we hear the bells of Aranjuez,
sad chimes from Rodrigo’s Concierto.
Since thou and I sigh one another’s breath,
engrave, Antes muerto que mudado.
Our sons will not dare into Walthamstow,
Battersea, Harlesden, Oakwood, Marylebone.
They will not venture into Enfield, Bow,
Wandsworth, Peckham Rye, Uxbridge, Mile End, home.
Let us close this flat. Rodrigo is owed.
Sooner dead than changed, but seeds must be sowed.

Sooner dead than changed, but seeds must be sowed.
Who can stop him winding down the wrong path?
At the round earth’s imagin’d corners blow
nose, wipe streaming eyes, repair your torn half.
He strayed outside his postcode, and was lost.
The subway where he might play his last scene.
No time even to be idle. The cost
of the cut through, alley, underpass, green.
All whom war, death, age, agues, tyrannies,
despair, law, chance, being in the wrong ends hath slain,
to your scatter’d bodies go. Authorities,
politicians search solutions in vain;
can’t contain measure. The globes four corners
a dream. Sons walk the next street, foreigners.

A dream, sons walk the next street, foreigners
share conversation, customs, cares, break bread,
An Europe, Afric, and an Asia blurs
into one round ball. Dream that no-one bled.
Dream the difference between butterfly
and butter as descriptions for a knife.
Dream the stand-off, after-math pass you by,
dream you applied pressure to save a life.
His dream of diverse shores is a nightmare,
our sons reject the Seven Sleepers’ den.
One little room is not an everywhere,
a dream of safety, his wool-lined pen.
Not thy sheep, thine image, servant. Thy son.
Wake, and batter your heart, What have I done?

Wake, and batter your heart, What have I done?
He stole a knife from the cutlery drawer.
What reason? In their own words, here are some:
To protect myself against my father.
My dad was stabbed to death when I was three.
I will stab them first. It’s for protection.
They would have beaten the shit out of me.
It is a tool for intimidation.
It does not matter how tough the laws are.
The risk that someone will pull one on you.
I would, if anyone took things too far.
People are always tooled up; it’s not new.
Thank God. Chopped, had I not had it with me.
Angels affect us oft, and worshipp’d be.

Angels affect us oft, and wordshipp’d be.
Knife Angel is hoisted by cranes to sky.
Society looks up and strains to see.
Here is a glint that is not in the eye,
not in a voice, not in a shapeless flame –
one hundred thousand confiscated blades,
messages engraved on wings, victims’ names.
This monument, an iron-monger’s trade.
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend.
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
Mettle tested so we can comprehend
weight of wasted lives, hope forged anew.
Stamp your mark. Stamp out this epidemic.
Each loss named, a wound. Each cut, systemic.

Each loss named, a wound. Each cut, systemic.
Handle, point, edge, grind, blade, spine, fuller, guard,
escutcheon, bevel, gut-hook, choil, crock stick
ricasso, bolster, hilt, tang, butt, lanyard.
Athame, Balisong, Cane, Deba bōchō,
Ear, Facón, Gravity, Hunting, Izar,
Janbiya, Kukri, Laguiole, Mandau,
Navaja, Opinel, Pata, Qama,
Rondel, Shiv, Trench, Urumi, Voulge, Wedung
X-Acto, Yoroi-dōshi, Zombie Knives.
Mother, Father, Sister, Brother, Daughter, Son.
Friend, Lover, Neighbour, Society, Lives.
Stab, shank, chib, zoor, jook, slice, wet steel. For what?
They search my bag like an abandoned flat.

 

(You can buy a copy of Lisa’s book here. Thank you)

Guest Post: ‘In My Arms’ by Setareh Ebrahimi, with poem ‘Like Grace Coddington’

For most of you, today’s guest feature by Setareh Ebrahimi will really put into perspective what lockdown means when it goes on for years and years against your will. The poem ‘Like Grace Coddington’ comes from Setareh’s debut pamphlet In My Arms, from Bad Betty Press. You can buy it for £3, here:

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Setareh Linkedin“Engaging with the general lockdown reaction on social media has shown me how different groups of people have taken it – there are those that are, rightfully panicking, tearing their hair out, thrashing, screaming at the sky, denouncing their gods; and those, like myself, who climatized well due to having experienced some form of lockdown in their life.

I was never able to write about abuse or race until I realised I needed to talk about them a certain amount first. On social media I’ve seen posts like, ‘People be complaining about lockdown, brown girls been under lockdown their whole lives.’ Of course this hides a wealth of pain, and naturally we make jokes to cover it up.

Growing up with my dad, existence and isolation were the same thing; I wasn’t even allowed to see my family or talk to them on the telephone, or talk openly to my mother or sister who lived in the same house as me. The one hour of exercise we are allowed now, was pretty much the extent of my outdoor existence for years. Being 1-2 hours late after school once, when I was in Year 8 because I wanted to play in a field with my friends, didn’t end well for me. My experience was massively infantalised; I’m embarrassed to write that I was playing imaginary games with little kiddy toys into my late teens – my sister was six years younger than me and essentially the only friend I in my arms coverhad.

All I could really do was read, depending on what library books I could get my hands on or what I could pick up at the supermarket or in shops near places my mum needed to run errands at. Even then I remember being shouted at for reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, till I had a nervous breakdown. Going to the supermarket or the laundry with my mum was an outing. Waking up in the morning meant thinking of hours in the form of four quarters, and counting them off till bedtime. I spent a lot of time wondering if I’d be better off dead, whether I should blow my brains out or whether I was real or invisible. The ensuing adult years of poverty, desperation, drug use, mental health issues and loneliness as a result weren’t great either.

A friend of mine who is also BAME and a writer, confirmed to me that the effects of isolation make you feel crazy. Nothing exists outside your own four walls. She used to not know what her city looked like. A small car ride out seemed like a holiday. The only outdoors she saw was the single road to her school; this road expanded when she hit college but it was still marked with curfews. She literally wasn’t allowed to leave her room in her house for the majority of her childhood up till when she left, at around 21.

badbettypressDid you ever think that there were a lot of invisible people living in lockdown before this pandemic? There are people everywhere living sad lives, and then they die quietly. I’m left with the lingering frustration that things only become an issue when they affect people en masse, or affect those with a voice.

My whole concept of time is different, I could wait and wait and wait, and I won’t know if half an hour has passed or five. I can fit into small spaces, I can stare at wall for days. The appropriate endurance boundary lies slack. I wrote in my poem, ‘Glittery Fairy Princess’, ‘The rest of the party was spent/like most of my time,/patiently observing the passage/of my own life.’

My main issue now is keeping my baby contained to a top floor flat without a lift. For many people, lockdown isn’t romantic, school’s out, barbecue garden party. It’s interesting to watch people try to create new rituals, as we have done.”

Setareh Ebrahimi is an Iranian-British poet living and working in Faversham, Kent. She completed her Bachelor’s in English Literature from The University of Westminster in 2014, and her Master’s in English and American Literature from The University of Kent in 2016. She has been published numerous times in various journals and magazines, including Brittle Star, Confluence, and Ink Sweat & Tears. Her poetry has also been anthologised numerous times, most recently by Eibonviale Press. Setareh released her first pamphlet of poetry, In My Arms, from Bad Betty Press in 2018. She regularly performs her poetry in Kent and London, has hosted her own poetry evenings and leads writing workshops. Setareh is currently a contributing editor for Thanet Writers. In 2018 Setareh was one of the poets in residence of The Margate Bookie, at The Turner Contemporary Gallery.

 

 

Like Grace Coddington

We return to revaluate
what we have control over;
the remits of our bodies, we hope.
You get these little tufts that stick
out just like your daughter’s.

You suggest a buzzcut,
I try not to let my enthusiasm
for a mohawk show.

I think it would be hot,
imagine it post-filter
with comments and reactions,
it’s not just writers that think
of themselves in third person now
and displaced associations
are all we have,
screens, glass.

I’ve always felt my spirit
was in a body it didn’t look like,
longed for a pink or blue hair moment
unavailable to round brown girls
with hair the colour of tar
that just wouldn’t take.

But I want to join you,
could buy a few packs of purple dye
and repeatedly apply before revealing,
fluff it out like Grace Coddington.

We turn over the flat in search
of clipper heads,
not to count what we still have.

Guest Post: ‘Onward/Ymlaen’ anthology of contemporary Welsh Poetry edited by Mike Jenkins, with poem ‘No memorial f lisa’

Culture Matters is publishing a series of important anthologies of working class poetry. ‘Witches, Warriors, Workers‘ edited by Fran Lock and Jane Burn. ‘The Children of the Nation‘ of contemporary Irish poetry. Most recently, ‘Almarks‘ radical poetry of Shetland. And the subject of today’s guest post ‘Onward/Ymlaen‘ anthology of radical poetry from contemporary Wales, edited by Mike Jenkins. Here’s Mike talking about the anthology (and lots of other fascinating insights) with a poem ‘No Memorial F Lisa ‘from upcoming collection ‘Anonymous Bosch’ which will be published by Culture Matters early next year. You can buy the anthology here:

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The Spirit of 1831 –  ‘Onward/Ymlaen!’

DSC_3052 (1)“The anthology ‘Onward/ Ymlaen!’ published by Culture Matters comprises left-wing poems from Cymru rather than ‘Wales’. Why do I stress this? As the Welsh language poet Menna Elfyn rightly points out in notes to her poem ‘Neb-ach’, the very words ‘Wales’ and ‘Welsh’ are both associated with being ‘foreign’ : we call ourselves what others have chosen to call us, namely the English.

I choose Cymru because it means ‘fellow-countrymen’ and is intrinsically about belonging and co-operation.

Poetry has always been fundamental and not peripheral to our society. Every year at the National Eisteddfod we crown a bard for his/her free verse and chair another for their work in cynghanedd ( an ancient verse-form).

During the ceremony the Archdruid (who is, at present, Myrddin ap Dafydd: represented in this anthology) calls for ‘Heddwch!’ and the entire audience responds by calling out that Welsh word for peace.

Bards have traditionally come from many different backgrounds and one of the most renowned was ‘Hedd Wyn’ (bardic name of Ellis Humphrey Evans) who was a shepherd who fought and died in the 1st World War. An avowed pacifist, he was chaired posthumously at the Eisteddfod in 1917 , when they draped a black cloak over the Chair in his absence.

In Cymru, poets have also invariably had close associations with their ‘milltir sgwâr’, areas of belonging and identity, and you see this in the work of many  here, such as Ness Owen from Ynys Môn (Anglesey) and Gemma June Howell with her Caerffili dialect poems.

Ness writes in both Welsh and English, with the language and her feminism at the fore in her work –

    ‘Tonge-tied
excusing our way through
we breath in Mamiaith’

While Gemma hails originally from a working-class estate in Caerffili called Graig yr Rhacca, writing in the voices of its inhabitants, for all their faults so full of humour and energy –

    ‘A’rite? Nairmz Rhiannon
an I leve on thuh Rock.
I luv drinken ciduh
and I luv sucken cock.

welsh coverAs co-editor of ‘Red Poets’ magazine for 26 years (we annually publish left-wing poetry from Cymru and beyond) I am acutely aware of the importance of socialist and republican politics to our poets.

The majority in this collection will have appeared in that magazine over the years and, in particular, I think of Herbert Williams, Alun Rees, Tim Richards and Jazz who were there, at the very beginning.

The power of satire is vital to most of these, and Rees’s ‘Taffy is a Welshman’ deservedly won the Harri Webb Prize. It takes a well-known nursery rhyme and develops it into a scathing look at the history of the Welsh working-class, fighting imperialist wars –

    ‘He’s fought the wide world over,
he’s given blood and bone.
He’s fought for every bloody cause
except his bloody own.’

For many, their poetic heroes have been the likes of Idris Davies and Harri Webb, uncompromising poets never afraid to take on the burning issues of their times : Davies dealing with strikes and the Depression and Webb with the rise of Welsh nationalism and sense of Cymru as an oppressed colony.

In the 60s when Alun Rees, Herbert Williams and Sally Roberts Jones came to the fore, the worlds of Welsh and English language poetry were largely separate. Nowadays, poets like Sn Tomos Owen and Rufus Mufasa move between both their languages, often within individual poems.

Rufus is also a quite amazing performer, somewhat like Kate Tempest but with more singing and an emphasis on dub rather than rap. Her work on the page is quite distinct from her performance poetry, though both move easily from Welsh to English –

   ‘ Y bwrdd cadarn, caer / our fortress made of blankets’

From the multi-cultural society of Cardiff to former industrial heartlands of slate, iron and coal, there are a strong feelings of injustice and anger shared by many working-class communities throughout the British Isles.

One younger poet, Hanan Issa (who I met and read alongside at the Homeless World Cup in Cardiff) draws on her Muslim background, here reflecting on an incident in Marrakech –

    ‘ Immersed in the maelstrom
of a Marrakech market
.’

Yet, it has to be said that the emerging and enthusiastic independence movement,  which many of these poets are part of and which is led by non-partisan groups like Yes Cymru, has created a sense of hope more akin to Scotland in recent years and I wanted to reflect this in the title ‘Onward/ Ymlaen!’ I took it from Patrick Jones’s poem ‘The Guerilla Tapestry’ to encapsulate this spirit .

    ‘Following the dream of emancipation
     Your power we shall decline
     Ymlaen  Ymlaen

merthyr risingJones’s own journey from Labour supporter to embracing the emerging Indy movement is one which truly reflects our politically fluid times.

And the same word is echoed in Phil Howells’s poem about the Merthyr Rising which took place in my home town in 1831 when the ironworkers rose up against their masters to take over the whole town and, it’s claimed, raise the red flag for the first time.

Picture 1

image: dave lewis

In Welsh the slogan we’ve used for decades has been ‘Fe godwn ni eto!’ (we will rise again). Despite the Tory victory in the Westminster election, there is still plenty of room for optimism and these poems are sure indicators that the spirit of 1831 and the Chartists lives on.

Mike Jenkins is an award-winning Welsh poet and author. He is widely published and is much in demand for his lively performances and writing workshops. He has performed at the Hay Festival and the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival and has read and tutored at Ty Newydd, the National Writers’ Centre for Wales. Mike frequently appears on radio and television and is known among Cardiff City football fans as the club’s ‘unofficial poet’. (http://www.facebook.com/mjenkins1927; http://twitter.com/mjenkins1927)

NO MEMORIAL F LISA by Mike Jenkins


She ewsed t live above me
I could yer the comins an goins,
theyer larfter an  screamin.

Never knew she wern copin,
though she did joke once –
‘I’m even in debt to-a fuckin Food Bank!’

Mostly she wuz smiling
but sometimes I could see
the worries gnawin away –

rats in-a drains an sewers
bringin disease to er kids.
She woz a cleaner on fuckall pay.

Blokes ud come an leave,
er kids come first ev’ry time.
Few returned, sniffin, but not f long.

Er sister found er.
I know oo is t blame.
This town’s seen too many martyrs.

As we remember Tydfil
an, o course, Dic Penderyn ,
there’ll be no memorial f Lisa.

(Poem from ‘Anonymous Bosch’ which will be published by Culture Matters early next year, with photos by Dave Lewis of Pontypridd).

Photo –  Dave Lewis

Guest Post: ‘The Story Is’ by Kate B Hall, with poem ‘Avenue’

Today we have the second Bad Betty poet Kate B Hall. She writes a fascinating account of her personal experience of living in the lockdown as a person over 70, and the reminiscences of growing up in privation. It’s accompanied by an evocative poem, from her collection ‘The Story Is’, which you can buy here:

**********************

Kate B Hall
“A lot has happened since my book ‘The Story Is‘ was published. Events both sad and happy have changed me and my life. My second son died at 53, after a lifetime of illness, his son was born a few months later, and now we have the Coronavirus lockdown. Because I’m nearly 75 and my health has been compromised by lung cancer, I have only been out once in six weeks, when we went to post a letter and walked round the block at about 9.30 one night. The streets were almost completely deserted but it still felt quite dangerous. The one person we passed, at a safe distance, smiled and said Hello.

Life seems so very different to the one I described in my poem Avenue (below), yet it is the same place but neither of us go out, everything we need is delivered. The same people live in the street and join in clapping on a Thursday night, I know some people think it’s a pointless gesture and what all the front line staff need is a proper wage and suitable PPE, but for me having signed endless petitions and talked to people on social media and the phone, it is my only way of saying thank you and feeling like we are doing this tiny thing as a community. We are amazingly lucky, our rented housing trust flat has a garden and a front balcony. I can only imagine how dire this lock down must be for people who do not have these things.

badbettypressI try to watch the news once a day; more than that and it is really depressing. Alternatively it is infuriating, why do we need to see Royalty clapping in an obviously posed way with their children outside their front door which does not appear to be in a street where anyone else lives. When have they ever used the NHS?

marmaladeYesterday I made marmalade, from one of those tins of prepared Seville oranges; I knew they were good because my mother used them, rather secretly as she saw it as cheating. When I was quite small I remember going, in our fathers cab, to pick blackberries in Epping Forest, the making of bramble jelly the next day. If there was enough, some would be bottled for use when fruit was expensive in the winter. The jars joined shelves of preserves and pickles all made when things were in season, so cheaper than usual. Sharing a couple of jars of marmalade with neighbours refreshes the memory of how my history in this street began.

I feel now that I am looking through my collection with different eyes, until the poet Joelle Taylor commented on the back cover that my poems were ‘recording the history of marginalised women in the UK’ I hadn’t really seen that aspect of my work clearly. Now I think of times when the lockdown would have been incredibly difficult for me as a single parent, or for my sister when she first developed Alzheimer’s and was constantly angry, or for my parents who were often strapped for cash when we were children.

Kate B Hall coverMy partner and I are both of an age where a store cupboard is normal. Our parents lived through the war so there were always a few tins and packets kept for emergencies. We order our shopping delivery fortnightly and have a kind of general store. We are trying not hoard and so far have managed to get roughly what we need. When our delivery arrives it gets washed, dried and put away. Sometimes the way we talk about what is happening reminds me of my childhood when food was still rationed and my parents were not very well off. My mother was a genius at making things stretch not just food but clothes too.

Writing a book about my working class roots was not particularly conscious, but in hindsight how could it be any different. The poem about my school uniform with its let down hem surprised a lot of younger people who have always thought of uniforms as a leveller, but it certainly didn’t work like that when I was at grammar school. One of the few teachers whose name I remember from over sixty years ago gets a poem in the book and my thanks, even though I’m pretty sure she must be dead by now. There was another teacher’s name that I remember but haven’t as yet written a poem about, who I rather prophetically had a massive crush on, she taught English.

Big thanks to my wonderful editor Amy Acre for pulling the book together and supporting me through the whole process.  Many of  the situations in this book reflect a working class background, just after the Second World War, followed by what my father would have called pulling myself up by my boot straps. I finished an Open University degree in Social Sciences in my early thirties; it changed my life not because of the qualification but because of the new confidence having BA(hons) which I have never used, after my name.

Recently, in my early seventies, I finished another OU course this time a Creative Writing MA. I still haven’t stopped strutting. But I don’t use MA after my name, no one does, but sometimes I have a whisper of inappropriate longing to show off.”

About ‘The Story Is‘:

‘A glorious mix of the historical, quotidian, humorous and tragic. Kate B Hall confronts the often-devastating realities of life and death with a surprising lightness of touch, a beguiling and intimate directness.’  Jacqueline Saphra

Frank, funny and poignant, Kate B Hall’s new collection is a lifetime in the making. From her wartime beginnings as a ‘difficult child’ to the tentative joy of early great-grand motherhood, the power in these poems shines through in the tension held between the tough and the tender. Finding no truth untouchable, Hall squares up to mortality, dementia and unloving mothers, yet almost always unearths a seedling of hope growing amongst the wreckage. Resilient and playful to the last, this is a book that loves hard, a long-awaited chronicle from a well-loved writer.

 

Avenue

Here where trees make an avenue,
where a hundred years ago,
before the Thames Barrier, someone drowned
when the river got ideas above its station.
Where, forty years ago squatters moved in
to keep the bulldozers out, made homes,
formed associations, demanded licences
and were sold on to a Housing Trust for one pound.
Now much older, more respectable people,
who were once us, pass each other with a wave.

Here where I have lived for over half my life
where my daughter grew up and all her childhood
memories begin and end,
where my sons tumbled into our female world
once a month, with a clatter and their sweaty trainers.

Here where I have lived with you, for all of our life together
our kitchen, infused with the smells of coffee and cooking;
my breakfast with the Guardian crossword, at the table
by the window, looking out to see the world go by.
Here is where we sit to plan the day or discuss holidays,
to decide on dinner and to think about our lives,
to sort things out or not and sometimes agree to differ.