In line with my belief that all poets have written a poem of working class lives, I am going through the poems (at least the ones that are available online at this stage) of each Generation poet to find out if there is any truth to my belief. So this first instalment is a selection from the 1994 ‘New’ Generation – I have looked at eleven of them so far, there are others such as Don Paterson and Kathleen Jamie I know I will find poems from, but there are still a few that I haven’t found one for (e.g. Glyn Maxwell, Lavinia Greenlaw), though I haven’t lost hope.
Moniza Alvi: The Country at My Shoulder is about Moniza’s country of origin, Pakistan, the poverty and gender divide there and how it weighs heavily on her identity.
‘the women stone-breakers chip away/at boulders, dirt on their bright hems./They await the men and the trucks….I try to shake the dust from the country,/smooth it with my hands.’
Simon Armitage: Clown Punk is very much a poem about identity, of how for some it changes, whereas others may believe it remains the same as exemplified in fading tattoos.
‘don’t laugh: every pixel of that man’s skin,/is shot through with indelible ink;/as he steps out at the traffic lights/think what he’ll look like in thirty years time.’ (more…)
There are not enough portrayals of working class females in literature. What there are, often tend to be of escape from a repressive class or one of discrimination when trying to be part of another. I was therefore struck by the title of Liz Lochhead’s poem, “Photograph, Art Student, Female, Working Class“. It is both intriguing and to the point, which I think always makes for a good title for a poem.
I don’t think the poem is wholly based upon the model, Twiggy (she was 17 in 1966, not 18, was dubbed the ‘face of 66’, but didn’t go to art school), but in some ways that doesn’t matter; the young woman in question represents many from her background at the dawn of women’s liberation in the 1960s. The poem was written for Carol Ann Duffy‘s Jubilee Lines anthology. where 60 poets wrote a poem for each year of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee; Liz’s year, whether chosen by her or not, was 1966. (more…)
Karen McCarthy Woolf‘s Hoxton Stories are vernacular poems of her grandfather’s experience growing up in the area. Here is featured, Guy Fawkes Night, taken from Modern Poetry in TranslationDialect of the Tribe. I have written poems taken from my Father’s verbatim experience of living within the pages of Angela’s Ashes, (for him it was Glasgow) but never thought of it as translation. But thinking about it, that is what it is; maybe not in the literal sense of how we understand translation as a foreign language, but in the vernacular sense. Translation is more than understanding or comprehending, it is about empathizing with, not only people’s experience but their culture. This is summed up in the final beautiful and direct words of her grandfather, ‘So what d’ya reckon about that one then?’ Well, what d’ya reckon?
Karen has recently published “An Aviary of Small Birds.”
The Black Country by Liz Berry is a wonderful contemporary example of vernacular poetry. It goes beyond mere dialect to use the words as a way of conveying meaning and music. Elsewhere, the novels of the likes of James Kelman or Roddy Doyle use dialect to great effect in conveying working class life in Glasgow and Dublin. And Liz Berry does this in her poems about the Black Country and surrounds. To help us along, she even features translated words at the end of each poem.