Poetry

Poetry

It goes on one at a time,
it starts when you care to act,
it starts when you do it again after they said no,
it starts when you say we and know who you mean,
and each day you mean one more.

Marge Piercy

universal credit
Friday, 17 November 2017 11:32

universal credit

Written by
in Poetry

universal credit

by Fran Lock

statues wake, and yawning, scrape
the birdshit from their tongues. london
drags a dirty nail across her fibroid lungs.

the hoodies and the halfwits are disporting
on the green. their smiles are shallow gashes
like the slots of fruit machines.

the silent politicians brush their dandruff
from their suits. rehearsing alternate careers
as undertakers' mutes.

work and pensions perverts, and the l.s.e's
pet boffins, offer thrilling opportunities
in made to measure coffins.

Us Too
Friday, 17 November 2017 10:32

Us Too

Written by
in Poetry

Us too

by Fran Lock

1:

And at the knackered traffic lights, the lads, led about by their soft-boiled bellies like pregnant seahorses; regimental maniacs in berets, khaki slacks and symptomatic tattoos, checking their reflections in their steel toe-caps. It’s Friday night, and I am walking the tusky ramparts of our
beautiful coastal town. Crossing the road by the fountain, I smile at a bony-shouldered band
of amphetamine featherweights, young boys bitching their brittle Polari in local parks where
broken railings fix their bayonets. I walk, and I’m watching the women, old women, women in
acrylic skin and slit up skirts and circus stilts, preening their screams in a nightclub queue.
Their eyes are dressed in injury, they wince and strut; the curb becomes a catwalk of hot coals.
I have seen them, squeezing defeat into too-tight shorts. Hey, don’t laugh, the world turns on
its thirst, you know? The world turns, on a thousand fetish devastations. No word is safe. I heard
them say: You’ll be scraping your face off the back of his hand. I’ll be scraping my face off for
years. It’s Friday night, dear God, and there is a girl, young girl, sucking a hardboiled silence,
cut right down to her tight pink passing-sacred; all thin white arms and long wet hair, who
hangs around her boyfriend’s neck like a broken stethoscope. No, no heart to hear. That girl is
me. I see myself, undoing my smile like the top button of a shantung blouse. How I court their brawling foreplay. Lose count of the times I heard someone say: It’ll all end in tears. A minor
vice, a little statutory angst, summer’s giddy commerce on the corner in the evening. Or, those
seasick seaside mornings, flaunting my disorder by the boat swings, skittish in a miniskirt.
A blowjob or a stick of rock; a loose tooth and a broken nose. Pain is our roseate intercourse.
There’s coercion God, and then there’s force. At the traffic lights, the lads. Our eyes collide
like marbles. I’m leatherette and penny sweets, and sexy. They said I was sexy. I feel about
as sexy as a two-seater second-hand sofa, a busted spring in my empty belly. So scuffed, I am,
so worn. There’s a girl who, night after night, will polish her most affordable fear. That girl is
me. And a lad looms up once more, a video game glow round him, big as an end of level boss,
he’s swinging his arms through the slutty gloaming. He grabs me by my sleeves; he drags me
past the sagging wrecks of blackened bandstands, wind-distorted portacabins. I’m on my knees
beneath the beer-gut of an old pavilion. The reek of fish and week old fat. He leaves my mouth
a smashed mess of slang and teeth. Woke up on the wrong side of the war: I’ll school you, you
pikey caant.

2:

Worse things happen at sea, they said, and what did you expect? And I’m thinking of you now, ba-
lamb, bestie, the ways in which you understood. There are days that I contain you, my own controlled explosion. The ways we shared the dolorous geographies of home; the way that home
had made a fetish out of splendour, benediction, reverie. There is no safe word. No word is
safe. Bottomless duty, gilded fate, a beauty we were born imploring. How we adored the Paschal musk and chorus of Compline; the way the lady Saints inclined their heads, girding a devious grace
in groups like school-gate gossips, how they might blow a scented mercy you could treasure like a kiss. We knew no better then. There was nothing better for us to know. Oh, my most Catholic ghost, I still dream about your mouth, succulent and fated and twice the size of itself against a motley potholed sky. Your kiss was like pink fair lights inside of me. Loss is not the word, not deficit, but
wound, this pain, both abject and succinct, and no I will never drink myself free. Four and twenty
blackbirds baked inside this grief, this keening extremis. No prestige grief we plump like pillows
on a sickbed, but something with yellowy incisors, stripping the meat from a glistered phrase. Tell
me, what did you expect? The Lord moves in mysterious ways. You knew how it felt and you knew
what it meant, and you spent the rest of your empty days acquainting God with the back of your
head. I remember us haunting your bedroom mirror with our failed symmetries, hollow-eyed, companionably jaded – feral, defiled, and exiled from the neck down, pushing our ugly consumptive luck. Oh, my bright jinx, my strictest-shining Catholic ghost, you remembered too well too. Left me what was left of you. I’m stood in the photonegative light of some shitty hospital corridor, wringing my hands and rapidly blinking. The tired eye tries to free itself from the shock it stepped in. Dead.

3:

I dreamt of it again, lie still until I’m sane. The dream retreats, but leaves its curdled
traces. The school is worst, where boredom makes the minutes swim, where the low
ceilings stunted our growth, where I was a child, lisping and conspicuous to history;
suggestible poppet with braided hair, the barer of a deformed faith that clutched at beads,
a face that didn’t fit. Where you were a child, prodigal of famine and infliction, bygone
pogrom, occupation and eviction. Half breed. Bad seed. Black sheep. Mad cow, bovine
on dopamine, slurring her girlhood, I could not run, could only sweat the dread of barefoot
threat in dusty halls with all the windows painted shut, a stale and violent light outside.
Inside the proper girls, with crop-circle smiles, who sharpened their collective whisper
like a shiv and smirked my gremlin pedigree: Gyp bitch! You botched abortion! The boys,
aggrandised and Neanderthal, scholars of the picked scab, the sucked knuckle, the untucked
shirt. Tumescent cretins, snickering under their breath. They followed me home. Blighted
desire had tightened their guts, they took disfigured joy in causing pain. Just like their fathers,
brothers, future sons: You slag! You slut! And I was cornered with exhaustion, writhing
like a salted slug. Cher sings gypsies, tramps and thieves. Big fucking laughs from
the peanut gallery.

4:

And for the longest, dear God, I couldn’t speak of this. My mouth was a glass house, gathering stones, stoned and phobic on Seroxat and Sertraline. Days spent redacting a dark eye with liquid liner, losing weight, becoming shallow as a footprint in wet sand. For the longest time I’d close
my eyes and smell the sea, and brewers’ yeast, and boot polish. For the longest time I’d smell
the lino, chalk dust, desks: dirty grey, and barnacled with chewing gum. I’d close my eyes
and feel the stingy and complicit looks of teachers boring into the back of my skull.

5:

Mr B is bad breath and soiled ambition. His face swims like a boiled shirt, his skin
the white of unsigned plaster casts; he has the long front teeth of a talking horse.
In a rank mood he leers and reels toward me. Do you remember how we prayed
back then? To God on his gilded battlements: Sweep ‘em up or strike ‘em dead, dear
God. He never did. Social worker measures out her well worn spite in meticulous inches.
She’s a local girl. Her smile is frowsy industry, coastal erosion, and economic stalemate.
She doesn’t care that a boy has worn me like a secret on his lips; she cannot help me,
can’t tell me how to make a poem from a fistful of wet earth, how to dislocate my
shoulders and keep on swimming. Hey, the world turns on its thirst, you know? On
the scurvy lusts we must remake ourselves from daily. Two young girls, too young,
tricked out in torrential dresses, smiling their slow dissolve into camera. Savants
of resurrection.

Endnote:

Because for every well-publicised celebrity victim of sexual assault there’s a working-class woman or girl who has suffered the same in silence. I’m writing about girls who were groomed for the male gaze from an early age to survive, because they were taught that’s what they are for, because sexually available is all they’re ever allowed to be. And because they are groomed for this gaze they are considered complicit in their own exploitation, they are chav slags and silly sluts, and what happens to them doesn’t matter. There are millions of us. We matter.

 

 

A Double Act
Friday, 17 November 2017 10:10

A Double Act

Written by
in Poetry

A Double Act

by S. O. Fasrus

'But what I learned later in life, too late, is that when you have power over another person, asking them to look at your dick isn’t a question. It’s a predicament for them - Louis C K

It's fifteen years later
we're rueing the day
we should have said no
to that Louis CK.

No hint, no suggestion
no nudge nod or wink.
we looked on aghast
did he ask what we think?

His sudden request
caused confusion and stress
we both raised our eyebrows
we both uttered yes.

There were guys in the corridor
two doormen, a clown
coulda yelled 'Come see Louis -
see what's going down!'

Were we too middle class
were we far too polite
should have told him to beat it
Camille Paglia is right:

that our cleaner would say -
'Man you gotta be kidding
I'll phone your wife now
you perverted sh*t pudding!'

But Goodman and Wolov
did a quick double take -
'Hey C K's a jerk off -
is this our big break?'

To the Wife of an All-Too-Interventionist Cabinet Minister
K2_PUBLISHED_ON Friday, 17 November 2017 09:45

To the Wife of an All-Too-Interventionist Cabinet Minister

in Poetry
Written by

To the Wife of an All-Too-Interventionist Cabinet Minister

by Chris Norris

Note: This piece is an updated reprise of Edgell Rickword’s mid-1930s poem ‘To the Wife of Any Non-Interventionist Statesman’. Rickword was addressing those mainly Conservative politicians who opposed sending military aid to the Republican Government in Spain on grounds of Britain’s supposed ‘neutrality’ in keeping with the policy of other European powers. This was in flagrant disregard of the fact that Germany and Italy were providing large amounts of logistical support to the rebel (Francoist or Fascist) side. 

So. Cut to Yemen, 2017.......

Bad form, I know, intruding thus on your
Most intimate proceedings at a time,
Of all times, when you'd wish to shut the door
On such intrusions, let alone what I'm
Proposing here. Just let me say, before
You cut short this rude visitant mid-rhyme,
That though it's something most folk might deplore,
And some would count a veritable crime,
Still certain faults may merit rather more
By way of censure, and - if my words chime
With your assessment - urge you to ignore
Your husband's overtures. So, should he climb

Into the marriage-bed and indicate
That maybe you'd now like to have a go
For old time's sake, so he can demonstrate
His undiminished powers, please let him know
It's just not on and that he'll have to wait
Till you've delivered him a blow-by-blow
Account of why you're dead set to frustrate
This new-found fervent craving to bestow
His favours nearer home. Affairs of state
Are more the sort of stuff you'll want to throw
At him than those affairs that hardly rate
Brief mention in the gossip-pages. So
Let me, your voice of conscience, intimate
Some counter-thoughts to interrupt the flow
Of pillow-talk that then begins to grate
Until you give that dolt the old heave-ho.

Past forty people tend to have the face
That they deserve, as Auden said - a bit
Unfair to some, perhaps, but just the place
To start in figuring how you'd better quit
His soon detested marital embrace
As the truth dawns. For it's a phizog fit
For detailed study should one wish to trace
The path by which this liar, hypocrite
And bully-boy outlived each new disgrace,
Each proven lie or piece of pure bullshit
Exposed, and, after letting in some space
Of time - alms for oblivion - strove to hit
The headlines once again. He'd join the race
As if from a fresh start, and so omit
To mention how he'd made a basket-case
Of every job for lack of mother-wit

Or through an ego whose enormous size
And utter lack of scruple left it prone
To all variety of tricks and lies,
The sort of thing he'd never quite outgrown
Since Oxford. They're presented in the guise
(As you'll best know) of one just lately flown
That second nest and not yet worldly-wise
Though quick enough, when his thin cover's blown,
To play the Bullingdon and exercise
The toff's old privilege of uttering bone-
Head platitudes that win the booby-prize
Except as judged by members of his own
Select bunch with their Oxford-nurtured ties
Of influence, patronage, and social tone.
They made sure he could never jeopardise
His chances through excess testosterone,

Stupidity, or (now you'll see just where
I'm coming from) his willingness to sell
This country down the river, bring despair
To countless migrant lives, make each day hell-
On-earth for starving Yemenis since they're
In line of fire for every British shell
Rained on them by the Saudis, do his share,
And more, in building up the current swell
Of fear-fed xenophobia, and prepare
The witches' brew of lies that cast its spell
On those without the time or thought to spare
For checking things. That's why they promptly fell
For every false prospectus he'd declare
With all the chutzpah of the ne'er-do-well
Street-trader trying to flog a dodgy pair
Of Levis to a cash-strapped clientele.

So when he next lets on he's keen to get
Back on connubial terms, or starts to press
The chat beyond a spot of tete-a-tete,
Please think - before allowing him to mess
With your sleep-patterns - how it might be met,
This fumbling boss-shot at a first caress,
By firm repudiation of your debt
To nature, custom or the old-style stress
On wifely duty. Then - to make him sweat -
Recount his sundry acts of boorishness,
Hypocrisy, self-interest, covert threat,
Bad faith, and willingness to acquiesce
In proven war-crimes. No cause for regret:
Think Lysistrata, watch him detumesce,
Then hit him with your choicest epithet
As he finds cause to rue his state of dress.

 

 

Leo, poet, & Heather at Poetry Ireland launch of Social Welfare for Artists
K2_PUBLISHED_ON Saturday, 04 November 2017 08:55

On the Appointment of Director of Failed Bank

in Poetry
Written by

On The Appointment of Director of Failed Bank
To Executive Board of Literature Ireland
for Jonathan Sugarman

My Dear Writers and Readers,

Adhering to recent Arts Council guidelines,
we are adjusting
our corporate governance structures
to include more criminal psychopaths
and people who just don’t know what they’re doing
than are allowed exist, per capita
wherever the average eejit gathers
to do his or her thing.

To this end, and furthermore, to help me,
I mean ‘us’, avail of the expertise
of those with experience running the real economy,
I am appointing to my board a man
with a wide-brimmed felt hat
who has supplied political and business
conferences down and up the country
with all levels of women.

To assist in the enforcement area
we are anointing a bloke who for our purposes
will go by the name “Anto”;
who may have unexplained income
about which the Criminal Assets Bureau
would love to have a chat
but that is none of my business or,
if you know what’s good for you, yours.

Finally, from next month
the skeleton of a different one
of David Lloyd George’s mistresses
will sit in on each of our meetings
to advise on social agility.

Yours transparently,

Chief Administrator,
Literature Ireland.

 

Valhalla on my round
K2_PUBLISHED_ON Saturday, 28 October 2017 17:06

Valhalla on my round

in Poetry
Written by

Valhalla on my Round

by Jon Tait

I’ve seen them
struggling to get a round up in the fitting,
the old boys with white hair,
odd bits of uniform; a blue wool V-neck
issued in the 90s,
a tie, worn and threadbare as their dreams,
as they sink under trays of mail,
shrinking as another grey bag of parcels
thumps at their feet,
and you give them a chuck in
to help them out, but they’re shrinking,
into loose skin beaten as leather by
wind and rain, and a splash of Old Spice.
They’ve still got dignity but they’re hoping
for redundancy, a way off the walks,
to plant some heather in their boots in the yard,
and they tell you of the old days with a twinkle
in their sad blue eyes –
We used to get back for second delivery
at 10.30 and be home for 12!
then sigh, deflated as an emptied sack,
and I tell them
Valhalla is on my round:
it doesn’t matter, it’s there,
I’ve seen it etched on wood behind a window,
Valhalla is on my round.
It’s where old postmen go to die.

 

Muses and Bruises
K2_PUBLISHED_ON Wednesday, 11 October 2017 15:27

Muses and Bruises

in Poetry
Written by

Culture Matters has published a brilliant new collection of poetry called Muses and Bruises by Fran Lock, an activist, writer and illustrator, and one of the finest political poets writing in Britain today. Her feminist and socialist poetry weaves psychological insight and social awareness into themes of poverty, mental health problems, sexual abuse, domestic violence and political struggle. Vivid, lavish and punchy, her writing combines a smouldering sense of anger and injustice with a deeply humane and vulnerable empathy and compassion. The poems are complemented by the collages of Steev Burgess, whose images dance with the poems, deepening their meaning.

The book will be launched at The Duke Pub, 7 Roger Street, London WC1N 2PB on Saturday 14th October at 7.30pm. Have a look at these two fabulous videos made by Fran and Steev to accompany the book.

Our Lady of the Lock - from Muses and Bruises

​​Rag Town Girls do Poetry - from Muses and Bruises

​And here is Fran's Introduction to the collection.

'Most people ignore poetry because most poetry ignores most people.'
- Adrian Mitchell

I've got a lot of love for the late Adrian Mitchell, but I think he was wrong about this. I didn't have much access to poetry growing up, but that wasn't because poetry was ignoring me, that was because poetry had been deliberately engineered out of my life. I had never been told that poetry was for me, that I was allowed poetry, entitled to poetry, deserving of poetry. And no one ever told me how much I needed it, and I did need it, we do need it, all of us.

I came to poetry alone, late, and by chance. My first feeling at having found this beautiful, radiant thing was a mixture of exhilaration and relief, rapidly followed by a massive sense of blind and burning rage that something so essential, so sustaining, something so rich in sweetness and in meaning had been kept from me. I carry that rage with me still.

Poetry does not ignore people, but there is a system at work designed to exclude people from poetry. People like me. People like you. It starts at school, with a hidden curriculum that attempts to circumscribe and to manipulate the cultural expectations and experiences of working-class kids by telling them what is and isn’t for them; what constitutes an appropriate and realistic interest, what counts as a legitimate achievement.

You can't be a poet, people said to me. No, because heaven forfend I should aim so high, heaven forfend I should have such an unrealistic ambition as to acquire language, to articulate and to express myself. No, because if I, as a marginalised or oppressed person, acquire that language, develop that skill, then I am arming myself.

If I am articulate then I cannot be discounted and I will not be ignored. If I have access to the written word, then I am connected to the whole world, I can build movements, I can move mountains, I can understand the nature of that which keeps me down. If I am dexterous with language, then I understand how language is used to ensnare and enslave me. If I understand how language is used then I know when I'm being lied about and when I'm being lied to. If I have poetry, I have a voice, and that voice is a sword and a shield. If I can think for myself, speak for myself, then I can define myself and represent myself. That is a dangerous and wonderful thing.

Better for some if art and culture remain behind high fences in self-policing middle-class enclaves. They'll stuff my head with shit instead, with disposable, sneerable pop and dross. They'll create a climate of bread and circuses. They’ll dehumanise the lumpenproles because all we've got are stunted words for ugly lives – because we're rough, ill-educated, stupid.

We’re not stupid. I love language. I love poetry, all poetry: the Lais of Marie de France, Chaucer, Milton, Blake, Clare, Keats, Yeats, Fiacc, Plath, Brookes, all of it. I reclaim it, I appropriate it, I snatch it back as an act of daily, defiant radicalism. It all belongs to all of us.

And language belongs to us, in all its complexity and richness, in all its rolling, roiling musicality. I was told once that my writing was inauthentic because working-class women don't think or speak that way. Bollocks. I am a working-class woman, and I do write and think and speak this way. There is no one homogeneous working-class voice, any more than there is a single monolithic working-class culture. No one has any right to set limits on the way we sound or the words we use.

The poems in this collection revel in richness and in strangeness, they positively wallow in it. I don't apologise for that. I won’t strenuously enact anybody else’s vision of working-class identity – I assert my right to be lavish, to be complicated. The poems are about beauty and meaning and the unlikely places working-class women and girls find these things, the unlikely materials from which they are composed. Steev's collages bring this to the fore, a mixture of decadence and squalor; grind and grime with a lick of glitter.

Emma Goldman is often misquoted as saying that without dancing it's not her revolution. She didn’t actually say this, but I approve the sentiment, and I'd go further. Without dancing – or poetry – there is no revolution of any description. We first have to recognise our right to joy, to pleasure. Poetry is waiting, go and claim it.

Muses and Bruises is available here.

We're reviewing Culture Matters and would really like some feedback from our readers and supporters. What is your overall impression of the website? How well are we fulfilling our mission of promoting a socialist and progressive approach to the arts and other cultural activities, where culture is organised for the many, not the few? What do you think of the quality and range of the material we publish? Have you considered joining the Culture Matters co-operative? If not, why not?

Click here to do the survey.

Thanks to those who have already responded.

Letter to W. H. Auden
Tuesday, 03 October 2017 20:14

Letter to W. H. Auden

Written by
in Poetry

by Christopher Norris

Note

This verse-letter is written in Rhyme Royal, the seven-line stanza-form (rhyming ababbcc) that goes back to some of the earliest English poetry and was taken up by W.H. Auden in his ‘Letter to Lord Byron’. The piece first appeared in Letters from Iceland (1937), a jointly-authored book by Auden and Louis MacNeice containing a mixture of verse and prose, travel-notes and politics, the serious and the anecdotal or skittish. My poem is addressed to Auden and talks about our current world-political scene in relation to likewise ominous developments during the 1930s. It emulates Auden’s way of mixing the formal with the casual and his knack of moving out, cinematic-style, from the personal or parochial to the global or world-historical.

(‘MacSpaunday’: collective name invented by Roy Campbell for the group of prominent left-leaning 1930s writers [mostly poets] which included Auden, Louis MacNeice, Stephen Spender, and Cecil Day-Lewis. Campbell was a right-wing poet and polemicist who meant nothing very kindly or affectionate by it. A quick Google search will help with ‘Chad Valley’ and other perhaps unfamiliar references.)

 

Forgive, dear Wystan, my presuming thus
To pinch your rhyme-scheme, though you can afford
To humour me or not make too much fuss
Since you first lifted it from Byron (Lord)
And took some other tricks of his on board
(Which I'll do here), like using verse to chat,
As mood suggests, concerning this and that.

Still, let’s admit the parallels extend
Beyond such formal matters to the fact
That you, back in the 1930s, penned
Those stanzas full of doubts and fears, though tact
As well as your un-Faustian poet-pact
With sage Apollo, god of form, required
That verse-craft quell what panic-state inspired.

You won’t believe it but, just eighty years
On from your time of writing, we’ve now got
A US president who brings those fears
Of yours right back to life and shows we’d not
Yet managed to dig out the fascist rot
You saw as enemy to all that stood
For civic virtue and the common good.

CN gop 2016 trump

You keep it up, that semi-jester role
Encouraged by the verse-form, but it’s hard
To keep up now, in part because a droll
Or laid-back style’s the standard calling-card
Of satire’s current leftist avant-garde,
And partly owing to the thought that it’s
Quite likely he’ll soon blow us all to bits.

You don’t yet know it, writing from your own
Mid-thirties standpoint, but they’ll fight and win
The war they strive by all means to postpone,
Those old appeasers whose pro-Hitler spin
On world affairs our Tory toffs begin
To try once more, kowtowing to a fool-
Cum-gangster bred up in the self-same school.

CN trump and may

You see them now, hot-footing it to pay
Their fawning overtures as soon as he’s
Installed as president, though really they
Just want to front the quisling queue and seize
This lucky chance to get down on their knees,
Kiss arse if needed, and declare that he’ll
Have their loyal backing after that trade-deal.

One thing the verse-form helps with, as you know,
Is how to handle the eight-decade lapse
Which gives us knowledge of the way things go
Post-'39 while your temporal maps
Have lots of ‘here be dragons’ blanks and gaps
Which we can now fill in with all the late-
Won wisdom brought by simple change of date.

This form’s a winner chiefly through its use
Of that capacious rhyme-scheme, plus the way
Its mix of formal structure with some loose
Or casual phrasing lets us have our say
About how you lot might have saved the day
But not risk sounding smug or acting wise
After events that matched your worst surmise.

Besides, what price the dubious benefit
Of our historic wisdom if we take
From it no more than an excuse to sit
Around composing verses, or to make
Your low decade our theme just for the sake
Of cranking out more poems that allow
Us more escape-routes from the here-and-now.

So not for us to tax that ’thirties crew
Of poet fellow-travellers with the crime,
If such it is, of having much to do
With ideas, words and clever turns of rhyme
But not with urgencies of place and time
That, so we judge, should properly demand
They exit poetry’s cloud-cuckoo-land.

That's why I’m not the least degree inclined
To join the Orwell-clones who now deplore
You and your generation, or who find
Self-love and self-advertisement, no more,
In those formalities devised to shore
Against your sense of a world-order gone
To pot: let good verse-manners carry on!

CN macspaunday

Yet getting old MacSpaunday off the hook
Is too much like extending special leave
To us, or promising to close the book
On our inaction just so long as we’ve
Made good our case for history’s reprieve
On grounds of service to the poet’s art
In homage to its formal world apart.

For – truth to tell – we now have far less scope
Than you for any self-defensive move
Which says that poetry’s our last, best hope,
That its constraints may help us jump the groove
Of prose-constricted habit, and so prove
Not just an action-blocking trick of thought
But one that brings bad action-plans up short.

The point is, we’ve your own example there
In front of us, your poems and the whole
Mind-set we call ‘The Thirties’, so you bear
The burden of our thinking how you might
Have done much more to carry forward the fight
From literary speech-act to the sphere
Of action where the world may lend an ear.

So, like I said, we’re all the more to blame
For blaming you yet failing still to learn
The lesson that you ‘thirties poets came,
In different ways, to mark as your great turn
Of life and thought, so that you’d either spurn
Much of your early work or make it known
That we should deem it kid’s stuff, long outgrown.

Not so, at least not always, so why strain
Credulity by asking us to twist
Our judgement round and treat your poem ‘Spain’,
That conscience-call, as if we’d somehow missed
Its glaring faults because they offered grist
To Orwell's tetchy mill and also fed
Your taste for giving self-reproach its head.

Always a flip-side, and for us it’s that
Temptation to indulge our own retreat
From deed to word or act to poem-chat
By totting up your moral balance-sheet
And fancying our tame versicles to meet
The kinds of standard you applied, not just
Late on but when your muse was more robust.

In short, no jacking up our feeble score
As activists or militants by dint
Of self-applied analogy with your
Half-century sustained poetic stint
And, more than that, your having left in print
So many poems that (late qualms aside)
Took politics and ethics well in stride.

Suppose our situations were reversed,
You looking back across the eight-decade-
Long interval and witnessing the worst
Of times again, what with this bottom-grade
Moronic US president who’s made
It clear he’ll kill all life on Earth through one
Means or another by the time he’s done.

CN north korea kim jong un donald trump nuclear threat uss john c stennis 584269

Just think (the implications won’t be lost
On you) how it’s within the power of this
Illiterate thug to start a war whose cost,
Should just a few ICBMs not miss
Their target, adds up to the thought-abyss
Of humankind extinct along with all
The arts and sciences on the small ball.

God knows, you had it bad back then, but think:
What shall they say of us who had the chance
To put a stop to him, that missing link
In modern guise, yet chose to look askance
At action-plans and cultivate a trance-
Like will to have no distant rumours spoil
Our peace with echoes of that mortal coil.

You’ve heard me out, and patiently, so I’ll
Not try your patience too far but remark,
For what it’s worth, that elements of ‘style’
(So-called) in your best poems strike a spark
Of shared humanity against the dark
And all-destructive potency that waits
On one man's word as will or whim dictates.

My point: you had the hint of gravitas,
The serious note, as in an end-of-term
School homily by one who might just pass
As Head-material, that it took to firm
Your satire up and make the guilty squirm,
Along with just the light touch to disarm
Our finely tuned self-righteousness alarm.

For, unlike some, you managed to hold out
Against the idea that satiric scorn,
Or saeva indignatio, had clout
Enough by fear of mockery to warn
The wicked off their ways so that, twice-born
At its dread summons, they confessed in full
How far they’d yielded to temptation’s pull.

Just think of Peter Cook (I know, he showed
Up decades later – Pete-and-Dud sketch guy),
And how he talked about the debt he owed,
As satirist, not just to Private Eye
But to those Berlin cabarets whose wry
Take on the 1930s did so much
To save the world from war and Hitler’s clutch.

No, satire’s not enough to show the likes
Of Trump in their true colours, or arouse
Such popular revulsion that he strikes
Them suddenly as just a big girl’s blouse
(Nice phrase – you’ll like it) and the people’s vows
Go up: God help us if we don’t get rid
Of this buffoon and mend the harm he did.

Allow me just one last attempt to nail
Down what I mean, although perhaps the drift
Is fairly clear: that poetry must fail
In times like yours and mine because the gift
Of words-in-order’s not a thing to lift
The curse of evil government or fill
Wrong-doers with a cautionary chill.

The formalist in you said poems had
No power to ‘make things happen’, since their place
Was ‘in the valley of their making’ – Chad
Valley, or so it seems – and lacked the space
For anything so brute or in-your-face
As politics, or palpable intent,
Or speech-acts of a world-transforming bent.

But that was you late on, when you’d long switched
Allegiances from Marx and Freud to God
With Freud as handy back-up, and so ditched
All thought of poetry as lightning rod
Or galvanizer for the ’thirties squad
Who had no time for any such divorce
Between the conjoint claims of form and force.

If you were sitting now in that ‘low dive
On 52nd Street’ and read a page
Or two of our news coverage, you’d arrive
At much the same conclusion: not an age
For private threnodies rehearsed offstage
But one that leaves the poets, now as then,
Lone formalists against the anchormen.

CN auden

Paraic and Jack and John
Monday, 02 October 2017 21:58

Paraic and Jack and John

Written by
in Poetry

Paraic and Jack and John

by Mike Gallagher

Hardly ten years between them,
the next door neighbours
from that huddle of houses
under Mullach an Airde,
close, too, their destinies,
not too many options there,
the bus up Gowlawám,
the train to Westland Row.
Holyhead gave them choices:
Preston? Ormskirk? Cricklewood?

Leaving behind

their Dark Rosaleen,
her surplus-to-requirements,
her spalpeen fanachs,
her jilted lovers, cast-offs.
And yet they sang her praises,
her songs of love and hate,
of repression and rebellion
in the Cocks and Crowns and Clarences
of a thousand English towns.

Drilled by

the teachers, the leather-lashing teachers,
no knowledge, no history
imparted here, only know-how,
know how to swing a pick, to wield an axe,
to dig their way through London clay.
Leadógs, twelve of the best, my boys,
now, on your ways, we have no room
for your likes here.

Blessed by

the priests, upholders of the status quo,
apologists for poverty,
for blind obedience,
sex obsessed, the lure of sex,
more sex, less sex,
fill the pews, fill the plates,
fill the boats, go, spread the word;
your road to heaven
does not leave
from here

Pawns of

politicians, truth's contortionists,
purveyors of false promises,
self-serving hoors,
too busy building dynasties.
No need for you in their grand plans,
more use, you overseas;
so take the boat, the cattle boat,
join the herd.
Prime Beef.

Goodbyes to

the mothers, always the mothers,
the father-mother-farmer mothers,
the savers of hay,
the spreaders of turf;
brought into heat once, maybe twice,
a year, migrant's return, marital duties,
children's allowances, God's word –
stuff like that.

Returning to

the mothers, the dazed, distraught mothers,
in the wake houses, huddled
under Mullach an Airde
after the scaffolds collapsed
and the trenches collapsed
and their lives collapsed
and their whole bloody worlds

collapsed.

And the teachers came
and the priests came
and the politicians came
and these, the weavers of their destinies,
these seekers-out of brawn,
and not of brain
explained
that it was the will of God,
that it was the way of the world,
then spilled a few self-cleansing tears
and left
the sons
to the mothers that bore them –
and buried them
in cold Slievemore.

MG Huddle

National Poetry Day: Vignettes of Working Class Exhaustion
Wednesday, 27 September 2017 20:25

National Poetry Day: Vignettes of Working Class Exhaustion

Written by
in Poetry

Vignettes of Working Class Exhaustion

by Fran Lock

Malkin

Sacred, not wise, the black cat's acid
casualty stare, traversing a crumbling
cul-de-sac, under a starlessly inkjet sky.
We cross each other's path, and she
leans into my unluck, a clot of deeper
dark, unstuck from the rest of the night.
Then she is gone, the quick misshapen
sleek of her; the yellow pellets of her
eyes dissolving into distance. I am
alone on the corner, holding my shoes
in my hand. Her charm unwinds from
around my ankles. The night returns
to bind my wrists.

Breath

In the concrete playground, city kids,
the pigeon-chested victims of chimneys,
wheezing like slow punctures through
gritted teeth and cigarettey breath. I was
young. I remember well, the boy with
a laugh like a chewed-up cassette, hocking
his egg-yolk phlegm at passing girls.
It was exciting then to press my lips to
his, taste and acrid copper shock and run,
uphill, where he could not follow.
My own chest tightens now to think
of it, and his strained white face
like an old balloon.

Everything you think you know about me

At home, in my cradle of copper wire, I spin
the unvaried light into curses. I sleep on a soiled
mattress stuffed with horsehair, lucky heather,
hubcaps, stolen modems, baby's breath. I devour
men whole, licking the piquant gloss of their
blood from my scrimshawed scramasax blade.
I suck the meat from their fingers, melt
their wedding rings down for ingots of bling,
golden molars. My pit-bull dog is a brute, he's
a gallowglass with a tactical mouth. In the still
cold pond beyond the site, the babies unfold
like lilies.

You are not your nine to five prison

Monday beings and ends with the need
to numb my own desperate tendency. I keep
catching the loose threads of an old pain
on the jagged edges of the day. London,
like a hardman with hate tattooed
on the knuckles of his right hand,
and hate tattooed on the knuckles
of his left hand. There's an ant farm
under my skin, and my brain is tuned
to some bumfuck nowhere bandwidth,
all Armageddon and Christian rock.
Between work and hospital visits
I pass the same graffiti every day.
Sometimes I smile in lowercase,
but today its optimism irks me. I think,
in fact, I am the clock. I turn, but in
a circle, chase the self I can't outrun.

National Poetry Day: Pretend
Wednesday, 27 September 2017 13:31

National Poetry Day: Pretend

Written by
in Poetry

Pretend

by a postal worker

pretend that the scars on your knuckles come from boxing, not letterboxes
make out that the pains in your neck are just age, the snaps in your knees,
the feet worn rough by work shoes slanted at heels, soles like a burst couch,
front up that you’ll not get a pension anyway, you’ll be dead by 65,
kid on that nine miles, five hours in rain or sun doesn’t shatter you,
you’re not flat out on the sofa by four, you don’t panic with six door2door,
you don’t sweat in an orange coat, you drink water on your round,
you get by on more than two biscuits in an eight hour shift humping 20 kilo bags
up streets, laden with packets that need scanned and signed for
at doors that never open, being snapped at by dogs and junkies and dole wallahs,
that you never need a piss, that you brave a mid-week curry,
you’re not arsed that the holiday book is full, that you have to carry lapsing,
that the Chief Exec is on eight figures and you don’t need a raise,
that shareholder’s profits are more important than you, that you can’t go on strike
as your parents voted blue.

CWU Royal Mail potal workers walk out on strike and picket their depot

Postal workers may soon have to take industrial action to defend themselves. Dave Ward, General Secretary of the Comunication Workers Union, said this:

More than ever before, postal workers are under relentless pressure to work faster and cheaper. In local offices, resources are stretched to breaking point and delivery rounds just keep getting longer and later. This is a direct result of chaotic management planning and the wholly unrealistic efficiency targets our members are subjected to.

Yet far from being rewarded for their efforts, their terms and conditions are under attack. From April next year Royal Mail Group will be slashing pensions, leaving many postal workers tens of thousands of pounds worse off in retirement.

Their pay is being frozen while living costs continue to rise. And increasingly Royal Mail is viewing part-time, temporary and insecure employment practices that should have been consigned to the Victorian era, as the model for the future.

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