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A Poetic Manifesto

A Poetic Manifesto


The Cheese-grater Car Park -Sheffield

A Poem of Grudging Self-Acceptance

I hear my voice on a

recording and cringe: the

flat vowels, the lack of bass

notes, the overall effect

of a dim northerner appalls me.

I know Hockney and Bennett

have made the Yorkshire

accent credible, but they hail

from the more well-heeled

parts like Leeds and Harrogate,

the places where the BBC make

Look North and from whence

came the assured silk

hats of Bradford millionaires.

I come from the steel-worked,

Coal-mined, rougher-edged

southern end of the county.

Sheffield, city equated with

grime and muck, the location

for The Full Monty, where men

had their work stripped from them,

so they went the whole hog

and took off their clothes for

money instead. The bluff,

well-scrubbed, working-class

face of Brian Glover came

from Sheffield; he played the

vicious sports teacher in Kes,

another film that showed

our true colours: the grey

brown domain of pits and pain,

crucibles and winding gear.

Being bred in South Yorkshire

was like putting on an overcoat

that I began to grow into

at my first football match,

Man United against Sheffield

Wednesday (five–four to us and

seventy thousand men moving

and jeering, reeking of cigarettes

and Bovril). I was given the run of the

place as a kid, tuppence to anywhere

on our brown and cream buses

till we were deregulated. My

reception teacher told me

there was no r in bath, so say it

right, lad. Born in London with a

mother from Willesden, I had to fit

myself to a northern idiom, a

place where we mash our tea,

a place I grudgingly and

gratefully accept has reared me.

I have come to love this town

with its sibilant Stannington and

Shire Green, the earthy romance

of Rivelin and Dungworth, as I declare

her common beauty. The view

of the world she has given me is not

flat like my vowels but riven by

seven rivers through seven hills, with valleys

that cut deep into the heart of things,

that taught us to make cutlery and silver.

We are an accumulation of villages

punctuated by civic parks narrating

a homely tale, where you expect

to greet a friend on the street, where

we call each other ‘love’. The nature

of these folk is one of cheerful

ordinariness, the flat-capped celebrants

of cobbled streets and the pinnied

mothers who kept the front room for best.

But what are we coming to now,

Sheffield and me? We have cleared

away the industrial debris and made

of it Meadowhall; we even have a

winter garden. What has become

of the common people in this

age of texts and freeview?

Will call-centres and supermarkets

offer the self-respect that our knives and

forks in the hands of the world did?

We are building loft apartments and

welcoming students, but where is our

soul? We are still at the ragged end

of our past and don’t quite know

how to step into the future. It

had better not be with big ideas,

with projects that cost an arm and

a leg; we already have enough white

elephants wandering our sloping

streets. Once we hauled gritstone

wheels down from the moors to

grind our steel into beauty. We

should talk to each other at bus

stops and in shops about what can

be shined and sharpened today.

To tell each other new stories and

in the telling rescue the worn

things we still need and colloquially

create the new hallmarks that read

‘Made in Sheffield’. So I will listen

to your voices, overhear your

chatter and your stillness; I will

speak out about my city in my

ready northern tongue and make a

simple solid vow to tell your stories

with the honesty I got from you.