May 9 17

Teesside University

joelle

In Late April I visited 2 masterclass groups of women in Middlesbrough. I had specified to my host Teesside University that I was interested in connecting with working class women of the North East – especially as that is the demographic largely held responsible for the Brexit vote, according to the British media defined consciousness.

Thanks to the curation and sensitivity of the Senior Lecturers in the MA Creative Writing course Andy Willoughby and Bob Beagrie – both astounding poets themselves and committed to positive world change – I found myself standing in front of 2 packed masterclass groups. It was inspiring and encouraging to see so many women turn out for the sessions, both during the day and the evening. Some of the women has come from the MA course itself, others were graduates, and still more had been invited from the local community.

I came to Middlesbrough as it feels very much like it is a town on the front line of the battle to understand the idea of British identity. There is a predominant white working class community but there is also a strong BAME community, some of whom have come to to the North East for refuge from global war and political conflict. Many of the shops and pubs are closed and shuttered along the main road from the station to town, and Andy points out the dereliction of the steel industry – a broken shadow on the hill overlooking the town. The salamander has been put out. Middlesbrough seems the perfect place to work out where we are all going next.

For these masterclasses I wanted to explore the new form that I have been trying to develop and refine. I think of it as ‘investigative poetry’, a fusion of investigative reporting, poetry and photo journalism. It the way I have been trying to approach complex issues effecting women worldwide – how do I tell the story of a woman in in Sinjar without appropriating that story. Remember, whatever the writer writes, she writes herself first – and I am a white working class heritage woman from the North of England. Using this form, I am trying to tell the stories of women thousands of miles away from me geographically and socially, whilst not owning that story. As I have said elsewhere on this blog, the masterclasses are about empowering women to tell their own stories, and that has to be a fundamental driving factor of the project.

Below are some examples of the extraordinary writing these women produced, along with in some cases the photograph that inspired the poem. All copyright is retained by the individual poets, and if you wish to send a message to any of them you can do so via here.

SARA ZAFAR

Black Friday Sale Peeps!
Log into eBay and Amazon
and browse through
blondes and brunettes
We got Whites, Blacks,
Turks, Iraqis and Pakis
We’ll even do two for one
on the used fannies
Bigger boobs are
bigger bucks
It’s a bargain!
When after one day delivery
your cock throbbing hard
you lift the veil and
look into your Mother’s eyes.
Does it turn you on
when she begs and cries?
Tears replacing the colour of her skin
dripping like cum out of the corner
of a whore’s mouth
Bow to your God
as your deep in her clunge
surely rape’s reward
is 72 more with their legs spread
on heaven’s bed,
a bed made of dismembered bones –
and to keep you warm
a duvet stitched out of your victim’s flesh
made for men like you
a picturesque afterlife for the man
who’s wrath spared none
not even his nine year old wife.

Sara Zafar

Janet Philo

Leopard Skin Shoes

A woman sells guns

wearing leopard skin shoes;

flat, ballet, designer,

British – the best.

This woman’s trousers;

loose-legged, brown leather –

shout safe sex at sixty

in leopard skin shoes.

 

Economies grow as

she travels the money belt;

walks tall on hot pavements

in leopard skin shoes,

where some women kneel,

heads bowed, in the dust.

 

This woman sells weapons,

standing in leopard skin.

Rooted in in her shoes

she cannot see their shoes

These colour blocked women

wear black, top to toe

accented with skin tones,

and linked in with chains.

 

Fingernails, this season,

are short, sore and bitten;

where hidden women

cling tight to white signs,

marked up in scarlet,

at competitive prices,

to suit every pocket

in a brisk flesh market

where choice is paramount

and profit the aim

of those who sell weapons

in leopard skin shoes.

Ghazal for the Campers

 

After Richard Moss – war photographer

 

It stinks – that dark and putrid pool of shitful mire. She’s longing

for clear water, diamond-bright and cleaned with fire, She’s longing

 

for the quiet sleep brings, but not the quiet of death. Despite the pain,

the sickness and an empty belly; he’s still a crier – but her, she’s longing

 

for a time she doesn’t need the sound of wailing, as evidence of life.

Quiet babies don’t light darkness, don’t desire, don’t feel the longing

 

for the warmth of breath or breast or soft toys long forgotten.

Her baby quietens, does not cry, his eyes are drier now, too dry for longing

 

Her tears, clear rivers on a dusty cheek, give thanks for one more breath

as fingers curl round hers. Woman – God loves a trier! Keep on longing.

Janet Philo

Caroline Harvey

If you didn’t come home, then what would I do?

Would I hold your picture aloft?

And if so, which one? The one of you drunk

And showing your arse

looking for owls?

That one we deleted but it stayed on Googler pics forever,

And our mam seen it on the bog telly?

 

And if you gave me a rose, to hold

with your image

Would I say, that twat never bought me one when he was alive?

He bought me trays of eggs on a Friday

And steak off his mate’s mate

Never flowers

And never a rose.

 

And would I march with strangers

With you in a frame, cos you know

I never go out without a face full of slap

And I never get my photo taken

Well, I’ll do it if I’m forced

But I won’t add them to my timeline.

 

Too right I’d march.

To the ends of this earth

If anyone hurt a non-existent hair on your head

Like when the lads were little, and

They called me The Tigress

Too right I’d march, with my rose

And your photo in a frame

(but not the one with the owls)

 

Lottie Coley

Powerful words vs words of power.

 

Use your words. Find your tongue. The greatest weapon we

 

as people, as beings,

 

have

 

is the ability to converse. Verbally express. Say what you mean; mean what you say

 

Express opinion; receive others’ and understand values of exchanging language, words cost nothing but

 

the cost of not using them, or using them incorrectly,

 

destroys countries;

 

brings nations to their knees. Read. Read facts! Request truth! Search for truth. Don’t by-stand and agree with that which

 

you don’t know.

 

Be strong with your tongue. Wave it only when the sentiment is true and valued

 

but wave it.

 

Bandwagons will ultimately lead you in the wrong direction. Don’t jump on it whilst the horse is bolting

 

and remember!

 

The gift horse that offers you a run of freedom and free-reign will undoubtedly bite you.

 

In the ass.

 

Find the facts and pick your chancer on the odds that are good. Not those that seem too good to be true. Aesop –

 

he knows it.

 

Read. Widely. Ask questions. Read further!

 

Not just the music sheets that are presented to the entire orchestra of dumbfucks, don’t read the scribbles and take it as gospel. Honest to God

 

it destroys us.

 

In a world full of social strength and forums for voice and harmony we

 

should be

 

wiser. Make yourself wiser.

 

Want to be wiser.

 

Choose knowledge and pass it on. Trainspotters got it right, they choose life.

 

This! This is our life!

 

Our future.

 

Don’t transfer wasted words. Hateful words.

 

Encounter others. Explore cultures. Share experiences. Use your words.

 

The ears they reach

 

will listen.

 

Make sure your words are worth the value they ultimately offer.

 

Welcome the worlds of other beings. Welcome the words

 

of other beings. Even if you don’t agree.

 

Their voice

 

is of the same value as yours

 

Listen. Hear how we love. Hear how we live. How we forgive. The twisted abstract ends of hurtful spite lead to nowhere but bitterness.

 

Encourage a nation of acceptance, don’t spit your tongue at your neighbour, never refuse, through ignorance, words of value. Accept kindness; offer kindness.

 

Powerful voices voicing only power

 

guide us to division;

 

let us unite with courage and literal strength and values, spread social acceptance. Excitement

 

of a better world.

 

Inclusion of all, with no exception, expectation of solidarity, as professed by tittle-tattle,

 

divides us,

 

journalists with a dirty soapbox create propaganda, and 52 percent

 

were washed with it. A nation divided, the truth still out there hovering on the lips of ‘our’ leaders, holding hands and dancing with bigots, she calls

 

the rain.

 

The rain dance drumming.

 

The storms are coming.

 

Shelter this nation with unity. Find your words. Use them. Say them with confidence, shout them loud and filled with knowledge

 

and we

 

we will build a wall. A wall of books of knowledge of wisdom of kindness of acceptance of changed history around the world. A wall of inclusion.

 

Encompassing all.

 

We will be the voice of power. With reason and intelligence, and

 

together

 

we will be a powerful voice.

 

Anonymous (please get in touch if you want your name added here)

You didn’t just take my innocence

You took the innocent relationship between a mother and a child

As I change his nappy and wonder

At what point is it wrong?

 

Well. Its not wrong

Not at any point

Its just that my mind is skewed

From the platitudes that a person tells themselves

When they take another person’s innocence away.

 

You didn’t just take my virginity

You took the ability to give all of me to a partner

Who deserves the ability to love some-one who doesn’t have flash-backs

of their very own nightmare

 

When giving yourself feels right

When the connection between you is one

That transcends the bad that you have carved on my skin

And replaces it with a possibility

A possibility that you can be alright

 

But you can’t be alright

There is no alright

When alright means something that requires a meeting of minds

But how can you meet a mind that has the skitter of your hands

Across its landscape?

 

How do you tread the water that is your

Conscious mind, trying to blot out the past

Storing things for later

For when you least expect it

 

Like when you are consumed with passion

And the shame of remembrance returns

You to the fetal position of the womb

Where you were safe,

And all was simple.

 

For how do you throw the grenade into your family life

How do you ruin the people that you have tried so hard to protect

When protecting yourself has become impossible

And the noose is tightening around your neck

With each… day… that … passes?