The shipyard painter, political activist and razor-sharp cartoonist Bob Starrett has just written a new book The Way I See It on his eventful life and times. Below we reprint one of his stories and review an essential read
ENO's production of La Boheme is a triumph,
The poetry of Ian Parks, the son of a South Yorkshire miner born in 1959, frequently touches on the issues he encountered growing up - the civil rights movement, the strikes of the Thatcher years and more generally the struggle and exile of the oppressed.
"I was radicalised from birth. All the male members of my family had been miners for as far back as anyone could remember and all of them had been actively involved in the NUM," he recalls.
"The strikes of the 1920s had entered popular mythology in South Yorkshire and the miners who'd participated in it (and many of them were around during my childhood) had acquired heroic status. They very rarely bought their own pints in the Miner's Arms.
"I was inculcated with a practical, unsophisticated socialism based on common sense and a very real hatred of injustice. Mexborough depended totally on mining and when that was taken away something of the spirit of the place departed too.
"I was active during the strikes in the '70s and '80s - on the picket line with my father or, in the '80s, running writing workshops for the support groups. Mexborough was interesting in a literary way too - both Ted Hughes and Harold Massingham had gone to the local school and they set an example early on. The 10 formative years that Hughes spent in Mexborough have been effectively air-brushed out of his biography - you'd think he went straight from Mythomroyd to Cambridge."
Parks's most recent collection, The Exile's House, deals with the act of dissent on a number of levels.
"At the core of the collection are a number of poems that deal directly with my experiences during the miners' strike. The fact that I've had to wait so long before attempting to tackle those issues in poetry says something about how deep and difficult that experience was," he says.
"There are poems too about the civil rights movement and about jazz - itself a form of dissent. There's a poem there too about the Easter rising of 1916. The tone is dictated by the subject matter and is therefore sharper and less meditative than my previous work. Having said that, I've never gone out looking for poems or for subjects to write about.
"There's no sense in which I've been a 'career poet' spending time worrying about trends and fashions. The poems, by and large, have found me. Another thing which makes the new collection different from the previous ones is the length of time it took to write it.
"Normally, I'd be putting a collection together over a period of years. The main body of The Exile's House was written in less that a month with poems arriving almost ready-made at the rate of three or four a day. I'd never experienced that before and I don't think I'd want to again."
Parks is hopeful about the crop of fresh voices addressing the issues he continues to tackle.
"I do think there's a generation of poets in their twenties who are bold and feel unfettered by poetry. The break-up of the Oxford-Cambridge-London triumvirate of poetry publishing has had something to do with that. The reticence and gentility which has gagged so many English poets seems to be a thing of the past. And that has to be good.
"The Auden generation of the 1930s were broadly socialist in their sympathies but they were hampered by their middle class backgrounds to such an extent that they were writing 'for' rather than 'from' the masses.
"The publication of Alan Morrison's The Robin Hood Book, , co-edited by Angela Topping, is a major event in this regard. It gathers together poetry from what we might call 'the new left' and many of the poets are young.
"The excellent work being done at The Morning Star is, I feel very strongly, a contributing factor. I would say look for Helen Mort and Faye Lipson. Poetry can and should be doing more, and all those I've mentioned are lighting the path."
Ian Parks was one of the Poetry Society New Poets in 1996. His collections include Shell Island, Love Poems 1979-2009, and The Landing Stage. His poems have appeared in Poetry Review, The Times Literary Supplement, Modern Poetry in Translation, The Observer, The Morning Star and The Independent on Sunday. He is currently the RLF Writing Fellow at De Montfort University, Leicester. The Exile's House is published by Waterloo and An Imprisoned Fire: Chartist Poetry 1839-1849 is due next year from Flux Gallery Press.