roy mcfarlane

Tipton by Roy McFarlane

‘In our Coventry homes! We speak with an accent exceedingly rare, you want a Cathedral we’ve got one to spare, in our Coventry homes.’

three spires 1Ah, 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.

roy mcfarlaneRoy McFarlane’s poem, Tipton is a paean to a home town, made up of its people and sometimes ‘strange’ characters, usually not thought to be seen in an urban setting: ‘I’m 10 and visiting the cousins,/ the only black family in Princess Ends./ Streets wide enough to pass on gossip/ and a horse in somebody’s garden.’ Family is nearby, but not necessarily understandable. My own parents were from Glasgow and Gateshead, and it was often very hard to understand my cousins. This is the case with Roy’s family, ‘Ow’s ower kid their father would say/ with vowels big and round as his obese body,/ then he’d give me a sweet, slap me on my back/ and laugh his way into the kitchen/ I asked my cousin what did he say?’ This reminds me of a recent series on Radio 4 on poetry and dialect, looking at the East Midlands, Northumberland, and North West (check it out).

But common to all such cities, is the factories; though for Tipton they may not be cars, bicycles or telecommunications, like in Coventry. ‘once the father/ left to go to the pub or to the steelworks// 40 years later I’m back/ walking past the pie factory where they serve/ soul nights on sawdust covered floors.’ And like many such cities, the factories go and are replaced with shopping centres, and people forced to work further afield, thus becoming commuters on privatised travel networks. On reading Roy’s poem, I see the uniqueness of Tipton. Coventry is also unique, but both are only unique in the same way as every other non-Metropolitan town or city is made unique, by the people who live there.

 

Roy McFarlane was born in Birmingham of Jamaican parentage and spent most of his years living in Wolverhampton and the surrounding Black Country. He has held the role of Birmingham’s Poet Laureate and presently the Birmingham & Midland Institute Poet in Residence. His publications include, Celebrate Wha? (Smokestack Books 2011) and Beginning With Your Last Breath (Nine Arches Press 2016). Roy’s latest collection The Healing Next Time will be out in October 2018 and he is also completing his MA in Writing Poetry with The Poetry School and Newcastle University.

 

 

Tipton

Tipton, this tongue-tipping
double syllable of a word,
this Bermuda Triangle
between Brum and Wolves.
This lost city quintessentially
Black Country, God’s belly button
of the Universe has got me.

I’m 10 and visiting the cousins,
the only black family in Princess Ends.
Streets wide enough to pass on gossip
and a horse in somebody’s garden.

I watched cousins as dark as the cut,
larger than life, colourful as the Caribbean,
speak another language.
Only laughter, sweets and pots of soup
translated us back to a common understanding.

Ow’s ower kid their father would say
with vowels big and round as his obese body,
then he’d give me a sweet, slap me on my back
and laugh his way into the kitchen.
I asked my cousin what did he say?
Yam saft
, she’d say gurgling,
everybody laughing like the locks at the back,
where water poured in and everybody rises,
whether you wanted or not,
a lock that levelled off once the father
left to go to the pub or to the steelworks.

40 years later I’m back
walking past the pie factory where they serve
soul nights on sawdust covered floors.

Industries put to an eternal sleep
turning into a commuter town, it
still draws on you, pulls on you.
Yam olright it’s dem lot
that are causing de problems
,
with syllables that jab and slash,
sentences like the Tipton Slasher
the bare knuckle verbosity of it.
And there’s an oss everywhere,
in somebody’s garden, along the street
and a metal oss frozen in time
by the railway station
and an anchor
on the side of the road.
Not all things are anchored
in time or in a living museum;
cultures flow, merge and make
their own journeys into front rooms
as I say to me bab bending over
I cor walk past ya without
putting me ond on ya
and I know that

Tipton, this tongue-tipping
double syllable of a word,
this Bermuda Triangle
between Brum and Wolves.
This lost city quintessentially
Black Country, God’s belly button
of the Universe has got me.