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Gala Day, Durham Miners by Jane Burn

For Gala Day, July 14th 2018

Proletarian Poetry

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

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Moonstomp by Tim Wells

003Tim Wells has been (still is, in fact) one of the great stalwarts of poetry; as a poet, promoter, and historian of all things working class, for the past four decades. One of the original ‘ranters’ of the 1980s, he has been a regular on the London poetry scene, as well as wider shores, giving it large with poems about working class lives; poems that don’t pander to the type of melodrama or demonisation which undermines the notion of class as being some drop out numpty who drives a van with its break lights not working. “I was a teenage suedehead. Dressing sharper than the posh kids and our style was crucial to us. That, and I don’t drive,” he told me.

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Tim’s running a Crowdfunder with Unbound (who published the hugely successful The Good Immigrant) and is over halfway there. Have a read below, and at the work he has done so far with the campaign. If you can bung it a cock & hen or two to help it over the line, the world will be a slightly better place, and you’ll be helping one of the good ‘uns.

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001Through his site, Stand Up & Spit, he documents the poetry of the 1980s & many steps beyond, putting it into context with music, politics and sport. The site looks back to working class and spoken word poetry from around the world and through history. The site draws from a variety of music papers, and other rare finds. He is also the editor and publisher of the poetry zine ‘Rising’ (tough on poetry, tough on the causes of poetry), which has been going since 1993 and has just put out its 70th issue. Tim’s also a great supporter of poets, always bigging up the old and the new, with his legendary all-dayers at the Betsey Trotwood pub in Farringdon, and taking Stand Up and Spit on the road.

He previously featured on Proletarian Poetry, with his poem Version, a tribute to the Jamaican poet Michael Smith, who was murdered following an altercation at a political rally. The poem comes from Tim’s Penned in the Margins collection, Everything Crash.

Tim gives nostalgia a proper name, and he is doing it again in venturing into an old love of skinhead/horror pulp novels, with his own take on the genre, Moonstomp. As he says:

AlbionThose New English Library skinhead, football aggro, and Hell’s Angel books were read by all my mates back when we were lads. We liked the Pan anthologies of horror stories too. They were a big part of my generation’s youth. Moonstomp brings youth cult to occult and I’ve pretty much written up my teenage years with an added werewolf. The book is set in 1979, the music and clothes are precise, which is something you rarely get when people write yoof cults.”

I’ve read a sample chapter and it’s banging. But don’t take my word for it (although you are welcome to):

The novelist John King (he of the Football Factory, Human Punk, Skinheads) says:

“Howling back to the days when we used to pass the Skinhead and Hell’s Angels books around school, and watched Hammer Horror films at home on our black-and-white televisions, Tim Wells has written a fiendish tale of a skinhead werewolf rampaging through London in 1979. Being a sharp-dressed lad (still), the clothes and music are spot on. Snap up a copy before it bites your hand off.”

And the alternative UK national treasure, Phill Jupitus sings along:

“Skinheads and werewolves and reggae and boozers, lager and kicking in fat city losers, Punk rock and Sta-prest when Lene she sings. Tim Wells has written a novel about a few of my favourite things… You can feel the sticky floors of the gigs and the sweaty menace is tangible as you read Tim Wells’ swaggering prose. This is no rose-tinted amble down memory lane. The landscape of his world is a London that was swallowed whole by the eighties. For a book so full of life, there’s a lot of death in it as well. Beautiful. Brutal. Brutus. It’s got the lot! “

So, as I say, if you want to keep working class fiction alive, then kick a bit of pocket here. You won’t regret it.

For Display Purposes Only by Emily Harrison

Second from the archives for Mental Health Awareness Week, from the brilliant Emily Harrison

Proletarian Poetry

My son is now eighteen, has a full-time job and is happy. He is ‘functioning’. This comes after almost three years of depression which at its worst involved self-harm and suicidal ideation. He left school in Year 10, couldn’t cope with another school, nor a part-time one. All schools found it difficult to support him, besides giving him extra time to do tasks, which was not what he needed. In fairness to them, although we didn’t realise it at the time, he simply needed to be withdrawn completely. So for him, no qualifications, no ‘normal’ pathway that as parents you just assume they will take (but boy, can he play guitar and knows his way round a recording studio).

world mental health dayFluoxetine and psychiatry didn’t help; it wasn’t until he was free of daily commitments, went on mirtazapine and saw a therapist fortnightly, that he slowly came back to us. He is…

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Accident, and Hangings by Melissa Lee-Houghton

It is National Mental Health Awareness Week, so here is a poem from the archives by the inimitable Melissa Lee Houghton

Proletarian Poetry

wspdToday’s post is not about class. It is given over to World Suicide Prevention Day.

Three days before his GCSE exams, a boy in my sons’ school committed suicide. It was ‘out of the blue’, as was that of the well-known human rights barrister Michael Mansfield’s daughter. It is something we are all close to; one it twenty think about suicide, in the UK thirteen men a day kill themselves. WHO figures estimate that around 800,000 people commit suicide each day across the world. It is an epidemic we should not ignore.

The poet Abegail Morley has been posting poems in the run-up to the day by a number of poets, including today’s featured poet Melissa Lee-Houghton (you can read here). Melissa sent me a number of poems for Proletarian Poetry, which I was privileged to read, and will be included in her forthcoming collection. They are…

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Three Books from Smokestack in April: Stephen Sawyer, Richard Skinner, and Peter Raynard

Radically good poetry from Smokestack, April 2018

Stephen Sawyer, THERE WILL BE NO MIRACLES HERE

Stephen Sawyer’s debut collection is a book about public dreams, private desires and common fears. From a Merseyside housing estate in the 1960s via Pinochet and Thatcher to the floods in Sheffield in 2007, these poems trace the sutures of power and resistance on the body and under the skin through the mediations of love, death, class, art and oppression.

Paperback £7.99 – ISBN 9781999827601

Richard Skinner, THE MALVERN AVIATOR

Novelist Richard Skinner’s third collection tips certainties on their heads, making familiar objects in the world unfamiliar. From the Lollards to Saint Fabiola, questions of faith run through these poems as they engage with different poetic forms – the cento, the cinquain, the unrhymed sonnet, cut-ups and free verse.

Paperback £4.99 – ISBN 9780995767584

Peter Raynard, PRECARIOUS

A book that  tackles questions of masculinity, class, mental health and work head on. Rosa Luxembourg, Orgreave, 11-plus failures – it’s a book about precarious times, hard lessons and fragile lives, a defiant celebration of British working-class life and the people ‘who make the wheels go round’.

Paperback £7.99 – ISBN 9780995767591

Recent Anarchy in Poetry

FullSizeRender (1)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.

IMG_1349Last 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.

FullSizeRender (2)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.

FullSizeRender (3)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.

Permission, Disability, Stairs and Whispers, and a poem by Nuala Watt

I only came across the term ‘permission’ in regards of writing when being mentored by Jo Bell. Her wonderful project, 52 had given over five hundred writers the safe space to share their poetry with others in a similar position; the project had essentially given many of them permission to write. Recently I received a different type of permission when attending the Stairs and Whispers event at Ledbury Poetry Festival; the permission to accept that I have a disability.

Stairs and Whispers COVERThis was the launch of the anthology of “D/deaf and Disabled Poets Write Back”, edited by Sandra Alland, Khairani Barokka and Daniel Sluman, and published by Nine Arches Press. From the perspective of someone whose hearing and sight is not particularly impaired the event was a multi-media experience of poetry films, readings, and questions, supported by sign, subtitles, and the full text of poems. The editors described themselves for those with sight impairment, and in a large hall it felt like the most intimate and captivating experience.

However, it was only afterwards, when I went away, sat in a café and took a breath that it resonated with me more personally. I have a number of autoimmune conditions; Addison’s Disease, Underactive Thyroid, secondary hypopituitarism (causing low testosterone), low Vitamin D, along with asthma, high cholesterol, chronic fatigue, periodic chronic pain, and depression. I am lucky, as I don’t have to rely on welfare, beyond NHS treatment and free prescriptions, and there are times when I am relatively healthy and able to exercise. So I have had no need to register as disabled and go through the horrendously cruel process that the austerity government has implemented in the past seven years.

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