At Seventeen: Janis Ian
This is a truly beautiful song. The lyrics are stunning, you can feel the pain of a young person who doesn’t fit. It is a song that speaks of a divided country and of the unreasonable values society imposes on its young people. My method of writing this blog is to listen to my chosen track and let it inspire the poem. Sometimes there is a wonderful synergy between the music and the poetry and other times the connection is slight. This time all I took from the song was the age of seventeen. I think I was intimidated by the words anything I could write could not compare to the wonderful poetry of the lyrics of “Ar Seventeen”.
It is a long time since I was seventeen in 1965 and Newcastle was a very different place than today.
I had left school and was working at Bainbridge’s department store (now John Lewis).
In my youth the world was not yet technicolour but the grim days of World War 2 were far behind us and the bright colours of the 1960’s were beginning. The city fathers were bulldozing the slums and building new housing along the riverbank. In those days it was a lucky few who went to higher education for most of us working class kids it was not even a consideration. There were however jobs a plenty and you could walk out of one and in to another. Wages weren’t brilliant but living costs were low and the Cuban Missile crisis of 1962 had passed and there was a feeling of optimism and hope that the world could be a better place. It wasn’t to last long before we would see the shipyards close and the coal mines of Durham and Northumberland shut.
Following the de-industrialisation of Newcastle it reinvented itself as a tourist city populated by art galleries, restaurants and music venues. it has become a popular destination for Stag and Hen parties.
Young people were offered work in Call Centres or Government paper factories like the Department of Work and Pensions. many young people went elsewhere to look for fame and fortune. Of our five daughters all but one live in other parts of the UK and Ireland, there they have found more opportunities and better prospects.
Yet it still remains an optimistic place, the people will still greet you with a smile and despite all its faults it is still a city I love and I would not want to live anywhere else.
Streets of varicose veins terraced houses swept down to the river
Coughing chimneys wake the wary for the first shift of the day
Through fog filled streets they trudge their weary way to work
Factories and mines were swept away with the rotting slums
Shipyards and blast furnaces emptied like a tidal lagoon
To those left behind progress was stuck in the silted river mud
They reinvented the city in restaurants and shopping centres
Refashioned its theatre of streets and avenues of art galleries
They sold our birthright for a seat under a Michelin star
©Jeff Price September 2017