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…)