Martin Hayes

Martin Hayes

Martin Hayes has worked in the courier industry for 30 years. His latest collection is The Things Our Hands Once Stood For, published by Culture Matters.

Mayday poem: hearts bigger than the sun
Wednesday, 01 May 2019 14:07

Mayday poem: hearts bigger than the sun

Published in Poetry

hearts bigger than the sun

by Martin Hayes

Chaplin had it
Keaton had it
and Laurel and Hardy had it

Lucas has it
as he walks in early for work
with a flask and Tupperware box full of sandwiches under his arm
with ‘mornings’ and ‘alright mates’
spilling out of him like birdsong
before he sits down at his workstation
spreading it out across the whole room

Rajesh has it
as he dances across the control room floor
turning and spinning like he’s in his favourite Bollywood movie
tapping colleagues on the shoulder
before leaning down next to them
and peering at them with bulging eyes
doing that thing with his head
from side to side
while wagging fingers at them
before spinning off again
and making himself a cup of tea

Ashley has it
as she sits at her phone station
every now and then letting that laugh of hers out into the air
dirty and gravelly as a docker’s
that burrows in through our ears
so that it swims in and around our muscles and our veins and our stomachs
warming up our entire systems

Antoine has it
as he sits at his desk
carrying on imaginary conversations with the controllers
while it’s roaring busy and the phones constantly ringing
about how he thinks those controllers
haven’t had sex in months
or proper kissed a girl since they were teenagers
things totally unrelated to work
that dissipates all of the pressure
and can make you feel
like you’re in a school playground once again
rather than in a control room
trying to protect your job

they are the only things they’ve got left
that haven’t been taken away from them yet
that despite the snide comments and threats
the traps they set
for them to fall over
in the third year of a pay freeze
with the purchase of the CEO’s shiny new Bentley
sitting outside in the yard
hasn’t broken them yet

these hearts of theirs
bigger than the sun
spreading their heat and light out
pulling everyone up
by the scruffs of their necks
this magical spirit of theirs
that keeps on pumping keeps on
laughing its magic
even when everything else around us seems to be falling apart
and designed
to make us give up

where once there was grass
Thursday, 18 April 2019 15:35

where once there was grass

Published in Poetry

where once there was grass

by Martin Hayes

the yellow and green of the ambulance
used to be all white
with just one single blue light
on the top of it

the boys used to swedge a little in the parks
fisticuffs and a boot in the guts
not saying that’s right
but at least they used to go to bed of a night
and were just about able
to rise up again next day
drink R Whites
and pull on a pair of Filas

the bobbies’ uniforms
used to be a slightly lighter
shade of blue
but they never used to wear
the armour
the Magnum side-zipped Panther boots
the steel extendable baton
the breast camera and pepper spray
the stab vests and Batman belts

TO USE police line do not cross

the blue and white cordoning-off tape
used to be yellow and black
and when you saw it
it was like this great thing had happened
that drew you in like a magnet
but now
when you see the blue and white tape
being hung around the kids’ necks
and again
you just swerve it
cross to the other side of the road
avoiding it like an annoying neighbour
so that your heart doesn’t have to drop
and splinter
a little bit more

things change
progress deems it so
a plastic society fed plastic dreams
gets dislocated
and dislocated

until it hangs like a useless leg
that no one can feel
or wants to be a part of

until a girl can’t even sit in a park
without fear of getting stabbed
until lives
keep disappearing
up into the air like smoke
and you can’t stop asking yourself
who can put these vicious fires out
where once there was grass

 1st Choice phorensic man in park

Free the peas!
Friday, 22 February 2019 16:29

where we got the importance of peas from

Published in Poetry

where we got the importance of peas from

by Martin Hayes

there have always been jobs
ever since we were able to stand up
and grew hands
things to clean things to cook
things to count things to watch
things to tie up
like shoes and birthday presents
things to iron
like shirts and petticoats
things that need fixing things that need sorting
things that need making and things that need breaking

but the jobs I’m talking about
are the jobs you see the dustman doing
and the doctor doing
and the fireman doing
and the woman at the checkout in the supermarket doing
and the man behind the counter who brings you your chicken nuggets doing

those jobs are not household jobs
but jobs that people get paid for
so that they can pay for a roof
to go over your head
or for water and electricity
to keep you warm
or for food and fruit
so you can eat
or a train set
or a bicycle
so you can play
or a trip to the cinema
or a new pair of shoes
so you can live

those jobs
believe it or not
we’re created by the pea

I know
it sounds impossible doesn’t it
but when a pea is born
it is born in a pod
along with lots of other peas

and one day
it was realised that peas were very special indeed
so everyone set about trying to get as many peas behind them as possible
because the more they had
the more it made them feel safe and warm

so important did the peas become
that competitions were set up
to see who could build a pile of peas
the highest

some were very good at this
and won competition after competition after competition
until they had so many peas
that nobody else had any left

so the winners of the competitions
created jobs for the losers of the competitions
to do

and when they’d been done
they paid them with a few peas
but only enough
so that they could eat
or rent a roof to live under

and when they ate
or paid for their roof to live under
they paid for them with peas

the same peas they’d been given
for doing their jobs
until they had no peas left again
until they had done more jobs
and earned a few more peas

so the winners of the competitions
always got their peas back

and this has been going on for centuries
and doesn’t look like
it will ever change
in the centuries to come
unless someone does something
about the importance of peas


Universal Credit: the telephonist who works under 16 hours a week
Tuesday, 27 November 2018 13:12

Universal Credit: the telephonist who works under 16 hours a week

Published in Poetry

the telephonist who works under 16 hours a week

for Unite's day of action against Universal Credit, 1 December

by Martin Hayes

there is a hole in her hull
and she is tilting in the harbour,
unable to go out to sea any more,
because the captain abandoned ship
leaving behind two crew,
she is letting in water
and every month the hole just gets bigger.

she has a leaking hull
and she doesn’t know what to do,
the system doesn’t seem to want to allow her
to fix it,
because after she has paid for the mooring costs
and the interest on the loan she took out
to buy a new set of sails
there is never enough left over to buy
any wood and nails, tar and brushes,
that would help her patch it up, stem
the flow
of the water.

all she wants
is to become seaworthy again,
but it seems the system is designed
to make her wait,
to fill in form after form online
that no one ever answers,
causing her hole to get even bigger,
letting in more water,
ruining her furnishings
and spoiling all of the food on board
so that there is nothing left to sleep on
or eat anymore.

now that she is in this mess
the system doesn’t seem to want to allow her
to mend her hull
preferring instead
to make her wait under the harbour lights
not knowing what is going on
so that she tilts even more
until she finally takes on so much water
that she will go under
and sink to the bottom of the harbour
along with the rest of the wrecks.

National Poetry Day: Fuck Off Darlings
Thursday, 04 October 2018 07:46

National Poetry Day: Fuck Off Darlings

Published in Poetry

fuck off darlings

by Martin Hayes

fuck off with your award-winning
fuck off with your writer groups
fuck off with your plastic covers of books that contain no heart
no guts
fuck off with your equations and rules
your blank little spaces that are supposed to represent a women's breath
a man's sweat
fuck off with your readings and open mic events
your slaps on the back
your reach-arounds
fuck off with your ‘suffering’ radar
it is so busy
fuck off with your dead pets your dead mothers who stitched
seahorses into your duvets and dressing gowns
and fuck off to your pieces that are so PC on-point
PC is stuck in your throats like a bunch of frogs
and whenever any of you speak
all we get is the same croak
the same storm of words
we need
a different raging
other than your obscure metaphors
your complicated words
and your irrelevant plots

we need you now
more than ever
but all you can do is paint pictures of seas crashing onto beaches that no one will ever sit on
littered with stars that no one can see
silk gloves
that will never fit the hands
of the men and women you punt
your dribble out at


lucky charms
Monday, 03 September 2018 22:19

lucky charms

Published in Poetry

lucky charms

by Martin Hayes

some of the people I work with
have made these spaces where they spend 11 hours a day
protected areas
they have developed elaborate internal defences
that have convinced them that these spots they sit in
are almost sacred
they use plastic figurines, pictures, stones and cactus plants
to ward off any bad luck that might try to invade them
as every morning these lucky charms
are unlocked from their lockers
and carried like sacred relics to their owners' workstations
where they will all day look down over them
spreading their good luck into the hearts of these men
who just want to get through another day
another week
to another paycheque
as Lenny places the 2 plastic Buddhas of his on top of his control box
and breathes in a deep breath
before his shift starts
as Antoine crosses himself and kisses the forehead of the plastic Jesus his mother gave him
just before she died
as Tommy places down his moonstone and mini cactus on the shelf above his control box
thinking that the spirits of the desert will now be watching over him
as Robbie never forgets
to pat or stroke the furry head of the troll that his dead sister gave him on his 7th birthday and Bill
blue-tacks back up the 4 pictures of his grandchildren around his monitor
as a reminder of why he is still controlling and Lucas
hangs a picture of a man starving in a potato field on his headphones' hook
as his

we all have things we believe in,
to thank
for this job
for this still beating blood
for the lady who makes a home for us to come home to every night
for the car that fires up when you twist the key the numbers
that give us a much needed tenner on the Thunderball
on the last weekend of the month
for the neighbour who helps you lift the freezer up the stairs
watches over your children when you're late home from work
for the insanity of kindness we are still able to show each other
the wine we are yet to drink
the hot water we bathe in
the wolf unable to find your door yet

we all have things to thank,
that we believe in
for no other reason than it feels right,
because without them
we would take even more magic away from the world
than already has been

This poem was one of the five winners of the 2018 Bread and Roses Poetry Award, sponsored by Unite.

MH the employed poor

at wembley dogs
Monday, 18 June 2018 20:35

at wembley dogs

Published in Poetry

at Wembley dogs

by Martin Hayes

at Wembley dogs
we used to buy brown Hofmeister bottles of beer
and jump all over the seats
that people once sat in
to watch England win the World Cup
we used to eat hot dogs longer than our cocks
and run up and down the finishing straight
shouting on our muts

at Wembley dogs
we used to hold hands together and look up at the blue archless sky turn into indigo night
the stars suddenly reveal themselves
just over the back of Neasden shopping center

at Wembley dogs
we told the bookmakers we wanted a bag of sand on the 3 dog
and when they told us to bugger off
we’d wink at them and say, “you’re most probably right, Guvnor,
make that an Ayrton”

at Wembley dogs
we walked from bar to rail and back again
tipping our heads at everyone as we went
like we were some kind of Charlie Big Potatoes
with our pockets filled with our week’s pay
and electricity rolling all over our skin

at Wembley dogs
we made our happiness happen we made
our 5 day 55 hour weeks
feel worth it we made
great big smiles spread over our faces
and our hearts roared back into life as we
saw ourselves in everyone else around us, stuck
two fingers up at their setting sun
and cheered up our moon

at Wembley dogs
we unpicked the chains
that they stitched around us
all week;
we plucked out the barbed wire
that they hooked into our backs
all week;
we let our lungs fill up with air again
that they had stuffed full with memos and rules and procedures
all week;
and we rinsed our eyes
so we could see through the darkness they tried to create
all week

there are no Wembley dogs anymore
they have moved it off the streets
moved it all online and into the betting shops
not just because of economic validity
or the price it costs
to keep a piece of greyhound meat
but because things like Wembley dogs
enabled us to see through their darkness
recapture our identity
stitch our shadows back on
stoke up the anger and energy
to see through their gulag-weeks
and feel something other
than what they wanted you to feel

as they scream from their think-tanks and boardrooms –


Labour Day
Wednesday, 02 May 2018 21:11

why not a job: two poems for May Day from Martin Hayes and Fred Voss

Published in Poetry

Martin Hayes has sent in a poem dedicated to Fred Voss, and the compliment has been returned.

why not a job

by Martin Hayes

after Fred Voss

why not a job
to dedicate your life to
why does it always have to be
a man who died on a cross
or who sat under a fig tree
or who was the last messenger
to bring the words of an invisible and unreachable God to us
those words
don’t feed us or keep us warm
they don’t feed the homeless man or woman
but a job could put a pair of gloves on a pair of their hands
a job could put a hat on their head
and help stop them from getting cold
why does a job not get sung out for in churches
have drums
beaten for
why not a job that pays for the water and food that goes into the mouths of our families
wouldn’t it be better to stand up for our right to have a job
rather than our right to hold a gun in our hands
why not a job
to wave banners about in the air for
to hold hands on the 1st of May for
why not a job
that pays for a roof over our heads
feeds electricity and heat into our homes
rather than a bullet into a ‘rag-head’ neck
why not a job as our right
rather than these Gods
that we keep rattling our cages for
why can’t these jobs be our Gods
our way of earning a living
the religion
we would die for
rather than the colour of a flag

PR Workers by Peter Kennard

Workers, by Peter Kennard

Are we really not worthy of a poem?

by Fred Voss

after Martin Hayes

Are we really not worthy of a poem
are we meant to be hidden behind windowless tin walls all our lives
we workers
we soldiers in a war for our lives
we all have hands hopes ears
to hear our baby’s first words tears
beside our father’s deathbed
we are Huck Finn willing to go on down that Mississippi River with escaped slave Jim
even if it means going to Hell we are
all a piece of the universe a piece of each other
a hand on a hammer
a heart bursting to do its best
an arm reaching for a drowning man
a back wet with sweat
a muscle true as sunrise
a cheer for a friend
a smile for another day to open our eyes under the same sky as the swordfish and the bear
a laugh because we are still alive and have a chance
as Charlie Chaplin tramps down his open road twirling his cane even though he doesn’t have
a penny in his pocket
happy to sharpen a drill bit against a grinding wheel
tell a story to a grandchild
make the wheel that rolls the cup that pours the whistle that blows
the cymbal that crashes the wing that lifts the steel I-beam that stands the trombone
that slides the pan that cooks the curtain
that opens on A Streetcar Named Desire the chisel
that cuts a jewel for the finger of a beaming bride the bell
that will ring the day the tyrant is brought to his knees the bread
the man unemployed for a year will break the day he finally finds work the shoe
that fits the key that unlocks the shovel that buries the candle that burns the revolution
that frees the Volkswagen
13 clowns climb out of the hairbrush for a woman who finally feels beautiful the paintbrush
for Van Gogh if he had decided not to shoot himself the fire hydrant
that could have kept the 1906 city of San Francisco from burning down
we are all on the path
down the river in the game under
the stars inside the belly of the beast
of being alive
we all want to work
the way the stars work
the way our mother worked to birth us
the way the taxis arrive
and the apples ripen and the barber cuts and the electrician reaches for his pliers
and the ballerina leaps through the heart of Tchaikovsky
and the cats yawn and the grains of sand roll and the baker kneads his dough
we are all children
of the bones under the soil the knuckles of jackhammer operators the lunch pails
of stevedores the lonely midnight rides
of truck drivers the strikes of school bus drivers the striped hats
of railroad engineers
we are the foundation of the house
the smokestack
the loading dock the tin door thrown open to a rising sun the thumb
around a red monkey wrench the steel-toed boot
under a 2-ton bar of steel the beep
of a forklift the yodel of a ditch digger the flash
of a shooting star
we are why the numbers add up the rivers flow downhill the swallows
return to San Juan Capistrano each year
we are right as waves true as Sierra Nevada mountains indispensable
as air delightful
as eating a banana split in a gondola steered down a Venice canal by a man
singing Verdi
we will never be contained
by a bottom line
a profit graph
a brand name
and we should never let ourselves be turned against each other
to fatten the wallets of those who look down their nose
at us
let’s shine a light on what’s behind those tin walls
instead of looking back over our shoulders at the bosses in fear
let’s look forward to envision a new brave future of love
and equality and brotherhood
for we are worthy of 10,000 poems in our honor
let Van Gogh set up his easel
Beethoven sit down at his piano
Souza warm up his marching band
Marx sharpen his pencil Twain fire up his pipe
Rousseau loosen humanity’s chains
let Mona Lisa smile
Babe Ruth step up to the plate
Galileo drop his 2 cannonballs off the Leaning Tower of Pisa
Ulysses head for home
all’s right with the universe
as long as we workers have the dirt of the earth on our hands
and the truth of the tigers and the trees
in our hearts.


Willie Young’s elbows have been sawn off
Saturday, 14 April 2018 17:53

Willie Young’s elbows have been sawn off

Published in Sport

Willie Young’s elbows have been sawn off

by Martin Hayes

12 years old and out the station onto Gillespie Road
it’s only 40 minutes before kick-off and no tickets in our pockets yet
but that was how it was back then
you didn’t need to have saved for over 5 months
gone without
to build up a ticket float
or luck out on a mate of a mates who couldn’t make the match
had a season ticket up for lending
as long as you covered the costs
it was more like a decision made over breakfast
or after a row between him and his new girlfriend
where he’d finally go, ‘fuck it son, let’s go to the match’
and there we were
me trying to keep up with him as he weaved through the buzz of the crowd
past the old factory
where luxury flats now stand costing more than the price of a French full back
a Portuguese left winger
and as we turned onto Avenell Rd he’d stop
turn around and slip me that 50p
leaving me at the schoolboy’s entrance telling me
not to hang around, to use my elbows if need be
like the great Willie Young
and then he was gone
me handing the guy in the hut that 50p before pushing through that turnstile
the creaks of it sounding like a tanker ship being let off to sea
waiting there then
at the side entrance to the North Bank
where all of the dads and uncles and brothers had paid their £3.50 entry fee
and it’d take an age there
sometimes long enough that you’d feel like you’d been abandoned
shit yourself about never getting home again
but finally he’d appear, “oi, son! get a move on”
and then you were in
following him towards the steps that led up into the North Bank
and as you got up to the top of them
it’d open up into
the greatest feeling in the world

but this is not a feeling that can be passed on anymore
this is not a feeling
that can be passed to our daughters and sons
it has been stolen from them
turned into a circus
where tickets cost more than one weeks’ rent one months’ electricity
one fortnightly food shop and an extra bottle of wine
where tv and the Murdochs
have slit the stomach of it
pulled out the entire guts of our traditions
for a euro and a rouble
and Willie Young’s elbows
have been sawn off
now walks
like a ginger ghost inside our heads
looking for a ball of anger to boot from our couches
up into the Sky

the employed poor
Friday, 02 March 2018 14:07

the employed poor

Published in Poetry

the employed poor

by Martin Hayes

they have a car a job with no contract they work for a company that has
a zero-tolerance policy on sick days and non-attendance they have a
flat with heating and food they have a bottle of wine of a night
they cook a pasta dinner for their two kids they try to buy their
kids’ new clothes and a mobile phone but it’s never the right
ones always 2 or 3 generations behind they are healthy but
nervous strong but fragile they have nothing in their
hands or tucked away under their beds they
are only one withheld monthly pay cheque
away from disaster one boss’s decision
away from hunger one unfortunate
accident away from annihilation
one unplanned bill away from
tipping point one illness
away from seeing the
whole edifice of
their lives come
tumbling down
with no one
around to
help put
any of it

 the employed poor

This poem is from a new collection from Martin Hayes called The Things Our Hands Once Stood For.

Martin Hayes is the only British poet who writes consistently and seriously about work, and about the insanity of a society where employees are seen as mere ‘hands’ whose sole role is to make money for the employer.

The publisher and poet Alan Dent has contributed an illuminating introduction. He says, 

Hayes speaks for those whose lives are supposed to be not worth speaking about. He is intent on revealing the significance of the lives of ordinary people in the workplace. When current employment relations are consigned to the dustbin of history, and are viewed as we now view the feudal relations between lord and vassal, will people wonder why so little was written about it?

Martin’s poems are direct and simple, and full of black humour. Like the grainy black and white images that illustrate them so well, they expose and express the simple, terrible truth – that the human relation on which our society is based, that between employer and employee, is morally indefensible. The clear message of his poetry is that those who do the work should own, control, and benefit fully from it. They should, in the last words of the last poem, ‘start the revolution that will change everything’, and show that

all of our fingertips combined
might just be the fingertips
that keep us and this Universe
stitched together.

The booklet is priced at £6 (plus £1.50 p&p), and is available from here, Manifesto Press and the usual outlets. ISBN 978-1-907464-32-4.

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