Two more poems from the 1912 New York suffragette pamphlet Mother Goose As A Suffragette.
This poem was in the 1983 anthology Where There’s Smoke, which was the fourth one from Hackney Writers’ Workshop. Ron Barnes was a cabbie.
The Tower Block
Standing in the fog yellow light.
Listening to the muffled melody,
Of turning wheels, and running
The grey precisioned door slides stiffly
like a grey sentry,
And hollow echoes boom in the
Eight foot box.
The button pressed in this solitude,
In this insular compartment
And you are pulled up – Or,
Dragged down, according to the
The grey stone floor staring steps,
The walls soiled as a tramps heels.
Felt pen poems of loves,
And other facts of life,
Make an unwelcome and only change.
Comin up, or going down.
Glass panes take the drunken rage,
Or hilarious boredom.
And from this great distance,
You look down on this, tower blocked
The anthology Apples and Snakes: Raw and Biting Cabaret Poetry reviewed in Jamming!, number 21, 1984.
Apples and Snakes: Raw and Biting Cabaret Poetry
(Pluto Press, £1.95)
Following the success of the Apples and Snakes cabaret comes this volume of representative work. ‘Here are the rants, raves, screams, and whispers that are the poetry of today’, proclaims the cover.
The intentions of A&S are creditable enough – a return to the idea of poetry as a means of mass communication/information, rather than safe entertainment for a smug elite – though ultimately they are playing to an equally narrow field as their reactionary precursors.
Take Attila the Stockbroker (please!) who reveals his bootboy mentality in ‘Contributory Negligence’ (concerning the beating up of a judge) – ‘He asked for it! He’s rich and snobbish/right wing, racist sexist too!’ Hardly endearing qualities, though merely a listing of traits he knows his ‘hip’ audience will despise, thus justifying his violence.
The original emphasis, it must be remembered, was on performance, and many of these pieces suffer as words on a page. The contributions from John Hegley – hilarious in his deadpan style – appear curious nonstarters in print.
Also, the poets tend to over-reach themselves, writing what they ‘ought’ to, rather than what they know. The most effective pieces come from deeply-felt emotions on a wide range of topics (those by Marsha Prescod, Rory McLeod, Fran Landesman, for example).
Otherwise we have little more than ‘grown -up’ nursery rhymes – the type of crude lavatory humour that typifies most ‘youth’ poetry, from Seething Wells and John Cooper Clarke through to Pat Condell. Politically there is little genuine concern here – were the country ever run by a humane government (a contradiction like ‘living corpse’, but bear with me) this bunch would be at a loss for subject matter.
What is advertised as ‘raw and biting’ is, at the end of the day, as toothless and ineffectual as its declared enemy.
This poem comes from Hidden Voices, which was a small magazine put out by East London Women Against Prison in November 1981.
Rhyme With a Reason
Pride in their uniform so blue and bold
Perhaps their Integrity keeps out the cold?
‘G’ for the Guts they so often display –
I was told these three mean ‘PIG’ today …
Thy knocked the pride out of me, with a starvation diet;
Integrity won’t turn any water to claret.
Guts? I threw my bread on the floor,
A screw kicked me in mine as he came through the door.
Three days on the boards, straight-jacket and all-
“Give in my dear, stop being a fool.
We’ll love you so much if you’ll only grass
On your husband and friends, from the first to the last”.
Brendan Behan, that marvellous fellow, has this magnificent piece in Vogue’s Gallery, an anthology of 50 Famous Authors and Artists, yes that Vogue, from 1962.
The anthology collected work that had been in Vogue over the previous few years, and alongside some chic photos there’s some fine work therein.
Behan’s book Borstal Boy is one that that we all us yobs read, along with Colin MacInnes, and New English Library youthsploitation.
The Woman On The Corner Of The Next Block To Us
As it became clear to her that I had resigned from the building trade, she’d shout sadly after me,
“Do you never think of your poor mother?”
I am driven to write by murophobia – the fear of having to paint walls, or doors or anything else, or having to work at my trade as a house and ship painter.
There is no better way of escaping hard work for a boy without capital or a religious vocation than writing.
The first thing you have to do is to get the idea into other people’s heads that you are a writer.
I started by going into pubs in Grafton Street and writing for little magazines about being a house painter. There was one of these magazines called the Bell and it went for this sort of writing, and writing about Donegal fishermen and Monaghan bogmen and Belfast shipwrights.
Any day of the week, in the Bell office, you could meet these fishermen and bogmen taking up their manuscripts, and getting away from fishing and turf-cutting by writing about it.
Those of them who could speak Irish I could exchange greetings with, but I could not understand the English-speakers very well. I speak Dublin, Belfast, Cockney, Geordie, rhyming slang, but like Nehru, I have no common tongue with the majority of my countrymen from the interior. Especially when they had a few issues of Horizon digested and mixed the names of the English literary great into their speeches:
“Ha sure Aydit is a naice semple wamman at the back avitt, aye shewerly, aye. And more betoken and where would you lave Satchamrverell? Aveleen Waw has the Ting, aye, an’ Sirril, an’ Graves – but you wouldn’t be sure a Raine, owenly sometimes.”
I didn’t know whether I had the Thing or not. What I did know was that whatever about the pen being mightier than the sword – it’s lighter than the stockbrush.
And I envied these bogmen one thing. Half their battle in stting up in this business was won by the time they got on the train for Dublin. They were amongst new people who would accept them straight away as literary men because they had never known them in any other guise. Dublin people would accept them as literary men the more readily because they looked like bogmen.
But I had to go back through the roads of Crumlin Corporation Housing Estate, and pass the woman on the corner of the next block to us. She’d shout from the window or from the garden, “Can you not get e’er a job?”
In the morning she was as bad. I’d go down the road about half-past nine to have a good walk into the city and chew over in my mind a short story for the Bell, which by this time was being printed on a paper made of oats or something, so that it looked almost as wholesome as its content, and she’d shout, “Do you know what time it is? All the men is gone to their work two hours ago. Have you a bad way of lying that you couldn’t get up?” And I’d snake down the road hiding from the woman amongst the schoolchildren.
Sometimes there were literary parties and I’d come into my own, as a house painter, and a proletarian, and I’d come home in the dawn, with my head filled with Portuguese burgundy and Cork gin, a little unsteadily but happy, the sounds of old ballads and Pisan cantos still in my ears, and hear her, risen on her elbow from beside her sleeping lord, screech from the bedroom window, “Are you on the night shift these times?”
As it became clear to her that I had no intention of painting any more, and that I had resigned from the building trade, she’d shout sadly after me, as I fled down the road towards Grafton Street, “Do you never think of your poor mother?” and, “Are you going in with them that will neither work nor want?” That was one evening she saw my name in the Radio Eireann programme, and thought I had become an actor or a commentator on Gaelic Football matches.
Since those days I have been asked, and publicly, many awkward questions; did I plead guilty or not guilty, was I drunk on TV, but I fled from them and went back home, myself and Beatrice, and lived in peace – till one day ago Beatrice said I should go up and see my mother.
I went up to Crumlin in a taxi, and cowered down in the back as we passed the house of the woman on the corner of the next block. I needn’t have troubled. She was in the house talking to my mother.
I pulled out a handful of English gold and suggested we adjourn to the Floating Ballroom for a drink.
She greeted me a bit weakly, but rallied when we got to the pub and asked, “Do you not think it’s a bit early in the day for you to be drinking a glass of whiskey?” And after she had a couple of glasses herself, she asked when I was going to pull myself together?
We were joined by her two sons, and she said “These is Mick and Shameus, and-” indicating one gloomy-looking youth- “he’s an I.R.A. man, and he’s a Common-unionist.”
“Listen,” said Mick, “are you a bourgeois decadent?”
“No,” says I, “but I’m saving up.”
“Well,” asks Shameus, “is it true you’re going to let down your country by writing for a stage-Irish magazine called Brogue?”
“Yes, ’tis,” said I, rolling my eyes languidly – my first exercise since we opened in the West End.
This Gary Snyder poem appeared in New American Review, number 8, January 1970.
What You Should Know To Be a Poet
all you can about animals as persons.
the names of trees and flowers and weeds.
names of stars, and the movements of the planets and the moon.
your own six senses, with a watchful and elegant mind.
at least one kind of traditional magic:
divination, astrology, the book of changes, the tarot;
the illusory demons and illusory shining gods;
kiss the ass of the devil and eat shit;
fuck his horny barbed cock,
fuck the hag,
and all the celestial angels and maidens perfum’d and golden-
& then love the human: wives husbands and friends.
childrens’ games, comic books, bubble gum,
the weirdness of radio and advertising.
work, long dry hours of dull work swallowed and accepted
and livd with and finally lovd. exhaustion, hunger, rest.
the wild freedom of the dance, extasy
silent solitary illumination, enstasy
real danger, gambles, and the edge of death.
Like Spoons No More
She came from
it like she was
me and mine
so often over
pie and mash
she said she’d
crust side up,
and gave me
a knife and fork.
it did nause me.
with a spoon
‘til it sang.
Cos every meal,