SHAUN BELCHER: WRITES

A working class hero is something to be

Author: shaun belcher (page 1 of 6)

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 🙂

Southern Writers at NC 1: Flannery O’Connor’s Visual Imagination

The self-portrait and the state official version..

 

http://www.nottinghamcontemporary.org/event/study-sessions-women-writers-us-south

The first session in Nottingham Contemporary’s season of Southern Writers organised by Graham Caveney was excellent and not only was it a pleasure listening to Richard H. King speak about Southern Writing but there was the added pleasure of meeting the crime novelist John Harvey and his daughter too (John was a American Studies student on M.A. back in the day as they say).

I did not know Flannery O’Connor’s work although I had purchased her Complete Short Stories many years ago..it had languished on my very full and very unread shelves.

The session was a revelation and I have since been working my way through her ‘Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose’ collection which is wonderful. I always knew that one of my favourite writers Raymond Carver had referenced her as a major influence but it only now I seeing why. Her observations on ‘Creative Writing’ courses and their effectiveness made me laugh out loud (see her lecture ‘The Nature and Aim of Fiction’) ….she speaks of what she knows having been an early Iowa Writers Workshop student where she met John Crowe Ransom and Robert Penn Warren.

Here her major works in contemporary covers which shows how she was an illustrator’s dream commission… which leads on to yet another revelation..she was herself a budding cartoonist whilst at College!

 

The Signature below combines her initials into the form of a bird on her lino-cuts (her chosen medium).

 

 

Flannery O’Connor, Cartoonist

Source: http://infox.gcsu.edu/content/georgia-college-publishes-collected-cartoons-flannery-o%E2%80%99connor

Source: https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/comics/article/51455-how-flannery-o-connor-s-early-cartoons-influenced-her-later-writing.html

Here some examples and what interesting is there is some stylistic similarity with another Catholic writer/artist Eric Gill possibly somebody she familiar with through Catholic journals. There also a sense of W Heath Robinson too….who possibly she saw as a child..

My favourite photo is this one of her on the veranda at her family farm in Andalusia with one of her beloved chickens ( a interesting connection with fellow Southern writer Alice Walker)

There an interesting blog published by the Museum that the farm has now become:

http://andalusiafarm.blogspot.co.uk/

Source: http://www.emory.edu/EMORY_MAGAZINE/issues/2015/winter/features/oconnor.html

Source Wikipedia! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flannery_O%27Connor

When she was six, living in a house still standing (now preserved as the Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home), she experienced her first brush with celebrity status. The Pathé News people filmed “Little Mary O’Connor” with her trained chicken[3] and showed the film around the country. She said: “When I was six I had a chicken that walked backward and was in the Pathé News. I was in it too with the chicken. I was just there to assist the chicken but it was the high point in my life. Everything since has been an anticlimax.”[4]

What I have responded most strongly to in her writing so far is the confluence of regional identity..humour and this particularly visuality which I shown above.

John Huston’s film of Wise Blood seems embedded with Flannery’s visuality which may be why it seems so sharply drawn from the ‘directions’ in the text. We ‘see’ her world very sharply through her pen in an almost Dickensian sense…I have not read any criticism linking the two but I sure she would have been familiar with Dickens especially ‘American Notes’.

Here the trailer of the 1979 film….welcome to Milledgeville 🙂

 

Finally a modern comic version of ‘A Good Man’ that brings things full circle – image copyright Philip Rex Huddlestone

I will post my reaction to the second session ‘Alice Walker’ by Sharon Monteith now at Nottingham Trent University in due course.

Back to the Future: Off the leash or fishing for words?

My favourite Carver photo on Russian River 1972

As I mentioned in last post the last three years have been difficult…that an understatement. After my Fine Art M.A. I tried to disengage with art school research and politics and reset my compass entirely to reconnect with my writing past.

I was lucky enough to be published by Salt in 2010 but the majority of the poems in that slim volume (now OOP) were poems I had written in my exciting debut back in 1992 and through my Scottish phase up until 1996.

Between 1997 and 2007 my output slowed from a drip to nothing but in my head I was still writing.

Last Farmer – Salt Publication (Selected 1992-2010)

 

This culminated in a brief and not entirely fruitful term on the NTU Creative Writing course which I left after a miserable first term..I simply wasn’t ready to break the art school connection then. I can now see that this was the start of three years of depression which I now can at least recognise and treat.

I failed the first assignment as I was struggling to complete my first ever paid poetry commission for RIBA…..
I managed to complete that but the course suffered……

That essay tried to lay the ghost of my possible grandfather (see Coppard essay below) and I was gone…

With a final diva-like flourish I delivered the Fiction module short story…..I was too good for them I convinced myself burying the mental block once again..

David Belbin (standing in for the recently deceased Graham Joyce) was kind and marked it rigorously with his editors pencil and announced it a good ‘tough’ story which made me smile as I deliberately imitated the hard-boiled approach and dirty realism we both admired and played up to his stylistic tics. I put the story away in a draw until today..metaphorically it available online all the time here….

I think it good now I re-read it after nearly three years. I was going to change the detail of letting off the leash which I now know you can never do with a ex racing greyhound but the story still works because it suggests the woman and dog have a trust beyond its training and it could be read as the man provokes the running away….so I have not re-edited at all.

 

My First Short Story

Little did I know that far from opening the floodgates of a irrepressible new fiction talent it was closing the door….since then I have struggled to ward off depression whilst dealing with circumstances of a personal nature that to be frank almost overwhelming.

But I have come through and part of my dealing with the mental block, the lack of an occupation ( I resigned from academic lecturing in January 2016) and my wife’s concurrent illness has meant that I now ‘re-engaging’ with the writing world.

Last night I had the pleasure of attending a workshop led by academic Richard H. King on Flannery O’Connor where I met again John Harvey himself ( the person who published my very first poem way back in 1992 in Slowdancer thus starting my literary ‘non-career’ ) and Graham Caveney who has taken a similarly circuitous route back to writing as me and shares a love of obscure musical knowledge and the band The Feelies 🙂

It feels like everything has come full circle…maybe just maybe this time I can keep going but as I known to my cost it never easy.

As Carver writes in a wonderful essay on writing here …

A Storyteller’s Shoptalk

http://www.nytimes.com/books/01/01/21/specials/carver-shoptalk.html?mcubz=1

Ambition and a little luck are good things for a writer to have going for him.

Too much ambition and bad luck, or no luck at all, can be killing.

There has to be talent.

Second Hand Poet: A Personal Record

The past three years have been very difficult.

I was awarded an M.A. in Fine Art in January 2014.

I then embarked on a misguided and ultimately fruitless attempt to do a second M.A. in Creative Writing at NTU in October 2015 as a possible precursor to PhD study.

This didn’t work out and was followed by my eventual resignation from my academic post at NTU in December 2015. There were a range of factors which led to my leaving including my wife’s condition and eventual life-threatening illness in October 2016, my own frustration at being treated badly by in my opinion an incompetent and bullying head of art research and finally the destruction of my teaching on the multimedia course for political reasons which became apparent when NTU purchased Confetti later.

Also there was my own undiagnosed depression which I did not realise at the time was affecting me quite badly. I can only now begin to talk about this because of counselling and I think it highly likely I suffered some form of breakdown when attempting to return to work to teach animation studies..something I care less about now than I did then and frankly had little interest in then.

It has been a very rough period but with help I and my wife are now starting to see some daylight. We have both been through a decade of family illness and death which took away both my parents and her sister and father…not easy to deal with when in the best of health..almost impossible when under severe pressure anyway.

I now appreciate the strain and upset mental illness can cause on any relationship….that I still have one at the moment is down to counselling and my wife is getting better…..neither has been a given these past three years.

I also have begun to understand the mental blocks that affected my entire wellbeing and especially my creative practice.

I am writing this because I now feel able to. Talking about it has helped and I also beginning to plan new ventures and possibly still courses including that wretched PhD that has caused me so much grief. But on my terms.

To begin  with I am using the habit of going to second hand shops as a generator of new poems under the title ‘Second Hand Poems’. I love charity shops because of the random nature of what turns up like this memoir of D.H.Lawrence’s early years which an appropriate starting point as I live close to Private Road where Lawrence met Frieda …he would have walked up Mansfield Road to get there.

As I discover odd things..books, records even objects I will write poems to celebrate them….a bit like me…

Second Hand Poems from a Second Hand Poet…worn at edges..slightly foxed but maybe still valuable 🙂

 

 

 

Contemporary American Poetry – 55 years on

Picked this up in a second hand shop recently. Was first edition (1962) of a book I  had encountered in a travelling shelf of ‘American Poetry’ in my local Didcot library in 1981 when I had returned home after art college. It (in the flag cover version below) and a book of William Carlos Williams started me writing poetry. I had encountered Hughes and Heaney as contextual studies lectures at art college but these books started me writing.

I had always assumed that W.C.Williams in the book but I was mistaken it has Lowell and the full list below but NO WCW or Elliot or Frost because cut off is 20th century and all were born earlier. Lowell was born in 1917.

The second edition added a few new poets including Ginsberg and Plath as well as some now less well known people. There is an obvious male dominance..Levertov and Rich being notable exceptions but this is a product of the 1950s not today.  For a lone art student at the time this was still a wonderful introduction to people like Creeley, Snyder, Ashbery, O’Hara, Merrill and Snodgrass…

Here the  2nd edition.

Burning Books – Horseshoe Press Pamphlet #2

I have added two poems from the mini-pamphlet to a new revised edition of ‘Buying Time – Poems 2016’.

It now entitled ‘Burning Books’ Poems 2016-17 and is available via ScribD below and via the Horseshoe Press website

http://www.horseshoepress.co.uk/

As the blurb said in 2016…and I have no reason to change in fact things seem to have got worse ;-(

Burning Books – Shaun Belcher Poems 2016 – 2017
Horseshoe Press Pamphlet No. 2
Burning Books is a baker’s dozen plus of poems and a short story.
Contains the flagrant deracination of a mind made febrile by compromise now lashing out at this lotteryland disunited kingdom as it drifts into barbarity, euro scepticism and outright zenophobia…
An apt rejoinder to the post Brexit daze of summer…
The cover photo is Burning Beatles Records USA 1960s…..an apt symbol of present priorities.
We are all burning books and buying time these days….
Copyright: © All Rights Reserved
Download as PDF, TXT or read online from Scribd

https://www.scribd.com/document/347049332/Burning-Books-Pamphlet

Burning Books: Horseshoe Press Mini Pamphlet No.1

The Horseshoe Press

 

http://www.horseshoepress.co.uk

is my self-publishing of poetry website.

The latest ‘Mini Pamphlet’ is ‘Burning Books’ published to coincide with Theresa May’s attempt to drive this country even further to the right….

Eight poems about politics, books and poetry to be given away free at the Jermy and Westerman reading on Wednesday 26th of April.

https://www.facebook.com/events/1926856314212991/

 

The Ltd. Ed. of 25 was given away at the reading so that’s it no more. In the tradition of pamphleteers of the 18th century..subversive and gone…..

POP: Poems on Prescription @ Doctors Orders

With a week to go until the open mic reading we have 43 poems on the Doctor’s Orders ‘Poems on Prescription’ wall.

Further details on Facebook Page

https://www.facebook.com/poemsONprescription/

Poems on Prescription
Contribute to the Poetry Wall for Nottingham Poetry Festival at Doctor’s Orders Micropub. Write a poem, any subject you wish (within reason), and have it displayed in the pub!. To submit your Odes, Haikus and Epic poems (short ones) go to the Facebook Page and send a private message, or email trailerstar@gmail.com
Submit ASAP, the wall is live now, and will stay up until 30th April.

 

Readings will take place on Monday 24th April 5-7pm.

https://www.facebook.com/events/268703840247960/

 

 

Poetry Reading at Jermy and Westerman for Nottingham Poetry Festival

Reading with one of my favourite poets at my favourite bookshop Jermy and Westerman on Mansfield Road as part of Nottingham Poetry Festival in April.

 

Towns on Shallow Hills – Horseshoe Press No.1 1990

townsfront

 

In 1990 I had a short temporary job at The Poetry Library in London. Whilst there I was inspired to both continue writing poetry and met some wonderful individuals like Ivor Cutler and Michael Donaghy (over the counter). I also met some arses but such is poetry. The job was very menial and weekend cover. I lasted six months then cracked as travelling all weekend from Didcot not an option. Here a pamphlet I ‘re-directed’ the photocopier at the South Bank to produce.

I sold 25 copies.

I also used illustrations in the booklet for the first and last time.

The poems stand up despite the passage of time. The Carver influence still there but I also started looking at Paul Strand, Edwin Muir, Scottish Poetry in general….this pre move to Edinburgh. I also fortunate to meet and hear read C.K.Williams, Tess Gallagher and others whilst at South Bank….they were reading for Maura Dooley in Voice box. Jo Shapcott and Lavinia Greenlaw also worked there but I was pretty much ignored as ‘downstairs’ staff…

The poem The Ice Horses became the Shore Poets anthology title in 1996.

Read The Ice Horses


HERE

 

 

 

Diesel on Gravel – The Berkshire Raymond Carver? 1985-1990

diesellg

Poems written in London and Oxfordshire. Published in early 1990s in Last Gasp pamphlets. Last Gasp was a poetry open mic I helped run with poets Giles Goodland and Bridget Kursheed in Oxford.

From 1986 I was heavily influenced by Raymond Carver and especially his book FIRES.  Indeed I attended his memorial readings event in London and saw Edmund White, Richard Ford and Salman Rushdie read in his honour.

I think this volume is the ‘lost volume’ as I was living at home in Didcot and totally cut off from literary world from 1988 until 1990.

I did do some readings through the Last Gasp group until I moved to Edinburgh in 1993.

None of these poems have been seen apart from in these hand made pamphlets.

2016 - 1 (1)

This was the volume which would ‘break me’ I thought the world was my oyster…..I would outwrite Simon Armitage…

Well hindsight is a wonderful thing I am unemployed and he is Oxford Professor of Poetry..

I read with him in Reading in 1990..he was arguing with the arts officer over money..he a little more pushy than me.

I was unemployed and dressed like Yeats and hadn’t got a clue that it was a poetry ‘business’ …

BUT I could write…fuck lot of good it did me…..

But this was all done off my own back..   no University Department objectives to tick box ..no influential friends..nothing but words..and in the end words is all there is….

Its as good as it gets maybe one day I get some recognition for all this but I wouldn’t bet on it…..

Ironically I got recognition in Scotland……should have stayed there but that another story and the next volume ..Landmine…

Och Aye…

Style note all hand written then typed on my mother’s old typewriter.

The last few pages of the document as pdf have originals and some uncollected poems.

The blue pen and line through a poem are from Giles Goodland when selecting for a pamphlet…I did not have second copies as everything had to be typed by hand …so here it is..

Diesel on Gravel…..1990

  Diesel on Gravel – Poems 1985-1990 by Shaun Belcher on Scribd

The Tithe Machine – Poems 1981-1985

cropped-collected1.jpg

titheM newcountry

 

My first poems from 1981-1985 after art college. Some were published in the first volume of a’The New Magazine’ then just started by Gerard Woodward who  went on to be a well known poet and novelist.
Unsure of my writing I used the  ‘David Bell’ alter ego.

32 poems including the sequence ‘The New Country’ from 1985.

1981-5 never shown these to anyone since. Post art college first poems..reading Pasternak and Heaney…Bunting and W.C.Williams…and a hefty bit of John Masefield and Edward Thomas..love poems to a non-existent mythical England…32 poems including the mad The Moon Over Henley my version of Bunting and T.S. Elliot..I kid you not…with some Echo and The Bunnymen in there too:-)

32 poems because same number as Hughes ‘Hawk in th Rain’…along with Heaney a major influence the only four poetry books I owned at art college were Heaney’s ‘ Death of a Naturalist’,  Hughes’ book and Sylvia Plath’s’Colossus’ and Thom Gunn ‘Sense of Movement’ .not a bad start:-).

I still have all four..

2016 - 1

The Tithe Machine by Shaun Belcher on Scribd

Buying Time – In or Out it’s the same old story…

 

Buying Time

I’ve been buying time since I was born
It is what the working class were made for
No trust funds, no foreign holidays
No gap year, no kindly Aunt’s dowry

My father taught me to buy time
Any chance you get son take what you can
Don’t be dishonest, keep your pride, do good work
But buy time, ten minutes here or an hour there

Time is the one thing they can’t take back again
My parents had to buy me into an education
So that I didn’t have to buy time at twenty
My mother cleaned council offices in the evening

Just so that I could get through foundation art college
She emptied bins, sometimes my sister and I beside her
Our little wage packets just enough to keep us all going
My father would be asleep, exhausted, when we got back in

We were all brought up to buy every moment of time
So much so that even when I was older
I still thought of every dead end, crazy occupation
As another means to buying time back later

Then I hit fifty and my parents dead or dying
Time ran out, I saw time being buried in front of me
But from their grave they handed me that precious thing
They had bought their council house in the 1980s

Now that council house was worth a whole lot of time
It gave me and my sister some valuable breathing space
Gave us both the very thing we never had much of
Time, simply time, the time I’m now buying off.

 

Self-explanatory but I lost count of the number of times privileged i.e. wealthy middle class people have told me that life is what you make it, you make your own luck, you only have yourself to blame etc etc. BULLSHIT..this country is totally controlled and run by money and the class system has become MORE not less embedded in my lifetime. I would not have had a decent education in post Thatcher Britain because that is how the Middle Class voted and would like it to stay…if you poor you don’t get in the door…

 

Read rest of Buying Time here: http://www.horseshoepress.co.uk

Before Cubism – The Rocket Press Letterpress 1992

Here a novelty. As all things letterpress are uber trendy these days ( Pop Press just opened in St James Street) I thought I would share this one-off.

Hand set by a crazy Norwegian student of letterpress at Jonathan Stephenson’s original Rocket Press way back in time. Beautiful example of real letterpress.

Poem from my early collections and still not scanned in to a readable format and never before published.

cubism

Natura Morte – The Poems that became Trees 1992

rose2

 

In 1992 Whilst living at my parents I joined Didcot and Wallingford Friends of the Earth.

We went on demonstrations (B and Q mahogany etc) with Earth First and raised funds for tree-planting.

I created this small ilustrated poetry booklet and sold 25 at £2 each which equivalent to 25 new trees.

I also took part in the actual tree-planting that happened based on the proceeds.
If I ever take the train back to Didcot I can actually point to the clump of new trees in a field neat Cholsey, Oxon which this book created;-)

I also showed a series of the down-land drawings behind Sir Julian Rose at a meeting on Organic Farming.

My thanks to Beryl Davidson of F.O.E. at the time (and fellow Didcot poet Jonathan Davidson’s mum by the way:-) for helping produce the booklet.

The publication has finally been scanned and the whole thing can be seen here under Publications on this website: NATURA MORTE

Here scans of the individual pages. The poems were all related to green issues and specifically related to animals and insects hence titles.

Six illustrations were placed next to them.

 

I am going to re-release as HPP3 in due course.

natura3

natura2

natura1

Horseshoe Press 1990-92 : 2016 – An old idea revamped

press2

Original Horseshoe Press Pamphlets from 1990 -1992

The Horseshoe Press was first used as my self-publishing name in 1990.

I have just revived it as a method of disseminating more recent work.

I was then working at The Poetry Library in London and part of my job was photocopying thousands (literally) of poetry magazine and information lists which i assure you is mind-numbing work. The library though was lovely and whilst there I produced one full A5 pamphlet and a scattering of aborted ideas for publications. All were to be made on a photocopier! We talking pre-computer days so I assembled the copier templates from photographs, drawings and type written manuscripts!

The new Horseshoe Press website above continues this early series idea.

Here are some photos of the work produced in early 1990s.

horselist

The new poetry available at http://www.horshoepress.co.uk

 

Burning Books : where did it all come from…

https://www.scribd.com/document/347049332/Burning-Books-Pamphlet

Having self-published the latest pamphlet in an intentionally ongoing series ( I aim to publish a ’round-up’ pamphlet twice a year from now on) here some author’s notes on the poems.

The latest is  ‘Burning Books’ Horseshoe Press Pamphlet No. 2 and I thought I’d try and describe what influenced the poems and what I think I doing which invariably different to what the reader imputes.

Burning Books and Buying Time ..education, morals, politics..everything can be bought these days. I am literally buying time at present using up savings before the next employment…..if there is a next one…

The Dance of Debt

The dance of debt been going on since time immemorial but never has it been such a mantra from the ruling classes..

Burning Books

Things are not getting any better no matter how many J.K.Rowling novels we burn….

Iggy Pop in a sideboard

True story on  Foundation Art at Oxford Polytechnic I suddenly had enough money to buy my third ever vinyl album. The first was an MFP Oliver the musical soundtrack. The second  was Alice Cooper’s Bilion Dollar babies then this. The copy I purchased was so warped it kept skidding when played on the Dansette tweed record player kept in my parent’s sideboard. I returned it to Woolworths and traded it for a flat copy of XTC’s White Music. I heard just enough of The Passenger to ‘get it’ and the details about Berlin are fantasy thoughts prompted by a documentary and footage shown after Bowie’s death.

Five doodlebugs

Just for fun completely random stuff which has overtones of suicide airline pilots from the news owing something to Prynne and Oliver but not sure what. I never been a strident modernist in that vain and frankly get bored with poetry that needs decyphering or pretends to be something it isn’t. The factionalism of contemporary poetry means that if you go down that road you will have a loyal and small audience and not much else. It a good route for academics. A love of Bob Cobbing helps..the poetic equivalent of trainspotting.

London Calling (45)

Start of a series of Vinyl 45 related poems. Short and lyrical …that’s it with overtones of political comment just like the original songs.

Working on a Building of love (45)

See above any link to Corbyn is purely coincidental and anyway I ditched Labour for the Greens.

A Poundland sonnet

Both these ‘sonnets’ written pre-election. Angry squibs. Didn’t help the shits won anyway.

A Wreckless scheme

A retort to the great God Armitage’s dull work in the field. Armitage is like New Labour very successfull and very dull.

Edwin Smith – Catching Light

A commission, a PAID commission no less, for R.I.B.A. Now online at RIBA website too. Loved it as gave free rein to my retro-technology obsessions. Each verse dedicated to a particular camera Smith used at different times in his life. Lead to some interesting places which will explore further like Zeppelins over Wembley,  1930s Camden, Orwell and Fascism.

Online at RIBA:

Matilda in the snow

The description of the down-land cottage all true. My dad was a farm labourer in early 1960s. We were so poor he bred rabbits to sell. The memory of Matilda comes from school history lessons. Matilda fled Oxford and was given refuge at Wallingford (my school’s location) Castle. Her action changed history and ensured that the Plantagenet line was in power later. No Matilda no QEII..which despite all the 90th Birthday celebrations might have been a good thing..in fact how about no Royals at all? Personal note I fled Oxford too but on a London bound overcrowded National Express coach. Not quite as romantic…

Rust

The selling of England by the Pound was most brutal in the destruction of William Morris’s original company. Rover was the biggest employer when I a child now it the University. They let it rust….

Postcard to Okinawa

Hiroshima anniversary.

ACRONYMS

I hate acronyms especially nasty little ones that belittle the working class which most of them seem to be funnily enough…

The Oxford Professor of Poverty

Dedicated to Simon Armitage who has hoovered up everything I could ever aspire too with some of the dullest poetry I ever read.
Success in Britain is never offending anybody…and toeing the line forever…..New Labour through and through. His first book is where it ended for me…

Collateral

Self-explanatory. Whilst writing I referred to Edwin Muir.

I was also was reading Cesar Vallejo in great translations published by Richard Price ( a proper poet) at Southfields.

Awfully Middle Class

Again says it on the tin. A classist rant and I aint apologising. If you are going to publish boring self-referential holiday snaps about reading Dante on the beach then be prepared for a slagging..naming no names..

Buying Time

Self-explanatory but I lost count of the number of times privileged i.e. wealthy middle class people have told me that life is what you make it, you make your own luck, you only have yourself to blame etc etc. BULLSHIT..this country is totally controlled and run by money and the class system has become MORE not less embedded in my lifetime. I would not have had a decent education in post Thatcher Britain because that is how the Middle Class voted and would like it to stay…if you poor you don’t get in the door…

finally

SHORT STORY: THE LEASH

About the only thing I got out of my brief tenure on a creative writing course at NTU. Heavily influenced by David Belbin’s particularly rigorous copy-editing. He would make a great editor. It a parody of a Scottish Working Class realist story from mid 1980s. Not bad for a first attempt. More James Kelman than Irvine Welsh thank god …

The full story and a ‘contextual document’ about influences we had to submit alongside it are available on the blog here:

MY FIRST SHORT STORY: Influences

 

I hope this might help…

The Enemy Within – How Thatcherism destroyed the White Working Class

factory_map

Map of former Rover Car Plant at Oxford

Interesting and ground-breaking article from Paul Mason in The Guardian

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/apr/04/the-problem-for-poor-white-kids-is-that-a-part-of-their-culture-has-been-destroyed

Excellent article by Paul Mason but calling for a ‘white kids community’ again in towns like my hometown of Didcot near Oxford where the ‘aspirant wide-boy migrant’ psychology rampant is harder to realise. These commuter towns were deliberately sold down the river to the highest bidder under Thatcher. This deliberately fragmented working-class communities with sale of council houses. Land deals in the mid 1980s also saw land transferred to global firms like BASF and Tesco which needed low-paid, compliant workforce hence the Oxford Rover Plant was sabotaged deliberately and dismantled as it a highly organised and trained workforce. Its replacement was the ‘temporary’ employees population or ‘service buddies’ which makes up over half of my hometown now. Thatcherism was a well executed plan. Lets leave Thatcher out of it it is a name. It is Neo Con Free market Liberalism imported from USA. It is now triumphant. It will take decades to turn it around.

I did some research into how land was being parceled up and sold off hence BASF quote. My father knew the local landowners who became millionaires because their land chosen to be the building sites of targeted global distribution networks…Tesco..etc etc .Very shady. Same time as I was a member of Friends of Earth so we uncovered various seedy things being literally buried in various locations after the demolition of Rover Plant. This included old gravel pits being used to bury car paint….

It is still continuing the recent deaths at Didcot A were because they hastily clearing old Power Station for profit as another node on that distribution site plan. The location bang central in UK with rail and road links hence it was originally a distribution depot at Milton in Wartime. My grandmother was a typist there and Bicester.

Look at who owns and profits from land and you see history being written.

1982 Cameron’s father offshoring his wealth under Thatcher. 1982 was year Thatcher removed support for grants at Royal College and I lost MA there. All fits. The working class was being villified from that date. Working class useful in wars and not much else syndrome.

My Uncle John worked at Rover Plant in paint spray booths. Horrible job but paid the bills. His son was a policeman who actively engaged in diplomatic protection and breaking up the miner’s strike (Police blockaded the route to Didcot Power Station). One side of a family pitched against another just like the Miners Strike. Red Robbo and other propoganda hid the truth that it was the destruction of organised large-scale labour in favour of smaller more ‘manageable’ units that required in Steel, Docks, Car production and Mines. The Mines was most visible but the long-term damage to infrastructure occurred elsewhere. We are paying a very heavy price now. No organised Labour to fight back of course and no manufacturing base. Let them eat cake and service industries….it all we have left.

Here a poem on subject…

rover

The Rover Man

He sat, firm and erect, on the park bench,
hands wrapped around his white stick
his milky eyes fixed on thirty years before
as we walked toward him.

He recognized my uncle immediately by voice
and smiled in our direction, gaze still fixed.
They’d worked together at the Oxford car plant
for almost twenty years.

My uncle blinking through the paint shop clouds
his gloves and goggles clogged with paint
whilst upstairs this man worked in admin.
below the ticking clock-tower.

He’d been enveloped in his milky world
since that day in 1943 when a german bomb
he was trying to defuse exploded
the flash burning out his sockets.

He had worked every day through strike
and shutdown, militants and shirkers, managers
and scabs. Had seen the business collapse
into a heap of mangled parts. Bust and boom.

Now the site is owned by BMW
and that clock-tower has collapsed into a heap of rubble,
that my uncle sighs as he drives past the
new industrial park landscaping and fountains.

An industry and a community gone in a flash.
The newsreels of the factory gates burn on the lens
as consultants ditch the site and reinvest
Money or bombs…it’s the same effect.

Saturday Night Blues – Sunday Morning Shifts – Working Class Writing?

seasonal

A seasonal Amazon worker USA

The following was written as a comment on facebook about the Tim Lott article on the Guardian published this week. This sparked some interesting comments on the notion and as Lott specifically flags up Sillitoe and this now a City of Literature I thought it might be worth expanding on.

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/feb/07/loneliness-working-class-writer-english-novelists?

The comments are more revealing than the article. I was born on a farm and moved to a council estate (lucky enough after sleeping on floors my family were rehoused) in 1966. I have always seen myself as working class and have written about it. I don’t think you lose that and I am not any less working class now than I was then. I do however from the age of 17 have many instances where I was told I was ‘rough’, uncultured, brash, awkward, not nice..by middle class people when it suited them. This usually occurred when I stood up on principal to being labelled or demeaned because of my background. I would be famous now if middle class because I would have learnt to keep my mouth shut and ‘do the right thing’. I never have and I never will and it has cost me jobs (the latest a case in point even academia is rife with classism) and affected my artistic production but it has never stopped me and never will. As my father said if a job’s worth doing it is worth doing well.  I worked 8 years as a ‘minion’ (their words) at Oxford University in the same Colleges and system as Jeanette Winterson et al attended…..I could not be seen let alone heard during that time and that why I in Nottingham. If I stayed in Oxford I would be dead..literally.

There are some strange reactions in the comments including some vituperative remarks about Sillitoe himself which seem worth mentioning. He did in fact spend most of his life living in London but I don’t think that precludes him writing about the working class he came from. It would be like someone telling me I cannot write about Oxfordshire. More cutting was the accusation of demeaning the Radford area and its folk as villains which as I worked on Radford Road isn’t as far from the truth as it should be. In fact that road is statistically one of the highest reported crime areas in the country due to a high turn over of dwellers, students and a drug problem that has never gone away. Again attacking Sillitoe seems to be shooting the messenger and not addressing the problem something Nottingham good at.

Stanley Middleton isn’t mentioned which a shame as he probably wrote about the suburban aspirations of ‘decent folk’ ( i.e. people who work rather than the ‘working class’) just as well and lived all his life here but does that make him a better writer? As for modern day writers in Nottingham addressing ‘working class’ values it hard to say. David Belbin and John Harvey both address working-class story-lines but does that make their work ‘working class’ or them for that matter? Further more does it matter? Michael Eaton and Stephen Lowe both address working class subjects but I would never describe either as working class. As my dad would have said they wouldn’t know one end of a shovel from the other. Rosie Garner is definitely working class and lived all her life in Bestwood so I guess she would be happy with the label. Mulletproof Poet addresses his upbringing directly in his writing but aligns himself with The Sleaford Mods as much as Sillitoe. Nicola Monaghan in her original format ( she has since re-booted as a Horror Story/Thriller novelist Nikki Valentine but that another story) used working class to brand her first novel The Killing jar very successfully but having explored the hell of her estate upbringing (allegedly …I remain unconvinced there wasn’t a fair amount of decorative drugginess added to spice up the tale) she has not pushed that particular angle since. As an academic lecturer ( therefore now middle class according to some people’s logic) she now may find that to do so brings accusations of hypocrisy as many suggested in commenting on Lott’s original piece. To succeed then is to betray your background? That unjust in my opinion but unless a working class writer remains in poverty how do they avoid that catch 22. I am unemployed technically now but it not the same as being a 17 year old with no prospects. I am comfortable for the time being and can survive. Can I then say I still working class?

Which brings us to Nottingham’s most famous son..the rose with thorns. D.H.Lawrence. Definitely from the working class in Eastwood but hell bent on putting as much distance between himself and this ‘provincial’ city as he could. Never did any manual labour but wrote about it beautifully. Leant heavily towards right wing and fascist ideas after marrying into the Richtofen family. Treated badly certainly but no worse than others suspected of German allegiance and ended up a virtual exile because of it. A working class writer. Yes. A fascist. Yes. Uncomfortable truths abound. I do not buy into the ‘he was misunderstood’ approach. When he wrote his eulogy to Hitler he knew what he doing. A Moseleyite through and through.

WORKING CLASS HERO?

Can one be a truly ‘working class’ writer then? My opinion is yes one can.

Even in writing that line I baulked at using ‘one’ it reminds me of Oxford.

We carry our childhoods with us and we never lose them. they form our core values and our outlooks. I will never vote Conservative. I will never support fox-hunting. I do not like right wing people and neither did my family. My parents bought their council house off Thatcher because it was a good deal …did that make them any less working class? The estate I grew up on is unrecognisable now and a dormitory suburb for London with high prices and no community. That was part of the Thatcherite policy to enable purchase, profiteering and movement. Slum landlords have divided the small council houses into multiple occupation flats. The working class are still there but speak many languages, have no organisation to speak for them, and work horrendous shifts to pay sky-high rents for cramped rooms. That is what working class writing should tackle now. It is below the radar of old notions of working and class and some working class people are actively exploiting that underclass. Again an unfortunate truth.The exploitation of land and capital continues by whatever means allowed.

The white working class communal world I grew up in has been smashed but it does not mean I cannot write about it or posit it as an alternative to what we have now. That is not naive lefty fantasy – that is fact. That certain middle-class writers would rather avoid that unwelcome truth says more about the state of Britain now than what existed then. Sitting around in book groups reading Hilary Mantel and eating cake is very nice for the idle rich but how many question how or where their nice cheap Amazon paperbacks are printed or who actually prepared and served that delicious cake? Many hands hold up our middle and working-class lifestyles now. We are all beneficiaries of our comfortable western capitalism..all of them unseen hands….in foreign parts mostly. Cheap labour and exploitation is at the heart of all capitalist processes. Forget that and you have forgotten you are working class. Hands define manual labour. Hands also write. Some writers only know writing and have never encountered the other.

My definition of a ‘working class’ writer is anybody who has experience of both. Working and writing. These days the literary world is clogged up with people who know only one and lecture those who have experience of the other endlessly…

Tim Lott has ‘soft hands’ as my Dad would say….they be manager’s hands.

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