fran lock

Anger in Poetry: Fran Lock’s Muses and Bruises

muses bruises imageIs there enough anger in mainstream poetry today; in the journals/magazines and collections? In the US from Audre Lorde to Claudine Rankine, Terrance Hayes to Danez Smith, there is great anger in poems about the discriminations upon which that country is founded and governed. They make it into the pages of POETRY, and sell many books. Here in the UK, I’m not so sure. We may not have the scale of discrimination as felt by the US, but black men are still killed by police here, women are discriminated, abused, and killed by men, and let us not get started on the implications of Brexit and the hatred it has stoked.

This is not meant to be a comprehensive survey of anger in UK poetry, but off the top of my shiny head, there were the Liverpool poets, the original ranters of the 1980s who came out of punk; some still going strong like Tim Wells who chronicles those times in his site Stand Up and Spit. There are others in performance poetry and spoken word (as it is known); Anthony Anaxagorou’s Outspoken Press in London, which includes a number of BAME poets, such as Sabrina Mahfouz and Raymond Antrobus. There are other BAME poets, such as Kei Miller, Malika Booker, Roger Robinson, Nick Makoha (the latter published by the wonderful Peepal Press) who have great subtlety to the anger in their poems. Tony Walsh and Salena Godden from Burning Eye Books (to name only two from that stable) who have been treading the boards with their distinct brand of anger that is often done with humour. Smokestack Books, has consistently published radical, global voices, such as Amir Darwish and Steve Ely, for many years now.

Penned in the Margins publishes the aforementioned Tim Wells, and one of my favourite poets, Melissa Lee Houghton (who recently published Cumshot in D Minor, by Offord Road Press), whose poems of sexual abuse and misogyny burn. Of course, there are other publishers whose catalogue will include poets or poems of anger, e.g. Bloodaxe and Nine Arches Press, two of my favourite publishers, as well as some of Kim Moore’s past and present poems published by Seren. Then there are the online publications, with an overt social and political stance, which include Reuben Woolley’s ‘i am not a silent poet’ and Jody Porter’s ‘Well Versed’. (apologies for any glaring omissions I’m sure I’ve made, please feel free to add to the list in the comments below). However, I do feel these are on the margins.

fran lockFran Lock, who has appeared on this site a number of times, is, along with Melissa Lee Houghton, one of those electrifying poets both on the page and the stage. Since Flatrock in 2011, to the wonderful The Mystic and the Pig Thief (Salt – which no longer publishes poetry), through to Dogtooth (Outspoken Press), and our feature collection Muses and Bruises (published by Manifesto Press) Fran has consistently shouted down those who discriminate against the working class, women in particular. As she says in her introduction to the collection: “I was told once that my writing was inauthentic because working-class women don’t think or speak that way. Bollocks. I am a working- class woman, and I do write and think and speak this way. There is no one homogeneous working-class voice, any more than there is a single monolithic working-class culture. No one has any right to set limits on the way we sound or the words we use.” The collection is complemented beautifully with collages by Steev Burgess, which “bring this to the fore,[with] a mixture of decadence and squalor; grind and grime with a lick of glitter.”

The collection is in two parts; the first is a set of poems based on the muses of the arts from Greek mythology. Here is Clio, muse of history: “My mother was a Goddess, she could charm/ bees and her cheekbones were stunning./ Her silence gathered dust like an heirloom. //I am an unquiet child./ I see things and I must tell: //That man, grinning out from under/ the redacted oblong of his eyes, crawled/ from the comic opera of the past, dragging his period costume;” Similarly in the poem, Erato (muse of love poetry), there is the question of female identity from a patriarchal expectation: “And to top it all off, I’m expected to ride on
a float, my face scraped on in a strong wind, all
tits and teeth, rigid as any a hood ornament: winged Victory, pigtailed and pinioned. Bow to the crowd
like Jackie O, glamming it up at an airport.” Fran is imagining Erato as a Connemara beauty queen who is not allowed to be seen as having any other ‘attribute’ than her physical beauty, and thus like the Greek muse, is imprisoned by it.

m&bThe second part of the collection is a wonderful grotesque imagining of a place called Rag Town and the girls who inhabit it, in particular the ubiquitous La La. In her notes on this section Fran says: “We have the right, and we deserve the space in which to be angry. I started writing the Rag Town sequence with this one thought looping endlessly in my head.” This was driven by Fran’s disillusion with what International Women’s Day has become; originally called International Working Women’s Day, the dropping of the ‘Working’ de-classed the day, so that in Fran’s words it has become divisive to raise issues of class as they relate to women’s oppression. “It’s divisive, for example, to say that white, settled, middle-class women “escape” from unlovable and undervalued domestic labour at the expense of working-class women, immigrant women, women in poverty.”

Towards the end of the collection, in the poem ‘Rag Town Girls see God’, there is almost an inverted elegy in its telling of the end of man as represented by the deity. “There he is, eyes half closed, doing the math of a difficult miracle, wrist-wearied, leaning into his swig, his pull of smoke. We assume he is God. He reminds us of a man we once knew: slender and insulted by life, mixing his blessings like strong drink, suicidally agile, tying a nimble noose the minute your back was turned.” The final poem in the collection has undoubtedly the longest and angriest title, aimed at the mainstream poetry world that ignores the ‘likes of us’: “Rag Town Girls Don’t Want to be in your Shitty Fucking Magazine/Anthology/Stable of Wanky, Middle-class Poets Anyhow.” These following lines from the poem end what is a brilliant collection masterfully complemented by the collages of Steev Burgess.

“How to fake it? How to keep it in, that jittery, impassable grief? Don’t scratch yourselves, girls. Bathe. Point your toes. Glowing in a backward light cast by everything you flee from. You like proper edges, incline a tin ear to the shrug and flutter of our debateable music. If we could only sing like you, a proficient, accredited language. But we can’t, so we won’t. La-la lit a fire instead. It ate a hole in everything.”

You can listen to Fran read two of the poems here and here. You can buy the collection published by Culture Matters/Manifesto Press here.

 

Fran Lock is a sometime itinerant dog whisperer and author of three poetry collections, ‘Flatrock’ (Little Episodes, 2011), ‘The Mystic and the Pig Thief’ (Salt, 2014), and ‘Dogtooth’ (Out Spoken Press, 2017). Her work has appeared in various places, most recently Communist Review, The Morning Star, POETRY, Poetry Review, and in Best British Poetry 2015. She is the winner of various competitions including the 2014 Ambit Poetry Competition, the 2015 Out Spoken Poetry Prize, and the 2016 Yeats Poetry Prize and was shortlisted for the 2017 Bread and Roses Poetry Award.

 

Steev Burgess has juggled his career with an interest in music and art, releasing records and holding his debut art exhibition of collage art in “Red Bologna” with the help of the Circolo Ricreativo Aurora ARCI. Taking a break from music, he concentrated his efforts on making better art and extending his writing skills by “writing proper poetry” and founding the Y Tuesday poetry club at the Three Kings in Clerkenwell. His work caught the attention of the Libertine’s John Hassall. Steev and John now have a song writing partnership with his new band John Hassall and the April Rainers, whose debut album “Wheels to Idyll” has recently been released.

(images by Steev Burgess)

 

 

 

On Ventriloquism by Fran Lock

4334544653_5f0fa8ce37_m“When I first heard some geezer called Martin Anus had written my life story I was chuffed. Weren’t surprised like cos I know I’m a top bloke and that. But then me mate told me it was what you would call an unauthorised biography and that he hadn’t painted a good picture of me. And I thought, how could some no mark write about my life without me knowing, or without even speaking to me? So before taking the time to find him and chop off his head off, I took to reading it. And what a load of old bollocks it is was as well. Okay, a lot of it is true, such as the beatings I dished out, and prison, and how me nephew is shagging my mum, but the rest is bullshit.”
(Review of Lionel Asbo by Martin Amis by Lionel Asbo)

There is a long history of cultural appropriation far worse than that done by the likes of Amis when usurping the voice of the working class. Most notable is racial theft that ranges from the Black and White Minstrels to people self-identifying as being of different heritage to that they were born into. In terms of art, it is like a venal plagiarism; passing your own work off as authentic is the height of disrespect to the heritage it was derived from. Just ask Chuck Berry.

Proletarian Poetry is about the poems, not the background of the poets. It doesn’t matter if the poet doesn’t play bingo or leave their kids in the car with pop and crisps while they get pissed in the pub. Of course, that might help if that’s what the poem is about and it doesn’t demonise. But a poem needs to be truthful and authentic, have imagination and resonance. Just read the poems on this site by Kim Moore (My People) and Dean Atta (I Come From) to see the diversity of the working classes.

meandbaby2A reader or listener can tell if the poem lacks these ingredients, which betrays, what Fran Lock, pointedly describes as ventriloquism. And as much as I try not to provoke class war on the site, there does come a time when you get angry at such false representation, especially when you read ‘On Ventriloquism‘, such a brilliant and unrelenting poetic diatribe in response to a recent experience at an open mic. So Martin Amis, fuck off will you! (more…)

Proletarian Poetry at the Poetry Library

IMG_0279On Wednesday 6th April, Proletarian Poetry took over the Poetry Library as part of their Special Editions series. With the poets, Mona Arshi, Rishi Dastidar, Fran Lock, Clare Pollard, Richard Skinner, and Laila Sumpton, this was always going to attract a full house. For those unfortunate enough to miss the event, there is a link to a recording of all six poets readings below, and introductions from myself (I have included in the latter the time in the recording the poet started reading and a link to the original poem featured on the site). I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

The link to the whole recording of the evening is here: https://soundcloud.com/the-poetry-library/proletarian-poetry

Proletarian Poetry at the Poetry Library

Thank you everybody for coming this evening and to the library staff who have been so helpful in setting up the event. (more…)

Decline and Fall, and On Guillotines by Fran Lock

This is for those of us still licking our wounds in the fallout from the General Election; at the fact that Labour was seen to have lost because it was too Left wing (I know, don’t you love the media and those that lapdog them); and trying not to think too badly of those who ‘silently’ not only voted Conservative, but twisted the knife with an large overall majority.

Succour has been hard to come by. I migrated to Al Jazeera as I do when domestic news is too, well, domestic, and I felt guilty when perspective was given to me with migrant deaths in the Mediterranean Sea and Indian Ocean, and the continued war in Iraq and Syria, and the Yemen, and the secondary earthquake in Nepal.

But though certain things are relative, there has still been a need to seek solace from friends and networks. I tried to believe in the more nihilistic anarchistic view that it wouldn’t have mattered who got in, but that just made me angrier. Then there were blog posts from the poets Jo Bell, Clare Pollard, and Josephine Corcoran, who bound their anger and hurt in a constructive and humanist approach. And inevitably there have emerged poems in response, from the Stare’s Nest, Well Versed, and the new blog, New Boots and Plantocracies, which I highly recommend.

10881278_965132330180995_1124375228_nI have taken my own time to think about how to respond on the site, and I have to admit a defeatist lethargy was still getting the better of me, until I received an email from Fran Lock this morning. I met Fran after the launch of the latest issue of the Poetry Review, where she read some fantastic poems. I gave her my card (yes, got cards now for PP – getting almost corporate), and she contacted me offering some poems she has written in response to the election (poets really are the people that keep on giving). I could have chosen them all but I’m not greedy.

They made me angry, but this time in a positive way because of the language; they articulate my frustrations with Labour, my contained anger at the invisible voters, my uncontained anger at the media (I keep trying to believe we have a free press, but can only see it as free to keep feeding us its elitist bullshit). I decided on two poems, “Decline and Fall”, and “On Guillotines” because she captures all of the actors involved in the democratic farce and even manages to fit in some humour, “Ed’s head like a Pez dispenser, shot/from the neck up and wearing puzzlement/like loss of blood. Cameron, of course,/pinkly inevitable. He pokes through his suit/like a big toe.” (more…)