On This Day She is the new book from Jo Bell, Tania Hershman and Ailsa Holland – a page-a-day history book featuring 366 women who have earned a place in history, but haven’t always got it. You can watch a recent event in which the three of us talked about the book and some of the women in it, here.
History is not just ‘what happened in the past.’ It is the story of what happened in the past. Our existing stories need an overhaul, because women have not been fairly represented in them. There are plenty of women who should have taken their place in any accounts of great deeds and cultural change. If they don’t appear in those accounts, that is not because they weren’t there.
Artists and philosophers are downplayed as the ‘muses’ of men for whom they were…
My year began well. I spent a wonderful week on a Nine Arches retreat in Hartsop with fellow poets, Jane Commane, Jo Bell, Josephine Corcoran, Gregory Leadbetter, and Roy MacFarlane. At that point, COVID was still an inside page and I can’t remember it coming up in conversation. Roll on into the pandemic and I found it increasingly difficult to engage with poetry and the outside world more generally, so withdrew from most things beyond my front gate including social media.
Roughly two weeks ago, my 87 year old Father rang to say he was finally getting his second hip operation. So, although happy for him, the worry began its loop de loop. Despite a delay of over a year, he is one of the lucky ones. Born in the Gorbals in the early ‘30s, he’s been in many a scrape, from cracking his skull aged 3 to gang fights, bar fights, burst ulcer, kidney problems, and now his joints.
My extended family has been relatively lucky in terms of tragedies; but that ended this year, as it has for many people. The tragic irony was that ours wasn’t Covid. My wife’s cousin died in a car crash in April, after an impatient driver tried to overtake on the opposite side of the road, and hit him head on. He was a beautiful person; a teacher in Kent, aged twenty-six and just really starting his adult life. Because of lockdown restrictions, only his mother, father, and sister were able to attend the funeral.
Even though I have not read or written any poetry, I have still thought a lot about it, in particular working class poetry. In recent times, important poetry books of working class life have emerged, such as Caleb Femi’s recent Poor, all of Fran Lock’s brilliant writing, Jay Bernard’s Surge, Chip Hamer’s Class Act, and Julia Webb’s Threat, to name but a few. And I hope that 2021 sees more new voices.
I am most excited for Malika’s Poetry Kitchen 20th anniversary year, with its anthology (out in August) and series of events that will hopefully further fuse race and class within poetry. Malika Booker is one of the most inspiring people I have met, and Malika’s Kitchen is one of the most important things to happen in poetry, and I miss all of the members.
My son is a producer of drill and trap beats so I have been listening to quite a lot of Grime (check out GRM Daily). Some of the lyrics/poetry these young men and women are producing is lit (in my son’s parlance). Writing about poverty, gang violence, prison, it is a vital avenue for working class voices. I like Meekz, but I also love Ghetts’ video ‘Proud Family’ that goes beyond the horror stories, to portray his family life. Poetry can learn a lot from this genre.
Then, in the midst of my breakdown, I cancelled my third book (which was due to be published in two weeks). But after a few calmer weeks, my wonderful publisher and fellow Coventarian Jane Commane of Nine Arches Press, talked me round and the book will now come out in 2022 for my 60th year; although sadly I won’t be part the Coventry City of Culture’s Contains Strong Language weekend in September of next year.
Then, ratatattat eight days ago, my youngest son developed a cough and temperature, and tested positive for Covid. Three days later, my wife tested positive. I have a number of endocrine conditions, which puts me at heightened risk, so my anxiety hit the roof. However, the imperative of looking after the two of them, with the help of my older son, helped ease me away from my own dark thoughts.
Thankfully, he and I tested negative, so we are now running the Covid Hotel to feed my wife and other son and keep their spirits up. But it is exhausting, wearing a mask for most of the day, constantly cleaning, constantly stressed; though ten years a househusband has helped (unlike the so-called progressive Tony Blair, who admitted to not doing his chores – naughty boy). I can only imagine how truly horrendous it has been for nurses and doctors.
I am hopeful that things will be okay over the next day or two as their symptoms are subsiding, and we are nearing the end of enforced isolation. Though the best we could get for our Xmas meal is an Iceland frozen turkey crown – but it only makes me feel more working class 😉
My Father had his operation today, and thankfully it was a success and he should be home before Christmas Day. All of which makes me momentarily believe there is light at the end of a cliché.
I am hoping he can walk again in the New Year, and I have wrote this wee poem for him.
Keep well everyone, and I hope your year has not been terrible, thank you for continuing to follow Proletarian Poetry, even though like an old boxer, I keep trying to retire it. Much love to you all, and come Hogmanay, raise a glass for the sake of your own Auld Lang Syne.
For my Father, life has ever been a braw bricht moonlit nicht But Lauder was no Burns for the Ayrshire Bard’s picture was a fixture on the shelf within a line of our kin. Though my Father never read poetry Burns was the man like Celtic the team whisky the drink leaving Scotland the means to go down South behind auld enemy lines armed with saltire crosses their brogue voices lilting the bars with songs for the displaced who wandered many a weary feet singing their way home for the sake of a fading time for the sake of Auld Lang Syne.
I was in the room when he kicked her in the stomach. She was pregnant. Her scream was piercing. I was in the room when he drew blood back into the syringe before injecting himself with heroin. I was in the room as others left, unable to cope with what was unfolding in front of them, only a few feet away. I was in the room, at the first showing in London of the play Trainspotting at the Bush Theatre, back in 1995 before it was made into a film. As the eponymous blog says, it was ‘in-yer-face-theatre’.
Theatre is often tarred with the same brush as poetry; that it is elitist, not for the masses, etc.. Some of which may be true, but outside of the honeypot of the West End, in fringe and regional theatre, much of what goes on is done with an inclusive…
We are coming to the end of the school year; a year full of turmoil instilled by a Government who feels it needs to do more than tinker with the education of our children, treating them more like guinea pigs in an ideological battle to send us back to Victorian times. Both education Secretaries (Gove and now Morgan), seem to want a war with teachers with the proposed imposition of academy status for all schools (thankfully withdrawn), new SATs for Year 6 students, and the madness of testing those under the grand old age of seven.
Governments still struggle with mass education; with classes of upwards of thirty children, herded together like cattle despite their different needs and abilities and family circumstance, all with the sole intention of getting them to pass a minimum of five GCSEs. I know from personal experience…
When I was born in the early ‘60s, I put my mother through a two day ordeal of labour, then was extracted via C-section; this was in the days when the scar of such a section was twice as long as it is today. So, it is little wonder that when leaving the hospital with my dad, my parents forgot to take me with them. Thank God for the NHS and all its efficiency, for an eagle-eyed nurse came running out of reception saying: ‘Haven’t you forgot something?’ Just over two years later, and my parents were playing cricket with friends in the stretch of scrubland outside our flat; when I was in need of something, I ran up to my mother who was in bat. The ball arrived at her stump the same time I did, she missed the ball and broke my nose. Thank God for…
“Capitalism has subjected the country to the rule of the towns. It has created enormous cities. Capitalism has agglomerated population, centralised means of production, and has concentrated property in a few hands.”
Karl Marx was 195 on May 5th last year, and wrote these words albeit using the word ‘bourgeoisie’ instead of capitalism. John Lanchester used this trick when quoting Marx to show how prescient he was in describing the structure of capitalism and the way in which it changes the landscape (I sometimes think that capitalists understand Marx better than Marxists).
Just over five years ago, I began my journey into the poetry world. Blighted by a preoccupation/ obsession with class and the arts, I brought them along for the ride. I started Proletarian Poetry for two reasons: to put more working class poetry ‘out there’, and by doing so, learning from and engaging with what became 150 poets. I have written around 150k words of commentary, which some day might become a book, and there has been 65k visitors to the site.
However, not in small part due to my continued ill-health, but also because I need to move on a little with my own writing, I have decided to bring down the bright red curtain on the site. I will continue to keep it accessible and will tweet missives relevant to class and poetry.
My next venture is two-fold: first, completing the manuscript for my next collection to be published by Nine Arches Press in 2021. Second, I have just been awarded an Arts Council grant to write a novel in verse (gulp).
I want to thank every poet, publisher, and reader who has been involved with PP, including those who read at the events I organised. Fear not, there is still plenty of working class poetry out there, but I hope in some small way, that PP has added to the barbed wire poetry of resistance.
Many years ago my friend went for an interview at the Royal Mail; when asked why he wanted to be a postman, he said, “Because my uncle runs the pub across the road.” He didn’t get the job, which wasn’t fair really because the pub was always full of posties at lunchtime.
Charles Bukowski was probably the most famous literary drinking postman. When deciding whether to continue at the post or become a full-time writer he said, “I have one of two choices – stay in the post office and go crazy … or stay out here and play at writer and starve. I have decided to starve.”
Imagine however, that instead of delivering other peoples’ letters or junk mail, the postman delivered a message of his or her own. What would the folks of downtown L.A. have thought about missives from Bukowski or Burroughs? Or…
I am so happy that this coming Thursday 28th March, Joolz Sparkes and Hilaire will launching their book London Undercurrents. Published by Holland Park Press, the launch is at Gradidge Room of the Artworkers’ Guild, 6 Queen Square London WC1N 3AT Further detail can be found here: https://www.hollandparkpress.co.uk/books/london-undercurrents/
It is said of Truman Capote that his book, In Cold Blood was the first non-fiction novel. Based on in-depth research, the book tells of a family murdered by two young men in Holcomb, Kansas in 1959. It was part of what became known as the New Journalism by the likes of Tom Wolfe, Norman Mailer and Joan Didion, who used literary devices to tell factual stories. Today, this type of writing has become known as creative non-fiction. Their approach was a form of social archaeology, where the writer is led by the subject, often taking them into strange situations (read Hunter S Thompson for more of that).
Poetry being the most (ahem) truthful of writing forms, I think could be described as creative non-fiction. It often tells true stories either of the poet or others’ lives, and relevant to PP giving voice to to people who are rarely heard or depicted…
For the past year or so, I have been helping out with editing collections at Culture Matters; and I’m very proud to say that one of these is by the great US poet, Fred Voss, which will be out soon (with an introduction from myself). Below are details of Culture Matters’ Bread and Roses Poetry Award. Get yourself entered, it’s free!
Culture Matters is pleased to announce that the third Bread and Roses Poetry Award, sponsored by Unite, is now open for entries.
Our mission is to promote a socialist approach to all cultural activities, including arts such as poetry. So we run the Bread and Roses Poetry Award to create new opportunities for working people to write poetry, and to encourage poets to focus on themes which are meaningful to working-class communities.
As in previous years, there will be 5 prizes of £100 for the best poems, and an anthology of the poems of around a further 20 entrants will be published later in the year. In addition, we are offering a mentoring and support package for writers who have not yet published a collection. Up to 3 of these entrants – who may or may not have won one of the 5 prizes – will be linked to an experienced, published poet, and they will be helped to produce their first published collection. (more…)