It has been a few weeks since I finished my Blog of 70 poems inspired by seventy tracks by seventy artists. Since then I have been doing a bit of editing and have created a book of the blog. I am hoping a publisher will take it up.
I also got the chance to perform some of the poems to a select audience (ie not many people turned up) at a venue in France. It occurred to me that if I could find a way of incorporating the music and video into a stage show it would make for an interesting evening.
Lots to think about but in the meantime, I have been missing my Friday morning posting and I’ve given some thought about what to do next. I am going to take inspiration (steal someone else’s idea) from my friend and fellow poet Rowan McCabe. Rowan is the world’s first Door to Door Poet, he knocks on people doors and asks them what’s
important in their lives and then he writes a poem about it. Check out his website by clicking on his photo.
So here’s the thing…
What is your favourite track and why is it important to you. Let me know and I will attempt to write a poem based on your track and artist. I will then post it up on the blog. Like a Juke Box where you request your record but this way you get a poem back. Or do you think there is a classic track I have missed out that deserves the Three Score and Ten treatment?
Just email your request to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and lets see what happens.
Ronnie Lambert was 18 when he returned to Newcastle after spending a year in London working as a brick layer. Ronnie said he never forgot the emotion he felt when he came home and he tried to capture it in this song. I think he did a brilliant job, it’s a bit cliched in parts but for a Geordie it says all it needs to say. This song is regularly played on match days at St James’ Park, the home of Newcastle United.
This poem and the quote that is used as a title came after I was watching an England match at a bar in the South West of France. A few of the English locals had gathered to watch the game and a woman sat next to me and said “You look like a man who knows about football”.
Afterwards I thought about what she said, I wasn’t wearing an England shirt and didn’t look any different to anyone else there that day. The only thing I had that was different to the other people in the bar was a Northern accent. I have been a football supporter all my life. At times, a very halfhearted one and at other times a season ticket holder. Being a Newcastle United supporter requires a lot of blind faith and a certain level of stubbornness but if you are a Geordie it’s in your blood and there is nothing you can do about it.
To celebrate the start of the football season here is a footy poem.
“You look like a man who knows about football”
Football courses through our city like the Tyne in flood It is tattooed in black and white on our hearts and knuckles We hold memories of sepia tinged glory days As a child on the cramped terraces of St James’s Park I crowd surfed to the touch line When in 1968 we won the Fairs Cup I danced in the Leazes End to the sound of “The Blaydon Races” At school I was the runt kid with bottle glass spectacles Whose lack of coordination and spatial dyslexia Led to our ten nil defeat to our protestant rivals I was not picked again Newcastle United is owned by a bully with too much money Our players are overpaid egos in a football strip Our stadium prostituted for corporate advertising Littered with over priced bars and indigestible snacks But every victory is a lump in the throat Every defeat a stone in the shoe I loved the comradery of the terraces The shared identity and common purpose The power of the crowd on match day as we surge through the city Buses,cars and lorries grind to a halt as we stream past It reminds us that we the people have power If we choose to exercise it
Writing can often be a strange journey. Most of the poems I write have a conscious beginning. Some event or random thought will be its starting point. I will make notes or create a rough draft that I can mull over and then rewrite a few times until I am happy with it.
Sometimes a poem will come unbidden. It seems to come from nowhere and is as complete as a poem can be. It is sometimes blocking another poem that I am trying to write and sits there in my subconscious as a defiant gate keeper. My only course of action is to write it down and then I can move on. This happened a couple of weeks ago when I was writing the final blog poem based on Ian Dury and the Blockheads song “Reasons to be Cheerful”.
Here it is and it’s an odd little poem but I like it.
This wonderful song by Marc Cohn brings back lots of memories of my Father. Although his car was not a Silver Thunderbird but a Standard Vanguard, it was his pride and joy.
He was a hard working man with a very strong sense of family values. The Standard Vanguard belonged to a time when we as a family were doing well but hard times were to come. My Dad was an agent for a woman’s clothing firm, he had a special designed Van to take to
his clients as well as a car and we lived in a nice semidetached house. When I was 11 one of his major customers went bust owing him lots of money and leaving him in debt to suppliers. He had to close the business and eventually sell the house to pay off his creditors. After that, he had a succession of jobs with periods of unemployment in between
One of the less appealing jobs he had later in life was as a “Tally Man”. He worked for a loan company in Newcastle and his job was to go door to door and collect the weekly payments from the customers.
I remember one Christmas Eve he was leaving the house and I asked him were he was going and he told me he was going to collect the weekly payments. “But, its Christmas!” I said. He told me that if he didn’t collect the payments this week then they would owe double next week and the firm would add extra interest and it was best for the customers to pay now and that he was doing them a favour. In this piece I imagined what happened next.
The Tally Man calls
Even on a good day, kids would be sent to shout through the letter box “Me Mam’s out” but no one expected him to call on Christmas Eve. So, Ada Johnson didn’t think twice about flinging the door open and saying “Merry Christmas” actually she never got further than the “Merry”. Then a “What the fuck are you doing here?”
Before her stood a slight figure of a man dressed in a brown suit. His hair thin and pressed close to his scalp with Brylcream. Out of a briefcase he pulled a small leather ledger.
“It’s a Wednesday, Mrs Johnson and I always call on a Wednesday, and sometimes on a Thursday if you are not in and then a Friday and a Saturday until your payment has been made.”
“But it’s Christmas Eve” she protested.
“It’s a Wednesday, I collect on a Wednesday, there are no exceptions for holidays. If I don’t collect this week it will mean you owe twice as much next week and then extra interest will be added and you will end up paying more. I’m doing you a favour by coming today.”
Mrs Johnson was stunned none of the other collectors had called this week, she went back into the house and got her purse.
“Here, you heartless bastard.” She thrust her last few poundnotes into his hand.
“Thanks Mrs Johnson I’ll see you next week, Merry Christmas”
Labi Siffre has a wonderful voice and his compassion and understanding of life shines through his work.
First a little background on Labi, He was born in London as Cladius Afolabi Siffre, his
mother was of Barbadian-Belgium descent and he had a Nigerian father. Siffre was educated at a Catholic independent day school St Benedict’s School in Ealing. Despite his Catholic education, Siffre has stated that he has always been an atheist. Labi’s long term partner was Peter Lloyd. They met in 1964 and they were together until Peter’s death in 2015. Over fifty years is a long time. I’ll never manage that.
The background to the poem was the weeks when there was the appalling attack on Westminster and the divisive Article 50 was passed for the UK to leave the EU. On Facebook, I see friends argue and insults flying between people who should be working together. This week, I wanted to write something that reminds us all we have different ideas but we should never forget that we have more in common than divides us.
In 1973 I attended the inaugurating meeting of the Chile Solidarity Campaign in London. The military under General Pinochet had just ousted the democratically elected socialist government of Salvador Allende and begun a campaign of terror against the workers movement, resulting in the deaths of many thousands and the exile of thousands more.
The campaign was supposed to bring together the left in a unified campaign of solidarity but instead the meeting descended into chaos as the Socialist Workers Party and the Communist Party squabbled over who should be running the conference. Beside me a Chilean woman was in tears. She told me that this was the problem that led to the defeat in Chile; instead of fighting the enemy the left spent most of its time fighting itself.
I draw huge comfort from listening to”Something inside so Strong” by Labi Siffre. It is a song that gives hope and is as beautiful as any poem I have ever read. He remains as clear and incisive as ever. Labi has a blog that is well worth following called “Into the Light”
North and South
We all have that mental list of hurts and grievances
The memories of the bullies bitter words and fists
Lover’s parting accusations and cruel put downs
Scar tissue whose details are undiminished by time
We are a nation of differences North and South
We are a complex of languages East and West
We are Sunni and Shia, Protestant and Catholic
We are roasted vegetables and grilled steak
We all have a mental list of our mistakes and regrets
When we accused the innocent and ignored the guilty
The incautious remark and the insult we do not remember
But sits like a stone wedged in the heart of others
We are a nation of similarities Laughter and Smiles
We are a complex of shared experiences
We are a stranger’s smile on a sunny afternoon
We are Curry and Chips, Sunrise and Sunset
We all have a mental list of what make us stronger
When we stood up to those who point the finger
When we championed the blameless against the accuser