Last week I had the pleasure of guesting at Poetry Jam up in Durham run by Steve Urwin.
The North East is a lovely vibrant community, it feels like one big regional village of Newcastle, Sunderland Durham and Stockton where faces pop up across the poetry events.
I was struck by a shared love for stories at the night. Rich, warm, generous and personable, a good number of the open miccers told their tales through verse. Sometimes poetry scenes get known for a particular form, some nights love stand-up comedy poetry, others enjoy right-on political poetry.
It’s no surprise, the North East has a special history of working class folk music and shanties, Alex Glasgow being a particular favourite of mine.
The other guests were the wonderful Ellen Moran and Tom Kelly. Tom’s career has spawned eleven books of poetry, stories and plays, a real veteran of the scene. Ellen, by contrast, started performing poetry this year. Nevertheless she was one of the most confident and fierce performers I have seen for a long time.
A notable connection between these two poets was their use of characters and stories. Ellen shared a poem about her Great Aunt, Peggy, and the rehousing of the working class of the 1960s. Tom shared a poem about a family photo, and also stories of Jarrow. A poem that really struck with me told the story of William Jobling, a striking miner and one of the last to be hung by a gibbet in Britain.
I have been researching a lot of British history lately. The Peasants Revolt of 1381, anti-fascism in the 1930s, the Land Laws and enclosure of the 1700s and the Diggers, Levellers, Luddites and Blanketeers that pepper our history. The working class struggle often ignored in favour of the story of Kings and Queens and their wars.
Some of my favourite poets are story-tellers. They paint a picture with language of place, people and time. And through that story we can write our own. Ellen works for the Union Acorn, supporting tenants and tackling housing injustice.
I feel connected to a people's history, not because of some shared language, ethnicity, race or religion as Nationalists would unite us, but through a struggle against the rich, the bosses, the managers, the powerful and those that would divide us, erase our stories and enforce their own.