coventry

Tipton by Roy McFarlane

‘In our Coventry homes! We speak with an accent exceedingly rare, you want a Cathedral we’ve got one to spare, in our Coventry homes.’

three spires 1Ah, the poetry of football chants. Often it is football that defines what home is for the working classes. And in the League Two play-off finals, that sound rang around Wembley Stadium; forty thousand of us, compared to Exeter’s ten, when we got promoted to the heady heights of League One at the end of May.

Going back to my home town Coventry, and the Cathedrals as alluded to in the chant, it is the fact that the ‘old’ cathedral was destroyed in the Second World War that characterises the city. The city centre was totally rebuilt, divided into quarters, and encircled by a brutalist ring road. But I think, time and again, although it is a cliché, it is the people who define a city; and where I came from, it was migration which alongside the physical rebuilding, came to make what Coventry is today – the Irish and Scots, Polish, West Indians, Pakistanis, Indians, and others.

roy mcfarlaneRoy McFarlane’s poem, Tipton is a paean to a home town, made up of its people and sometimes ‘strange’ characters, usually not thought to be seen in an urban setting: ‘I’m 10 and visiting the cousins,/ the only black family in Princess Ends./ Streets wide enough to pass on gossip/ and a horse in somebody’s garden.’ Family is nearby, but not necessarily understandable. My own parents were from Glasgow and Gateshead, and it was often very hard to understand my cousins. This is the case with Roy’s family, ‘Ow’s ower kid their father would say/ with vowels big and round as his obese body,/ then he’d give me a sweet, slap me on my back/ and laugh his way into the kitchen/ I asked my cousin what did he say?’ This reminds me of a recent series on Radio 4 on poetry and dialect, looking at the East Midlands, Northumberland, and North West (check it out).

But common to all such cities, is the factories; though for Tipton they may not be cars, bicycles or telecommunications, like in Coventry. ‘once the father/ left to go to the pub or to the steelworks// 40 years later I’m back/ walking past the pie factory where they serve/ soul nights on sawdust covered floors.’ And like many such cities, the factories go and are replaced with shopping centres, and people forced to work further afield, thus becoming commuters on privatised travel networks. On reading Roy’s poem, I see the uniqueness of Tipton. Coventry is also unique, but both are only unique in the same way as every other non-Metropolitan town or city is made unique, by the people who live there.

 

Roy McFarlane was born in Birmingham of Jamaican parentage and spent most of his years living in Wolverhampton and the surrounding Black Country. He has held the role of Birmingham’s Poet Laureate and presently the Birmingham & Midland Institute Poet in Residence. His publications include, Celebrate Wha? (Smokestack Books 2011) and Beginning With Your Last Breath (Nine Arches Press 2016). Roy’s latest collection The Healing Next Time will be out in October 2018 and he is also completing his MA in Writing Poetry with The Poetry School and Newcastle University.

 

 

Tipton

Tipton, this tongue-tipping
double syllable of a word,
this Bermuda Triangle
between Brum and Wolves.
This lost city quintessentially
Black Country, God’s belly button
of the Universe has got me.

I’m 10 and visiting the cousins,
the only black family in Princess Ends.
Streets wide enough to pass on gossip
and a horse in somebody’s garden.

I watched cousins as dark as the cut,
larger than life, colourful as the Caribbean,
speak another language.
Only laughter, sweets and pots of soup
translated us back to a common understanding.

Ow’s ower kid their father would say
with vowels big and round as his obese body,
then he’d give me a sweet, slap me on my back
and laugh his way into the kitchen.
I asked my cousin what did he say?
Yam saft
, she’d say gurgling,
everybody laughing like the locks at the back,
where water poured in and everybody rises,
whether you wanted or not,
a lock that levelled off once the father
left to go to the pub or to the steelworks.

40 years later I’m back
walking past the pie factory where they serve
soul nights on sawdust covered floors.

Industries put to an eternal sleep
turning into a commuter town, it
still draws on you, pulls on you.
Yam olright it’s dem lot
that are causing de problems
,
with syllables that jab and slash,
sentences like the Tipton Slasher
the bare knuckle verbosity of it.
And there’s an oss everywhere,
in somebody’s garden, along the street
and a metal oss frozen in time
by the railway station
and an anchor
on the side of the road.
Not all things are anchored
in time or in a living museum;
cultures flow, merge and make
their own journeys into front rooms
as I say to me bab bending over
I cor walk past ya without
putting me ond on ya
and I know that

Tipton, this tongue-tipping
double syllable of a word,
this Bermuda Triangle
between Brum and Wolves.
This lost city quintessentially
Black Country, God’s belly button
of the Universe has got me.

From Doll House Windows by Lorraine Carey

I have spoken before about my maternal grandmother’s final home – a high rise flat in Gateshead. My paternal grandparents lived in a tenement block in Glasgow. It was on the bottom floor, with two bedrooms, a small bathroom, kitchen, and living room. Up to ten people at a time lived there (my grandmother had ten children, five of whom died before the age of five) from the 1930s to when I first went there in the 1960s. My father left when he was 17, but at 84 still calls Glasgow home.

Flintstones-HouseWhat do you think of when you think of home? Is it the history of wallpaper that reflects the changing times? The leather three-piece suite you bought off some bloke in the pub and had to drive down long country lanes to a hidden away warehouse – but was assured it was all totally legit? (I know someone who actually bought his house from someone in the pub). Was it the smell of chip fat in the kitchen as it cools back to white, a cracked window that was never fixed, the gradual wearing away of the staircase carpet?

20170517_150346Lorraine Carey’s beautifully evocative poem, From Doll House Windows, is about a childhood home and the memories it still holds. “An aubergine bucket served as a toilet,/in a two foot space. Mother cursed all winter/from doll house windows where we watched/somersaulting snowflakes.” And like the poem, many of us had a pet (mine was a succession of goldfish from the fair, that usually died after two weeks), “My father brought back a storm petrel/from a trawler trip. /I homed him in a remnant of rolled up carpet -/ that matched his plumage.” But in the chaos of a young family’s house, something dark goes beyond the everyday in Lorraine’s poem; a memory of home, which will never be forgotten.

(A small note: by pure coincidence, and a reflection of how small our worlds can be, Lorraine grew up a couple of streets away from me in Coventry – who would have thought that ‘County Coundon’ could be a place of such poetic nurturing).

Lorraine Carey was born in Coventry, England and moved to Greencastle, Co. Donegal where she grew up. Her poetry has been widely published in the following: Vine Leaves, The Galway Review, Olentangy Review, Dodging the Rain, A New Ulster, Quail Bell, Live Encounters, ROPES, North West Words, Sixteen, Stanzas and Poethead and is forthcoming in Atrium and Launchpad. A past winner and runner up of The Charles Macklin Poetry Competition, she was a runner up in the 2017 Trocaire / Poetry Ireland Competition. She has contributed poetry to several anthologies and her artwork was featured as the cover image for Issue 15 of Three Drops From A Cauldron. Her debut collection From Doll House Windows – Revival Press is available from www.limerickwriterscentre.com. She now lives in Fenit, Co Kerry.

From Doll House Windows

The woodlouse dropped off the ceiling
like flaky plaster, landing on the candlewick
that failed to keep me warm in the two roomed house.
In damp darkness feeding on their own waste.
Racing rafters for the little heat in a temporary dwelling,
five minutes from Grandma’s.

An aubergine bucket served as a toilet,
in a two foot space. Mother cursed all winter
from doll house windows where we watched
somersaulting snowflakes, as evening fell.
Icicles sparkled, hung from gutters
in tapered spikes.

My father brought back a storm petrel
from a trawler trip.
I homed him in a remnant of rolled up carpet –
that matched his plumage.
Our kitchen cum every room smelt of children,
resentment, the flapping panic of his final days.

Slaters scuttled through my dreams
I tugged on my bedspread, shook them off,
disrupted my mother’s sleep as she manoeuvred
with her ghost breath sighs caught by streetlight.
She pulled the candlewick taut over her belly
the skin marked with angry tracks,

as my unborn sister stretched
in the safety of her amniotic sac.

Postman in the Smoke, and Inferno by Antony Owen

rathaustrumWhen you look at the iconic picture taken of the German city of Dresden in 1945, it is as though the statue of the Rathausturm, known as ‘Die Gute’ (the Goodness – a personification of kindness), is pointing in disbelief at the utter devastation wrought by the British, where an estimated 25,000 people (many of them civilians) were killed. Almost five years previously in November 1940, my home town of Coventry, was heavily bombed by the Germans because of its industry and munitions factory. Although the death toll (estimated c560+) was far less than in Dresden, it was still massively devastating in terms of the damage done to the city, which took years to rebuild.

Coventry_Cathedral_after_the_air_raid_in_1940The greatest symbol of that destruction is the ruins of the old Coventry Cathedral. I still go up its tower, St Michael’s, and two things stay with me when I look at the view; the first is imagining being up there on the night of the bombings, seeing planes overhead encircling the city. The second is, if you look south across the city, to the west you see the green of the more affluent parts of Coventry, including the War Memorial Park, whereas to the east you see the grey concrete-dominated developments of the less wealthy.

Dresden and Coventry are now twinned. In fact, Coventry was the first to twin with another city (Stalingrad in 1944) and has become foremost in symbolising peace and reconciliation through antony owenwars; its theatre is called The Belgrade Theatre, after the then Yugoslav city donated timber for its rebuilding. Antony Owen’s two poems here, Postman in the Smoke and Inferno, poignantly reflect the impact bombing had on the people of the two cities. In Coventry, “A postman stands in the flame grey postcode/staring at doorways with chimneys around them,/moaning as they open to charred occupants.” Then in Dresden: “These pails of dead firemen filled/with initialled rings weigh heavy.” But it is the men of power, (more…)

Midlands Kids by Jane Commane

IMG_2830Like Jane Commane I was born in Coventry; my parents came to the city in the late 1950s from Glasgow and Gateshead as part of one of the biggest internal migrations of the post war era.

So I count myself as being one of Jane’s Midland’s Kids, who ‘grew up on the back seats of the long-gone marques of British manufacturing‘. Our first car was a second hand Wolseley, which was so big its backside stuck out of the garage. Not one for patriotism, we nonetheless bought Midland made cars thereafter – the ones ‘slightly crap even new‘. Coventry was a car park, like lots of Midlands cities, and there was many a child left on back seats, particularly in pub car parks, brought out pop and crisps, whilst Daddy had a few jars for the road. (more…)

Welcome to the Bike Factory by Derrick Buttress

Derrick ButtressIn some ways, Derrick Buttress‘ darkly satirical poem from his latest collection could have been titled, Welcome to the Factory, for it reads as a manual of how all major industrial companies were set up and are run. This is especially true for the part, ‘followed by advice‘, where you are shown how ‘not to get crushed‘, ‘what to do if you find a finger missing‘ (we must assume it isn’t your own), and ‘of course’ ‘what to do with the missing finger‘ (no mention is made of the fingerless casualty). Then later ‘what we will pay you and what it will cost you‘.  And finally the very clever repetition of the line,

after which will we convey you
to the assembly line
to the assembly line
to the assembly line (more…)