Post-modernists are smug bastards. They sit on their upside down, inside out sofas opining about how terrible things still are, with that ‘I told you so. Now come here, put this bandage round your bloodied head and get in the car, I’ll take you to a therapist.’ Enlightenment chaps, such as the voluminously silver-haired Steven Pinker, all ivory-towered up to in his corduroy trousers and leather padded elbows, will say, ‘hold on a minute, we are a much less violent society than we were. Yes, there was the First World War, the Holocaust, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Cambodia, Rwanda, Syria, the Yemen, blah-di-blah, but in modern day developed countries, things have never been so peaceful.’ (more…)
The other week, I was helping out Culture Matters at the Poetry Book Fair, hosting a reading with the wonderful Fran Lock and Nadia Drews, both of whom have upcoming collections with the press. Mike Quille and I shared the space with Andy Croft of Smokestack Books, and Isabelle Kenyon of the relatively new press, ‘Fly on the Wall Poetry’. Isabelle has been a tour-de-force on the poetry scene recently, first of all editing the mental health anthology, ‘Please Hear What I am Not Saying’, in support of the charity MIND. It was awarded ‘Runner Up for Best Anthology’ at the prestigious Saboteur Awards this May and to date, it has raised £500. (more…)
Precarious was published by Smokestack on April 1st this year, and I have been on a Precarious Tour around the country, with the novelist and poet Richard Skinner (whose book The Malvern Aviator is also published by Smokestack) . So far we have read in Oxford, Huddersfield, Newcastle, and London – with Bristol and Swindon to come later in the year. I have also read in Derby, St Albans, and London (at the launch of Jane Commane‘s book launch of Assembly Lines), and later at Ledbury Poetry Festival, Cork, and Merthyr Tydfill. (more…)
Today may be Easter Sunday, and it may be April 1st, but in this wonderful 24 hour 365/6 day year casino online economy, you can’t be fooled out of finding buds of goodness shooting up (even if it is snowing up North). Richard Skinner’s collection, The Malvern Aviator is one such bud which is published today and available from Smokestack Books. I am proud to say Richard is a Stablemate and for a number of gigs, will be my poet bro’ as we embark on our Rollercoaster tour promoting our books. You can buy Richard’s book from Smokestack here.
Below is the poem ‘Dark Nook’ by Richard from the archive, about the working conditions down the mines of the Isle of Man in the 19th century.
Coal has received most historic attention in terms of industrial development and of course industrial strife. Less is known of the importance of tin mining. There is a certain awareness of its history in Cornwall, but as Richard Skinner’s poem Dark Nook, and the research behind it shows, it was a feature in the Isle of Man as well. And unsurprisingly, like the experience of the coal industry, conditions were just as bad. However, you had to be lucky in the first place just to get the job. “I am Egbert Clague./I come every morning from Agneash/hoping for the nod from the bargain man.” When you did get the ‘nod’ it took you, “two hours to descend the ladders,/…The hole to go down is just two foot by two,” It was dangerous work and there was no compensation for accidents, so when Egbert’s legs are crushed, his wife has to work on the Washing Floor, sorting the ore from the stone. “It’s worse work than the mine—/she has no more feeling in her hands./I’ll be joining her there soon.”
Richard explains the research he carried out on a recent trip to the Isle of Man:
“I found the island to be a beautiful place full of myth and folklore but I hadn’t realised how much mining had gone on there, and over such a long period, too. The Great Laxey Mine was by far the largest on the island and comparable to some of the famous Cornish tin mines. The first shaft was started in 1824 and sunk to a depth of 247 fathoms (1482 feet). The next 30 years saw a further three shafts sunk. Miners worked two shifts—6am-2pm and 2pm-10pm—but when production peaked in the 1870s, mining carried on 24 hours a day. Cheap foreign imports hit the company hard and the mine eventually closed in 1914.
Miners worked in a team of six led by an ‘elder’ who would agree an amount per day with the ‘bargain man’, who represented the mine, and would split the money with the rest of his team. If you were ill or injured, you didn’t get paid anything. Gunpowder explosions were the most common cause of accidents. Some miners fell down shafts, others were killed by falling rocks or timber. Carbon dioxide—or ‘blackdamp’—was a constant threat. Heavier than air, it would settle at the bottom of the mine. Explosive methane, found in coalmines, was not present in the Great Laxey Mine so the miners could carry candles, the flickering of the flame alerting them when oxygen levels were running low.”
Finally, don’t think that tin mining is any less important today and that it doesn’t have a large social and environmental impact. As a report by Friends of the Earth stated: “If you own a mobile, it’s probably held together by tin from the Indonesian island of Bangka. Mining is wrecking the environment and every year it claims dozens more lives.”
Richard’s poems have been widely published. His full collection, ‘the light user scheme’, was published by Smokestack (2013). His pamphlet ‘Terrace’ (also from Smokestack) was published in April 2015. He is Director of the Fiction Programme at Faber Academy and has published three novels with Faber and Faber.
I am Egbert Clague.
I come every morning from Agneash
hoping for the nod from the bargain man.
It takes two hours to descend the ladders,
our tallow candles round our necks
like white asparagus.
The hole to go down is just two foot by two,
the spokes like blunt knives,
the blackdamp smelling awful. We chip
and hack until we see the sparkle
of the rich extraordinary,
haul it up through smoke to the adit.
One day, they brought me up
in the dead box, my leg crushed.
The Captain of the Mines
came in person to the cottage and said,
‘We can’t give you anything
and that will have to keep you.’
My wife Brenda is on the
Washing Floors now, sorting ore from stone
ready to ship to Swansea.
It’s worse work than the mine—
she has no more feeling in her hands.
I’ll be joining her there soon.
Meantime, I grow veg, read and
visit the village chapel on my sticks
to pray our Sooki will one day flee.
When I’m alone, I kneel and whisper,
‘The affection you get back from children
is sixpence as change from a sovereign.’
This week the BBC did an experiment. They got five young British people to work on a farm for a day picking cabbages – although not mentioned, the wrappers they were putting the cabbages in, were heading for Tesco, ironically in a bag of a non-existent farm; (as I’ve mentioned before on the site, Tesco started packaging meat and veg in bags that said Woodside Farm and the likes, which may exist somewhere but in this case are an invention to make us feel their produce is more local).
Anyhow, these workers were doing a job previously undertaken by workers from other EU countries. You can guess what happens; they find the work really hard and although do the job required of them, say they wouldn’t do it for a living. The farmer says that he is struggling now to find workers; Polish and Lithuanian workers have gone home because of the exchange rate, and the Bulgarian and Romanian workers who remain, are too few to take up the slack. And all this, when the majority of farmers voted to leave.
‘No Tenemos Miedo’, is the status many Latino young people have been using in the US; they are undocumented and unafraid to say so. They, and others who support them in their now precarious situation, have been turning to art to protest against the rise in hatred towards them. In the past week we have seen the terrible scenes in Charlottesville, where the worms of fascism have come out of the rotten word they have been living in to spread hatred. This has undoubtedly come from the permission gave them by Donald Trump, and his rhetoric against the Mexican people and his ‘promise’ to build a wall.
There is already a wall along the US/Mexican border, and in many parts there are works of art protesting against what it stands for. One exhibit has a series of day-of-the-dead like mannequins, hanging from the wall. It is a powerful image. Across the world, where walls have divided people, protest art has inverted the purpose of the canvas. From the Berlin Wall, to the Israeli Wall, and the Peace Wall in Northern Ireland, there are beautiful but at the same time heart-rending images to remind people, either of the reason they are there and/or the damage that they do, e.g. in cutting off families, or families from their land, etc.. (more…)
Just a short post to let you know that I have now compiled an alphabetical index of the poets (with their poems) who have appeared since the site began in September 2014. There are over 120 poems, from the great and the good of poetry, to the great and the good of poetry. I will be updating it to include a couple of lines from each poem, as well of course adding to it, as and when.
Here is the link: https://proletarianpoetry.com/index-of-poets/
Thank you all for following the site, I really appreciate it. I will continue in my quest to get more poems of working class lives out there to show that we are much more than hard work. I still have hope of writing/editing a book on the project in the future, and to do more events; but this may not happen until next year when my own collection is published by Smokestack Books in April (which as you can imagine has a few poems about the working class in).
Collateral damage. Casualties of war. Seen but not heard. Neither seen nor heard. There are none. They don’t exist. They are the cradle of terrorists. Rubble is their toy. Ideas are their weapons. They are not children. They can’t be children. Let us not hear of such things.
Propaganda and censorship are the recognised tools of government; whether that government be the so called western liberal kind, or one more akin to North Korea. Of course, they use different methods in the use of these tools but essentially they serve the same purpose of maintaining power, done in the guise of protecting the values, ethos, or way of life of its citizens. Violent conflict is famously said to be an extension of such forms of politics, but by other means.
War is a different beast than it was a hundred years ago; the dead of the First World War were soldiers. Because of the aerial bombardments characteristic of the Second World War there were far more civilians killed. Today’s wars are said to be different than any other because the fight is now between states and non-state actors (aka terrorists/freedom fighters). But what is common in this new form of warfare to the WW2 is the amount of innocent civilians killed. Actors on both sides, whether through suicide bombs, drones, or barrel bombs are indiscriminate in trying to achieve their bloody aim.
And it is children, who are the most vulnerable civilian casualty of them all. Michael Rosen highlights this tragedy chillingly in his poem Don’t Mention the Children. The poem refers to the banning by the Israeli Broadcasting Authority of an advertisement by the human rights organisation B’Tselem, where it listed the names of the children killed during the bombing in Gaza by Israel. Every country has its right to defend itself; however, it is an issue of proportionality, which lies at the heart of any response. (Bernie Sanders recently challenged Hilary Clinton over this matter, and she refused to condemn the bombing as being disproportionate). So Michael shows how ridiculous this ban was: “The names of the children must be hidden./The children must be nameless./The children must leave this world/having no names.” Only by erasing such acts from history, can they be kept from the world’s view allowing future actions to continue.
Here is Michael reading the poem:
But not only should we mention the children, let us hear what they have to say themselves. Let’s listen to the children. Here is one short account of a nine year old’s experience of the bombing in Gaza in 2014:
“Even our apartment has been bombed. The aim is to make us displaced in UN schools and then be a target for tank shells. As you see we had our three shops completely destroyed, but I know fully in my heart that God will compensate us. Till the last day of the war, we remained in our apartment, but when the apartment next door sustained damages, we ran to seek shelter at my grandpa’s place in Shujayea, and there it was bombed again. We ended up going to relatives in the west. There is nowhere safe. Even al-Shifa hospital has been targeted.” (Osama Ejelah, aged 9)
Michael Rosen was born in North London in 1946. His parents were both teachers. After university he worked for the BBC on Play School and Schools TV. He currently presents Radio 4’s long-running Word of Mouth. His many awards include the Eleanor Farjeon Award for distinguished services to children’s literature. He is the Chevalier de l’ordre des artes et des lettres and was Children’s Laureate from 2007-9. He is Professor of Children’s Literature at Goldsmith’s, University of London. Don’t Mention the Children is taken from his collection of the same name published by Smokestack Books in 2015.
Don’t mention the children.
Don’t name the dead children.
The people must not know the names
of the dead children.
The names of the children must be hidden.
The children must be nameless.
The children must leave this world
having no names.
No one must know the names of
the dead children.
No one must say the names of
the dead children.
No one must even think that the children
People must understand that it would be dangerous
to know the names of the children.
The people must be protected from
knowing the names of the children.
The names of the children could spread
The people would not be safe if they knew
the names of the children.
Don’t name the dead children.
Don’t remember the dead children.
Don’t think of the dead children.
Don’t say: ‘dead children’.
Published with kind permission of the author.
There is much, probably too much, written about class and who the working class are. But class remains important; as the great academic Richard Hoggart said back in the late ‘50s’, “Class distinctions do not die; they merely learn new ways of expressing themselves…We shiftily declare we have buried class; each decade the coffin stays empty.” And academics continue this work, most recently with Professor Mike Savage and team who completed a major research project ‘Social Class in the 21st Century’. They outline seven categories of class, with ‘precariat’ being defined as the ‘bottom of the pile’.
I have it easy, as for my purposes, as I see the working classes are those who lack wealth and/or power – it is a broad church; maybe not as broad as the 99% versus 1%, although that has its place (by the way, Savage et al., estimate that the super-rich now account for 6% of the population – good to know they are sharing the wealth a bit more, eh!). But I do think it stretches into areas and professions not always seen as part of the means of production. (I am certain many poets would relate to this, given their average income, and the extent to which they wield power).
One such profession I would argue is teaching. Many teachers come from the communities they work in, their starting pay is below the average wage, and does not rise a whole lot more above £40k. Yes, they are not poor by ‘precariat’ standards, but neither do they earn similar amounts to other middle class professions in finance, engineering, or health care. Then in terms of their power, or influence, they are strapped in to the national curriculum and all the measures of performance they have to meet. Yet, they know their students more than other professionals, know their needs beyond education, and are such an important part of society’s development as a whole.
Teaching is tough, and Marilyn Longstaff’s poem, ‘Blooding the Enemy’, highlights what teachers, have to face, where bullying may not only be between children. “The pig king has entered my classroom/late as usual./He’s been fighting again.” I really like the way Marilyn, inverts the use of the word ‘know’ in a teaching setting. “They know/it’s my first year of teaching, know/I’m no Ursula Brangwen,/know//I didn’t show who was boss/in the beginning.’ (more…)