The Shoemakers’ Walk by Emma Lee

I don’t think there is a singular act that forces change upon a powerful organisation or state. As I’ve discussed previously with Susan Evans’ poem “#irony”, there are many forms of activism that put pressure on the powerful to change their ways, or go away altogether. Some are explicitly violent, justifiably in response to years of violence by government forces, as in South Africa. Others, on the face of it are peaceful, as in the Velvet Revolution in the former Czechoslovak republic or the Orange version in the Ukraine. Similarly, with organisations like major corporations, a variety of actions can be utilised in protest at such policies as forced redundancies or the exploitation of natural resources. But there are also a lot of behind-the-scenes conflict resolution discussions that often end the dispute in question, as was the case in Northern Ireland.

salt-march-statue-hHowever, there are times when there needs to be protest even when the possibility of positive change has passed. A voice, or a mass of voices, coming together show the powerful in question that although they may have got away with it this time, a battle does not win a war. One of the most powerful forms of activism is marching. Marching comes in many guises outside of protest; from the obvious formation of armies going to battle, through to pipe bands. But as a form of protest the sight of hundreds of thousands of people, a great swathe of banners and heads pictured from above is a powerful image with a powerful message. Notable marches include Gandhi’s Salt March against colonial taxation, the civil rights March on Washington and Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, and the many people who peacefully converged on Tiananmen Square in China, with tragic consequences.

emma-lee-2016The UK has a long tradition of such marches, most notably the Jarrow March in 1936, in protest at unemployment and poverty in the North East. Previous to that was the mass trespass onto Kinder Scout in the Peak District, which is portrayed by the poet Peter Riley in his ‘The Ascent of Kinder Scout’. But previous to both, in 1905 is probably a less well known march as described in Emma Lee’s poem, The Shoemakers’ Walk. “Laid off after the Boer War, shoemakers/from Leicester walked to London – /later inspiring the Jarrow marchers -/lacking work and welfare, wanting a solution.” Of course, they were lambasted by the media, as such marches are today, “The Times reported them as shiftless,/and stated their march should fail./They were a menace, village idiots, restless.” Ultimately they were not successful in their demands. “Fifty thousand met Trafalgar Square./A message’s bland formality:/The King is unable to accede to your/request. Slow return to shoemakersLeicester city.” But nonetheless they were successful in laying down a marker (in one case a physical one with the artwork of seven windows at Leicester’s St Mark’s Church, called The Triumph and Apotheosis of Labour). A united voice to say such treatment of the working classes will not go unheeded nor passively accepted. A marker that is still resonant today.


Emma Lee’s most recent collection is “Ghosts in the Desert” (IDP, 2015). She co-edited “Over Land Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge” (Five Leaves, 2015) and “Welcome to Leicester” (Dahlia Publishing, 2016). Emma reviews for The High Window Journal, The Journal, London Grip and Sabotage Reviews and blogs at”



The Shoemakers’ Walk

Laid off after the Boer War, shoemakers
from Leicester walked to London –
later inspiring the Jarrow marchers –
lacking work and welfare, wanting a solution.

The Times reported them as shiftless,
and stated their march should fail.
They were a menace, village idiots, restless.
Headlines weren’t their worst trial.

The men walked through Northampton,
blisters, sunburn and sprained ankles,
fed by people in villages like Lavendon,
walking on refilling water bottles.

“The Triumph and Apotheosis of Labour”,
panels inspired by the march,
paid for by Beaumanor Hall’s owner,
were installed in St Mark’s Church.

Fifty thousand met in Trafalgar Square.
A message’s bland formality:
The King is unable to accede to your
request. Slow return to Leicester city.

The welfare state was built
when Amos Sherriff became Mayor.
A plaque put in the market
to remember the shoemakers.



(On 4/6/1905, 497 men set out from Leicester for London, led by Amos Sherriff who became Mayor of Leicester in 1922; Sophia Perry Herrick was owner of Beaumanor Hall)


#Irony by Susan Evans

burning monk1In 1963 the persecution of Buddhists in South Vietnam under the rule of staunch anti-communist Ngo Dinh Dien, had reached crisis point. On June 11th three monks walked to a crossroads in Saigon. One placed a cushion on the road upon which sat Thich Quang Duc, a highly revered Buddhist monk; the third man then proceeded to pour petrol over Quang Duc. The picture of the monk’s self-immolation went worldwide and is one of the most iconic forms of activism; the ultimate sacrifice for a cause, which has been undertaken in many notable cases, most recently Mohamed Bouazizi that sparked the Arab Spring.

Activism is an art form and comes in many shapes and disguises. It can be holding a placard, throwing a Molotov, standing in front of a tank, where you choose to sit on a bus, occupying a financial district, or as in the case of Pussy Riot, dancing in a church. In Egypt, much of the activism during their Arab Spring, came from young women, who were not allowed to protest at Tahrir Square for fear of violence against them. So they took the internet and became cyber-activists, sharing messages, feeding news to other protestors across the Arab world. Activism can also be the simple act of writing a poem as with Ai Weiwei.

Susan Evans Performance Poet - Photo by Helen PinnerSusan Evans’ poem # Irony, covers some of these approaches to protest and the perceptions that arise. Marching online she joins/the virtual protest ‒/bloke in armchair calls her/an `armchair activist’“ But you can also sign petitions “she shares petition after petition ‒/38 degrees”, or watch events unfold “‘The People’s Poets’ upload pics,/pleased as punch; bunched outside/Westminster,” driven by examples of friends who, as mothers are greatly affected by austerity measures as they “fiercely fret over/the going rate of the Tooth Fairy.” (more…)

To a Halver by Paul Batchelor

olduvaiHere in the UK there was a radio series that explored a history of the world in a hundred objects. The objects ranged from the ancient, such as the Olduvai Handaxe made of volcanic lava that was part of a process of tool-making some 1.6 million years ago, to the relatively more modern, Victorian Mrs Beeton’s Cookbook, which had over 900 recipes and was probably one of the first cookbooks, and are so popular today (our local Waterstone’s six column shelves of cookbooks – WTF).

The poet Ted Kooser said that the mark of a good poem is one that makes you see the everyday, or the everyday object in a different way; to make his point, he references a one line poem by Joseph Hutchison, Artichoke: “O heart weighed down by so many wings.” As Kooser says, ‘Could you ever look an artichoke in the same way after reading that?’

corrugated ironIn one of the first poems featured on Proletarian Poetry, Kei Miller did just that with corrugated iron, in his poem This Zinc Roof. “This clanging of feet and boots,/Men running from Babylon whose guns/Are drawn against the small measure/Of their lives; this galvanised sheet; this/Corrugated iron. The road to hell is fenced/On each side with zinc.” I am currently writing a poem about tyres, how, when kids, we used to roll them down the hills back home for fun, or when used as a form of execution, (‘necklacing’) in South Africa and Haiti where they are put round the neck of a victim, filled with petrol then set alight.

paulbatchelorpicPaul Batchelor has taken an everyday object in a fantastic way with his poem “To a Halver”, which appears in his latest chapbook, The Love Darg; a halver is a half-brick, one half of an everyday object, that we are surrounded by, pass by, and sometimes take up as a weapon of protest or of gratuitous violence: “O half brick: your battened-down/century of faithful service in a pit village terrace/forgotten now you’ve broken loose; now you’re at large/on CCTV, flackering out of kilter till you bounce/like far-flung hail rebounding off the riot squad/or kissing the away support a fond goodbye.” Paul turns to the personal when one nearly kills his father following a Celtic/Rangers match, “when it was raining hammers and nails/after an Old Firm fixture – the decider: I exist/because you missed and broke his collarbone.” (more…)