This rather nice vintage French leather bag came my way yesterday and I am going to use it to carry my poetry around in and hence the name ‘the Rattle Bag’ which I copped from the Heaney and Hughes anthology title…
As Heaney said : Ted suggested we call it by the name of a strange roguish poem translated from the Welsh of Dafydd ap Gwilym. It’s about an instrument that sounds more like an implement, a raucous, distracting, shake, rattle-and-roll affair that disturbs the poet and his lover while they lie together in the greenwood. In the words of the translator, Joseph Clancy, it becomes a noisy pouch perched on a pole, a bell of pebbles and gravel, “a blare, a bloody nuisance”.
Sounds about right. Any way the last twenty years i.e. the volumes ‘The Drifting Village’ and ‘Burning Books’ fit very neatly in to the bag….the previous twenty would be a stretch…
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.
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;-)
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.
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…
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.