Following on from yesterdays post, here is the poem I wrote…
They are everywhere
Hunched under blankets, cross-legged like broken Buddhas
Cups placed carefully in supplication.
Stubbed down like cigarette butts
They stink of the street
Soul-damped from all that recent rain
I walk by, wondering how it came to this?
What happened to the Welfare State?
Universal Credit, my arse. (1)
But despite my well-honed sensibilities
I catch a whiff of stale piss (and
Hegemonise,) because after all
We’re all Neoliberals now.
We must all self-actualise; pull on the power
Of positive thinking, lest we end up sitting here
On the street
With only ourselves to blame.
I walk on, eyes averted, but unable to fully
Escape the lingering stain of ‘we’
Polluting the place I made for ‘me’.
Perhaps there is such a thing as society (2)
(Or at least there was once.)
And what of these prodigal children?
Are they inoculated against love?
Or should each name should be spoken,
Each story woven up in purple prose –
Not as moral warning against the consequence of indolence,
But simply because it matters.
I have heard it said that we only truly know humanity
Whilst looking upwards
From very rock bottom.
But listen to me; what a middle-class, self-righteous twat I am
All I do is drop handfuls of inconsequential coin
Into wishing wells dug by other people’s
I am discomforted only in the direction of
Meanwhile, William curls around the spikes placed to keep him clear of Waitrose. (3)
Emily can no longer sleep on the Camden Bench (4)
inclined as it is towards the right.
For even the cold ground has been subject to Mallification. (5)
It is hallowed now for holy consumption.
This new world only welcomes shoppers
There is no common ground any more
It has all been monetised.
Whatever happened to the Tramp?
Are there still ‘Gentlemen of the road’ who wander free,
Unconstrained by convention?
Were there ever?
Perhaps the Tramping never was a choice,
Rather just what happens when people are trampled down
By the myopic mythology of privilege.
The Tramp was only ever a ghost;
A white Golliwog. (6)
Tramp no more, for we are post-Tramp.
The Tramp has been Trumped,
Replaced by “Bad People”
And “Immigrants.” (7)
But then again, to paraphrase Jesus,
(Who did some Tramping himself, remember)
Perhaps the Tramp will always be with us.
While we walk past on the other side of the road.
Pointing our pulpits at interior, individual evils
(Because Our Lord was Neoliberal too.)
The permissive society is the problem-
Forget the Tramp.
But there I go again, throwing stones from distance.
Unlike the Religious Folk,
I serve no soup on the cold November streets.
I provide no shelter from the helter-skelter winds of winter.
I bank no food for hungry families.
These words fill no bellies –
Not even mine.
But I have spent a half-life responding bureaucratically,
Policing the ragged edge of a shrinking Welfare State.
Trying to address symptoms, never getting near to a cause.
I wore a professional role stiffer than serge and tried to fit people into boxes
Which seemed deliberately shaped to chafe.
Sure, I never knowingly left anyone of the street
But I learned enough to conclude that Maslow got it wrong; (8)
In the hierarchy of human need,
Shelter is not always the foundation of the pyramid –
Not for the unloved.
Those of us who were never held
Will fall forever.
Society is a cold sea berged by jagged realities;
Poverty is ugly.
It makes brutes of us all.
It stains souls like nicotine.
And the broken people, they break things-
They may break you.
So, tidy them away if you can;
‘Care Manage’ them, then (9)
Close the case and move on, for
There are always more.
But blessed are the Vagrants
(According to the Book)
Holy are the holes in the shoes they walk in.
Blessed are the Hobos, for each one knows
That the Kingdom is theirs for the taking.
Blessed are the Down-and-outs,
for each one counts for more than me.
Blessed are the Beggars with their
grails of Polystyrene.
And blessed are the Tramps,
For they are the Chosen Children of the Living God.
And he is Jealous;
He wants them for his own.
He wants them for his own.
In the curve of a dripping arch
By the waters of Basildon
James sat down hard
And there he wept
For he had no Zion
And he had not slept for a week
His road was never walked as a pilgrim
It was a greased shit-chute
Which spat him here.
And James shouts into the darkness;
“Curse you, God-in-abstract.
Curse your cold stone steeples.
Curse your pigeon-stained glass.
Just give me a clear pane to look through.
For what use is a dry hereafter
When the winter rains come falling down?”
But when his rage receded
James pulled out his mother’s rosary
- Universal Credit; a controversial new system of benefits allocation brought in by the UK government, driven by Austerity and a wider agenda around ensuring that people who receive benefits are pushed towards work. It is widely regarded as driving people towards debt and homelessness.
- No such thing as Society’. A famous quote from a speech by former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
- Business premises have been employing spikes embedded into the pavement outside their offices and trading spaces to stop homeless people from sleeping there.
- The Camden bench is a bench designed to be uncomfortable for sleeping on and unusable for skateboarders. It won a design award.
- In major UK cities, there is an increasing debate about the way that public spaces are increasingly ‘Mallified’. In extreme cases, private companies have taken over management and control from local authorities, but more commonly, priority is given to retail and commerce above all else.
- Golliwog; a Blackface stereotypical ‘cuddly’ representation of a Negro that was a famous marketing toy for Robinsons Jam in the UK.
- A reference to one of President Trump’s many Tweets.
- Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of needs’ is an attempt to describe and prioritise how humans are motivated to meet their own needs. He suggests we start will survival needs; warmth, shelter, and it is only when we meet these basic needs that we are freed to seek wider psychological needs or self-fulfilment.
- Care Management; a system of assessment, care planning and resource allocation used by social care systems in the UK.