SHAUN BELCHER

A working class hero is something to be

My Father’s Things: The Watch

The Watch

My Father’s Watch

A gold Limit Silhouette watch leather strap hardly worn
A dress watch for a man who never dressed always working
Most times he didn’t carry a watch as it would be get damaged
or snagged whilst working..too dangerous…

A man who cheated death twice..first a burst duodenal ulcer
I remember him being taken in the ambulance
It was touch and go. The Radcliffe saved him..the surgeon
told him later he found carrots before cutting him to save him.
Convalescence in Didcot Hospital..now housing..long gone

Later a wall collapsed on him he was two feet away from death
Was catapulted out of the way just in time..battered and bruised
He joked about it later..even the Lotus Elan that smashed into him
Or the spinning car in the rainstorm that missed him and Uncle John

Neither made a dent but then his luck ran out at 70
A soreness in his stomach was scanned..revealed pancreatic cancer
Too advanced for surgery..he grew greyer and weaker..could no longer
Get into the garden..chemo making him vomit black bile
He died in the extension we built in that last year defying the odds

to the end..he died on a bed in that building…almost perfect

like that watch stopped at 9.05 but hardly used

He died at 7.10 a.m.

The time he left for work every morning rain or shine

Kept perfect time until the end.

First type-written version 21.8.2019


My Father’s Things: The Optical Level

The World Turned Upside Down….

I am currently working on a project called ‘My Father’ s Things’ which is a series of drawings I did last year to stay sane amidst the chaos of my life then..don’t ask…the chaos has departed and is now far away.

This is the first draft of the first poem that I plan to attach to the drawing above. The entire sequence will eventually be published in a pamphlet hopefully through the Carousel as a riso printed publication.

The sequence of drawings and writings will be exhibited in September as part of Castle Ruins III at the King Billy Pub Nottingham.

https://www.facebook.com/events/508541923226021/

The Optical Level

Gun metal grey-green, heavy in the palm
My father’s optical level
The metal worn through use, a record
of my father’s presence as is the smell
of leather case and faint aroma of tarmac
as if his hands sunburnt and grimy with tar
still waved at me on thsoe frosty mornings
I helped him set levels somewhere below the downs.
A ritual since the age of 14 as I earned pocket money
holding the levelling rods, red and white striped
icy cold that stuck to my fingers as I held them straight
waiting for the hand raised, a signal that he had the reading.
Then another wave to move back up the slope and start again
tied together by the upside down image of cross hairs
rising and falling on my hand then the rod
like a bomb aimer looking for a target

One morning we are out early.
Steam rising from the power staton cooling towers.
Stood in early morning sun on a former airfield at Harwell.
The airfield the Dakotas lifted off from before dawn on D-Day.
Carrying the last memories of men destined to fall
caught in the cross hairs of German gunners.
The rattle of munitions cascading from a thousand guns
blurring the coastline and making the earth move.

Turning the world upside down.

Like the poor pilot spinning out of control
trying to bring things back to a level.

I stare through that old telescope and call to him.

Right, right..back a bit.

That’s it we’re level now.

Roll out the string and mark the foundations.
Knock in the pegs and start to build again.
A nation fit for heroes on a sunlit morning
when the smoke had cleared.

We heard birds singing.

‘My Father’s Things’ based on this by Waits..



Two new poems

A Tiny Spider

A speck
crawling from under Acrimony
seen under the spotlight

A metaphor
for the last ten years
crawling down the hard shoulder

A tiny spider
picks its way through books
and is gone

I stare at the rain
The stationary cars
The Middle of England

Wonder how she’s doing
What webs lay ahead
What sticky yarns

The Lost Decade

Travelling on the Manx electric railway
In Fog
One minute coasting
Could see to Ireland
The next all blank like a page

Then a screetch as foot on brake
Bad news from abroad
Then silence
Mist rolling seaward
Beginnings and endings
A horse on a cliff
Cold black sea

The line ended
We sat silent
At a Victorian station
Overhead cables fizzing in the rain
Then a tired horse pulling
Us along the esplanade

Ten years before dirt rained down
On your sister’s coffin
Even then I felt the cold wind blow
In from the Irish sea
Eating into our bones
Then into our souls
Until we could not find our way home

The New World

Back to basics….

Poetry and I have not been getting on….

In fact I have been ignoring poetry, shelving it, filing it and generally pushing it to the back of my mind for the past decade.To start with this was deliberate as the combination of employment in an art school (note word art there not a writing school) and the first consistent art studio close to home promised great things…

But the best laid plans..mice and men etc.

The art school post ended in 2015 and although I still rent a studio I have been fairly incosistent in using it and the great rebirth of my painting career and the fame and wealth that would surely follow never happened.

A fairly shambolic attempt to reinvigorate my writing in 2014 on a M.A. in Creative Writing ended in abject failure as the reality of my age and what a modern creative writing course consists of collided head on….

Above and beyond all of these forlorn attempts to concentrate on anything was the gradual deterioration of my wife’s condition from 2009 onwards. Nothing, not an M.A. in Fine Art or international conferences had half the effect of living with someone who gradually showed more and more signs of a serious mental illness and addiction.

I have pretty much lost the last decade to being part of her battle with family tragedy and illness and thankfully despite the recent divorce she is still alive so far. I take nothing for granted now and take each day as it comes.

In that kind of time-frame poetry was the last thing on my mind and with the exception of some hastily produced mini-pamphlets my poetic career has remained parked in the drive until now.

So here I am 60 years old..none the wiser and a lot poorer with no gainful employment looking at writing again as the most ridiculous and least renumerative path I could possibly choose.

Welcome to the New World…same as it ever was..same as it ever was…

The Rattle Bag

This rather nice vintage French leather bag came my way yesterday and I am going to use it to carry my poetry around in and hence the name ‘the Rattle Bag’ which I copped from the Heaney and Hughes anthology title…

As Heaney said :
Ted suggested we call it by the name of a strange roguish poem translated from the Welsh of Dafydd ap Gwilym. It’s about an instrument that sounds more like an implement, a raucous, distracting, shake, rattle-and-roll affair that disturbs the poet and his lover while they lie together in the greenwood. In the words of the translator, Joseph Clancy, it becomes a noisy pouch perched on a pole, a bell of pebbles and gravel, “a blare, a bloody nuisance”.

Sounds about right. Any way the last twenty years i.e. the volumes ‘The Drifting Village’ and ‘Burning Books’ fit very neatly in to the bag….the previous twenty would be a stretch…

Memoirs – Ford and Morrison- Dealing with Death

 

I have just read these two linked memoirs. In discussing his memoir of his parents Ford specifically mentions the influence of his friend’s earlier book.

Both are very strong works although maybe because of its particularly English subject and atmosphere the Morrison just shades it for me especially as my own parents both died of cancer.

In describing that Morrison is accurate and heartfelt. Indeed so poignant is it that it made me look back at the impact of those events in my own life ( Morrison ends up in therapy).

He also discusses the impact on his own writing and if I am honest the death of my mother in 2012 after my father’s passing in 2004 left similar holes….

It only now after another period of near-death experiences that I willing to also admit that it can have devastating psychological impact in all sorts of ways including creatively.

Maybe that is why I turned to these books recently to see how other writers dealt with things.

 

What I am doing…

I wrote this statement in 2010. Nothing has changed.

I am using this ‘credo’ as the basis of my new ‘great leap forward’ with the Thames art and technology idea..

 

Delineation of ‘Theory’: An artist’s personal statement

Throughout my ‘art-working’ life some things have remained stubbornly, one might even say obsessively’, constant. Be it in digital images as recently or in drawing or poetry and song I have remained constant in delineating a clearly ‘map-able’ terrain. This terrain extends about 5 to 20 miles in radius of my hometown of Didcot in Oxfordshire, England. Always the poor relation of the illustrious centre of learning that resides but a stones throw away.

There runs a hard core of intention throughout which draws on politics, ecological thinking and that obsessive returning to notions of ‘place’ and ‘landscape’. I regard my work as being a mapping of constant themes which recur sometimes years later. The River Thames is one theme and the Berkshire Downs another.

Local folk tales and oral literature mined from local libraries another. A recent song ‘Hanging Puppet’ drew on one such ‘tale. In fact one could describe it as artistic ‘Anglocana’ to differentiate it from Americana. I have written well over 2000 songs over the years. Mostly these are recorded in lo-fi versions and only really coming to life when in the hands of other more talented musicians (see the Moon Over the Downs CD 2003).

Poetry has appeared in various magazines and in the Scottish anthology The Ice Horses (1996). I currently have at least 4 unpublished complete books of poetry on the shelf. One could describe my work as multi-disciplinary with a strong streak of green politics colouring the waters beneath.

I have drawn on some clear influences in writing and art. Seamus Heaney’s concept of a personal ‘Hedge School’ going back to John Clare is one thread. My forebear’s personal involvement in Agricultural Unions is another (see Skeleton at the Plough poems). I also am influenced by a ‘working class’ sense of writing picked up form Carver and Gallagher and other dirty realists. In song almost any Americana act would suffice.

I am not American but I have strong American influences going back to Thoreau and Walden lake. To try and build an alternative ‘English’ approach I have increasingly been drawn back to the English Civil War when the notions of science and arts were more fluid and interchangeable. As an example I would cite Robert Plot’s Oxford a marvelous Natural History of Oxfordshire from 1677.

In it one finds specimens such as ‘Stones that look like Horses’. I draw heavily upon cultural geography theory post Williams and Berger and am heavily influenced by Patrick Keiller and David Matless.

It is this kind of merging of scientific natural history and folk-lore terminology that I now most interested in both in poetry and artwork.

Fishing in Fog

FISHING IN FOG

A winter Sunday, fog and frost

Two figures climbing a stile

Boots crunching crisp grass underfoot

Head toward the Thames at Clifton

 

My father not yet seventy, still working

And I back home for a day’s fishing

Struggling with tackle and reels in the cold

Sit expecting nothing, no fish bite in this weather

 

Talk about things, my grandparents

The cost of renting, share a flask of tea

Steam rising across his face as he pours it

Lines taught in the brittle air, disappearing

 

Then slowly the sun starts to lift the fog

The opposite bank starts to appear

A moorhen skirts the bank, swans drift by

Beyond the fog a dog barks endlessly

 

For a few hours we hold on to hope

Stare back into the white eternal glare

Of mist along the river looking for a bite

Staring at futures unseen, but clearly there

 

Now and again on a misty morning

Crossing the Trent I see father and sons trudging

Through the mist and rain together, silent

Sharing thoughts, hopes, jokes, together

Their lives unravelling like lines in the air.

Back on TRACK? : Oxford and Nottingham

Back in 2010 I started off with the title Track for a multimedia M.A. that finally did not happen. However the seeds of some kind of project centred around the impact of the railway on the movement of people and ideas started then. This is now bearing fruit as a double project centred on my local history research in two cities close to my heart.

So now we have…

based around the recent Lost Nottingham poetry project and

Based around the concept of Backwaters and Branch Lines

Maybe two separate collections or two bound together in one ‘TRACK’ volume.

Here was the original version from 2010

Original ‘Track’ M.A. Proposal 2010

New Poems

 

 

ROOM FOR POETRY

 

I have a room for poetry

Two bookcases of neatly filed books

Arranged by region of course

Then chronologically

They have been gathering dust for years

Unread, unopened, a wall of doubt

Twenty years I have been a closed book

 

Until today the penny dropped

The dam burst, the Bastille fell

Words started pouring down

Cascading down the shelves

From Shakespeare to Auden

A waterfall of words

For you

 

They poured around my bed

Lifted it up like a boat

Some took off battered the windows

Like a murmur of starlings

Blinded my eyes

Choked my throat

I have made a room for poetry

I rock on a bed at sea

 

Calling out to you

In the silence

 

 

THE INVISIBLE AUDOBON

 

Somewhere deep in the bowels

Of my past life in Oxford

I am crouched with a naked flame

Above an original copy of Audobon

 

Subscription edition, worth millions

And hidden from mere mortal gaze

In a secret location

Its own room in the Bodleian Library

 

In this dream my life rolls backwards

Towards the Minotaur under the trees

Holding each precious page

Hurt and pain unwound too

 

Alongside Alfred’ jewel, lost treasures

Leonardos and Raphaels all mine

I load them on to Tradescent’s cart and

Wheel them back into the light

 

I start a new enlightenment

Shine a light into the dark with these beacons

Light a series of fires across the downs

Burn away the hurt and sorrow, the business plans

 

Start a new University in the air free of charge

 

 

FORGED

The ignition came unbidden

A firefly at dusk, drifting

Across the estates like a wayward lantern

That some bright spark in Mansfield

Decided was a UFO

And called 999 twice

Or three times

 

No I didn’t want to start again

I couldn’t help it

The materials were there

Lying around the forge

Dusty with neglect, unloved

Then the molten heart leaked

A salamander

 

Here it lays, stronger, steely

Coated in black armour

For black times

Come slings and arrows

Normal misfortunes are ten a penny

In every A&E you’ll find them

Forging ahead or burnt and gone

 

You cannot fake emotion

 

SOUTH AND WEST

I sit on a Nottingham bound train

At Derby Station

And note the platform signage

‘South and West’

 

My wife is south and west

Of here now following her own path

I am headed north without due reason

My life has always been south and west

 

Until nearly twenty years ago

On a whim I headed north

And met her due south

On a grey thundery London evening

 

She was headed west even then

It just took her a lot longer to reach her destination

Which for now is between stations

Hanging in the air like bird song

 

I hear her now and then, hear her true voice

Growing fainter on the wind

Standing in a siding blurred with weeds

Somewhere south and west of here

 

In twenty years

We will both be gone, long departed

Down the lines we can still see

Singing

 

 

 

Lost Nottingham: Paper Boats on Private Road

PAPER BOATS ON PRIVATE ROAD

A lone slim figure in Sunday best gets off the tram on Woodborough Road,

Hesitates then proceeds down Private Road until it dog-legs east at his destination

As he turns along the high brick wall he hears children’s laughter, a maid calling

He stands at the gate hidden by trees and calls, the maid comes to the gate

Later she recalls his patent leather shoes and his smart appearance that day

Frieda stands at the French Windows, behind the red curtains, eyes sparkling like a hawk

He is ushered into the sitting room, red velvet curtains caught in the breeze billowing

Initial stiffness is washed away in a heated conversation about Oedipus and women

D.H. Lawrence is being bewitched by this most ‘un-English’ and strong-willed of women,

Her exotic and erotic vibrancy entrances him, already struggling to escape this England

Her husband delayed by work she leads him past then in to her bedroom,

An English sparrow in the talons of a German hawk he is taken in hand, finds himself

Then they are both entwined in secrecy, taking tram and train to secret assignations

One day with her daughters they play on a local stream with paper boats

He flicks matches at them saying look it is the Spanish Armada come to sink England

Two paper boats catching fire in a Nottinghamshire backwater, then phoenix-like rising

From the crazed machinery of Edwardian England, the conservatism of suburbia

Sometimes of an evening Frieda would dash up Mapperley Plains just seeking freedom

In a cottage near Moor Green they continued their first loving act on Private Road

Under Pear-blossom, ‘a fountain of foam’, Frieda crawls naked over him, he writes a poem

To her and to freedom, to his sexual and intellectual fulfilment with a gushing woman

By May 3rd they were sat together on a night-boat to Ostend, that old England fading

A peaceful Anglo-German union as the two empires ramped up production of munitions and cruisers

The Suffragette movement beginning… the war to end all wars looming.

Paper boats burning…

 

Lost Nottingham: Picasso’s Peace Train

PICASSO’S PEACE TRAIN

 

The black clouds had been building up all week

Thunder rolling down from the Peaks on Nottingham,

Grey drizzle trickling from the glass roof at Marylebone Station

Dripped on to Pablo Picasso’s neck as he boarded the train to Sheffield

Monday 13th November 1950 early morning the train’s steam billowed

Through the suburbs of London as it swung left at Lords, headed north.

 

Adjusting his pale blue tie and the beret on his lap

Pablo gently rolled his cigarette in his hand over and over

He turned to Gilbert his ex-resistance bodyguard, drew fire

His dark eyes flashing with mirth as they discussed the papers

The lies and distortion and the statement by Clement Atlee

Who stood by Guernica in 1939*, clenched his fist for the I.B.**

 

The heavens were opening all across the Midlands

The boiler hissing, the firebox at 2500 degrees C, half a Hiroshima

They hurtled down a line 50 years on from the dawn of the century

Carrying a card-carrying Communist spy according to the Herald

To a Peace Conference in Sheffield that would ‘paint the town red’

As the first U.S. troops brought their atomic bombs to defend us.

 

From arts council genius to pariah, Pathe News mocked his arrival

The only artist let in as Robeson and Neruda were denied visas

The Korean War on the back burner, the cold war freezing

Like bad weather the post-war storms kept blowing in

Pablo’s second and final visit to England and the first beyond London

In Sheffield the chrysanthemums and the banners were wilting.

Rugby, Leicester, Loughborough flashed by between grey sodden fields.

Then the train swung right into a Nottingham damp with rain and coal dust.

Crossing at Wilford Picasso caught sight of the Power Station

Huge dark rain lashed walls by the Trent, chimneys belching sulphur

The thunderclouds swirling beyond the steam out the carriage windows

On Wilford Bridge he turned and said ’Rain, Steam, Speed n’est-ce pas’?

 

Down a modernist line that lasted barely a century they drew into Victoria Station

Sliding through the tunnel at Weekday Cross and into the platforms

He stared at the tunnel ahead, like the gates of hell or a Minotaur’s lair

His impression of Nottingham some posters, a W H Smith, huddled travellers

Then darkness and rails rumbling beneath Mansfield road, light then dark at Carrington

 

He drew breath, then continued northwards mouthing the words of his speech later…

‘I stand for life against death, I stand for peace against war’

His hand constantly drawing the symbol of the dove against his trouser leg

Remembering the heat and light, the warmth of his father’s hand in his mind

The doves he grew up with jinking and turning against a blue sky.

 

At the exact spot where a year later the first Rolls Royce Avon prototype Canberra bomber***

crashed on Bulwell Common station….

 

References

*   Clement Atlee spoke at the Whitechapel Gallery in front of Guernica on tour January 1939.

** International Brigade Spanish Civil War.

*** Atlee’s Labour Government decisions 1944 and 1947.
Our first tactical nuclear strike aircraft….designed to deliver a ‘British Nuclear deterrent’

 

 

 

Lost Nottingham: Charlie and the Lace Factory

 

CHARLIE AND THE LACE FACTORY

 

Monday 4th May 1904, Grand Theatre Radford Road, Hyson Green

Evening performance of Sherlock Holmes over, Charles Chaplin aged 15

Collar askew from a swift costume change leaves Billie the page boy behind

And cheekily slaps the final drop curtain just below King Charles head

The sun-light overhead sputters and dies leaving the stalls gloomy

As he exits through the corridor of mirrors, flickering like a film

 

He turns left on to Gregory Boulevard which is quiet now, audience departed

The half-moon illuminates the Forest park to his right, a few stars above the trees

Cold now he huddles in his thin jacket, stuffs hands in pockets and half-runs

Ahead the last tram descending the Mansfield road clatters in the darkness

A cab rattles past him headed toward Hyson Green its two jovial occupants singing

 

Then silence, just his own steps and far off an occasional cry, or clack of hooves

Latecomers emerging from the Grovesnor Hotel or workers leaving late shift

At the Mansfield Road a sudden burst of steam and noise as a train exits the tunnel

Then silence again as just Charlie and his shadow dance their way up Sherwood rise

Carrington Market is busy with late drinkers fresh off their factory shifts

The rumble of machinery echoes across the granite sets, mixes with brewery smells

 

A quick tap at the door and Mrs Hodgkinson lets him into his digs at number 100

From the back high window he looks down on the Burton and Sewell factories below

Their dark brick walls dotted with illuminated floors of workers making lace

Women on one floor tending the bobbins and un-twirling long lines of thread

Below men tending to the machines as they endlessly repeat their movements

He thinks he catches a smile from one young girl but she is gone in an instant

 

He is left hanging out of the top window watching clouds cross the moon

His only companion a rabbit hidden beneath the bed can be heard scratching

He feeds it leftover stale bread he’d been given that morning

Watches the endless repetitive machines coming and going over and over

The steady hum of machines that brought him to this place, steam and iron

The flicker of images that will be with him throughout these modern times

 

He thinks of his mother in confinement, his brother tending a bar in London

He hardly speaks except when on stage and wanders a different town weekly

Too late to play loudly he picks up his fiddle and bow one more time

And stood in the window, in moonlight, imagines himself a famous musician

He glides the bow gently across the strings, hardly a sound can be heard

He serenades the men and women below, all the world his stage forever…

 

  1. The lace factory now a care home behind imported plastic net curtains

A woman in her 80s suffering dementia suddenly remembers her mother speaking

About a night she saw Charlie Chaplin playing to the stars but no-one believed her

How one day he’d return and play one last reel for her….forever.

 

Burning Books – hiding in plain view?

Last year I did a reading for Nottingham Poetry Festival in which I produced a small ‘polemical’ pamphlet called ‘Burning Books’.

The pamphlet was a one off and most of the poems after ‘outing’ in paper form were then hidden away as ‘too political’ for my readers by myself! I censored myself which crazy but shows the agonies of being in any way ‘political’ or writing from a stridently working-class viewpoint in the contemporary middle-class ring-fenced world of ‘proper poetry’.

It only now and post Kit de Waal’s article in the Guardian that I realise that in doing so I hiding from my true self.

So here again is the ‘real’ ‘Burning Books’ pre-edit and I stand by these poems…..a lot of pretentious middle-class ‘poets’ will hate it but frankly as I don’t spend much time listening to their whinging I don’t care. I will be ‘re-categorised’ as a ‘performance poet’ I expect and described as having  a ‘chip on my shoulder’ which a frequent method of negating anything which threatens the middle class.

Here a taste of what I talking about…

Proper Poetry

I used to write proper poetry

Not the really proper stuff

You know packed full of classical allusions

Or invented lives based on obscure photographs

No I gave up on proper poetry

Because it is so fucking boring

So I write an occasional diatribe

And raise two fingers to the academy

These are the times for less poets, less experts

Less academics and more UKIP candidates

When a military chaplain’s daughter from Wheatley

Is playing Joan of Arc in the Wars of Brexit

With only God and King Billy to save us.

 

Download as a pdf here

Burning-Books-Mini-Pamphlet

Man With No Name – poetry V song

 

An authentic?( Adrian Slatcher )song that is a poem in disguise written in mid 1980s when I harboured ambitions to be the English Nick Cave 

The song ok the ambition a little over ambitious:-)

The war in question is the Falklands and the story true my step-grandad died of a heart attack in his pantry and the dog guarded him all day.

He could not read or write had looked after animals on the farm all his life.

He was not my true grandfather that another story…

I did a reading in Nottingham for John Harvey’s Slowdancer in 1992 and Nottingham radio did an interview.

They asked what the difference between poems and songs I said my songs rhyme my poems don’t…..

 

 

Man With No Name

You kick at the tyre of the tractor
That hasn’t moved since the snow last came down
You pull at the chainlink fence blowing dandelions over the old grey sow
And wonder whose hand on your arm could lead you away from here now

Well it’s the middle of summer and clouds cover the sun up, you feel cold
And you run for shelter, find your father with a halter, staring at the ground

Oh why can’t I tell you , oh why can’t I say
I feel like a man with no name

In a dark pantry a dog panting, tired from running under the August sun
On the kitchen table a dripping pheasant broken by a farmer’s gun
And you sat in your armchair reading news of a war that had hardly begun
Whilst all the berries we picked last summer turned blood red in the cup

Oh why can’t I tell you , oh why can’t I say
I feel like a man with no name

Well your stepdad fell in that kitchen and his dog sat and waited all day
Whilst the silent river rolled on and on and the clouds blew over the hills and away
So father and son two years later we stand in a graveyard in the rain
If I could lead you to the answer I would , If I knew it I wouldn’t say

Oh why can’t I tell you , oh why can’t I say
I feel like a man with no name

1988

Songs as Poems – Poems as Songs – Substitute already written?

Poem or Song or poetry by other means….????

‘Un-American Way’ 1999…

UN-AMERICAN WAY
Did you hear the guns a rattling out on the Kentucky hills
As mud spattered up from your prison truck’s wheels
Did you smile every day as you washed the days away
Imprisoned for having nothing to say?*

Did you dream in an Un-American way?
Of diamonds and furs and long limousines in the rain
Is that the un-American way?

Now the Campsfield wire fences are rattling in the wind
And there are stranger’s faces pressed against the panes
What did they dream they’d find beyond the ghost of empire Were they dreaming of a world of American stars and bars

Did they dream in an Un-American way

Now the holy walls are dripping with the blood of men
As guns crackle like whips above their heads
And that prison truck is busy carrying away those who
Dream in an Un-American way

Of diamonds and furs and long limousines in the rain

*Dashiell Hammett

 

Following on the revelation of the Middle Class ‘Proper Poetry’ v Working Class ‘Performance Poetry’ stigmatisation.

I have looked at what I actually written over the past 40 years and an awful lot of my ‘poetry’ was sublimated or ‘hidden’ from my potential middle-class audience in ‘songwriting’ ….

So how appropriate that a book of ‘songs’ could be published with title ‘Substitute’…..perfect….

 

Here some potential ‘Pongs’ or ‘Songems’ or as I recently heard it called SOETRY (Song Poetry) 🙂

 

This a song from last year’s posthumous Trailer Star lost masterpiece Chalk Pit Rattle……
Buying Time…which appropriate in context of Kit de Waal s recent piece in The Guardian which prompted me to start writing again.

Maybe I will include songs in Substitute volume 😉 Songwriting is just poetry by other means for me 😉

BUYING TIME

IVE BEEN BUYING TIME SINCE I WAS BORN
ITS WHAT THE WORKING CLASS ARE BUILT FOR
NO TRUST FUND, NO FOREIGN HOLIDAY
NO GAP YEAR, NO AUNT’S DOWRY COMING MY WAY

MY DAD TAUGHT ME TO BUY TIME
ANY CHANCE I HAD
HE SAID SON DON’T BE DISHONEST, KEEP YOUR PRIDE
BUT BABY BUY TIME, KEEP BUYING TIME

TIME’S THE ONE THING THEY CANT TAKE OFF YOU
ONCE YOU GOT IT THEY CANT GET IT BACK THAT’S TRUE
MY PARENTS WORKED EVERYDAY GOD SENT
SO I COULD BUY TIME NOW AND NOT GIVE IT BACK TO THEM

THE BOSS MAN TEACHES YOU TO GIVE HIM YOUR TIME
THAT’S WHAT MAKES THE WORLD TURN …HE LIES
MY PARENTS NEVER HAD ENOUGH
NOW THEYRE DEAD IN THE GROUND.
TIMES UP….GO OUT THERE SON AND KEEP BUYING TIME…

BUY BUY BUY TIME.

 

 

Poem or Song? maybe I never really knew after all? Floor of Wood …..about the farm I grew up on.

Maybe these were performance poems all along just hiding in plain view 😉

If they are then I have several thousand poems waiting to be added to the collection:-)

FLOOR OF WOOD

This house was built of planks ten years after the war
I spent my childhood days watching the wind blowing the straw
As the sixties twisted away and the motorways came
I would stand at the window playing with toy cars in the rain

This time I’m really leaving these green fields for good
But I’ll leave my heart under this floor of wood

Slate roof is full of holes, the walls are covered in rambling rose
Nothing lives here now but the ghosts
I push a broken door against broken plaster and ash
And watch the wind blow through windows all smashed

This time I’m leaving these green fields for good
But I’ll leave my heart underneath this floor of wood

Since I was a boy England has drifted from fields to city
All these cornfields been turned to golf courses or light industry
Plaster crumbles and dusts my shoes just like chalk
I walk away, scratches on my arm, I try to close the door.

This time I’m leaving these green fields for good
But I’ll leave my heart buried under this floor of wood

© shaun belcher – horseshoe songs 1999

 

 

Substitute : New volume of poems 2018

Sometimes all it needs is a trigger and Kit de Waal’s excellent piece in the Guardian yesterday brought together a lot of things for me that been bubbling under the surface.

Her article ‘Make room for working-class writers‘ touched a nerve…..

read it here https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/feb/10/kit-de-waal-where-are-all-the-working-class-writers-

Also she made a comment about how the Proper v Performance Poetry debate basically divides along class lines and that really rang true for me.

It is the reason I leapt to the defence of McNish and Tempest. Adrian Slatcher’s comments about the experience of being a working class writer also hit home.

In 2011 we were both published by SALT as Salt Modern Voices but throughout I felt an outsider at that particular party.

I was reading next to very affluent new poets from privileged backgrounds who frankly I had nothing in common with.

Most of the audience were from their background not mine and in a particularly depressing reading in Oxford I actually felt antagonism for raising my subject in their presence.

A mostly white female middle-class leftist audience did not like to hear about the destruction of the working class communities of Oxford which allowed them to enjoy their academic privileges.

Some inconvenient truths are not wanted even by allegedly left-leaning liberal elites.

Adrian’s very erudite piece on the subject here:

http://artoffiction.blogspot.co.uk/2017/12/a-working-class-writer-is-something-to.html

Since then I have noticed that academic poetry and performance poetry have started to separate in a alarming way. This is an outcome of a deliberately devisive education policy by government that increasingly appears to be a ‘pay to play’ approach to education.

If your parents invest a £100 k plus (BA+MA+PHD fees)you will one day get the payback of an academic career before 30 in return . An American privatised model.

These factors stopped me writing..I gave up..I felt nobody cared..that there was no audience for what I did..and I was right….the middle-class ‘proper poetry’ area isn’t interested in me..isn’t interested in the truth of working class lives and experience as a subject.

PN Review and others are not interested in working class experience one iota.

You want to play in the Premiere League magazines better hide all that personal shit and start writing about your foreign holidays, how difficult it is being a middle class person post Brexit or at worst make up shit about Impressionist painter’s wives you have no knowledge about but it feels authentic enough to your equally pretentious and middle-class readers sitting in their sun lounges drinking martinis to swallow.

Poetry for me has always been a means of articulating my anger at the class system in the U.K.

It has always been polemical even when it appears to be purely personal. As Raymond Williams wrote about the Romantics ‘the personal is political’.

So I have the impetus and hopefully in a few weeks a book to go with it…..I feel that inspired. I have been silenced for too long.

I am coming off the subs bench……I may not make the first team but I will put in some hefty tackles especially on Simon Armitage …the David Beckham of poetry;-)

 

Sexism, Elitism or old fashioned Class War? : How poetry builds barriers to protect middle class dominance.

Sisters are doing it for themselves?

A recent piece of ‘criticism’ in PN Review by Rebecca Watts has caused a storm of controversy apparently.

PNR is an adjunct to the long established and firmly modernist Carcanet Press which has long been one of the jewels in Arts Council funded poetry publishing in the UK alongside Ambit and Bloodaxe.

Read for ‘ACE funded’…’not commercial’ i.e. it can operate in an elitist way because it bankrolled….

I not criticising that in particular but this important in the context of the debate that Rebecca Watts started.

Her piece proudly available via front page of the PN website would not be available if PN Review had to stand on its own two feet.

Now Ms Watts is a poet and obviously a ‘proper poet’ by her tone and scathing attack on the three women poets as amateur and sentimental slush basically and worse their work sold by the bucketfull..

Ms Watts poetry with the title ‘The Met Office Advises Caution’ (published by you guessed it Carcanet) will have sold less..a lot less in fact it would not exist but for subsidy….

Her article opens with Rupi Kaur a Canadian poet of little depth but much exposure who has no connection to the other two poets. She is the foundation on which Watts builds her shaky theory….she uses the frankly awful Kaur to tar the other poets with the same brush. This is her prejudice over-riding any attempt at a coherent piece of criticism. Kaur is also of Punjabi descent….but let us not let race distort the picture too much. She is primarily chosen as an example of ‘popular poetry’.

To be popular in Watts world is naturally to be below par…in a upstairs downstairs kind of way…..beyond the pale..our language is full of class references…we are good at it..we built an empire on it.

Poetry builds its own little empires too…empires that discriminate and exclude.

Rebecca Watts is a middle class white girl from Suffolk ..no further details on her website so I presume not a sink estate in Lowestoft…before attending Trinity College Cambridge in 2001 after fees introduced so fairly well off from the get go oh and then on to an MA at Oxford which takes a lot more money…buying her way into the system basically.

I worked as a ‘minion’ in Oxford University and know her type all too well.

With her impeccable university education she is a natural elitist come to protect the British Literary world from ..dumbing down..amateurish writing and worse musical crossovers…

In Michael Schmidt’s Parthenon of white middle class writing……she found a home…

So given a platform she launched this tirade against what exactly? Many hit back for its incipient sexism but that isn’t its real subject…it is about CLASS

If a man had written this piece he would be hung drawn and quartered for sexism and possibly racism.. Watts gender saved her although it frankly is sexist..why not include male writers?

No this is about a far deeper and more troubling fault line in British publishing..CLASS

McNish and Tempest are outward-looking and experimental especially crossing over with musical forms because they are not from the middle class they both are from lower down the social ladder..too low for poor Watts. At the bottom of the ladder people can enjoy more than one art form…

Elitism, white middle-class elitism is about ring-fencing resources in troubled times so that people who look and speak like you are kept above the breadline and people who don’t are let slip into poverty and obscurity. It mirrors society in Britain now where those lucky enough to gain a degree and climb the greasy pole to a non menial job can be served ( left or right wing no matter) by those who born to servitude. It not a new phenomenon the Victorians invented it.

Rebecca ( how many working class women called Rebecca?) is maintaining her privileged position and bolstering her place in the great and the good and she is doing it through a thoroughly classist viewpoint. What she really saying here is these two women McNish and Tempest do not deserve their audience, do not deserve to be read because they are not from the elite. She is deserving of attention because she is from that elite she is ‘PROPER POETRY’ everything else is ‘PERFORMANCE POETRY’ which is shit..

PROPER POETRY = MIDDLE CLASS

PERFORMANCE POETRY -= WORKING CLASS

Performance Poets who won Mercury awards and Ted Hughes prizes…..who reference Shakespeare..but still not PROPER POETRY.

Performers with a larger audience through music and generally performers who are successful in their own right. Un-subsidised.

They have appealed to a huge audience Watts will never reach however good her poetry technically because she is not interested in the wider audience she obsessed with the narrowing down of culture.

Watts has proudly listed all her performances on her website ..they all in Oxford and Cambridge they all to people like her..ring-fencing culture..keeping it behind the college walls..keeping it safe..

For that reason I can honestly say I will never read her work but I will investigate Tempest and McNish because they interest me.

So thank you Watts your pathetic snobbery has opened my eyes to how there is a class war opening up in British Literature and I now know exactly which side of the barricades I on….

Oh and p.s. I write poetry you would hate..and I play music……I am obviously a NOBLE AMATEUR….and you my dear are a snob.

 

Oh and funniest moment in Watts frankly awful diatribe is where she compares Kaur and co’s populism to Donald Trump….

 

A white middle class elitist comparing a Punjabi immigrant girl to Trump…..just think about that for one second……

The comparison should have been Watts and Trump both say too much and think too little.

As for PN Review…..I will not be subscribing or submitting any time soon..wrong side of the barricade darlinks .

Edwin Smith revisited – Catching Light

Back in October 2014 (now three years ago) I was on the first term of a Creative Writing M.A. at NTU.

I was also with uncanny timing commissioned (the first and so far the only time I been commissioned) by R.I.B.A. through Apple and Snakes to write in response to a lovely collection of Edwin Smith Photographs at R.I.B.A. that autumn.

I missed my course deadline but fulfilled the commission and promptly left a course that frankly I should not have been on at that time. The £500 fee almost covered my first term fees!

The RIBA website has ‘mislaid’ the entire project basically  so I publishing whole thing here instead.

Here is the work which is one of the best things I done so far and as I not as flavour of the month as certain other poets hasn’t been seen since unless you delve deep into my obscure back catalogue.

Apple and Snakes put up a blog post of the recordings we all made as well..again not heard much of that from RIBA either they probably ticking various ‘engagement’ boxes.

Listen to all the poems here: http://applesandsnakesblog.org/blog/edwinify-yourself#more

I am indebted to Roy Hammans who actually developed the last image after Smith’s death who provided informative advice throughout and is probably the single most knowledgeable person about Smith and his work.

EDWIN SMITH – Catching Light

“I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking. Recording the man shaving at the window opposite and the woman in the kimono washing her hair. Someday, all this will have to be developed, carefully printed, fixed.”― Christopher IsherwoodGoodbye to Berlin, Berlin Stories, (1945)

 

 

  1. Kodak Box Brownie No.2 Model F. 127 Roll Film 1927

 

Camden Town Bedroom 1935

 

 

Trembling in a gloomy Camden Town bedroom surrounded by brown paper

The teenage boy gently prises the camera from the leather case, undoes the catch

Traces the word BROWNIE[i] along the fake leather strap, caresses the box

The textured cardboard leatherette warm to the touch, he raises it to his eyes

Spins around to catch a glimpse of lace curtains breathing in and out

Then a pause, stops breathing, squints through spectacle glass and a blurry lens

No film, just retina, lens and glass glinting, quiet suburban air between the wars

Shutter pressed, the first image, undeveloped, untaken, unrecorded.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. ICA IDEAL 205 Glass Plate 9×12 1935

 

 

Opticians London 1935

 

 

 

A present from Marx and Nash[ii], same fake black leather case but much stronger

A hint of steel, hands now more relaxed, a world at his fingertips

The box finally clicks open, bellows a tiny lung, rangefinder, spirit level

Suddenly in Vogue, a London Atget spinning around fairs, cafes, Oxford Street

Zeiss Ikon Tessar 135mm f4.5 precision German lens and Compur shutter
The shop windows buzz with reflections, his spectacles stare back after

Nights spent in Lund Humphries[iii] experimenting with solutions, final prints

Days mixing it with emigrants and socialites, Focal Press tricks, ghost images.[iv]

 

 

         

 

 

 

 

 

  1. CONTAX II 5cm Sonnar Lens 35mm 1936

 

Kentish Town 1936

N.B. The curators got this wrong is in fact in East End probably Limehouse or Whitechapel as the Poster behind the gent is for a show at Hackney Wick and architecturally Kentish Town simply doesn’t match this setting.

 

 

Modernism in Kentish Town, a lens named after the sun, Sonnar

The lure of speed, futurism, the 35mm film spooling out of the movies

Twisting on that light yellow filter, ½ a second at F4, the march of progress

Back to black-outs, air-raid fears, black shirts, Agfa Isochrom, Kodak Nikko

The thrill of a world intoxicated with power[v], dancing on a ledge, never falling

Café de Paris, Heppenstall, Orwell, men talking in gangs carrying knives

His finger presses the shutter on Laura Knight and Coco, the ballet, the fairs

Spin Pennies from Heaven, Zeppelins over the docks[vi], Germany calling.

 

 

 

 

  1. THORNTON-PICKARD RUBY Quarter Plate 1904

 

St Lawrence, Bradford –on-Avon, Wiltshire 1950

 

Post-War, Deep England after Evans[vii], ash in the mouth, misericord darkness,

Light trickle slowly through lens, cat-one, cat-two, cat-three, whispered

People have become ghosts, 27 and a half minutes[viii], divining, digging into time

A mahogany box worn to a gleam in a suitcase, mahogany tripod, Leeds, England

So solid, a step back from the sirens, modernist black and white, the emblems

Slow drizzle and fade, tilts into spires and thickets, empty barns, rigs of the time

His glinting spectacles at the viewfinder, crouching like a sniper, waiting

Hiding his camera under vestry tables, a quiet man in a corner, hooded.

 

 

  1. GRAFLEX SPEED GRAPHIC Roll Film 1960

 

Fylindales, Yorkshire 1969

 

 

Movement, travel, portables, Made in New York, focal plane, press camera

The fruits of success, lease-lend to never had it so good, the wide angle

The New Europe, Ireland, Italy, Greece and France, the Ensign Autorange

Searching for the same mellow light, that photograph in the mind always

Then back weeks later to the darkroom in deepest England, the bleaching
Hours lightening shadows, clearing highlights with Potassium Ferricyanide,[ix] poison

Chemical arts, sleights of hand, shade in the palm of the hand, fission and fusion

His collecting eye adding the coin to the wishing well, staring at the sun.[x]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. ENSIGN AUTORANGE 820 120 roll film 1955

 

Stubble Burning – Last film developed 1993 by Roy Hammans

 

 

‘Co-operating with the Inevitable’ he called it, “bend with the stream”

Holding the Ensign Autorange up to the light it reflects in his spectacles

Bought in 1955 the last camera he held, English made, Walthamstow

The firm almost disappeared when in 1940 the offices in Holborn bombed

All surviving he stands with Olive to watch stubble burning in 1971

Squinting through a crisp and sharp Ross Xpres lens at the flaring

Feeling the silver body in the palm, the faux leather Ensign logo

Epsilon shutter pressed, a last image, taken, undeveloped, catches light forever.[xi]

 

© Shaun Belcher 2014

 

[i] Edwin Smith redeemed the Kodak Box Brownie by collecting Corn-Flake packet coupons probably in 1927  (EWELL, 2008)p.11.

[ii] Friend Enid Marx gave Edwin Smith a ‘better camera’ in 1935 shortly after he got married Olive Smith reports this as the Contax but as Ewell points out that not released until 1936. (EWELL, 2008)p.13.

[iii] Enid Marx was connected to The Royal College and Smith’s photographs came to the attention of Paul Nash who encouraged Smith and gave him access to the darkrooms at the publisher Lund Humphries. (EWELL, 2008)

[iv] Smith co-wrote and published a series of Focal Press guides from 1938-1940.(SMITH, 1940)

[v] Ewell reports the trip Smith made with his sponsor Sir Albert Talbot Wilson MP, a fervent pro-Nazi, to Germany at this time. (EWELL, 2008)p.19.

[vi] The German airship Graf Zeppelin made ‘spying’ raids probably equipped with aerial photography equipment of a high resolution on the 30th June 1936 and this was reported in Hansard on the 8th July 1936. The Parliamentary exchange highlights the naivety of some in Government which bordered on complicity. (Hansard, 1936)

[vii] Frederick H. Evans, British ‘Pictorialist’ photographer famous for the ‘Sea of Steps’ photograph taken in Wells Cathedral which Smith took a version of in 1956. A major influence on the Cathedral and Parish Church series.

[viii] Smith would time exposures using the cat phrase and replace the lens cap on exposures that could last up to 27 minutes thus removing all trace of human activity. (EWELL, 2008)p.52.

[ix] Smith mixed his own chemicals. After his death a large amount of Potassium Ferricyanide was found in his possession. The chemical is a poison and the Ilford Manual of Photography recommends disposing in drains with plenty of water to reduce the risk. Source: Roy Hammans note to article ‘Ways of Working’ on The Weeping Ash photography website. Accessed 31.10.2014. (HAMMANS, 2011)

[x] The Edwin Smith RIBA exhibition highlights the ‘trick’ Smith used during the Fylindales printing of placing a coin on the paper to ‘create’an image of the sun where none had been.

[xi] The circumstances of this last roll of film being left in Smith’s camera and only being developed years later are detailed on the Weeping Ash website. Source: ‘The Last Exposures’. Accessed 31.10.2014. (HAMMANS, 2011)

 

 

Bibliography

 

EWELL, R., 2008. Evocations of Place. 1st ed. London: Merrell:RIBA.

HAMMANS, R., 2011. Edwin Smith Working Methods. [Online]
Available at: http://www.fine-photographs.co.uk/index.php/life-work/ways-of-working
[Accessed 31 10 2014].

HAMMANS, R., 2011. The Last Exposures. [Online]
Available at: http://www.fine-photographs.co.uk/index.php/related-material/the-last-exposures
[Accessed 31 10 2014].

Hansard, 1936. GERMAN AIRSHIP “HINDENBURG.”. [Online]
Available at: http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1936/jul/08/german-airship-hindenburg
[Accessed 31 10 2014].

SMITH, E., 1940. In: All the Photo-Tricks. London: Focal Press.

 

 

Blurred Fences – unpublished poem 1995 -‘Gay or Dead?’

A Christmas Poem in November?

I wrote this poem in 1995 and had omitted the key line about poets for fear of offending my father.

Now he has been gone 13 years so probably safe to reveal what the poem about.

After my father died in 2004 my mother confided to me that he had always ‘feared I was gay’ even when I spent seven years living with a Spanish woman…..such is the rural Oxfordshire psyche I suppose. Anyway here the finally rewritten (a couple of lines) poem about the trials of being a Berkshire Ruralist:-)

BLURRED FENCES

Wrestling with a young fir’s stubborn trunk

On an exposed north-facing hillside

Two weeks before Christmas, sleet, wind biting,

The spires of Oxford blurring in the storm

 

My father’s hands, hard, chapped, red-raw

Bend the tree over until the roots snap.

The red-faced farmer stands, biding his time

Then says ‘Poet is he.. they’re all gay or dead’

 

Silent we trudge back through rows of young firs

Past a tethered collie, collapsing tin sheds.

At the end of a gravel road worn to clay

We clamber inside my dad’s builder’s truck

 

In the cab, steamy with opened flasks

Radio Oxford blaring out the traffic report

He carefully shakes ice off his jacket

As I scrape frozen mud off my boots

 

Visiting for the day, not dressed for fields

My Levis are slaked with straw and muck.

He sets the windscreen wipers beating

And a ledge of ice builds up on the hood then melts.

 

Distances open up and close through low cloud

As cooling-tower steam collapses like a veil over our home-town

The Down-land swims like a saucer of cat’s milk in the rain

As I try and grip a hot mug of tea with cold hands.

 

Still silent my father sips his tea and stares

through the pine trees and away from the farm.

I feel awkward, pick at the flakes of ice on my sleeve

As the motor turns and we lurch down the track.

 

He has ten years more hard labour to do.

Excavating then replacing soil across this county.

I have ten years of unfulfilled promises and high hopes to go.

Before I crash back into these muddy fields and the land buries him.

 

Dedicated to Ivo Belcher 1932-2004 and the un-named Fat Farmer with the conservative views 🙂

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