We asked Melissa Lee-Houghton to write about the blog and what she’s read in it over the last couple of years. A big ‘thank you’ to her.
I was born in 1982, second daughter of an alcoholic park warden and a housewife in a council estate in Manchester. The ‘80s, for me, were just the early years, growing up in the North, poor and when I finally got settled with my family in Lancashire I just felt completely dislocated from…everything.
Reading Steve Ely’s recent piece on the blog about growing up in Kirkby, son of a miner, he described it as ‘a great place to grow up in.’ I feel envious, in a way, about having a sense of place in a small town, and about fighting for something. In his poem, ‘Boxing Day, 1979’, the last line reads ‘Black and white — unite and fight.’ My experience of small town life at the end of the ‘80s and through the ‘90s was violent, in a semi-rural, working class town, but the violence was undirected, not a fight for or against anything, just a lot of socially dislocated, angry kids. Racism here is and has always been a big problem, a problem no-one is prepared to fight, it just lives somewhere beneath the banality of daily life, of people walking around making no eye contact. I think about Steve’s involvement with socialism, and that, for me, makes me feel like fighting too, as I really believe we’re now living in a country that only anticipates, advocates and indoctrinates compliancy, submission and subordination. When we fall in line that’s when they kick us, that’s when we’re most at danger of losing our identities, our political voice, and our strength to kick back.
In Rhoda Darkar’s song, ‘The Boiler’ she sings:
‘there was nothing I could do
all I could do was scream’
I was surprised to learn it reached number 35 in the charts in 1982, the year I was born, purely because rape has never been a popular subject in pop culture, and I was unsurprised that it was banned from the airwaves. In the NME clip, during the case of the teenage victim of convicted rapist John Allen, in the same year, the Crown Court judge said the girl was ‘guilty of a great deal of contributory negligence’ – I have to ask the question, what has changed? Nothing has changed. A victim of sexual violence myself, I see women and men failed by the system, by society, and the oppression of rapists and abusers, and it’s so much more widespread than a lot of people going about their daily lives realise. I have hardly met any women, for example, in psychiatric care, who have not been, at some point in their lives abused or assaulted, then go on to be labelled mentally ill, or worse still, emotionally unstable, and live lives where no-one fights for them, where they’re expected to accept the violence perpetrated on them. You only have to read the news to see this wound continuing to gape and bleed all the way through our fractured society.
One thing I do love is how music gives people a platform for expressing oppression and rising up against the systematic abuses of government. From The Clash, who I was always a big fan of, to Sleaford Mods, we’ve covered a lot of ground, a lot of rage, and claimed and reclaimed our roots no matter how hard they’ve been yanked from under us. Art, music and poetry in some ways gives people permission to be enraged, and to fight, or at least, gives them back up and ammunition, and makes people want to fight, and to believe we can fight the bastards who oppress us.
I am a firm believer that every voice matters, and that quantifying suffering, death, murder, just contributes to the prevalence of seeing us all as statistics. Stand Up and Spit promotes the fight against political oppression, against racist violence, the rage that underpins working class lives when we are fighting a system that relentlessly strips us down – SUAS empowers youth and invigorates the poetry scene which is dominated by the middle classes, and yet it is the marginalised voices who clamour for the changes this country needs to drag us back out of the shit the right wing government have put us all in, and it is those who feel the brunt of the pain inflicted on us that are best placed to speak up.
Reading about Mick Furbank, the ‘Renaissance skinhead’ I’m completely drawn to anything that defies convention, so being a bisexual male prostitute in the early ‘80s I guess he couldn’t have been any more of a ‘shock tactician’ if he tried. Part of defying convention is defying the group identity – is, for me, standing up and being counted and also being unique even as part of a bigger movement. I think we have the right to shock. I think it’s essential that we do shock. Prostitution today is something so many people do to get by – for me, the prevalence of internet porn is semi-sterile prostitution – students are turning to prostitution to pay their ridiculous tuition fees – I met a lot of teenagers in the ‘90s who were involved in prostitution and it is rape on your own terms, and a symptom of the oppression of the poor. But what’s more shocking, sitting at home and wanking over images of drug addicted rape victims fucking drug addicted rape victims in internet porn and not even seeing them as real people – or fucking someone to pay for your education, or just to get by because your benefits have been cut, or you have no other way out.
One of the poets’ poems featured on the blog really affected me: Lindsey Cooper’s Jail Poems are harrowing and in their apparent simplicity there’s a real sense of a world limited and condensed, collapsed even. When she writes of an ‘x-ray’ and ‘a bellyache’,
‘makes me feel human’
it really brings home, to me, the reality of having your liberty revoked and being locked up, something I’ve experienced many times on psychiatric wards where I’ve been detained, restrained, bullied and drugged, sometimes for months on end, with no-one ever accepting culpability for any of it.
Her message is ever relevant, and although there’s no backstory mentioned in the blog, the poems or anywhere else on the net, I have been thinking a great deal about the situations that can surround a woman being convicted of assault, for example, when she perpetrated the assault in self-defense but is still sentenced. I’ve felt unsafe walking alone for many years, and have had reason to. When I was a teenager I carried a knife but in more recent times I realized that even if I used it in self-defense it would be described as pre-meditated if I already had the knife on me. Regardless of the real story behind Lindsey’s Jail Poems there’s a lot of work needs doing to keep women safe in prisons, units and wards in the UK. Only days ago this story was printed in The Guardian:
Finally, I’d recommend anyone reading this listens to the Really Sayin’ Somethin’ interview with The Big J and Ashna Sarkar.
I got to see Janine Booth read in a pub in London recently and she’s a significant trailblazing, ranting, political poet who is railing against the Conservatives and has long been involved in producing ‘zines and gigging. If you’ve never been to a ranting poetry gig in a packed pub and would rather read a mainstream poetry collection or go to a university reading, then I would say you’re missing out on a significant movement, and to me, activism is and has always been a massive part of poetry and this radical engagement comes from a history and a movement which is rooted in place, in time and in poetry – though is still dislocated from the consensus that poetry needs to be disciplined or rooted in academia. I feel very strongly that you can have your feet in as many camps as you want in poetry – you can be mainstream, you can be academic, you can be experimental, Avant garde, you can be politically relevant, ranting, outspoken, shocking – but don’t stick to the same script – the only completely shit poetry is conformist poetry. Whoever we are, wherever we live in the UK, whatever group or movement we are affiliated with, we need to use poetry in its entirety to fight the inequality and oppression which every single one of us is being subjected to.