Below and to my right from this window a Volvo lorry crunches gear shredded leaf, dust and gravel trickles from bumper and wheel-arch. The digging of the new pool has been going on now for two weeks. Yellow digger-buckets mouth the park’s soil and turf into lorries that rumble off, indicators flashing, down dusty A-roads to tip their loads as land-fill or as embankment on the new trunk road.
I used to swim badly across the old pool that’s been demolished splashing a clumsy trail from three to six-foot but no further. Now a JCB arm is swinging deeper than the best then could dive clanking engines and carbon fumes replacing yells and splutters. Pale teenagers, we swarmed round a tin and hardboard kiosk where we’d buy ice-cream speared with flakes every summer.
Now sub-contractors, mis-managers and bankrupts delay completion. Keep us waiting for a false vision of the sea in middle England. Meanwhile every other council-painted door has a fresh veneer and satellite-dishes mark the newly affluent from the newly poor. Communal flats have been knocked down, replaced by home ownership whilst the council chambers echoed to ’private sector linkage’.
Down the road kids clutch change that grows sweaty and sticky as the division between white and blue collars frays at the edges. The water is milky like a disinfectant bath, ice-cream melting. Every Friday my school class fizzed in that copper sulphate pool. Some from that class dived into the eighties, came out with coins but others still stumble round the wire slaked in mud and urine.
From Landmine Poems 1992-1996
This is an old poem that was never published it was too political, too edgy, too working class in the early 1990’s. To fit into a poetry world dominated by the white middle-class in those days took a certain amount of camouflaging.. some blended in well like Armitage always cloaking their politics ( after all he was a probation officer when I met him hardly a radical occupation).
I resigned myself to being an outlier in poetry then and frankly little changed…This poem was about the slow spread of corruption that started with the council house sell-off…..land-owning became a badge of the new right. It mattered not that many got left behind or that the environment was trashed as long as the showers of gold trickled down to.. well the gutter.
I stole Mr Parr’s photo he will not mind he owes me one for a favour I did later and it the perfect image of a country on brink of selling its soul.
We all went diving for change in broken fountains….
In 1986 or thereabout I bought the Carver stories above from a shop in Plymouth whilst visiting my sister. It was the start of my obsession with all things ‘Americana’. I moved on via Granta’s Dirty Realism collection to a whole series of American authors including Lorrie Moore, Bobbie Anne Mason and then backwards towards the Deep South ( a title of a Paul Binding book I still own). Along the way stopping off in a whole number of places revealed to me by these authors. My mental map of USA is formed by them as I have only actually been there once for three days for a conference in New York City.
The subject in a lot of cases were outsiders, renegades..working class trailer trash. The characters who in the last few days have stepped out of ‘wilderness’ America and into all our front rooms as led on by the new Barnum they tried to occupy the centre-ground. The warriors of the marginalised wilds.
Trump’s misguided revolution is a drive-by shooting or a mall massacre on a huge scale. Every misfit and shamen of the dispossessed risen up like a biblical flood not forgetting the Jim Crow preachers and snake oil hucksters and medicin men waiting to profit from the carnage.
Watching this unfold like a sequal to a new series of Justified complete with guns, white supremacists and jingoistic cops leaves a hollow feeling…..
Art imitating life or the other way round?
The American Dream seems somehow tawdry and washed out right now….the idolisation of small town freaks and clowns somehow deeply compromised by their depiction.
There are many predictions of further unrest but frankly a United States Marine against spear carrying shaman is fanciful…..armed highly organised militia with military background far more realistic. Hopefully the above the sideshow to Barnum T’s assault on democracy but who knows what tigers he has in his circus cages or skeletons in the Pentagon…..the next few days will tell.
Hopefully it will be Trump’s Skeleton history stands in line to see not democracy’s….
Back in October 2014 (now six 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 but they been deleted since as diversification took its toll.. also deleted from RIBA too….ticked the wrong box?
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.
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
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 😉
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
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;-)
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 .
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.