British poet Andrew Oldham interviewed


This poetry video from England is called Andrew Oldham ‘The Trench’.

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

A one-legged man in the blackout

Wednesday 27 June 2012

Andrew Oldham was born in 1975 in the industrial town of Horwich, just five miles from Bolton but a million miles away from the culture of that Greater Manchester town.

His childhood was spent in the rusting yards of railway works and in his father’s joinery workshop.

“The Horwich I grew up in is gone – the loco works, the unions, the shops, the families, the rolling countryside and the vibrant, vocal community is gone. Horwich was a real working-class town, born out of steam, iron, beer and coal. My family came to that town to build trains and work the rails.”

Oldham’s great grandfather lost his leg in a train accident but it didn’t stop him from working as a driver in the second world war. “The image of a one-legged man hurtling through the blackout haunts my dreams,” he says.

“My mum and dad would tell me about when the train works ran, the mills churned out mile after mile of cotton and the chimneys smoked all day and all night. The coal dust would settle in their attics covering long-forgotten toys,” he recalls.

“No matter who you were or in what kind of house you lived, you’d still have an attic full of coal dust.

“As I grew up I saw all those industries die. Most are now housing estates, and the chimneys that once burnt day and night are hardcore for the motorway that passes my home town. It is this loss, this sweeping aside, that echoes in my poetry.”

While Oldham admits that he is always sad to see any old building pulled down, but it is not the disappearance of the industries that bothers him the most. It was that in a generation or two, people would forget who they were or what they had come from. “Gone are the pubs, the places of politics and debate, gone are the men who had steam in their blood. Instead we all have coffee and flat-screen televisions,” he laments.

“Several generations of my family have turned their back not on politics itself, but the men and women who seek office to line their own pockets. No matter what ideology you believe in or how well your intentions are at the start, power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. That is why I look to those voices that I saw fade away, still forgotten. They are the real politics of humanity.”

When pressed on the question of whether politics is a proper subject for poets and if are contemporary poets engaging with political issues enough, Oldham draws intriguing paralells between artistic and power-driven spin.

“Politics is an ever-moving subject, it is quicksand. Poets are always trying to get their message across, as are politicians. To some extent we are both out for our own gain and we both know how to spin.

“Poets were masters of spin before new Labour came to the table. Maybe this is why people mistrust poets as well as politicians – both are professional liars,” he says.

“We create things from smoke and mirrors and then show them you, ask you to buy into them, to own them, to put them on your bookshelf,” he insists.

Today a number of poets deal with domestic politics – politics with a small p – from gender and race to the annoyances of a barbeque defining a person’s class, as demonstrated in Why Guns Will Never Be Legal in England.

Oldham now lives in the Pennines, a thousand feet above sea level. After living in cities for years he now finds himself looking down on them. How has this changed his work?

“Living in a place like this means you have to plan ahead. This affects my writing because I plan ahead there too. This sometimes makes other poets and writers believe I am incredibly driven, that I can tell them what I am working on now, what I will be working on come winter and what I will be doing next spring. It is necessary here when the the weather can change in a flick of an eye,” he offers.

“My poem The Charcoal Burners seeks that voice of men who live by the seasons, who survive the politics of the world rather than of Whitehall,” Oldham explains.

“I wanted to talk about the banking situation, how bad management and greedy people have smeared an entire generation, but no one would want to read that. We have all heard it, we all know who is responsible, and we all point the finger, so all that belongs in the subtext.

“Survival in itself is a political argument and one that is at the heart of our humanity. Even after an apocalypse, there will be people who will argue for and against. It is our nature, it is in everything we produce and destroy.”

Andrew Oldham currently lives in West Yorkshire. His poetry and fiction has featured in Ambit, The London Magazine, Interpreter’s House, North American Review and Poetry Salzburg, Route Books, Transmission and The Sunday Times. His first pamphlets were published by Denude and he has been heard on BBC Radio Four’s Poetry Please.

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