Saturday, 27 April 2013

On listening to Versions of the North

I was unable to attend the launch of our Versions of the North: contemporary Yorkshire poetry last week in Leeds at the wonderful Flux Gallery. I think about 23 of the poets in the book read, which is not a record but is a lot of poets. Last night the editor, Ian Parks, and three of the contributors - Steve Ely, Becky Cherriman and Elizabeth Barrett - read at Beeston Poets, and I was impressed. Ian remarked that among other things he wanted the book to represent the work of  some dead poets whose work was in danger of being forgotten and to present the work of a new generation of young Yorkshire poets (represented at this reading by Becky). Becky read well, with some of her poems being read from memory but I was particularly impressed with Ian's reading of poets no longer with us, and of a poem by Milner Place, who wrote his first poem at 65.
But what interested me most were the references to the miners' strike of 1984/85. There is material on this in the book, but it was by chance that the platform included two poets whose Yorkshire fathers were on strike the whole year and Elizabeth, Liz, whose brother was on strike throughout but whose father was one of the few Yorkshire colliers who returned to work. Liz herself was involved in strike support in London where she was then living. Ian read his "Strikebreakers" poem which includes the verse:
They weren't there when the brass bands played / and the banners were unfurled, / When the men marched to the pit gate / as if they'd won the day.  / They weren't there when the promises were made.
The whole poem is worth reading.
Steve went further back to the years prior to the great strike when "Arthur Scargill" (the title of the poem) raised miners' wages and respect, those who had previously been:
The lowest of the low and low-paid / the primary men; farmhands, quarrymen, colliers
 - a poem that ends
You brought them health and Palma de Majorca, / Cortinas on the drive and kids in college / reading Marx and Mao and The Wealth of Nations.
This set the stage for Liz - whose poems were mostly about other things - to find a poem from an early collection, a poem she described as a bit creaky (I regret I did not note its name) but which described the situation she found herself in, becoming estranged from her father as she was there the four o'clock morning he joined the strikebreakers, with a policeman posted in his drive. The estrangement is only now receding.
Ian, in his introduction, had remarked about the Yorkshire facility for direct speech, and that the collection was direct in what the writers had to say. And here we were, back in 1984, every emotion clear. Direct all right.
And I could not help feel, in listening to Ian's last brilliant reading of the late Mabel Ferrett's "Atherton Moor, 1643" and the late Stanley Cook's "Towton",  that these bloody battles were somehow connected to Cortonwood, to Orgreave, where skirmishes took place and our modern history was changed.


ermferrari said...

As the grandson of a pit-manager I think I have a different perspective on the strikes. Scargill wasn't a hero in my house. Being born in 1986 I'd verge on the a-political, if it wasn't for wanting to learn more, to know as much about what was happening to my family (my eldest sisters were born in the 70s) and finding that the more I learn the more a position is imposed by the pattern.

Interesting comment regarding Medieval battles and Orgreave. Could this be related to the North's rugby and football? It's often said we have sports now so that we don't have to hit each other over the head with axes. That and most of the army's recruits seem to come from here.

Here's a link I found today via Helen Mort's blog to a film about Orgreave made in the way one might re-enact a Medieval battle.

Ross Bradshaw said...

I'm not saying Scargill was a hero. Indeed his recent battle with the NUM over his London flat indicates how far he has fallen after the strike, but it is quite clear from Steve Ely's poem and the history of the period that his more active leadership really did put miners up the pay league, reflecting how difficult and dangerous the job was. Rereading material on the strike this year I was reminded how awful it was when NACODS was bought off. That was the moment the strike turned. I can't recall BACM's position - which your grandfather would have been in, but it was the NACODS decision that lost the strike (in my opinion). Helen Mort is a great poet but I've not got onto the site you mention, though heard of it. You might have a point on sport though.