The North-South Divide

I wrote this poem inspired by accents and dialect in Britain and how we make value judgements on the way people talk. I was raised in Northampton but I’ve been told I speak with an accentless accent, known as The Queen’s English (very unNorthamptonian).

We make judgements on people’s education based on how they talk and this poem comes from my many lessons on accents and dialects in my English Language classes at A-Level and Creative Writing degree.

This is also deeply inspired from”Mr Oxford Don” by John Agard and “The Battle of the Library” by Birmingham poet Jasmine Gardosi. Both are excellent works that deserve a watch.

The well-spoken Englishman says –

“East Londoners: prisoners of the gutter, like Oliver Twist condemned for every syllable he utters. Elitists say they deserve to be killed for the remorseless assault on the linguistic guild.”

However, there is nothing wrong with having a regional accent. Posh people hide behind their dictionaries but wasn’t Samuel Johnson from Lichfield, Staffordshire?

Posh people speak well. See they love Oxford and Cambridge. That means rowing and cricket and to like this you must use proper vowels and consonants, enunciated with clarity. They’d prefer to see words laid like bricks, side by side not zig-zagging like the gabbles of Merseyside –

Photographer: Jade Masri

a dialect that claims some space but not too much. Not like the drawls of Glasgow. Then there’s Yorkshire – Catherine Earnshaw, and Heathcliff against the stiff upper lip. Then there’s Derbyshire, and the topsy-turvy free-flowing chatter of Cornwall way down south. Not Ross Poldark, but first-season Demelza, along with du Maurier’s Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel

Shouldn’t we be taking lesson in understanding as many people as we can, not looking down our noses at northern clans, like they’re heathens and their gums are bleedin’ from their teethin’. Let them teethe. Let their voices breathe, and vibrate across landscapes.

Where I went to school, students were taught to speak proper. Properly. What does that mean? The Queen’s English you see. RP. Received Pronunciation where a foot wrong is the ultimate humiliation, English tears run. In America, they don’t care about their assault on the English tongue!

But just when the Oxford Don thinks he’s safe, he catches sight of a Northamptonian. Proper Norfampton. Free of em with a glass o’ wa’er. Now there’s an elephant in the room. I think you mean three and there’s a T in water; you’re crushing this language with pestle and mortar

Photographer: George Hiles

into fine threads like the cotton in Bristol and Manchester. To this Oxford fellow, the further north you go the worse it flows: Bradford, Sheffield, Leeds, Newcastle and – then Scotland. Oh lord, he’s come down in rash ready to fit the entire North in an iron cast.

Up and down we go; and when Britain gives you Wales, you say Gavin & Stacey, sheep and Tom Jones. And when life gives you Toms, it’s time to use your voice, revving like a Spitfire engine – a necessity in every good RP speakers’ composition “and the Welsh have made a mess of English. Some of them even speak WELSH. What are they saying? One language… I don’t know what is. Tis absurd. That’s what it is” says the Oxford don.

They tear apart the Englishman with their words in Roman formation and then tortoise across borders. A textbook manoeuvre. And soon the Irish have joined the fray, sharing common cause with the Welsh. They’re not fans of the English. God knows why.

Their ranks break. It’s St. Patrick’s Day. The Irish have a party – from James Joyce to Saoirse Ronan, the Oxford don begins to cry.

Photographer: Patrick Fore

The way Mr Oxford tries to own the page. Maybe those Englishmen give the English a bad name. Language, it turns out, is for everyone and can be mobilised by poets like John Agard and John Dunne – from Belfast to London – from Cardiff to Glasgow – from Falmouth to Suffolk. And regional accents know how to make words flow like poetry.

The situation has gone to the dogs as the Oxford Don goes to town on the regions. You mean Oxford dons like J.R.R Tolkien who grew up in Birmingham? Brummies! Brummies! Home to great creatives like Julie Walters and Lenny Henry, also many stories about the gentry.

The Regionals ride to war to fight against these language elitist. To not do so would be defeatist. Now I think this is England at its worst, as their tongues draw lines between performance poetry and verse.

A conglomerate of mouth muscles wagging – all shuffling; hustling verbs, nouns and round sounds like the oooo in who and O in got. Now it’s the children from North and the South – words now dog-eared and paper cut, two thirds shorter than they should be.

Photographer: Annie Spratt

Don’t you see, it was a lost cause from the start? Just let them stand in their three-dimensional voices, speaking with their hearts. Their drawls and gabbles. Their nuances and sociolects that shout from the ground. That hound and change into hybrid languages. Let kids be kids. As long as they’re respectful, let them talk how they please.

The letters conjoin. The words morph. Their voices curl and crawl on their hands and knees, free of labels. They learn  for themselves and it seems that language is a wild beast that needs to live its own life. Creating a unique identity one generation at a time.

John Doe (After Mossman)

I wrote “John Doe” in response to “Underpass Girl” by a Milton Keynes poet called Mossman. His poem is about homelessness in Milton Keynes in England.

Anyone who has been there will know that it’s rampant. Outside the train station has its own homeless population and that’s just for starters.

Underpass Girl

An underpass girl in an overpass world
Under road dry tented
Lost, cold, just growing old
Still discontented.

All my Fridays black
With no hot offers free,
Whilst the overpass world is bought and sold
No-one to buy two and give one to me.

Who is it that judged?
I’ve not been good enough
To join the Christmas sack race
And that I should hide my face.

Photographer: Clem Onojeghuo

First on my list is to;
Pass under into
A warm bed space
Sit at a table’s saving grace.

Not on my list; is sleeping rough
Hoping for another pass-me-down pasty
Sipping all day
On my one suspended coffee.

Waiting for night’s chill
On this cold eve as you pass over
Spare some change Sir,
For those under still.

#mossmanpoet 2017

This next poem is mine. Whilst Mossman’s is about Milton Keynes homelessness, mine is about homelessness in my local area, Northampton.

In recent years, Northampton Town Centre has grown, not only with people coming in from the outside but poverty and homelessness as well.

John Doe

He perches near TSB,
under shop shelter dry tented.
Hungry, tired – plodding through
each day, still discontented.

Mr Doe walks from the long
long street,to the one with
all the cafés, as we all drift by
on repeat every day.

Who are they to judge me?
My house is a rolled sleeping bag.
Just the snakes of this Jerusalem
where morality is bought and sold.

Photographer: Matt Collamer

It’s 9am. First thing to do today
is to find a spot for tonight
where can sleep in peace,
without the threat of the police.

Not on my agenda is death.
acquire handouts,
of: pasties and hot drinks
but I can feel myself sinking.

I’m John Doe, a mask:
an overpass man in an
underpass land falling
through the cracks,

but I don’t believe them.

An Ode To The Millennial Generation

I wrote this poem yesterday afternoon for our first ‘One Night Stanza’ event of the academic year. There were some great acts and it was a good turnout.

Born in 1995, I am a millennial (aged 21-34) and I think society gives us a bad name. We’re stereotyped just as much as every other group.

I wrote this poem inspired from Olivia Gatwood’s Ode to the Women on Long Island. Her poem is worth watching since it’s freeverse, and I think it’s better seen read aloud or on stage than read in print.

When I was writing the poem, a film was going through my head. There’s an unforgettable character in Marvel’s Ant-Man called Luis (Michael Peña) and his conclusion at the end of the film is what inspired the conversational and nonstop chatter-like-style of this poem.

I want to write a poem for the young people of
today who will tap text their way into arthritis,
as they silently socialise in Starbucks, ready to
key in the next emoji. #PumpkinSpice.

The protest generation: the 50s called them the Beat –
Howl, On The Road, McMurphy and the Merry Pranksters.
Kerouac, Kesey, and Ginsberg – a surge of counterculture
critics who showed that you don’t have to roll over.

Every generation has their Beat – more than just art.
The Sex Pistols, The Black Panthers, #NotMyPresident.
Black Lives Matter #Anonymous. The Teenies… featuring
Ed Snowden, Red Jeremy and JK’s tweets (mischief managed).

The young people. Millennials: aged twenty-one to thirty-four,
a progressive population. Not lazy – as the proud elders would
have you believe – not like the 50s’ and 60s’ society before, who
allowed “No Irish and No Blacks” plaques all over Britain.

Smitten with racism. “Burn the gays too”.
That’s what they said. A class of colonists with a love for
cigarettes, curry and corruption – fools love a fool.
Hate breeds hate. A digital nation: black, white, gay, straight…

Get with the programme. “Young people these days,”
my parents said. My grandparents too –
“You don’t know about young people, not like you use to”.
That’s what I wish I said, but I like my head where it is.

Social spiders: Snapchat and Instagram.
To be a millennial is not a crime. Raised with technology,
and my parents tell me about when they had Spam for dinner.
That’s when they knew their parents were broke this weekend.

I want to write a poem for the Millennials
who march like the Suffragettes –
those who sit like the Freedom Riders
and protest alone like the Little Rock Nine.

The young people who protest Trump.
The twenty-somethings who say “no” to the Alt-Right.
My generation who say “yes” to reproductive rights
and “no” to the oppressive methods of corporations.

I want to write a poem for the Millennial Generation
whose static slang and vocal tics twist and curl like snake’s coil.
This is the Protest Generation –
from London to New York to Mumbai to Paris to Berlin.

The people who work hard. Who create. Who throw parties
in their homes until four in the morning –
and then go to nine AM lectures the same day looking like
death warmed up because they mixed weed with alcohol.

And security at student halls won’t put it past
anybody because students can’t be trusted.
BA, MA, HND, PhD – it doesn’t matter, as all
he can smell is the pungent odour of bleach.

Today’s kids are young and old and angry and furious
but they’ll make you a martyr with Pot Noodle
if you hand in an assignment before the due date
or win a game of Ring of Fire or Beer Pong.

I want to write a poem for the Protest Generation,
who, when I make a cool meme,
reply “yes, old but gold”.
And it’s good enough for the wars to come.

One minute you’re at war
with a troll on Twitter.
And in the next, you’re debating with
your friends if Batfleck is better than Bale.

So when someone calls me lazy,
I look at them, and I say
“thank you, thank you very much”.

All Hallows’ Eve

I know it’s a little late but I wrote a seasonal poem about Halloween.

I wrote this poem inspired from a one called Vespers by A. A. Milne. His poem is all about childhood innocence whilst mine is about a walk in through the park taking a turn for the odd and the strange.

Vespers is a poem I found out about in my childhood but it’s one that was brought to my attention again in the film Goodbye Christopher Robin, a film about Milne’s relationship with his son Christopher Robin Milne.

Boys playing ball, beating like a base drum
as bodies move through the air of autumn.
Clangity clang through the hoop it goes
whilst I think in partial poems, not prose.

Gods bless the dogs. I know that’s correct.
Not those school kids looking a bit suspect.
Nothing burns like the cold but there’s a fire on
the ground. Crunching, in orange. Yellow and brown.

If I look at any bin right now forthwith, I can
see hollow cans of Fosters and John Smiths.
Squirrels scale trees and I look to the playground
to see parents with kids, screaming like banshees.

There are bicycles, sounding like a dragonfly’s wings.
Whizzing past you in a nanosecond, their bell ring rings.
Late on an autumn day, in the heat of the night, when
one passes me under the sometimeish moonlight.

I could be kidnapped walking past the lampposts.
This is All Hallows Eve with ghouls, dames and ghosts.
I said I need to get home – this isn’t my business,
as tonight the veil between worlds is at its thinnest.

This university student walks up to his front door,
he fumble for keys with his lovely new paws.
Woah! Woah! Woah! Hang on. Has he been bit?
And he wakes up, sees his mom and says oh shit. 

Grandma’s House

I wrote this poem based off John Agard’s Half-Caste but it’s inspired from the many trips to my grandparents’ house. They (mom’s parents) are from Grenada in the West Indies.

As a child, I lived with my parents but I grew up at my grandparents’ which also means I grew up around the West Indian culture. They passed on that culture to their children: my mom, Auntie Luisa and Uncle Dean.

Both my grandparents are still alive. However, amongst the family, it’s known colloquially as “Grandma’s” despite Granddad living there too.

I grew up at Grandma’s House.

Explain what you mean
when you say
“growing up at Grandma’s House”.

You mean finding that meandering
mix of goat meat and rice & peas
in a Flora butter container?

Or is it the washing machine
that sounds like a Boeing 747
leaving the tarmac?

Or having a specific cabinet
of glasses that aren’t
meant to be used? Just admired,

and a grandmother who buys all
things supersize. In XXL, standing
tall like that high-rise Heinz ketchup.

It’s saltfish fritters as I bite
down, and the Scotch Bonnet
burns away my will to live –

It’s Sparrow’s dodgy lyrics and
Bob Marley’s polemic poetry, and
being shown NWA at thirteen

and the red, gold and green
blemishes of history: Marcus,
Malcolm and Morant Bay, those

stories – the gritty ghettos of
Trenchtown given life by Bob
on flawless twelve-inch vinyl.

At Grandma’s House,
it’s the fun and the glum, and
the echoes of steel drums,

and watching West Indian
men slapping dominoes
like swatting mosquitoes.

It’s stories of my uncle getting the
belt for being naughty (in the 80s)
Now, they’d call that abuse as

Great-Grandma Toile would
loose a slipper from her hand
like a tomahawk cocktail

hitting little Luisa right in the arse.
Lu was all smiles, always sporting
new fashions and hairstyles.

It’s watching The Olds turn into
Socrates and Plato after White
Wray and Morgan have been opened

and after a few more, it wouldn’t be
long before politics and history are on
the table, along with mac ‘n’ cheese and

oxtail, and cow foot and the sweet smell of
crisp ‘n’ dry and Granddad Sarge spiritedly
cussing the Caribbean cricket team and

Uncle Dean saying what’s your game?
Like when I nearly destroyed the fireplace
Somebody call somebody to help us!

Grandma’s face was priceless, like lived
photographs. Memories that live again.
every time you see that one picture

and that’s what Grandma’s House is.
– a house in black and white, and a
garden in digital and Technicolor.