The Poetry of Working Class Lives: Opening a Door to a More Inclusive Poetics. By Peter Raynard for New Generation to Next Generation 2014: Three Decades of British and Irish Poetry, conference at the Institute of English Studies, London. March 13th 2015
‘Poetry is not the inconsolable wail of the only child. It can be the hum of the neighbourly voices in the meeting hall. To be welcomed in, all you need to do is open the door.”
These are the closing words from Fiona Sampson’s book on contemporary poetry: Beyond the Lyric. But the challenge facing any poetics of inclusion, is how to get people to open the door in the first place. However, as the Warwick commission report on the Arts recently showed, it is not only a problem for poetry.
Poetry and Working Class Lives
I came to focus on the poetry of the working class lives in two ways. Firstly, when I started writing poetry as a dare by taking a module run by Malika Booker as part of an MA in Creative Writing; she showed us poems from William Blake, to Martin Espada, Jacob Sam-La Rose, Inua Ellams, and Karen McCarthy Woolf.
The second entry point was a dissatisfaction in the way in which the working classes were portrayed in the media and arts: in novels, plays, TV programmes and films, stories involving working class people are portrayed as ‘horror stories’ or ‘fairy tales’; The most common depictions are the lumpen, feckless, racist and criminal underclass of ‘Shameless’, ‘This is England’ ‘Trainspotting’ and ‘Lionel Asbo’, complemented by the narratives of escape via the salvation of a supposed middle-class life such as with ‘Educating Rita’ and ‘Billy Elliot’. (more…)
Following on from my previous post on working class poems by a selection of the 1994 Generation Poets, is the second instalment as part of my paper for the upcoming Institute of English Studies conference on March 13th-14th in London.
Below are ten poems from the 2004 alumni of New Generation Poets, that have been selected in terms of whether I could find a relevant poem online or not.
2004 Generation Poets
Patience Agbabi, The Devil in Cardiff. I could have taken a number from the wonderful reworking of Chaucer, in Telling Tales, but here is the lovable rogue Robbo, who previously appeared on the site.
‘…non-stop to Hell! Dying for a pint, he is./Only serve tea down there, and bloody biscuits …/Bitter for me … He’ll be back here/in less than a month, though, bet you a fiver,/they’ll be beggin’ him to go./Get an ASBO from Hell, Robbo.’
Paul Farley, Depot. A magical, mysterious place where the objects of the street are housed (dustcarts, lampposts) and where street cleaners know more than you might imagine.
‘Here are the bays, where dustcarts spend their evenings,/where grit summers, dreaming of Januaries,/and barriers mesh, likes deckchairs off-season.’ (more…)
As part of this project I seem to be developing, I will be giving a paper at the Institute of English Studies conference: “New to Next Generation 2014: Three Decades of British and Irish Poetry” on March 13th (come along). I am on a panel entitled Promoting an Inclusive Poetics (I should be careful what I wish for). So as part of developing the paper, I thought I better get to know who the ‘Generation’ poets are.
I have featured four of the Generation Poets on the site so far – from 2014: Hannah Lowe, Kei Miller and Helen Mort; and one from 2004, Patience Agbabi. None from 1994 as yet.
In line with my belief that all poets have written a poem of working class lives, I am going through the poems (at least the ones that are available online at this stage) of each Generation poet to find out if there is any truth to my belief. So this first instalment is a selection from the 1994 ‘New’ Generation – I have looked at eleven of them so far, there are others such as Don Paterson and Kathleen Jamie I know I will find poems from, but there are still a few that I haven’t found one for (e.g. Glyn Maxwell, Lavinia Greenlaw), though I haven’t lost hope.
Moniza Alvi: The Country at My Shoulder is about Moniza’s country of origin, Pakistan, the poverty and gender divide there and how it weighs heavily on her identity.
‘the women stone-breakers chip away/at boulders, dirt on their bright hems./They await the men and the trucks….I try to shake the dust from the country,/smooth it with my hands.’
Simon Armitage: Clown Punk is very much a poem about identity, of how for some it changes, whereas others may believe it remains the same as exemplified in fading tattoos.
‘don’t laugh: every pixel of that man’s skin,/is shot through with indelible ink;/as he steps out at the traffic lights/think what he’ll look like in thirty years time.’ (more…)
‘There is nothing one man will not do to another.’ (The Visitor, Carolyn Forché)
On 7th January 1915 the war in Europe was at a stalemate. Soldiers were still dying for an unknown cause but the papers in the UK at least, were headlined with floods that covered much of the country. On the following day, the future UK Prime Minister David Lloyd George, in response to the war not ‘being over by Christmas’, said that half a million new volunteers should not be ‘thrown away in futile enterprises’ and by ‘this intermittent flinging …. against impregnable positions’.
‘Tumbling over hills, likes waves of the sea/Staggering on, attracted magnetically by Death.’ (At the Beginning of the War, Peter Baum, 1915) (more…)