thistles stretch their prickly arms afar
Tom Kelly is a poet and playwright who was born in Jarrow and now lives up the Tyne at Blaydon. He has had seven poetry collections, including The Wrong Jarrow (Smokestack Books, 2006). His eighth, Spelk, was published by Red Squirrel Press in 2016.
I have a bundle under my arm,
sagging seven-headed gargoyle;
twilight sneaking into this murky corner pawnshop,
with a high sea of clothes.
She is outside the door,
my daughter’s age now.
I hear and see mother’s heavy breathing
greying the panelled shop door.
I ask, was I there?
Greeted with silence,
she’s been dead over a dozen years.
I am not accusing you.
There is no need to hide anything.
I just want to know.
(Jarrow’s shipyard, Palmers, was closed by the cartel, National Shipbuilding Securities in 1933 which led to mass unemployment and the Jarrow Crusade of 1936.)
Jarrow’s MP, Ellen Wilkinson speaking in the House of Commons, 1936
Today is mixed with yesterday,
Pathe News becomes flesh and blood,
men with Charlie Chaplin trousers
return to where they once stood.
In the Jarrow area there is 72 per cent unemployment,
in Jarrow Town the percentage nearly 80.
Jarrow must be made a special case. Jarrow is the victim of ruthless rationalisation which is being backed by the Government.
Uncle Johnny gave me his badge,
I see him on the Edgware Road,
marching in rain-soaked Mackintosh
and now tears stick in me throat.
They presented their petition,
Jarrow’s Mayor dropped his heavy chain,
Wasn’t defiance, he told me,
It was a slip I’d do again.
Is the President of the Board of Trade aware that the government’s complacency is regarded throughout the country as an affront to the national conscience?
Some shed bitter tears, railed,
Ya knaa we’ve been sold down th’ Thames.
Has ti be more, can’t be just this.
Is this how our battle ends?
On Guy Fawkes they came home by train,
knowing their place, third class single,
handed them cheap suits and cheers
still their pockets didn’t jingle.
In St Paul’s Cathedral there is a memorial to Sir Christopher Wren, which reads: “If you seek a monument look around.”
If the Attorney General wants to see a monument to the capitalist system that he is so proud of, I will take him to Jarrow and show it to him.