It’s been really hot at times this year – pushing into the 30s at times back in the summer. It’s been really cold at times this year – pushing into the minuses at times in the mornings. And yet, they are there, rain or shine, supporting the workers who are having to strike in order to either get proper working conditions or a living wage that they more than deserve. The heroes of Poetry on the Picket Line (PotPL) are the likes of Chip Hamer (Grim Chip), Nadia Drews, Mark Coverdale, and Tim Wells. And their support doesn’t stretch to reading poems, they have raised vital funds for the striking workers. Proper activist poetry, making a real difference to peoples’ lives when they most need it. So after little discussion with myself of the leading contenders, Poets on the Picket Line are Proletarian Poetry’s Working Class Heroes of 2018 (and 2017 & 2016 as well). (more…)
Tim Wells has been (still is, in fact) one of the great stalwarts of poetry; as a poet, promoter, and historian of all things working class, for the past four decades. One of the original ‘ranters’ of the 1980s, he has been a regular on the London poetry scene, as well as wider shores, giving it large with poems about working class lives; poems that don’t pander to the type of melodrama or demonisation which undermines the notion of class as being some drop out numpty who drives a van with its break lights not working. “I was a teenage suedehead. Dressing sharper than the posh kids and our style was crucial to us. That, and I don’t drive,” he told me. (more…)
I have been heartened by a number of things in poetry recently. As previously featured, Poetry on the Picket Line, is a great initiative to support striking workers in dispute with their employers; most notable in London has been the refusal by Picture House cinemas to pay their staff a Living Wage, as well as cleaners at the LSE. Saturday before last, I read alongside a number of poets, in a benefit gig at the Betsey Trotwood (a good pub in Farringdon) to raise funds for the strikers. It was a great night and raised over £300 – I bid successfully for Billy Bragg’s solidarity signature. Hats off to the organisers, Nadia Drews, Mark Coverdale, and Chip Hamer, and hosting from Tim Wells and Janine Booth.
Last week, I received my contributor’s copy of On Fighting On, an anthology of working class poetry published by Manifesto Press (supported by Unite union), through the Culture Matters, which is skillfully edited by Mike Quille. It was part of a competition they ran earlier in the year. I am alongside a number of poets who have appeared on Proletarian Poetry, such as Fred Voss, Fran Lock, Owen Gallagher, Mike Jenkins, Steve Pottinger, and coming up soon, Martin Hayes.
In keeping with the punk ethic of working class poetry and do-it-yourself, I got a fantastic pamphlet by the poet Robin Houghton, of the indie co-operative Telltale Press. It is called Footwear, and is a short memoir-like set of poems to do with, yes, you’ve guessed it, ‘footwear’. Robin made the pamphlet herself, as well as the poems of course. With my Proletarian hat on (I must get an actual one), I really liked the penultimate poem, ‘Handmade in Guangzhou 2.’ “Long tables in the machine room/ ribbons of women/ pressed together in pairs, bowed/ as if praying to the Western god/ of sports & leisure.” You can find out how she did it here. Robin made fifty (mine is number 9), it is a great idea.
Finally, on that note, I want to give mention to Tim Wells poetry fanzine ‘Rising’, which he hands out for free at different events, the latest of which is Issue 69 and includes the brilliant Paul Birtill, Phil Jupitas (Porky the Poet), Jemima Foxtrot, Salena Godden, and many more.
So the true meaning of the word ‘anarchism’, i.e. of doing it yourself, is alive and well, in working class poetry at least.
This past Sunday (the 8th May), was the penultimate day of the English summer. The weight of people walking around London, was lightened by their lack of clothes and perspiration. We are now descending into autumn, whilst Scotland still basks in the mid-20s. But I spent much of Sunday indoors, preparing and fretting over that evening’s events in Kentish Town.
The first was a conversation with David Turner and Lizzy of Lunar Poetry Podcasts. David, in little over a year has carried out 75 interviews with people here in the UK poetry world. It is a great endeavour, and one I hope gains a lot of interest. We spoke of course about Proletarian Poetry, but also issues relating to class more generally, poetry genres and readers, and valuing poets (i.e. with £). Have a listen, and try to check out some of the other interviews.
Then, I was very proud to be part of the long tradition by hosting the Sunday poetry reading at the Torriano Meeting House. The Torriano has been going for many years; in fact, my mother-in-law who came along on the night, used to go there more than twenty years ago. I was so pleased to have Anna Robinson and Tim Wells as the guest readers, along with some great open mics from Grim Chip and Nadia Drews, and a short set from myself. So although it was one of the hottest days of the year, which I didn’t see much of, it was well worth the effort. Onwards (with a brolly!).
In 1980 I organised a short-lived reggae night on a Monday in a pub back home. We had the usual agreement with the gaffer; it was free to get in, free to have the space, and he would make money at the bar on what is typically a dead night. It was a success in terms of the number of punters (an assortment of rastas and retired punks). But everyone was skint, and those that weren’t just bought Lucozade. We lasted three Mondays. That was my single attempt to marry my new musical love, reggae, with the punk which by now had dissipated. It was a year before the riots and the scar of Thatcher’s claw.
Punk was linked to reggae at an early stage, for the two movements had much in common. After I had seen the line of punk bands that played in our town; Clash, Pistols, Buzzcocks, Banshees, etc., reggae artists started to appear. But it was still very divided. There were few white people at the gigs for the likes of Gregory Isaacs, Burning Spear, Culture, or Prince Far I’; this was what I call the high tide of reggae, which I got into via the likes of Don Letts, Adrian Sherwood and a Mike Dread. And of course there were a number of good UK reggae bands such as Misty in Roots, Matumbi and Steel Pulse.
Someone who has much deeper roots in this history and whose site, Stand Up and Spit, chronicles many great moments of these times of punk and reggae, is Tim Wells. In his poem ‘Version’, he describes the time he first heard the great ‘dub poet’ Michael Smith, “That hard yard voice rumbled from the deck;/so unlike ours, but it spoke to us all the same.” The conditions of unemployment, poverty, and discrimination were described in a common situation experienced in the cities of the UK & US during the late 70s and 80s. “We were shook awake: no jobs, no money, no future./Hackney, Detroit, Johannesburg or Kingston JA.” (more…)