2O Years on the poetry bench

Category: politics (Page 1 of 3)

Collateral

COLLATERAL

(for D.D.)

Windows shake, tyres screech

Litter blows across the estate

Gunshots ricochet as sound

The Divis Flats, Brixton Market

Beirut, Jerusalem, Sarajevo

A baby cries, a baby cries

The broadcast stops, the helicopter hovers

There’s a smell of cordite, a cold wind

A face you have seen before on the news

Staring to dissolve in a pall of smoke

Gravestones, a line of mourners, a hearse

More tracking shots, more candles to light

The post-war peace has been noisy

All night the rain streaking the vans

As another round up begins

Difference is a slogan, tolerance fades

Hope drifts downstream like radium

Whitewashing concrete stained with blood

We can carry on, we can care even more

The trains will run, the tide will turn

The supremacists will make everything alright

The same arguments start again and again

Tube trains fill with dust and smoke

Collateral damage drips through the door

You choose what to believe, what to see

As another herd of innocents die in a cellar

The missing migrant is pushed into the sea

Sixty years of peace in Europe a lie

From the Balkans to Ukraine this is total war

An iron curtain swinging in the breeze

In the morning a cold silent light

A white horse streaked with blood and lame

Dragging itself to a poisoned stream

The crusaders horse is then shot full of holes

Its body carried away on a torrent of pain.

Collateral: The ghost in the Western dream.

The Function of Criticism

I have spent the afternoon reading the beginning of Yvor Winters ‘The Function of Criticism’ which I acquired about 30 years ago.

I also read a couple of interesting articles online.

The first by the poet David Yezzi is interesting and makes a case for his continuing relevance. The second is a wider career over-view from the now defunct Contemporary Poetry Review.

I also mused upon the slow demise of the ‘Poet-Critic’ a sad reflection of the sorry state of contemporary poetry where popularity and social media profiles count for more than intellectual rigor. Even with Larkin, Heaney and Hughes there were solid publications of other writing. Can one imagine a serious book of Simon Armitage or Helen Mort criticism ..no because it too dangerous an occupation in the ‘blow-back’ noughties where any -expression of opinion is frowned upon. Books are reviewed but mostly to further mediocre careerist blogs but serious criticism that gone the way of decent classical music radio i.e. popularised out of existence.

So reading the opinionated Winters is refreshing. He was wrong as much as right but at least he expressed an opinion.

https://newcriterion.com/issues/1997/6/the-seriousness-of-yvor-winters

https://www.cprw.com/the-absolutist-the-poetry-and-criticism-of-yvor-winters

Talking of opinionated tody I also picked up this Further Requirements book by Larkin to add to Required Writing which again I had for over thirty years. I wonder how long before Larkin is ‘Decolonized’ from the local university stacks which considering his lifetime devotion to maintaining library collections is beyond sad.

New Poems: Knowing my place

Doff your cap,
Toe the line,
Do a good job,
Know your place,
Speak when spoken to,
Don’t talk back, keep mum,
Be reliable
Hold your knife properly,
Don’t leave the table until told to,
Watch your step,
March in time,
Defer to your betters,
Salute the flag,
Be punctual,
Do a good job,
Never argue,
Be polite,
Bow,
Scrape,

Be invisible.

If you do not do as you are told you have…

A chip on your shoulder,
Are bitter,
Difficult
A maverick
A born troublemaker
An outsider
A thief

Or worse
Political

Working Class

A writer

2010 – White Van Town – Didcot Council Estate
Each van a different worker living on this road it a Sunday.. the Thatcherite Dream made reality.


My Back Pages: Diving for Change

GB. England. New Brighton. From ‘The Last Resort’. 1983-85. Martin Parr

DIVING FOR CHANGE

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….

The last great White Elephant

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….

My Back Pages: The Empty Stair

For my sins I have been watching ‘The Crown’ and it reminded me of a poem I wrote back in the 1990s before the death of Diana…..

As you can see I was always a staunch Royalist…

The Empty Stair


A fleur-de-lys fissured by sulphuric rain crumbles
but still hangs, paint-peeling, above an entrance
that is being scored with wire-brushes and repainted.
A gang of workmen and a beat-box blasting out Bangra.
A century of soot and grime from the Thames basin
flecks their hands as the cavalcade of Daimlers shoots by.

Across the Goldhawk Road a ringed hand adjusts saris
as ice melts on prawns and swordfish in the market.
Tube-trains coil round the tower-blocks, necklaces
flickering above the stalls of bric-a-brac and fake cds.
Sirens wail and a Range Rover‘s blue lights glint
as it U-turns outside Clifton House, Hammersmith, W6.


At the turn of the century Prince Edward gilded this cage
for the pleasuring of Lilly Langtry so the neighbours say.
Now the tabloids bark out the latest royal adultery
on hoardings between kebabs and Kentucky Fried Chicken
as thieves grab Rolex and Vodaphones from execs in Mercs.
Clifton House has been rehabbed into council bedsits.

At night kids clamber up its abandoned spiral stair
and leave graffiti on the scalloped plasterwork.
Between rooms crammed with flickering TV’s and clothes horses
they flick torches on the dusty steps, mahogany handrail.
The rebuild left the stairs hanging like an empty net
where corks popping and loud laughter no longer echoes.


Meanwhile a figure on a staircase in Kensington Palace
watching rain splash across the Serpentine and
the Edwardian facades of Knightsbridge darkening
under clouds like calamares en su tinta on silver plate.
He returns to his watercolour of a house that is falling
as rioters in Hyde Park fall under all the King’s horses.

Edwin Smith – Catching Light – Recordings


Horseshoe Press Tapes

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?

So here they are again..

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

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;-)

 

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