With Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday celebrated in style last week (amongst other things, the occasion was marked by a tribute poetry anthology,The Captain’s Tower), there’s been much talk of the links between poetry and song. I think it’s hard to convincingly argue that song lyrics are ever truly poetry – writing in 2007, Sam Leith put it nicely:
“Poetry and song - as the two main rhythmic uses of language - have the same origins and much in common. But that's not to say they're the same thing. We share an ancestor with the chimpanzee, and we both like bananas, but we're not the same creature.”
That doesn’t mean that lyrics can’t be poetic though, or inspire poetry. For me, it’s not Dylan who makes me want to pick up my pen but those Sheffield lads, Pulp. One dismal day in 2010, I was listening to ‘The Last Day of the Miners’ Strike’ (on repeat, staring at the ceiling), and marvelling at the sense of timelessness it conjures up:
Kids are spitting on the Town Hall steps & frightening old ladies.
I dreamt that I was living back in the mid 1980s,
People marching, people shouting, people wearing pastel leather.
The future's ours for the taking now, if we just stick together.
I was born in Sheffield in 1985, so I knew nothing about the strike when it was happening. But growing up in north east Derbyshire, its effects were always there. One of the most interesting (and frightening) things about the strike to me is its enduring legacy, how recent it still feels. In some ways, it’s still being reinvented: a few years ago, I watched a film about the strike that blew my mind. It was set in Orgreave – where one of the most iconic and controversial clashes of the whole strike took place in 1984 - and it was a documentary. In 2001, conceptual artist Jeremy Deller staged a re-enactment of the events of that fateful June on location in Orgreave, featuring 800 people, many of whom were ex-miners or police involved in the original encounter. The documentary I saw follows the re-enactment process and makes for powerful viewing; ex-miners playing the part of police officers, Medieval battle specialists eyeing the fray nervously…
I was so fascinated, appalled and touched by the different passions the re-enactment had awoken (in the people who took part and even in me, too young to remember those horrific events) I knew I wanted to try and write about it. Listening to Jarvis Cocker singing ‘The Last Day of The Miners’ Strike’ one rainy Friday a year later, I knew one day I would.
The sequence of poems I finally produced, ‘Scab’ is at the heart of my new pamphlet, ‘Lie of the Land’, published this week by The Wordsworth Trust. ‘Lie of the Land’ features poems written since the start of my residency here in Grasmere and started off as an attempt to ‘map’ my immediate surroundings in the Lake District. Instead, I found I was drawing on memory (and fantasy at times): my body was in Cumbria, but my mind was in South Yorkshire. If you’re interested in the result of that process, you can get copies of ‘Lie of the Land’ from The Wordsworth Trust online here.
Fittingly, this week sees the release of an excellent documentary about Sheffield’s music scene, with PULP at the centre of it. ‘The Beat is the Law' – Fanfare for the Common People’ is a film by Eve Wood, which charts how Sheffield bands like Pulp and Longpigs went from Steel City to headlining at Glastonbury, reaching the dizzy heights of pop stardom. Wood’s film is as much about how the political climate of the 80s shaped the music scene in Sheffield as anything else. In short, I like to think it’s about how the world changed Sheffield and how Sheffield changed the world… It features Richard Hawley, Jarvis Cocker, Mark Brydon, Russell Senior and many others and is sure to be worth a watch.
As Dylan might have muttered, the times have been a’changing. Or to put it the way Jarvis did:
‘87 socialism gave way to socialising,
So put your hands up in the air once more, the north is rising...