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.
Rabbie by Peter Raynard
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.