The Dictionary

The Clash “London Calling”

Released in 1979 this seemed, at the time, as a call to action and a portent of what was to come. There was a darkness to punk that the Clash reflected. I think their music and politics was summed up by critic Sean Egan when he wrote that the Clash were exceptional because: 

clash“They were a group whose music was, and is, special to their audience because that music insisted on addressing the conditions of poverty, petty injustice, and mundane life experienced by the people who bought their records…”

I liked the Clash and in particular the album “London’s Calling” I have spent a great part of my life visiting London either because of work or to meet up with friends and family. It is a sprawling place were even the smallest journey seems to take a life time but it has an energy and vitality that is difficult to beat. Much as I love my home town of Newcastle it can’t rival London for sheer variety and originality. 

Over forty years ago I remember travelling from Hackney to Stepney on a bus late at night when I fell in to conversation with the conductor (this was in the days when you had a person separate from the driver who would collect the fares). He was reading a dictionary and we talked about words and language. English was not his first language and he was fascinated by the sheer number of words in the dictionary. The words had a magic quality to him and I loved the delight he took in discovering new words. Something I still find today, 

My problem was always not the words but the spelling of them but now thanks to software it no longer troubles me since I discovered computers, spellcheckers and word processing software.

This is an old poem of mine from my first collection called “Doors” but it’s a long time since it saw the light of day and finding it was like meeting up with an old friend.

 

Dictionary

 

My father gave me a dictionary

Full of words I did not understand

And could not pronounce

Every vowel was a brawl

Every consonant a skirmish

 

I learned to love the words

That I could not spell

To explore their meanings

Taste their sound on my tongue

Prising them apart

Stitching them back together

 

In my head I wrote poetry

Furtive words about secrets

Never daring to put pen to paper

In case my words would be mocked

And ridiculed

Geordie boys don’t write poetry

 

Thirty years ago

On a Routemaster bus in London

Going from Hackney to Stepney

I shared a dictionary with a conductor

We drooled over the pages

Like schoolboys ogling porn

 

I realised, I was not alone

This was not a fetish

Just a fascination for phonetics

Now, I let the software

Worry about the spelling

While I enjoy creating the lines

 

© Jeff Price August 1998

Being Dusty

Dusty Springfield “You don’t have to say you love me.”

dusty-springfield-9491157-1-402Dusty was my first love. That teenage fantasy love where hope triumphs over reality. I loved her despite the fact that we had never met, she was nine years older than me and a pop star. It didn’t stop a boy from dreaming. Even finding out she was gay didn’t change my mind. She had the voice of an angel and when she sang it felt like she was singing just for me and my answer would be:

“Dusty I will say “I love you” even though you don’t fancy men and you live in America and you are an international super star and I work in a carpet shop in Newcastle, I think we can make it work.”

Dusty’s life was not an easy one. She set herself very high standards and was notoriously difficult to work with. She was a very private person who disliked the prurient press interest in her sexuality. She died of Breast Cancer in 1999.

In my teenage years my bedroom wall was decorated with pictures cut from magazines of pop stars like Dusty. This was music that was mine and not my parents. Heaven help an artist that became popular with my parents, I would immediately take their picture down. You won’t find a Cliff Richard or Cilla Black record in my collection.

Strangely that doesn’t seem to apply to my children. They like many of the same bands I enjoy. They have grown up listening to sixties and seventies bands and they also share with me new tracks and bands that they like, some of whom feature in other posts in this blog. 

My poem this week inspired by Dusty’s music and her life is dedicated to all those who have the courage to be who they want to be, not what the world says they should be.

 

Being Dusty

 

This is for all those who said No when others told them to say Yes

This is for all those who stood Up when others said sit Down

This is for all those who offered a Hand when others raised a Fist

This is for all those who Cried Out when others told them to be Quiet

This is for all those who Stood Firm when others Ran Away

This for all those who were Positive when others were Negative

This is for all those who tried to Understand when others looked to Blame

This is for all those who Dared to love when others only Dreamed

This is for all the Dusty’s of this world who made a Difference

© Jeff Price November 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pointing Fingers

The Young’uns: You Won’t Find Me on Benefit Street

younguns
The Young’uns

There is so much I love about this song. The harmonies are magical and the the sentiments are brilliant. The title refers to “Benefit Street” a documentary that was broadcast on Channel 4 in 2014. It focused on the lives of those living on unemployment benefit and was a tacky program that exploited very vulnerable people.

You can check out the Young’uns on their website. Click here

The image of the North that some people have is of lazy and ignorant Northerners. It is a stereotype that was perpetuated by programs like “Benefit Street”. If you have ever been unemployed and had the indignity of “signing on” you will know that it is no picnic. If you are lucky enough not to have had that experience then watch the fantastic movie “I Daniel Blake” to get an understanding of how dehumanising the whole process it is.

My Father had various periods of unemployment and I have been through the same thing myself. One memory of my Dad was when I was eleven years of age. I was lucky enough to pass my eleven plus and I was sent to St Cuthbert’s Grammar School. This presented my family with a problem. Along with my school uniform, I was required to have a full sports oufits including football and cricket kit.

As my Father was unemployed at the time I knew getting all this kit would be impossible so I didn’t tell him about the sports kit. You were supposed to buy all the uniform from a shop in Newcastle called “Issac Walton’s” but it was expensive. My Dad managed to find a blazer somewhere else that was a similar but not quite the right colour and my mother sewed on a school badge (The Issac Walton blazer had the badge embroidered on the ST CUTHBERT BLAZERpocket). When sports day came, I told the teacher I had forgotten my sports kit and the next week I did the same.

As each week passed the threats from the sports master increased until I was eventually sent to the Head and was caned for persistently failing to bring my sports kit. What I didn’t realise was that they would inform my parents and when my Father got the letter he asked me what had happened and I explained what I had done. He went straight to the school and told them about our circumstances.

There was much wringing of hands by teachers and my Dad was embarrassed that I had lied to protect them from the expense. The school gave me a full sports kit gleaned from the lost property bin. I was a fine sight in my mismatched blazer and used and badly fitting sports kit. As you can imagine this was a something that didn’t escape the notice of the school bullies.

My poem this week is about the shame we are all made to feel when we have to apply for unemployment benefit.

 

Pointing Fingers

 

The shame sits like a stone in the pit of my stomach

It is wrought deep into the memory of my class

Forged from generations of pointing pious fingers

I stand with the motley crew of the sullen and crestfallen

All poorly shod and dressed in mean and shabby clothes

We are watched over by the honour guard of security men

In case our humiliation should erupt in understandable fury

Our stories are different but we all end up in the same place

Begging for what is ours and pleading for what we have paid for

 

We are not failures but those who have been failed

We are not unemployable just under employed

 

© Jeff Price 2017

The Wonder Years

Wonderwall: Oasis

wonderwallI listened to this track by Oasis over and over again trying to figure out what it was about and then it came to me in a flash, they are talking about their muse. Although, having read an article in the NME Oasis don’t agree with me but what would they know they only wrote it. Listen to the song yourself and let me know what it says to you.

Poetry and song Lyrics can mean something very different to different people, it depends on your experiences of life. My understanding is shaped by my experiences and in the poetry I am writing for this blog I am sharing that understanding with the reader. 

This blog has become my muse, the discipline of having to publish the blog every Friday has galvanised me into writing. It is easy, when I have no deadline, to put things off until tomorrow but a deadline works wonders for my creative juices. This is the thirty fifth post and it means I am half way through the blog. I promised myself that I would publish seventy new poems inspired by seventy artists with seventy different tracks and it feels good to get half way. Over the last 35 weeks there has been over a thousand visits from 25 different countries and I would like to say a big thank you for the support and the positive and encouraging feedback. 

My poem for this week is a tribute to my muse. My journey as a writer has been a frustrating one. I still have a vivid memory of fifty years ago when a teacher ridiculed a short story I had written in front of the whole class. The shame and the embarrassment still lives with me today but somewhere deep within in me was a voice that was never still and that compelled me to write even if it was in secret.

When I was fifty three, with the support of my other muse, my wife Lynda, I enrolled at Newcastle University. I did a full time master’s degree in poetry and creative writing. It gave me permission to call myself a writer (Although I still find that an odd idea) and now myself and my muse have a much more public relationship. 

I am looking forward to the next thirty five weeks.

The Wonder Years

 

She would whisper sonnets to me in the dead of night

Sometimes fragments of verse or snippets of stanzas

Building blocks of ideas and incongruous images

I fed her new words from in between the covers of novels

Reading her poetry from McGough, Mitchell and Shelley

Images from Elizabeth Bishop and punch lines from John Hegley

She loved the urban language of John Cooper Clarke

There was even a liking for Wordsworth and Keats

I bought her poetry magazines, chapbooks and pamphlets

Still she whispered and still the words could not find a voice

Then the dam broke and the words cascaded out

We enrolled in a school and studied for a degree in poetry

I became a Master and she became a Mistress

Now she will not leave me alone and follows me everywhere

Her night time whispers have become all day entreaties

The days are shorter now and there is still much to do

©Jeff Price November 2017