Posts Tagged ‘everybody’s reading’

Uncovering Resistance: Leicester and Leicestershire in World War One

October 3, 2015

This set of poems arose from a book by Penny Walker, exploring Leicester’s resistance to World War One. I performed these as part of the Everybody’s Reading Festival.

Common to the interviews done in preparation for the book, were family silences on the subject of war. Perhaps it was just too difficult a subject to be talked about. The prevailing attitude (completely unhealthy of course) of the British “stiff upper lip” may have played a part – or perhaps words were simply not capable of capturing the horrors of the trenches.

The opening line, “For fifty-seven years”, refers to Harry Patch, who never talked about the war to his late wife, and was 100 before being inspired to pass on an anti-war message to future generations.


Silence

For fifty-seven years, he kept it secret from his wife
A shameful infidelity, a nightmare, a scream of terror.
For words cannot encompass the horror
Cannot convey the conflict.
Unless you were there, you would not understand.

The title of my next poem, “Cat and Mouse”, refers to the treatment, common to both conscientious objectors and suffragettes – of being imprisoned for a short time, then released – only to be recaptured by the authorities. The popularly called “Cat and Mouse Act” enabled the government to remove suffragettes from prison, if they had been on hunger strike, forcibly feed them, then return them to prison. As the war went on, it became more difficult to obtain exemption from the war. Conscientious objectors faced similar treatment, and the opprobrium heaped on them continued, even after the conflict had ended.


Cat and Mouse

We were released,
Asked to sign on
Imprisoned again.

Up before the beak,
The middle-class old duffer,
Deaf to our pleas.

Treated like criminals,
Blacklisted.
After war ended
Still people held grudges.

Life goes on,
We make do.
Where others perished,
We still live.

The white feather
Becomes a white poppy.
Symbol of resistance,
Symbol of pride.

Common reasons for objecting to the war were non-conformist Christian beliefs – the idea that it is never right to kill another human being, as well as socialist beliefs – the idea that the working class should unite against the bosses, and that this struggle must be international. This imperialist war is a war for the aristocrats – so why should we do their dirty work for them? Common to both strands of thought, were rock-solid principles.

“I have been fighting all my life” is a quote from John Flanagan, who was a shop-steward and a member of the Independent Labour Party in Bradford. His grand-daughter now lives in Leicester. When asked why he refused to fight, he replied that he had been fighting all his life, but he refused to kill fellow workers. Often Christian and socialist beliefs went together, and I (an atheist) have tried to combine these outlooks in this poem.


Principles

I will not fight against my fellow man.
This is not an act of cowardice;
I am as patriotic as the next fellow:
But war must be resisted.

Without us, the general’s plans are naught.
We are the ones who have to drive in
The bayonet. Who have to turn against
Common humanity, common decency.

I have been fighting all my life
For decent pay and better conditions.
The trade union banner is my flag.
The bosses are our enemy, not each other.

An injury to one is an injury to all.
Thou shalt not kill.
We were all created in the image of God.
We are all equal.

One of the most enduring images of the First World War is the recruitment poster with Lord Kitchener, “Your country needs YOU”. In this poem, I contrast the glory and camaraderie which many people signed up to war, with the shell-shocked veterans who returned from the front, only to be shunned by polite society. For the ordinary Tommy, there would be no treatment of the psychological effects of the war, and this was only just beginning to be understood.


Kitchener

Kitchener pointed at each of us.
Our friends had signed up,
Some lied about their age to join.
We were young in those days
Eager, idealistic, naïve.
By Christmas it would all be over:
Cut down in the trenches of Passchendaele or Ypres.
Such a waste of life.
The Lonely Ones returned
Not to a heroes’ welcome.
Nomadic – unable to settle, or rest.
Thoughts echoed through their heads
To surface in nightmares.
Ignored by society, shunned.
Past glories, forgotten.
Fingers still point accusingly
At broken men.

little red little green

If you have enjoyed my poetry on this blog, my new collection, “Little Green Poetry” is now available from Lulu – – £4+P&P (paperback) or £2.50 (for e-book readers)

You can still order copies of my first collection, “Little Red Poetry” from http://www.leftbooks.co.uk or http://www.lulu.com – again for £4 (pb) or £2.50 (as a pdf for e-readers).

I hope you enjoy reading my poems, and, as always, all proceeds will go to help build the fightback against corporate political parties, to build a voice for the millions, not the millionaires.

To find out more about my politics, visit the website of the Committee For A Workers’ International, which is engaged in struggle in around 50 countries worldwide.

How Saxby Street Got Its Name

September 28, 2015

Some poetic responses for the Everybody’s Reading Festival, to the eponymous book by Penny Walker, which discusses the impact of World War One on my local community of Highfields, Leicester.

What’s In A Name?

Place names – windows onto the past
From a distance of a century,
Ordinary folk from Highfields
Caught up in conflict
With other ordinary people.
We even shared the same words:
Mecklenburg, Mickleover, Micheldever
Mony a pickle maks a mickle.
Inflamed by propaganda,
Outraged at living with a Germanic street name
Indignant complaints made to the council.
At a stroke of a bureaucratic pencil
Hanover – Andover; Saxe Coburg – Saxby
As in Groby, Blaby, Barkby, Ratby
Reminders of the time when the Danelaw ruled
And Erik Bloodaxe was feared like the Hun.
Immigration is nothing new,
We all have something fresh to bring.
Today, Leicester celebrates Divali, Eid and Vaisakhi
The Empire which stoked war is but a memory
We live together as a community.

The motto of Leicester is Semper Eadem which translates as “Always the Same”. The children of Medway Primary School staged a short play, looking at the similarities and differences between 1915 and 2015.

Always The Same

Leicester stood out
In the rush to sign on
We remained aloof,
Independent.
Recognised the war for
The racket it was.
It was easy to get a job
Though hours were long
Hosiery was thriving.
We sang to rhythms
Of the factory.
No need to risk our lives
For a few bob.

Penny’s book dealt with memories from the First World War recorded in the local Oral History Archive. Since this was compiled starting from the early eighties, few people were alive who could remember the events from their adulthood. Many of the contributions were about childhood experiences of wartime.

Memories

Children played in the street
Hopscotch, top and whip, battledore and shuttlecock.
Our rhymes danced high and clear –
One potato, two potato, three potato, four!
Much better than school – crammed sixty to a class.
Lives were more fragile;
No doctors for the likes of us.
The NHS was a figment of Bevan’s imagination
To be cradled by a future war.
We couldn’t afford such luxury.
We swam through the jitties and the alleys
Fireflies amidst pollution’s pall.
Innocents in the battle
Which engulfed the world.

little red little green

If you have enjoyed my poetry on this blog, my new collection, “Little Green Poetry” is now available from Lulu – – £4+P&P (paperback) or £2.50 (for e-book readers)

You can still order copies of my first collection, “Little Red Poetry” from http://www.leftbooks.co.uk or http://www.lulu.com – again for £4 (pb) or £2.50 (as a pdf for e-readers).

I hope you enjoy reading my poems, and, as always, all proceeds will go to help build the fightback against corporate political parties, to build a voice for the millions, not the millionaires.

To find out more about my politics, visit the website of the Committee For A Workers’ International, which is engaged in struggle in around 50 countries worldwide.

Little Red Poetry

August 26, 2013

Any regular readers of the blog might want to know that a collection of my political poems is available from Lulu for £4 in printed form, or £2.50 as an ebook (in pdf format). Click here to have buy / look at a preview –

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

All proceeds from the sale of the chapbook, will go towards the Socialist Party to help us campaign against cuts and austerity.

I hope you enjoy reading my poems and that it inspires you to get involved and join the fightback.

For anyone visiting Leicester, you can also hear me perform some of these at ‘Farewell to Thatcher’ on the 3rd October (supporting KGB Jazz and The Splitters), 8pm, The Donkey (pub), Welford Road – £5 / £4 entry – all money raised goes to the City of Sanctuary, a charity which helps refugees and asylum seekers.