"To bring the poem into the world / is to bring the world into the poem."

Friday, November 4, 2011



On a dark, snowy morning in 1985 I stood on a picket line in solidarity with the miners of Wolstanton Colliery, Staffordshire. By then, the strike was crumbling, and the miners and their various groups of local supporters were helpless to stop the trucks rolling into the colliery. I had spent the previous year, in London and Staffordshire giving miners accommodation in my flat in London and organising food deliveries to the communities around Wolstanton after I moved there. As day broke, the shift of strike-breakers had passed through the lines and the crowd drifted away. As I looked back I saw a group of three miners warming their hands at a brazier before they also wandered away. The final defeat of the National Union of Mineworkers happened just a month or so later.

On a late summer morning in 2008, I sat at my desk at work watching the cars on the busy road outside our office, while the newsfeed on my screen flashed up the unimaginable amounts of money that Prime Minister Gordon Brown was handing over to the the privately-owned, failed banks. Twenty billion? Forty? Eighty billion. The figures kept rising. It seemed unreal. But I remember thinking "this money's got to come from somewhere". Now we know it's coming from schools, hospitals, museums, libraries—you name it—even from small poetry publishers.

Since the defeat of organized labour in the form of its most powerful union, Britain has been governed by the right; by Conservatives, and the neo-conservative New Labour. Of course, in the period since 1985, there have been things to celebrate and be encouraged by—the recent student protests, for example, and the current occupation of financial districts around the world. Nevertheless, for me, and many like me, living in Britain since the defeat of the miners has been like living in occupied territory. So, the world hasn't felt much different since 2008. The process of dismantling of the Welfare State had begun, and now that process has accelerated. Along with friends who work in the public sector (I'm in the private sector) I've been on demonstrations and marches, my daughter, a university student, took part in the recent student protests (and the teenage son of one friend was kettled and beaten by police in London). A younger generation has been politicized, and a sense of solidarity has been created.



Around the time that the banking bubble finally burst, provoking the current crisis, I had coincidentally entered a phase of using found text and borrowed language in my poetry, and, as the world around me became affected by the events following the crash of 2008, this was reflected in the language I used. Events also tend to influence what we read, as we turn to texts that may help make sense of our situation. Did I say 'what we read'? I meant what we read, watch and listen to, or overhear. These discourses, in turn, find their way into the poetry. The poetry I wrote at this time may be a reflection of how we can't escape the knowledge of events, and of the bigger political forces acting on us; they are on the airwaves and digital pathways, and intertwine with, and maybe define, our more personal thoughts and concerns. I didn't set out to 'include history' in my poems, but history and contemporary events became part of what they reflected.





possible worlds
revolve on the ring-road
between gear changes
and ferocious word-play

unprecedented steps
by the Bank of England
what time will I get home
to revive the economy

though he wonders
when he'll see
his family again, yet
the stars are grinning

in a speculative
but benevolent way,
watching his lonely progress
through the dancing traffic


roadworks on the M5
occasional sun,
the finance minister
being inflammatory

cows flashing
past, the day brightening,
thoughts straggling
the structure of the brain

how much petrol's left
and is desperately sorry
and happy by turns,
in limbo or the Elysian fields

in the green and pleasant
not one to spoil things,
but, of course,
there is no 'present moment'


the walkers are walking
their dogs in the dusk,
the park is a fair
field full of folk

and such is the irresistible
nature of truth,
that all it asks,
and all it wants

is the liberty of appearing,
in justice and plain dealing,
not king-waste and delusion,
England's lamentable slaverie

the kettle’s boiled,
the shops are open,
the street-lights are shining
in the english night



Alan Baker was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1958, and now lives in Nottingham. He founded the poetry publisher Leafe Press in 2000, and is now co-editor, and editor of its associated webzine Litter. His translation of Yves Bonnefoy's D├ębut et Fin de la Neige was published by Bamboo Books, California. His poetry is published on-line at Shearsman, Great Works, Shadowtrain, Stride and others. His most recent collection of poetry is Variations on Painting a Room: Poems 2000-2010 (Skysill Press, 2011).


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