The Earth and the Stars in the Palm of our Hand by Fred Voss


Image by Franklin Hunting*

To paraphrase an old REM song, “It’s the end of work as we know it. But I feel fine.” In the not-too-distant future, this will be the end game for politicians. Although there is a continuance of, and even in the case of President Agent Orange, a revival of the policy of creating more jobs, the reality is that under the current capitalist trajectory, there aren’t enough to go round. We are already seeing it with the rise in automation and the precariat and gig economy; people are scraping around for part-time jobs that are unsustainable economically. Politicians will have to find ways of keeping people happy (however that is defined) outside of work.

Some commentators are beginning to write about the post-work economy and how today’s politicians are wrong in their promise to create more jobs. In a provocative essay, “Fuck Work!” the historian James Livingston claims that the belief in work as a central factor of what it means to be human, “has become ridiculous, because there’s not enough work to go around, and what there is of it won’t pay the bills – unless of course you’ve landed a job as a drug dealer or a Wall Street banker, becoming a gangster either way.” Similarly, Yuvi Noah Hariri describes this situation in a more apocalyptic fashion, “The new longevity and super-human qualities are likely to be the preserve of the techno super-rich, the masters of the data universe. Meanwhile, the redundancy of labour, supplanted by efficient machines, will create an enormous “useless class”, without economic or military purpose.”

Fred02The poem, The Earth and the Stars in the Palm of our Hand by Fred Voss, laments the state of the capitalist economy at a place he has worked for over thirty years; even though “it’s a pretty good job we have /considering how tough it is out there in so many other factories /in this era of the busted union and the beaten-down worker /but paradise? /and we walk away toward our machines ready for another 10 /              hours inside tin walls /as outside perfect blue waves roll onto black sand Hawaiian / beaches /and billionaires raise martini glasses.” But in response to an ironic comment (“Another day in paradise,”) from a workmate, he asks the question: “why not a job /joyous as one of these poems I write /a job where each turn of a wrench /each ring of a hammer makes my soul sing out glad for each /drop of sweat /rolling down my back because the world has woken up and /stopped worshiping money.” Everyone needs a sense of worth, even in a mundane job, where they don’t feel exploited and undervalued. For as Fred beautifully writes, [there is] “nothing more noble /than bread on the table and a steel cutter’s grandson /reaching for the moon and men /dropping time cards into time clocks and stepping up to their /machines /like the sun /couldn’t rise /without them.” The challenge now is create a sense of this nobility both inside and outside the workplace.

This poem comes from a new pamphlet by Fred Voss published by Culture Matters & Manifesto Press, and supported by the trades union, Unite.

38 years ago Fred Voss walked into a steel mill and put on a hardhat and picked up a torch and a wrench and then a pen to write of souls sold in the job market, lives fed into time clocks, men owned and ordered like they were  hardly men at all, by bosses and owners too good to shoulder a load or grab a pickaxe, as the earth is covered with concrete and the trees and tigers die. Fred Voss looks for the day when all this will be changed when women and men with dirt on their hands and gold in their souls will no longer be treated like children but given the power and respect the true makers of this world deserve. Voss has published three books of poems with Bloodaxe: Goodstone(1991), Carnegie Hall with Tin Walls (1998) and Hammers and Hearts of the Gods (2009).

The Earth and the Stars in the Palm of our Hand

“Another day in paradise,”
a machinist says to me as he drops his time card into the time
     clock and the sun
over the San Gabriel mountains
and we laugh
it’s a pretty good job we have
considering how tough it is out there in so many other factories
in this era of the busted union and the beaten-down worker
but paradise?
and we walk away toward our machines ready for another 10
     hours inside tin walls
as outside perfect blue waves roll onto black sand Hawaiian
and billionaires raise martini glasses
sailing their yachts to Cancun
but I can’t help thinking
why not paradise
why not a job
where I feel like I did when I was 4
out in my father’s garage
joyously shaving a block of wood in his vise with his plane
as a pile of sweet-smelling wood shavings rose at my feet
and my father smiled down at me and we held
the earth and the stars in the palm of our hand
why not a job
joyous as one of these poems I write
a job where each turn of a wrench
each ring of a hammer makes my soul sing out glad for each
     drop of sweat
rolling down my back because the world has woken up and
     stopped worshiping money
and power and fame
and because presidents and kings and professors and popes and
     Buddhas and mystics
and watch repairmen and astrophysicists and waitresses and
     undertakers know
there is nothing more important than the strong grip and will of
carving steel
like I do
nothing more important than Jorge muscling a drill through
     steel plate so he can send money
to his mother and sister living under a sacred mountain in
nothing more noble
than bread on the table and a steel cutter’s grandson
reaching for the moon and men
dropping time cards into time clocks and stepping up to their
like the sun
couldn’t rise
without them.


[*Image by Franklin Hunting]

“Hauntings” and “Paddy” by Nick Moss

Just over a year ago, Dean Saunders was imprisoned for the attempted murder of his Father. The family understood that Dean needed medical and psychiatric help as the attack happened during a bout of paranoia. He shouldn’t have been put in prison, where – as has been found – support was wholly inadequate. Dean electrocuted himself in his cell and died in January last year. The year 2016 will see suicides in prisons doubling from five years ago to a record level.


Image by Nic McPhee*

This is not the only problem that prisons face because of the cuts imposed by the government during its mania of austerity. High profile prison protests, although they are termed as riots, have taken place in a number of UK prisons over the recent past. There have also been vigils held outside prisons in support of transgender prisoners as part of the International Trans Prisons Day of Action and Solidarity. Prisoners and prison officers are in agreement, there are not enough resources, both human and financial, to support an overcrowded antiquated system. But as with most of the cuts made, it falls heaviest on those weak, vulnerable, and powerless.

Nick Moss’ two poems “Hauntings” and “Paddy”, shows a more humane side of the characters that are imprisoned, and the relations between them. In Hauntings, Nick talks about a cellmate who was recently released, although it “feels like a life ago”, and how they talked “Behind a metal door/Of all the fears of home,/Of life; of kids not seen for 10 plus years;/Adrenaline kicks and white lines crossed/And snorted; anticipation of cold beers/And family curses.” But on leaving they become like ghosts – “Carrying our souls in plastic sacks/We haunt each other for a while/Then flash away/Like shadows do.” And then there are the characters you never forget, trailing their history in their conversations and actions. For Paddy, it’s “Fragments of half-remembered rebel songs/Dentures, collapsed veins and yellowed skin/Longing for the days of/The ‘RA on the wing/And you/Vicarious/Behind the wire.” A great deal of hope is lost in prisons, coloured by the past and its repeat. But in Paddy, there is some left in the “Singing and rattling round the wings/Hoping a cracked-voiced chorus/Of the Wolfe Tones/Will bring down the walls.”



Nick Moss grew up in Liverpool but now lives in London. He was released from a prison sentence last year. He began to write poetry as a way of mapping his experiences in jail, and won Koestler awards for his collection The Skeleton Choir Singing, and his poem “Never Again?” In 2016 he was awarded a May Turnbull Scholarship, and had work featured in, and performed at, the We Are All Human exhibition at the South Bank. He performs regularly and continues to write because “if we keep shouting, eventually we’ll hear each other”.



It’s a week since Peter went home
Feels like a life ago
It happens all the time
One day here
In all our lives
The next day gone
Time up or shipped out
Either way
Another voice just echoing now
On the wing

We slip in and out of each other’s lives
Walk the landings, revenants
Carrying our souls in plastic sacks
We haunt each other for a while
Then flash away
Like shadows do
When the sun hits the yard

Yesterday we talked
Behind a metal door
Of all the fears of home,
Of life; of kids not seen for 10 plus years;
Adrenaline kicks and white lines crossed
And snorted; anticipation of cold beers
And family curses
Now you’re out again
Hoping for notoriety
But knowing you just face shame

Carrying our souls in plastic sacks
We haunt each other for a while
Then flash away
Like shadows do
When the sun hits the yard

Jail-pale ghosts
No more real to each other here
Than we are to our lives at home.


Fragments of half-remembered rebel songs
Dentures, collapsed veins and yellowed skin
Longing for the days of
The ‘RA on the wing
And you
Behind the wire

The days when you first reached London
Full of love and crack and E
Days turned soon to sleeping in doorways
Robbing shops at night
Six month stretches
In Wandsworth and the Scrubs
But still the rebel
Halfway between Bobby Sands
And Elvis.

Now it’s a four year stint
A cup of the green every morning
Spice at the weekends
No visits
A letter and a postal order
Once in a while
Chance of a tag slipping daily away

Still singing
On the one road to your
Bridge over troubled waters
A sweet voice
Shite skin and life-bleared eyes
Rattling round the wing
On the cadge
For coffee, burn, sugar

Wondering where that first love went
After Holloway
She never came home
Dead, married, working for probation
For all you know

You’ll go home soon bro
A flat and a wife in Hammersmith
A son dealing weed
An overweight staffie
And not a chance
Of a chance

Fucked over

People like us
If we have dreams
The dreams end up in shop doorways
Under cardboard
Getting pissed on by strangers

Til they piss out our flame
And our legacy becomes
Shite skin and life-bleared eyes
Passed down to daughters and sons
Who carry failure in their genes
While trying to avoid
Outright defeat in a rigged, fucked game

Singing and rattling round the wings
Hoping a cracked-voiced chorus
Of the Wolfe Tones
Will bring down the walls.

*Image by Nic McPhee

A Lack of Minarets by Katie Griffiths

One hundred years ago, in the penultimate year of the First World War, a train journey was undertaken that would change the course of history. Negotiated with the Germans, Lenin took the long way round to Russia from Switzerland, on a sealed carriage with 32 compatriots and family, to foment the Bolshevik revolution. A century later, two recent journeys reflect the state of world affairs. The first was a freight train’s 12,000 kilometre from Beijing to London that follows the old Silk Road route and offers a third option for export besides sea and air. The second, a more troubling symbolic journey, took place in the Balkans. A Serbian train, attempted to enter Kosovo, a country it (and Russia) does not recognise. It was daubed with the message, ‘Kosovo is Serbia’, adorned with the colours of the Serbian flag and Orthodox Christian symbols – the majority of Kosovans are Muslim but the country has no official religion. The train was turned back at the border.

scan_20140715_152850-copy-copySuch a journey shows the continued fragility of the situation in the Balkans since its protracted war in the 1990s.  In Katie Griffiths’ poem, A Lack of Minarets, she takes a journalistic eye to describe a particularly iconic moment in the war, that of Mostar and the destruction of its historic bridge. “From a distance something is wrong,/a skyline tampered with, hard edited./As the bus coils down the mountainside/into the basin of Mostar.” The city was a main route for refugees on their way to Split from Sarajevo. “This is the home of the dispossessed,/shunted like marbles from zone/to zone, who pick their way/past commandeered cars/and makeshift kiosks sprouting/at odd corners to replace/shops that once packed the town.” The city has since been rebuilt, which included restoration of the bridge to its original design. It took nearly ten years. Still, as with many wars, the return and rehabilitation of its citizens will take many more years.mostar-brdige

What the aborted train journey from Serbia shows, as does the situation in Ukraine, the recent deployment of US troops in Poland, and the uncertain future of NATO with the advent of President Agent Orange of America, is that the Cold War is still alive and kicking harder than it has for almost thirty years.


The daughter of Northern Irish parents, Katie Griffiths grew up in Ottawa, Canada.  She returned to the UK for university and later worked at Radio Times, as volunteers’ co-ordinator for refugees of the war in the former Yugoslavia, and as teacher at a further education college.  Her collection My Shrink is Pregnant was joint runner-up in the 2014 Poetry School/Pighog Poetry Pamphlet Competition.  In 2016 she was chosen with three other poets to be in the first edition of Primers, published by Nine Arches Press.  A novel, The Hand-Me-Down Madonna, about the war in the former Yugoslavia, was longlisted in both Mslexia and Cinnamon Press competitions.  She’s a member of Malika’s Poetry Kitchen, and of Red Door Poets, and is also singer-songwriter in the band A Woman in Goggles under which name she also blogs


A Lack of Minarets

From a distance something is wrong,
a skyline tampered with, hard edited.
As the bus drives down the mountainside
into the basin of Mostar,
a dampening of voices gives time
to ponder that what’s awry
is the city’s heart,
charred, glassless and emptied out.

This is the home of the dispossessed,
shunted like marbles from zone
to zone, who pick their way
past commandeered cars
and makeshift kiosks sprouting
at odd corners to replace
shops that once packed the town.
Spring sidles in tentative, unremarked.

Inside my borrowed flat I trip
on the owners’ void, their pictures
and mementoes a dead weight.
Impossible to see through grubby
UNHCR plastic, stretched
to soften the windows’ absence,
whether Serbs lie in wait
up on Mount Hum, lost in snow.

Past curfew, with the moon
a weak salve on dark buildings,
their amputations, their spilling stones,
I walk the former front line
to a rowdy cavern restaurant,
where glasses clink toward the photo
of the now-dead owner diving
close by, off the ancient Stari Most.

I step outside. The old bridge
has been blown to pieces, I know –
in blackness the Neretva snags
on rubble heaped in its way.
But the night is sly, for I’d swear
the arch is still high above me,
a cupped hand about to swipe,
and all the air teetering.

(the poem was originally featured in Primers Volume One, a collaboration between Nine Arches Press and the Poetry School).

A poem from “All Damn Day” by Jemima Foxtrot


 Image by Kevin Doncaster*

In 2009 two health experts published an influential book that resonated well beyond their field of interest; it was called The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better (the sub-title was later changed to the less strident, Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger). It argued that inequality has all kinds of negative outcomes on society such as erosion of trust, poor health, and encourages over-consumption. Like many provocations, it divided opinion; these accorded to the rigour of the analysis and unsurprisingly along political lines. Those critical of their argument, as always, didn’t tend to come from the poorer in society, and were bolstered by disingenuously wrapped up as being objective. Thatcher’s biographer, Charles Moore said it was “more a socialist tract than an objective analysis of poverty,” which give its greater strength in my book. And as the authors wrote in 2014, “It is hard to think of a more powerful way of telling people at the bottom that they are almost worthless than to pay them one-third of one percent of what the CEO in the same company gets.”



 Sourced from ADiamondFellFromTheSky

There used to be a term that described the wealth gap in society; “how the other half lives”. I have a book with that title by the photographer Jacob Riis that includes one hundred photographs of the slums of New York at the turn into the 20th century. I am not sure it has even been an equal split between the haves and have nots, but as the rich get richer, the politics of democracy has become more binary. The Yes/No paradigm we have today in the outcome of how we vote seems to be driven by the negative – an ‘us against them’, even though it is not so clear who either side is. Danny Dorling, who for many years has studied the effects of inequality on societies, published a paper showing that of the richest 25 nations, the UK and US were the most unequal. He concluded the paper by saying that if you don’t believe the effects this has on societies, essentially, “go see for yourself what it is like to live in a more affluent nation where people are more similar to each other economically. See how they treat each other, the extents to which they trust or fear each other. Spend a little longer living there and see how it might also change you. Explore!


img_7762For those of us not able to do so, we are very lucky to have the likes of multi-talented Jemima Foxtrot who in a poem from her debut collection, All Damn Day, does what a lot of great poets do, allows us to dream. She takes a somewhat Manichean outlook that fits with the division we all feel in what we would like to do: “A half of me wants to exist in a tepee,/breed children who can braid hair and catch rabbits./Drink cocoa from half Coke cans twice a year/on their birthdays, the edges folded inwards/to protect their sleepy lips, cheap gloves to buffer their fingers,/precious marshmallows pronged on long mossy sticks.” However, such ‘rural and romantic poverty’ does not always fit with present circumstance, so we dream elsewhere. “If I were rich/I’d eat asparagus and egg,/in my Egyptian-cotton-coated bed, for breakfast. Bad. Ass./You’d find me in my limo, got a driver called Ricardo,/wears a nice hat. That’s that. Bad. Ass.” And in this dream we may travel to such places as Dorling suggests, but Jemima insightfully shows what lies at the heart these ‘hypocrisies’ we sit in, and how a division of one half or another can lead us all to a false sense of what it is we are after. “Capital has split my dreams in two /like a grapefruit./And I want both.                    And I want both.”

Jemima Foxtrot was shortlisted for the Arts Foundation Spoken Word Fellowship 2015. Jemima performs extensively across the country. All Damn Day, Jemima’s first collection of poetry was published by Burning Eye Books in September 2016. Jemima has written many commissions including for the Tate Britain, the BBC, the Tate Modern and Latitude Festival.  Her poetry film Mirror, commissioned by BBC Arts as part of their Women who Spit series, was available on iplayer for over a year. She has also appeared on Lynn Barber’s episode of Arts Night on BBC2 and on the Tate Modern: Switched on programme on BBC 2 in June this year with a poem especially written to celebrate the opening of the Tate Modern’s new wing. Jemima’s debut poetry show Melody (co-written with and directed by Lucy Allan), won the spoken word award at Buxton Fringe Festival 2015 and was critically acclaimed at its run at the PBH Free Fringe at Edinburgh 2015, receiving several excellent reviews. Melody was runner-up in the Best Spoken Word Show category at the 2016 Saboteur Awards.



Untitled (from All Damn Day)

Capital has split my dreams, a grapefruit cut in two,
the separate segments of both lives glimmering
          like a new breakfast.

A half of me wants to exist in a tepee,
          breed children who can braid hair and catch rabbits.
Drink cocoa from half Coke cans twice a year
          on their birthdays, the edges folded inwards
to protect their sleepy lips, cheap gloves to buffer their fingers,
precious marshmallows pronged on long mossy sticks.
Wrap them in goatskin. Leave them giggling
                    into drowsiness beneath the pink sky.

A half of me wants to exclude myself
                    – me and some rugged, clever fella –
live in a converted, cramped van. Grow rosemary
                                      and only own two dresses.
Sandals for the summer, boots for the snow.
Pick mushrooms and save them to trip from in springtime.

          Oh, rural and romantic poverty!
Lobster pots, gas lamps, home-grown tobacco,
card games, pine cones,
mussels form the shoreline filled with grit.           This is it!

It has to be.        Or something close to some of it.

I live in London.

And so yes.

And so yes, still the other half appeals to me.

If I were rich
          I’d eat asparagus and egg,
in my Egyptian-cotton-coated bed, for breakfast.             Bad. Ass.
You’d find me in my limo, got a driver called Ricardo,
wears a nice hat.              That’s that.         Bad. Ass.

And if anything important breaks, there’s boy around to fix it.
I’d hire the world’s best campaigner
                    to make everyone a feminist.

It feels so much more comfortable to sit in these hypocrisies when
they’re quilted.

And I’m in my penthouse in the middle of Paris,
          or Tokyo, or Istanbul.
The list of places that I’d like to go is endless and still growing.
But I’m rich now so don’t give a shit about emissions.

I’d buy pink marigolds, plastic crystal on the finger,
fake fur around the cuffs, to pretend to my friends
          that – even though I’m rich now –
I still do my own washing-up.

Do I fuck.

My au pair’s name is Clare, she’s hilarious.
Clare’s on the pots, I’m in the hot tub.

Or on my private beach in Thailand
          or asleep in the Chelsea Hotel.

Quaffing fine white wine,
scoffing oysters and the choicest cuts of beef.
There’s never much grumbling going on.

Restaurants, day-spas, massages, culture, wish fulfilment.

After lunch I’ll take the glider for a fly or got out to buy
a massive pile of overpriced designer tat.

          That’s that.                         Bad. Ass.

Capital has split my dreams in two like a grapefruit.

And I want both.                              And I want both.


* Image by Kevin Doncaster

how to write the working classes

The following was recently published on Queen Mobs Tea House.

How to Write the Working Classes by Peter Raynard
(somewhat after Binyavanga Wainaina)

The collective noun for the working classes is ‘These People’, never ‘The People’ or ‘My People’; use of the latter terms will get you the sack for empathetic tendencies. Terms such as rank and file or blue collar are too political, whilst plebeians and proletariat outdated. Chavs has become common parlance, but only use that term to show how they are described by others. Try to maintain objectivity in this regard, as ridiculously hard as that may be.

saggy-trackyIt is essential to make the reader believe there is but one type of working class person; they can be of a different age but they must look related, ideally inbred. The main type will be a saggy clothed, got a loyalty card from Sports Direct, Union Jack pale-faced male who claims he can trace his ancestors back to Neanderthal times, which in reality is just before the Second World War when his great granddad ran off with a Polish woman – but don’t talk about that obviously. Always have them accompanied by a muscle shaped dog, preferably tight-leashed, with a 70s punk rock sell-out dog collar, white drooling jaw, and a ravenous appetite for the calf-muscle of an outsider, which is basically anyone born within a mile of their ends.

female-chavWith females, try to find a young heavily made up woman in her late teens, early twenties at most, with a neck tattoo and a ciggie hanging from her botoxed lips. She must be pushing a pram, if possible with a brown skinned baby inside wailing its lungs out. Even better if she also has slightly older offspring biting at her heels.

When trying to find one of them to interview, go to a Saturday market on a rainy day where the salt-of-the-earth traders shout ‘cum an’ ‘av a lookpand a bowl’ or similar sounding unintelligible  whooping noises, in order to get you to buy their rotting fruit and veg. When approaching them try to speak in their tongue by swearing and commenting on the weather. Begin with the question, ‘how’s business?’ which actually means much more than in the literal sense. That is your ‘in’. Then go onto questions like, ‘do you think there are too many immigrants living in your back garden?’ or ‘how would you feel if your daughter came home with a Caribbean man who claimed he was a rapper?’ Similarly you could ask how they would feel about their son coming home with a gay bloke, who happens to be ‘a coloured’, and is a lawyer or a doctor. Get the camera man to zoom into their yellow teeth as they speak, then pan down to the blue blur of tattoos that sail across their wrinkled forearms, which they got when drunk at sea.

Once you’ve ‘got them’, ask if you could have a look at where they live. This will not only give you a cheap entry but also a safe one. Tell them that you come from a working class estate yourself and that you often go back to visit your withering ancestors. When describing the environment make sure adjectives like concrete, boarded up, brutal, dank, bleak, pepper your sentences like a well-seasoned steak. Highlight the fact that pie and mash shops are all but extinct, although their cultural appropriation is in train from bearded hipsters.

Get them to heap blame on the metropolitan elites (like yourself), who they feel rule over them like hand-me-down warlords from Henry the VIII; politicians will be the main target, but feel free to engage them in wider diatribes against big business, estate agents, and middle-class teachers who try to get their children to learn foreign languages.

However, never, ever bring the Royal Family into this part of the conversation. Reserve that for when you move them into nostalgia, about how life was much better in the good market-traderold medieval days, even though many of them died before the age of five and none of the adults had their own teeth; why do you think they like soup so much? Then move on to Brexit and listen to the range of opinions on this newly found independence, from ‘we can now take our country back’ to ‘we can now send them back’. Pretend to take copious notes at this point to induce a feeling they are finally being listened to.

Ask them about any problems with the estate but direct it towards people; e.g. where five or so years ago you may have inquired about a paedophile problem or the prevalence of ASBO kids, your focus must now be on Muslims, or people with an Arab or South Asian appearance, however vague. Get them to use their senses to describe the stink of the immigrants’ food; then go on to ask them what their favourite meal is when they’ve been out for a gallon of pints with mates – if you’re lucky they’ll say a ruby murray and bingo you’ve got them on the contradiction train. Talk also about the noise from the immigrant’s string-whiny music and the wailing from the wild amount of kids they have. They’ll probably go onto to how these families jumped the queue to get their council house in which they cram so many generations, some have to live behind the wallpaper.

Never refer to any musical or other cultural interests they may have themselves, although it will be very surprising if you found such interests. The only exception will be if they know someone’s second cousin removed who got to the regional semi-finals of Britain’s Got Talent with their rendition of God Save the Queen whistled entirely through their left nostril (the other one will have a ring through it). Of course, they may talk about their pigeons or how they collect Nazi memorabilia, but don’t pursue this because you’ll end up in some rotting smelly shed, being offered a roll up and a mug of quarry brown tea.

Finally, before leaving, slip a score (that’s a twenty btw) into the palm of their hand like a Priest’s Vaticum bread, give ‘em a wink, and say it’s been real. Rush off home to submit copy and then furiously shower yourself as if you’ve just been raped.

St Fergus Gran by Beth McDonough


Image by Margaret Calvert

We are living in a time of shifting demographics, which has the potential for pitting the young and old against one another. Not in a face-to-face sense, but in the way policy makers shift their thinking to ‘balance the books’. Just recently, in the UK the Work and Pensions Committee has recommended an end to the ‘triple lock’ of state pension payments that sees them increase according to three factors (i.e. whatever is highest in terms of average earnings, consumer price index, or 2.5%). There is a fear that as people live longer we won’t be able afford the state pension in its current form. This is compounded by the roll back in salary-linked company pensions. The elderly then are seen to be costing ‘us’, as though ‘we’ are the ones paying for their inactivity.

This is dangerous and not based on fact. You walk around during the working week and see how many grandparents are picking up their grandchildren from school; or looking after pre-schoolers all day whilst their own children are working. It is estimated that grandparents contribute £7 billion free childcare each year. They are contributing a similar amount to help fund their grandchild’s education. But it is also wrong to assume that they are all wealthy; one in seven pensioners live in poverty and a further 1.2 million live just above that line.

beth-mcdThis sets aside the history they have lived through and the people they became because of it; a World War to monumental technological change from the TV to virtual reality. They have so many stories to tell and be told, and Beth McDonough’s eponymous poem ‘St Fergus Gran’ does just that. “Great Gran lived in weighty old pennies, dropped/from bonehard hands to my fat-cup palm/just before we’d journey west.” Like many stories, hers is one that is handed down the generations, “I never knew of her second sight/All those deaths, and how she kent/her brother lived, when the telegram said not.” Their lives weren’t a straightforward one of getting married and having children; war put pay to that. “I met the East End Glasgow lad she’d/fostered in the war, with all his tricks, his walk/to her from the west coast up to Buchan.” Here Beth tells us a little more about the poem:

“Although my poems are often partly autobiographical, they are rarely so openly so. This one arrived that way. I suspect my Dad would have problems with it, as for his Scots generation there is still a perceived stigma. For my part, I am in awe of my Great Gran – a couthy and brave woman. The knowledge of her  situation, so much later, only increased my respect. The two sisters brought up their families a few miles apart in rural Aberdeenshire, where doubtless no secret about my Grandfather’s paternity could be kept. I feel a certain indebtedness to Norman MacCaig’s Aunt Julia, and yes there are “so many questions/unanswered” and in St Fergus Gran’s case, I mourn too that I will never really know those answers in her beautiful Doric, so specific to that area.”


Beth McDonough trained in Silversmithing at GSA, completing her M.Litt at Dundee University. Writer in Residence at Dundee Contemporary Arts 2014-16, her poetry appears in Gutter, The Interpreter’s House and Antiphon and elsewhere and her reviews in DURA. She has a background in teacher trade union activism and she is involved in various disability-related groups. Handfast, her pamphlet with Ruth Aylett (Mother’s Milk, May 2016) charts family experiences – Aylett’s of dementia and McDonough’s of autism.


St Fergus Gran

Great Gran lived in weighty old pennies, dropped
from bonehard hands to my fat-cup palm
just before we’d journey west. She was coiled
inky hair, all starling eyes, a bent body leant
on a wooden frame. She lived till I was twelve.

I never knew of her second sight.
All those deaths, and how she kent
her brother lived, when the telegram said not.
She dreamed birds and hearts. It took
my first adult death for Dad to tell me this.

What she could not see, was how
the man who left her pregnant was to wed
her sister in their kirk before
their son was born. It took
his Father’s death for Dad to tell me this.

I met the East End Glasgow lad she’d
fostered in the war, with all his tricks, his walk
to her from the west coast up to Buchan. I loved
his anarchy on buses to the Broch. It took
his Mother’s death for Dad to tell me this.

Today, I asked my Dad about my Great-Gran’s
Christian name. He can recite the cottage signs,
say all those burns that feed the Ythan, but
he cannot tell me this. They had
no need to know her name. She was just
St Fergus Gran.




Life of Thorka by Aisha K. Gill

In the US, the word pacifier is used to describe what we in the UK call a baby’s dummy. Yet, during the Vietnam War, pacification was the popular term used to describe the actions of soldiers entering villages, shooting domestic animals and rounding up all of the men and boys, killing any who resisted (its more official title was Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support). Similarly, the term collateral damage is meant to descale the actual impact of a violent intervention making it a more ‘acceptable’ price of war. The same goes for friendly fire and many other terms. Euphemisms abound when talking of war or violence. And they are not used passively; they have political purpose. As the Encyclopaedia of Violence, Peace and Conflict states: “This instrumental approach to language, detaches language from history and moral judgement, converting it to a mere technique in the assertion of political power.[1] And it gives the example of the “Final Solution” to make its point so powerfully.

Now think of the terms shame and honour; shame can be used in a quite benign way, e.g. “ah, what a shame,” when you just missed out on something. Whilst honour conjures up bravery and sacrifice, maybe for your country or a cause you believe in. But as with euphemisms of war, set in a different context they can mean very different things and Asian Women Awardstherefore have very different connotations. Our poet today, Professor Aisha K. Gill [] is an expert on violence against black and minority and refugee women in the UK, Iraqi Kurdistan and India. In her work she has shown the link between honour and shame that leads to honour based violence (HBV), overwhelmingly against women. “…honour relates to the behaviour expected of members of particular community, while shame is associated with transgressions against these expectations” (Gill, 2014: 2). This HBV is driven by the expectation by men of how women are meant to act in their family’s honour, “by behaving appropriately through deference, fidelity, modesty and chastity” (Gill, 2014: 2).[2]

In her poem, “Life of Thorka” she speaks about her escape from violence. “Anxious for clues,/but, without a clear map/it’s the Midland Main Line that’s/doing the calling to bedsitter land./ Look over your shoulder, Asian woman in hiding / Keep searching, (and watching and hiding/from them).” Education is her aim but also her ‘crime’ and hence the urge to be free. However, many are not able to take this route and have their “aims ruined/robbed of ordinary experience / abandoned, starving in silence / their death even claimed. Found innocent of powerlessness.” And yet there is no sense of revenge in this story, even when completely aware of the wider political and social context, this ‘dance to sociological imaginations’. “But I won’t kill him off!/I’ll just leave him alone/in his unwise ageing/A bare old stick, let him/wither in pain.” The form of the poem is also beautifully rendered to reflect the train and the tracks taken in her escape.

What lies behind the use of seemingly benign or traditionally defined terms is critical to a basic understanding of power and how it is exerted; whether in the battlefields or in communities where patriarchy defines how a woman should act in ‘honour’ of her family.


Life of Thorka[3]

ਔਧ ਤੜਕੇ ਦੀ

Two cases stacked on the

          overhead rack.

I’d got my ticket

                  for the runaways’ train.

Anxious for clues,

          but, without a clear map,

it’s the Midland Mainline that’s

                  doing the calling to bedsitter land.

Look over your shoulder. Asian woman in hiding.

Keep searching,

(and watching, and hiding

from them.)


Under the brickworks,

(with help from Barnardo’s),

          education’s the goal  –

that’s the promise I’d made –

            the ticket to freedom

for thousands of others

          just like me!

A thousand others just like me…

          aims ruined

robbed of ordinary experience,

          abandoned, starving in silence,

their death, even, claimed.

             Found innocent of powerlessness,

sentenced for years and years

          under spiteful glares

to crisis, prisoner number,

            exposed, time for duty.


Put on the mask and

play the game.

                (Insanity pervades the

                spirit, schizo!)


(They say that the personal is political.)


So memories of make the thorka

[ਤੜਕਾ ਬਨਾ ਲਵਾ] -interlaced with a slap –

          play on

sarson ka saag banane ke liye

 [ਸਰ੍ਹੋਂ ਕਾ ਸਾਗ ਬਨਾਉਣੇ ਕੇ ਲੀਅੇ].

Intersectionality, critical conversations

          dance to sociological imaginations,

the symphony of living in Essex,

the “Masala Curry Queen”from DE23!


 Masala channa, punjabi masala, palak

                 paneer aloo, mooli, gobi or just plain



But I won’t kill him off!

          I’ll just leave him alone

in his unwise ageing.

A bare old stick, let him

          wither in pain.


author biography

Aisha K. Gill is a Professor of Criminology at the University of Roehampton, UK. Her main areas of interest and research are health and criminal justice responses to violence against black, minority ethnic and refugee women in the UK, Iraqi Kurdistan and India. She has been involved in addressing the problem of violence against women at the grassroots level for the past seventeen years and has published widely in refereed journals such as Current Sociology, European Journal of Women’s Studies, Feminist Criminology, Feminist Legal Studies, Feminist Review, Journal of Gender Studies, Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law, Violence against Women Journal and Women’s Studies International Forum. [@DrAishaKGill]


[1] Source: Encyclopaedia of Violence, Peace and Conflict: Po – Z, index. 3: 308

[2] Gill, A.K. (2014) ‘Honour’, ‘honour’-based violence: Challenging common assumptions, in Gill, A., Roberts, K., Strange, C. (eds) ‘Honour’ Killing and Violence: Theory, Policy and Practice, London: Palgrave Macmillan.

[3] First published in Feminist Review, Special Issue of Food. Autumn 2016: Issue 114.  Reprinted with permission of Feminist Review