josephine corcoran

Working Class Poem by Josephine Corcoran

bernard rightonLet’s start with a joke: “There’s a black fella, a Pakistani, and a Jew in a nightclub. What a fine example of an integrated community.” Here’s another one for ya, “Two homosexuals in the back of a van, having sex. They’re over twenty-one! What’s wrong with that?” These are the anti-stereotype jokes of ‘Bernard Righton’, a character acted by the comedian John Thompson in the Fast Show from the 1990s. The second joke in fact shows how far we have come as the age of same sex consent is now 16. Although progress has been made in challenging stereotypes, many still exist, and often they target the working class.

The latest to be challenged, is that of the Essex girl; Essex is a county in England, and the stereotype is that it is populated by bleach-blonde, high-heeled, promiscuous women of low intelligence. This has gone on for years and has been promulgated by such TV shows as Birds of a Feather and The Only Way is Essex (TOWIE). Although some people might argue that it’s only a laugh, for many women it is a real problem. Sadie Hasler is a playwright from Essex, who left acting because she was only offered roles that involved wearing cat suits, going topless and always being sexual. A number of initiatives are ongoing to challenge the Essex Girl tag; these include a petition, social media campaign, a walk (The Essex Way), and a charitable foundation, the Essex Women’s Advisory Group.

A recent article by the poet Andrew McMillan, with echoes of Richard Hoggart some fifty years ago, forcefully argued for the need to hear more stories of working class lives in order to counter the void filled by the far right: “There must be an urgency, now, to help disenfranchised communities of all different types express their identity, to celebrate their history, to see themselves as belonging to part of a bigger picture, and this must include a refocusing on the working classes.” Similarly, another article called for politicians to better understand the working class vote, getting away from the belief they are only white; “mixed-race is the fastest growing demographic category, and that the growth is largely among the working class.”

Me in March 2017If this site does one thing, I hope it shows that the working class are not a one dimensional, culturally barren, single type of person. Poems from Kim Moore, Dean Atta, Jacob Sam-La Rose, and many more have debunked such stereotypes. Josephine Corcoran’s “Working Class Poem” strongly adds to that story, because “This poem went to a state school and a university.  This poem left school at 16.  There are no whippets in this poem.  This poem isn’t going down a mine.  This poem doesn’t buy The Sun.” Josephine wryly highlights the cultural stereotypes, “this poem doesn’t recognise itself in soap operas,” and debunks them with “This poem goes to art galleries, museums, poetry readings,” spelling it out succinctly, “There is no tick box for this poem.” But going back to our start, there is also humour in, “this poem is an embarrassment” and ending, “this poem doesn’t have a glottal stop.” There is no cultural coagulation that defines this large swathe of people; and this goes beyond a joke when such stereotypes are used by the powerful dictate the life chances of those they employ or represent.

Josephine Corcoran blogs at and is editor at Her poetry pamphlet The Misplaced House was published by tall-lighthouse.

Working Class Poem

This poem was born in a council house, rented flat, NHS hospital, caravan, servants’ quarters, bed and breakfast, children’s home, mortgaged house.  This poem went to a state school and a university.  This poem left school at 16.  There are no whippets in this poem.  This poem isn’t going down a mine.  This poem doesn’t buy The Sun.  This poem had free school dinners and uniform vouchers.  This poem got into trouble.  This poem went to night school.  This poem had a social worker.  This poem has no formal qualifications.  This poem has a PhD.  This poem was top of the class.  This poem was a teenage parent.  This poem is childless.  Little is expected of this poem.  This poem is framed on its parents’ living room wall.  This poem works as a university lecturer, shop assistant, hairdresser, teacher, call centre worker, filing clerk, police officer, bricklayer, food scientist, teacher, software consultant, sales person.  This poem hasn’t disclosed its occupation. This poem is unwaged. This poem likes films by Pasolini, Truffaut, Rohmer.  This poem reads The Beano.  This poem’s father was a gas fitter.  Its mother washed other people’s floors. This poem watches live opera and ballet streamed to cinemas.  This poem doesn’t play football. This poem drinks beer, wine, spirits, tea, cappuccinos, is teetotal. This poem has never eaten mushy peas. This poem does not recognise itself in soap operas. This poem goes to art galleries, museums, poetry readings. This poem is an embarrassment. This poem goes to the pub.  There is no tick box for this poem. This poem grew up on benefits. This poem pays higher rate tax.  This poem isn’t in an anthology. This poem doesn’t have a glottal stop.

(Working Class Poem was previously published in Under the Radar)

Drones by Jennifer L Knox

16874255011_afc444495a_oHungry? No problem, look to the skies. Well, at the moment only if you’re a student at Virginia Tech where Google has permission to test the delivery of food to its campus by drones. The supplier is Chipotle. Burrito anyone? Yum, yum. Similarly, Amazon in the UK is working with the government to test drones to deliver small parcels within 30 minutes of purchase. It won’t be long before they’ve delivered something you only thought about buying. And there is more than one case of men literally ‘caught in the act’ by a drone camera when having paid sex. The drones are often operated by private individuals. The laws on private drone use are in their infancy, if not embryonic.

Drones are becoming ubiquitous and like much new technology have the power to do both good and bad. As President Obama comes to the end of his tenure, he may not be remembered so much for his expansion of drone use; here he follows in the footsteps of his predecessor George DoubleYou, who is better known as a warmonger. In Pakistan in particular drones have been the weapon of choice. Their accuracy is very questionable, making the US deeply unpopular amongst the general population.  Amnesty International has claimed they could amount to war crimes.

jennifer_l-_knox_0Poets have been aware of this, exposing the darker side of such developments. Josephine Corcoran wrote a sonorous poem about them, and here Jennifer L. Knox has done the same with “Drones”. She takes us beyond their use by governments: “Scientists originally built the toy to murder people/in other countries, and now rich people in this country/want to buy them.” And in typical fashion, she mixes humour with the dark side of what the response will be from people who see them imposing on their privacy and human rights. “I can’t wait to kill one: shoot it with a shotgun, shoot it/with the hose, wing it with rocks,…/Rich people will be outraged.” She gets to the heart of our deep frustration and anger at the unhindered development and use of new technologies by powerful interests. (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…)