Places of Poetry is a project which aims to use creative writing to prompt reflection about national and cultural identities by inviting contributions to the website placesofpoetry.org.uk, until 4 October. The project is open to all writers. This summer Places of Poetry will hold events across England and Wales, each site hosting a poet-in-residence with each poet contributing a poem from their residency to The Clearing. Jo Bell’s poem, Got, was inspired by Big Pit in the South Wales coalfields, now part of the Blaenafon World Heritage Landscape.
There are old kings in the mountain, easy in their orange boiler suits
and still hungover, three days on. A miner’s funeral – oh, my word.
Men who crawled to work the Yard Seam, hacking out the thinning vein
to get the coal and get the wherewithal; getting lairy, pissing where they lay.
Men of sixty, walking through the riddled hill for Heritage and telling strangers
what they got in the eleven plus. Men who blasted air into the rock
and dragged out muck, who set each other’s bones and got home on the dot
to wash the coal from eye and foreskin; men who specialised in epic holes
and dug the Chunnel in their four-man caissons so that only four men
could be lost at once; men who hold their blackened breath for men in holes
in hills in Yorkshire or Peru. Men who got a hearing aid, an issue with their legs,
a reputation in the pithead baths. Men who carry rubbish in their riddled veins
and kneel to greet a child with Alright, lamb? Men who got their father’s safety lamp.
Men who got arrested in the Strike for piracy or breaking bones,
and raged like Gauls against the Romans with their riot shields, and lost.
The old kings stoop through corridors of coal. Above, the wide Welsh summer
hangs off Heads of the Valleys Road. Shame somebody had to die, but there you are.
Jo Bell was born in Sheffield and grew up on the fringes of the Derbyshire Peak District, leaving school just after the Miners’ Strike. She became an industrial archaeologist, specialising in coal and lead mines. A winner of the Charles Causley Prize and the Manchester Cathedral Prize, she was the first Canal Laureate for the UK, appointed by the Poetry Society and the Canal & River Trust. She lives on a narrowboat on the English waterways. Kith (Nine Arches Press) is Jo Bell’s second collection of poems, and she is also author of 52: Write a Poem a Week. Start Now. Keep Going and How to be a Poet (with Jane Commane), both published by Nine Arches Press.
The illustration is by Benjamin Bowen of Union Studio.
Places of Poetry is led by the poet Paul Farley and the academic Andrew McRae. It is based at the universities of Exeter and Lancaster, and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, The National Lottery Heritage Fund and Arts Council England. It is underpinned by national partnerships with the Ordnance Survey, The Poetry Society, and National Poetry Day.