In a similar vein to the article on ‘Punk poetry’, the following is about what I personally term ‘Northern poetry’. I use this title simply to categorise what I feel are characteristics common to a number of poems from the north of England. I’m not suggesting these qualities only crop up in this part of the world but I feel enough do to warrant a category, if only for myself.
In the 1960’s, in the port of Liverpool there was, as many will know, I vibrant explosion of artistic expression through music, most famously by The Beatles but also bands such as The Scaffold, The Searchers and Gerry and the Pacemakers.
There were also a number of poets, influenced by the 50’s beat poets, who have gone down in history as ‘the Liverpool Poets’. Three of the most famous were Roger McGough, Brian Patten and Adrian Henri, who were published together in the 1967 anthology ‘the Mersey Sound’, which is still in print and has sold approx 500,000 copies.
These and other northern poets tend to be from working class backgrounds, attending college rather than universities, though there are of course exceptions.
Below are examples of the poetry I like from the north of England, in the ‘northern style’, there are the Liverpool lads of McGough and Patten, Manchester’s Tony Walsh and from Leeds Tony Harrison.
So what for me characterizes the ‘Northern’ style such as I see it. It possesses the following loose traits in various degrees.
It’s direct, uses simple expression and language, sometimes using vernacular, local idiom and slang.
In terms of subject the usual subjects of course, love. Loss, etc but also real life, social commentary, experience in their local environment, often humour, irony and sarcasm but always with a high degree of emotion and integrity.
I hope you enjoy and are inspired by the following:
sitting up in the sky
little old lady
with a ball of fading light
and silvery needles
knitting the night
The Sound Collector
A stranger called this morning
Dressed all in black and grey
Put every sound into a bag
And carried them away
The whistling of the kettle
The turning of the lock
The purring of the kitten
The ticking of the clock
The popping of the toaster
The crunching of the flakes
When you spread the marmalade
The scraping noise it makes
The hissing of the frying pan
The ticking of the grill
The bubbling of the bathtub
As it starts to fill
The drumming of the raindrops
On the windowpane
When you do the washing-up
The gurgle of the drain
The crying of the baby
The squeaking of the chair
The swishing of the curtain
The creaking of the stair
A stranger called this morning
He didn’t leave his name
Left us only silence
Life will never be the same
When you wake tomorrow
I will give you a poem when you wake tomorrow.
It will be a peaceful poem.
It won’t make you sad.
It won’t make you miserable.
It will simply be a poem to give you
When you wake tomorrow.
It was not written by myself alone.
I cannot lay claim to it.
I found it in your body.
In your smile I found it.
Will you recognise it?
You will find it under your pillow.
When you open the cupboard it will be there.
You will blink in astonishment,
Shout out, ‘How it trembles!
Its nakedness is startling! How fresh it tastes!’
We will have it for breakfast;
On a table lit by loving,
At a place reserved for wonder.
We will give the world a kissing open
When we wake tomorrow.
We will offer it to the sad landlord out on the balcony.
To the dreamers at the window.
To the hand waving for no particular reason
We will offer it.
An amazing and most remarkable thing,
We will offer it to the whole human race
Which walks in us
When we wake tomorrow.
‘Let’s stay here
Now this place has emptied
And make gentle pornography with one another,
While the partygoers go out
And the dawn creeps in,
Like a stranger.
Let us not hesitate
Over what we know
Or over how cold this place has become,
But let’s unclip our minds
And let tumble free
The mad, mangled crocodile of love.’
So they did,
There among the woodbines and guinness stains,
And later he caught a bus and she a train
And all there was between them then
He was our drunken Uncle James
but we all called him Drunkle Jimmy,
when he wasn’t there,
which was more often than not.
We told our cousin,
but she never laughed.
All her life she was lost
until one day she was found
by a man walking his dog.
And she made do wi’ nowt
And she never said owt.
But she shouldda said summat to someone.
If you haven’t got owt
You can never say owt
And she never got no help from no-one
But I’ll tell you summat
And I’ll tell you for nowt
See, she never did no harm to no-one
And she’d do owt for nowt
And she’d never tek owt
And that’s summat
should make you a someone.
Baked the day she suddenly dropped dead
we chew it slowly that last apple pie.
Shocked into sleeplessness you’re scared of bed.
We never could talk much, and now don’t try.
You’re like book ends, the pair of you, she’d say,
Hog that grate, say nothing, sit, sleep, stare…
The ‘scholar’ me, you, worn out on poor pay,
only our silence made us seem a pair.
Not as good for staring in, blue gas,
too regular each bud, each yellow spike.
At night you need my company to pass
and she not here to tell us we’re alike!
You’re life’s all shattered into smithereens.
Back in our silences and sullen looks,
for all the Scotch we drink, what’s still between ‘s
not the thirty or so years, but books, books, books.
The stone’s too full. The wording must be terse.
There’s scarcely room to carve the FLORENCE on it–
Come on, it’s not as if we’re wanting verse.
It’s not as if we’re wanting a whole sonnet!
After tumblers of neat Johnny Walker
(I think that both of us we’re on our third)
you said you’d always been a clumsy talker
and couldn’t find another, shorter word
for ‘beloved’ or for ‘wife’ in the inscription,
but not too clumsy that you can’t still cut:
You’re supposed to be the bright boy at description
and you can’t tell them what the fuck to put!
I’ve got to find the right words on my own.
I’ve got the envelope that he’d been scrawling,
mis-spelt, mawkish, stylistically appalling
but I can’t squeeze more love into their stone.
When I want some sort of human metronome
to beat calm celebration out of fear
like that when German bombs fell round our home
It’s my mother’s needles, knitting, that I hear,
the click of needles, steady, though the walls shake.
The stitches, plain or purl were never dropped.
Bombs fell all that night until daybreak
but, not for a moment, did the knitting stop.
Though we shivered in the cellar-shelter’s cold
and the whistling bombs sent shivers through the walls
I know now why she made her scared child hold
the skeins she wound so calmly into balls.
We open presents wrapped before she died.
With that same composure shown in that attack
she’d known the time to lay her wools aside —
the jumper I open’s shop-bought and is black !