Ordinary people often lead extraordinary lives and their life experience does not often find its way into poems. Rita Ann Higgins grew up in poverty and reflects on this in Some People, a poem that is angry, defiant, sometimes funny and always honest. In How to Grow Your Own Poem Kate Clanchy invites us to construct a similar poem about our own experience. I knew poverty growing up in the 1950s. Not the absolute poverty of destitution and homelessness, but the daily grind of a family struggling to make ends meet on a dock labourer’s wage, making do with second best and sometimes doing without.
However, when I tried to write an angry, defiant poem it turned into a love poem to my mam. At least it’s honest. Here it is.
SOME PEOPLE Some people know how it feels To be poor To be dressed in someone else’s clothes To play with their toys at Christmas and To be told, “That’s my bike,” by the neighbour’s daughter. To play at explorers under a tented table where you have To be quiet so the outlaws don’t find you. (when it was the rent man, tallyman, milkman come for their money, tapping on the window and fooled by a net curtain cloak) To lose the letter for the school trip because “We couldn’t afford it, Mam,” and To be clouted for her shame. To be raised so that you cried when you found a penny and couldn’t find its owner. To know that holidays were for other people and not to mind. And some people do not know how it feels To be so loved that I never knew I was poor.
Life long socialist. Now retired, I have been an office junior, a bookseller, a docker and a teacher. I write a lot and read a lot more. Committed member of the Society of Authors, English PEN and the National Education Union. Uncommitted member of the Labour Party. Will they expel me before my direct debit expires?