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…)
Ah, 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. (more…)
At the end of the Reading Festival when all of the punters have gone home, the site is a wreckage; a teenage detritus of (un)broken tents, sick-strewn sleeping bags, cans, cardboard, and many other unmentionables. What is left is gathered up by volunteers, some of it is donated to charities (one year, tents were given to refugees in Calais), the rest recycled and landfilled. I think of this as a metaphor for how capitalism leaves places when it’s done. A factory or a pit closes and all that is left is a rusting construction and a community having to rebuild itself from nothing. For it is not only the workers, but all those who relied on their income; suppliers, local shops, local clubs and pubs.
Hope is the wrong kind of four letter word in these circumstances (I won’t list the right kind). Of course, with the demise of the Unions, negotiations to mitigate against such withdrawal, tends to be a one-sided affair, with the government having to foot the bill in welfare provision, or lack thereof. During the late 90s, I worked in the area of what is known as Corporate Social Responsibility (a somewhat oxymoronic term looking back now). ‘Ethical’ companies such as The Body Shop led the way in making businesses more accountable for their social and environmental impacts (it was termed the triple bottom line). Some good work was done in this area, and many companies paid more than a little lip service to such responsibilities. However, when times became tight, whether financially in terms of profits, or politically in terms of government influence, it was always the financial bottom line that over-rode its helpless bedfellows.
Jane Commane’s poem The Shop-floor Gospel, from her debut collection Assembly Lines, goes inside the uncertainty felt by workers both back in the day (that day being the 1980s I’m presuming) to the present; where either redundancies are in the air of shop floor gossip, or potential closure. ‘Fortune-teller, free agent,/ laughter in grubby canteens;/ Mark my words./ We’re a living museum!/ There’s no future’. This type of thing is happening across many developed countries. The feeling of being left when industries go under, is one the reasons people gave for voting Trump, or Brexit; when there was ‘only the holding out against/ believing in some kind of new/ that pacified the absences/ with retail parks.’ The extent of a company’s responsibility goes well beyond its shareholders, its directors, even its employers. They should have responsibility for clearing up the mess they left behind, because just like the volunteers at the end of the Reading Festival, people aren’t paid to pick up their own pieces.
Jane Commane was born in Coventry and lives and works in Warwickshire. Her first full-length collection, Assembly Lines, was published by Bloodaxe in February 2018. She is editor at Nine Arches Press, co-editor of Under the Radar magazine, co-organiser of the Leicester Shindig poetry series, and is co-author (with Jo Bell) of How to Be a Poet, a creative writing handbook. In 2017 she was awarded a Jerwood Compton Poetry Fellowship.
The Shop-floor Gospel
he who trudges the grey
dog-eared estate avenues,
a rasp of
I bloody told you so
ready on their lips.
Fortune-teller, free agent,
laughter in grubby canteens;
Mark my words.
We’re a living museum!
There’s no future.
We’re sold, sold out –
Decades blowing a coarse wind
through the resistance,
where no borders were left
to cross, no other line to join,
only the holding out against
believing in some kind of new
that pacified the absences
with retail parks.
the lone no
on the shop-floor –
the habitual reader
of all the wrong news,
the public library ghost,
the vote cast for some
that’s long since closed.
A vanished oddment
a piss in the wind
the autumn leaves
at a glib historian’s
of the lady’s
not for turning.
I bloody told you so.
The warming of the sea is a waking beast; and so, the main effects of climate change are being felt by small islands and those on the coast, particularly in developing countries. I am currently reading Richard Georges’ forthcoming collection ‘Giant’ for a review for the Poetry School. The collection, which focuses on Georges’ home the British Virgin Islands is riven by fragility. Here in the UK, we often talk about the weather – a day of snow will make headline news. We too are an island, but are world away from the experiences of those whose coasts have always been open to the whims of nature, and now compounded by the impact of human consumption. And as I’m reminded by today’s poet, as a colonial power the UK was instrumental in sucking out the resilience of island populations through the extraction of natural resources. (more…)
I only came across the term ‘permission’ in regards of writing when being mentored by Jo Bell. Her wonderful project, 52 had given over five hundred writers the safe space to share their poetry with others in a similar position; the project had essentially given many of them permission to write. Recently I received a different type of permission when attending the Stairs and Whispers event at Ledbury Poetry Festival; the permission to accept that I have a disability.
This was the launch of the anthology of “D/deaf and Disabled Poets Write Back”, edited by Sandra Alland, Khairani Barokka and Daniel Sluman, and published by Nine Arches Press. From the perspective of someone whose hearing and sight is not particularly impaired the event was a multi-media experience of poetry films, readings, and questions, supported by sign, subtitles, and the full text of poems. The editors described themselves for those with sight impairment, and in a large hall it felt like the most intimate and captivating experience.
However, it was only afterwards, when I went away, sat in a café and took a breath that it resonated with me more personally. I have a number of autoimmune conditions; Addison’s Disease, Underactive Thyroid, secondary hypopituitarism (causing low testosterone), low Vitamin D, along with asthma, high cholesterol, chronic fatigue, periodic chronic pain, and depression. I am lucky, as I don’t have to rely on welfare, beyond NHS treatment and free prescriptions, and there are times when I am relatively healthy and able to exercise. So I have had no need to register as disabled and go through the horrendously cruel process that the austerity government has implemented in the past seven years.
The footballer Colin Kazem-Richards was born thirty years ago in east London to a Turkish/Cypriot Muslim mother and a West Indian Rastafarian father. He has played for 13 clubs in as many years, in seven countries, winning titles in Turkey, Greece and Scotland. He currently plays for the Brazilian team Corinthians, is married to a Brazilian woman with whom he has two children, who are their mother’s nationality. His national team is Turkey. Kazem-Richards is an embodiment of what the philosopher, Kwame Anthony Appiah (himself of mixed-heritage and has lived on three continents) calls ‘cosmopolitanism’; being a citizen of the world through shared values and culture.
It could be argued that today’s elite football at least, is one of those shared cultural experiences, being played and watched by billions of people across the world (China is the latest country to spend big on the game). In the UK, the Premier League is a polyglot of players from different countries (in 2015 it was 64 countries, compared with 50 in Spain’s La Liga). But whilst this is a positive illustration of cosmopolitanism, it is also a negative illustration of globalisation in terms of the economic foundations that prop it up. If the Premier League is the London Square Mile of football, the lower leagues are the forgotten inner city and rural pockets of deprivation (ask any fan of my team Coventry, or Leyton Orient). Where players in the Premier League can command long and rich contracts (they are paid five times more than a Championship player), a League Two player will not only be paid much less but will have much more precarious employment conditions (short-term/loan). And then there is the totem ‘tea lady’, who is barely paid a living wage.
Rishi Dastidar gives us a wonderful carousel of images of today’s modern Premier League players in his poem “We are Premier League”. The lines “We are Nando’s skin on X-box wings/We are charitable visits, making dreams come true”, shows the seeming contradictions of characters who command such wealth but still enjoy the ‘finer’ delights of chicken shops whilst visiting hospitals and schools. Many of these players themselves come from disadvantaged backgrounds, with little education (they were too good at football in their teens to worry about A levels, if not GCSEs) and travelled little. But like a lottery winner, the money can go to their head, and without proper guidance, they become: “We are court appearances in Armani suits/We are playthings of offshore corporations.” I wouldn’t go so far as to say they should be the foundation of a social mobility strategy, but neither should they be made the scapegoats of global capitalism. Many of the leading players, when retiring do a lot of good work supporting different communities. But there should be a way in which the benefits of cosmopolitanism can spread the income from globalisation more equitably; the football authorities are in a position to show leadership here, especially in these times of a resurgence in reactionary nationalism.
Rishi Dastidar’s poetry has been published by the Financial Times, Tate Modern and the Southbank Centre amongst many others, and has featured in the anthologies Adventures in Form (Penned in the Margins) and Ten: The New Wave (Bloodaxe). A fellow of The Complete Works, the Arts Council England funded programme for BAME poets in the UK, he is a consulting editor at The Rialto magazine, a member of the Malika’s Poetry Kitchen collective, and also serves as chair of the writer development organization Spread The Word. His debut collection, Ticker-tape, is published by Nine Arches Press.
We are Premier League
We are Nando’s skin on X-box wings
We are charitable visits, making dreams come true
We are role models and bandwagon drivers
We are baby Bentleys on private roads
We are gold tattoos on choking necks
We are orange spider mohicans on the backs of heads
We are dating on TOWIE and fit well jel
We are boys made good on our roasts
We are court appearances in Armani suits
We are playthings of offshore corporations
We are sponsored elite, and we are endorsed
We’ve parked the bus and we want more
We are the wages of underachievement
We are 17th place and we are class
(“We are Premier League” is taken from Rishi’s debut collection, Ticker-tape, published by Nine Arches Press)
Before going to see my football team of choice-by-birth, Coventry City play at home on a Saturday with my dad, we would stop off at the bookies for him to put on his daily bet. I was about nine and he would sit me in the corner of the smoke-filled shop against a backdrop of walls covered in the vital statistics of the day. We would wait for the first race before heading off up the match (this was years before televised races).
At the off, chatter would be replaced with commentary, and the men’s heads would move 45 degrees North to look at the speaker in the corner. The men would listen with their eyes, as though they had a better chance of winning by using more than one of the senses. As the race progressed, they started encouraging their horses or berating the jockey. Towards the end, the smoke almost gave way to their shouting, until the horses crossed finishing line. Then silence and muttering would be accompanied by the odd screwed up bet thrown at the poor innocent speaker.
Maria Taylor’s poem, A Day at the Races evokes this male dominated scene from the point of view of a woman who works behind the counter of the bookies. “For over twenty years it’s been a cinch/smiling without any come-on or affection./Her punters see more of her than their wives”. She is trained in the art of customer service; in dealing with the punters (now to be called ‘clients’) her tack is one of bitterness tinged with a sad inevitability of the outcome. “Her name is May, spelt in gold around her neck/she takes money from an old man…/’Today’s your lucky day’, she fibs,/someday she’ll drag his sheep-skinned corpse out.” Maria then neatly weaves in the clash of classes endemic in the racing game as the screen “cuts to ladies, daft complex hats, Lancome smiles,/cut to well-fed gent lifting a ribboned trophy.” (more…)