When a person walks out their door, whether going to the shop, to work, or for a night out, I imagine it is only the lucky ones, who are not conscious, or made conscious of, who they are. I imagine the stereotypical, white middle class male, irrespective of their political hue, on this journey imbibing the day without constraint; not physical, psychological, nor spiritual. They may believe they are completely unbiased in respect of how their position, influences their decisions, or perspective when dealing with other people. They may give to charity, volunteer, despise racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination, whilst at the same time, feel totally at peace with the world – that for all its faults, see the world moving in the right direction. And on the whole, they are right – headline figures, which the late Hans Rosling so eloquently showed, see many indicators of human development (child mortality, mortality, rates of disease, etc.) on a positive trend. However, this position is also the problem. On whose backs were these improvements in quality of life carried? Often, it was either the existing poor, and when there weren’t enough of them, immigrants, such as the Windrush generation. (more…)
‘Barbie’ & ‘Freedom’ by Elaine Baker
Next year Barbie will be sixty years old. Some might say she hasn’t aged a bit; still has that long blond hair, 19 inch waist, the perfect match for the most eligible bachelor in the world. Others would agree that she hasn’t aged a bit, but argue that is the problem. In 2010, Mattel produced a book with Barbie as a computer programmer – impressive? Well, not when she is still reliant on men, “I’m only creating the design ideas,” Barbie says, laughing. “I’ll need Steven and Brian’s help to turn it into a real game!” Then in 2015, Barbie was said to be a feminist in an advert entitled, ‘Imagine the Possibilities.’ I have to admit, it is a good advert. A number of girls, aged around 8 or 9, take on adult roles with responsibility – football coach, Professor, Museum tour guide; and in those roles their audience is the general public who have no idea this is an advert for Barbie. That, however, is the problem. The lead Barbie at the end, is still the iconic, soon-to-be 60 year old, never looked better, blonde haired version, who is surrounded by those more reflective of today’s society. Although, all of them are still tall and slim. In response to such developments, in Nigeria there is now a ‘Queen of Africa’ doll that outsells Barbie. (more…)
Poems of Working Class Lives by the New and Next Generation Poets
As part of this project I seem to be developing, I will be giving a paper at the Institute of English Studies conference: “New to Next Generation 2014: Three Decades of British and Irish Poetry” on March 13th (come along). I am on a panel entitled Promoting an Inclusive Poetics (I should be careful what I wish for). So as part of developing the paper, I thought I better get to know who the ‘Generation’ poets are.
I have featured four of the Generation Poets on the site so far – from 2014: Hannah Lowe, Kei Miller and Helen Mort; and one from 2004, Patience Agbabi. None from 1994 as yet.
In line with my belief that all poets have written a poem of working class lives, I am going through the poems (at least the ones that are available online at this stage) of each Generation poet to find out if there is any truth to my belief. So this first instalment is a selection from the 1994 ‘New’ Generation – I have looked at eleven of them so far, there are others such as Don Paterson and Kathleen Jamie I know I will find poems from, but there are still a few that I haven’t found one for (e.g. Glyn Maxwell, Lavinia Greenlaw), though I haven’t lost hope.
Moniza Alvi: The Country at My Shoulder is about Moniza’s country of origin, Pakistan, the poverty and gender divide there and how it weighs heavily on her identity.
‘the women stone-breakers chip away/at boulders, dirt on their bright hems./They await the men and the trucks….I try to shake the dust from the country,/smooth it with my hands.’
Simon Armitage: Clown Punk is very much a poem about identity, of how for some it changes, whereas others may believe it remains the same as exemplified in fading tattoos.
‘don’t laugh: every pixel of that man’s skin,/is shot through with indelible ink;/as he steps out at the traffic lights/think what he’ll look like in thirty years time.’ (more…)
Dance Class by Hannah Lowe
At fifteen I was a punk. I don’t have the spiky hair anymore (don’t have any in fact) but I still like to think I have a little bit of the ethos. My son is fifteen and into much the same type of alternative music, although his relates more to the various genres of heavy metal. It is only now, however, I have spotted a contradiction in our choices, for although I reveled in being different, I also wanted to be part of a group who looked and felt the same.
What we all have in common, whatever identity we feel we have, is the need to belong to something. It may only be with four other boys playing Warhammer in Games Workshop on a rainy Sunday afternoon, or as in Hannah Lowe’s poem Dance Class, being with ‘the best girls posed like poodles at a show‘. But it is often not that easy to fit in, you may not be good at the game; you may be ‘a scandal in that class, big-footed/giant in lycra‘. (more…)
November Review – From Nana’s Luck to The Last Gang in Town?
It’s been a great second month for Proletarian Poetry (I would give you the stats but that’s a bit too geeky. I am however, warming my hands over them now).
I have got to know some great poets who have kindly agreed to have their poems featured on the site. As I’ve said before, in terms of working class lives, this is about the poems not the poets; I secretly believe that all poets have written a working class poem, they just don’t know it yet – it’s a class consciousness problem 🙂 Also as I write this, I am reminded how many of the poets I have seen read this month; all are great performers in their own right and way – you really can’t beat live poetry. For example, on Saturday I was at The Shuffle where two featured poets on PP, Inua Ellams and Karen McCarthy Woolf read alongside, Tom Chivers, Holly Corfield Carr, Gale Burns, and Harry Mann. The theme was the environment and there were a great range of poems on the subject.
This month’s poems have covered a number of themes to do with: family, gender, identity, racism, urban life, work and industry, food, and music (got to have the music). There are mothers, fathers, grandparents, butchers, assembly line workers, brass bands, activists, priests, loan sharks, and (to use the title of Inua Ellams’ poem) Lovers, Liars, Conjurers and Thieves. (more…)
My People by Kim Moore
I always try to read the poems I feature many times before knowing what I want to say about them. But for Kim Moore’s My People it took many more. When I heard Kim read it at The Shuffle in the Poetry Café I knew straight away I wanted to include it on the site but wasn’t sure how I felt about it.
Take the title – My People. The term conjures up so many mixed and opposing images; from those whose ancestors were the victims of slavery through to its use by dictators to legitimise their rule. And I think this extremity of use of the term mirrors the paradox in how Kim describes the people of My People. On the one hand they are the backbone of what politicians call ‘hard working families‘ (nee working class); ‘I come from scaffolders and plasterers and shoemakers and carers‘, low paid people who have to strike for their livelihoods. Yet on the other, they have been in prison, can dip lightly into casual racism, and ‘in the time of slavery my people would have had them if they were the type of people who could afford them, which they probably weren’t.‘ (I love the irony of that). Kim then throws us a curve ball when saying, ‘If I knew who my people were before women got the vote, they would not have cared about the vote‘, which raises issues to do with apathy towards political elites, the role of working class women, as well as whether we are ever part of a people. I think it is a problem the Left has in political terms (and I like to think I am part of their People). The Right don’t care really. (more…)
A Cento from October’s Poems
It has been a great pleasure to have featured eleven poems up to the end of October. In order, these were:
1. Birmingham Roller by Liz Berry (with a video of Liz reading it so beautifully).
2. Hoxton Stories by Karen McCarthy Woolf
3. This Zinc Roof by Kei Miller.
4. North by Paul Summers
5. Shitneck. Playing the Name Game by Steve Ely (with a video of him reading his poem Arthur Scargill)
6. Quality Street by Debris Stevenson (with a great performance from her at Wordsmiths & Co)
7. Portraits of Women – East London 1888 by Anna Robinson
8. Living Space by Imtiaz Dharker (with a video of her reading two poems for Bloodaxe)
9. Last Orders for Chesterfield by Helen Mort
10. A Conversation with a Man in Wetherspoon’s by Raymond Antrobus (with a video of him acting it out)
11. I Beg to Apply for the Post by Catherine Graham
Raymond Antrobus Conversation with a Man in Wetherspoon’s
In 1988, one of Thatcher’s dying policies to keep the working classes ‘happy’ was all day drinking. At the time we loved it. For me personally, working in the bookies, it meant not having the 3.30 pm spill out of drunks rushing the counter with bets. Needless to say my boss wasn’t happy with the loss of losers. One thing that became a fixture when the novelty wore off, was The Monday Club, the counterintuitive antidote to a weekend binge – drink all day on the Monday. Good times, good times.
Anyhow, the first line of today’s featured poem by Raymond Antrobus, really hit home (Wetherspoon’s on a Monday morning is like a retirement home). For many this goes beyond the simile. This poem is a wonderful divide between Ray setting the scene, (no-one takes off their jacket/they won’t admit how comfortable they are) and the verbatim story of the man’s life (Home is complicated now because I know too many places that it might be and not all of them exist). And there is the mix of nice humour (it’s hard to be honest in the same country you do your taxes) and the sad (it’s hard to love someone when you know them too well). But this is a poem about place and identity; of where you come from, where you live, where you would like to live, and therefore the importance of place in identifying who you are. (more…)