Bill Kerry, co-founder of The Equality Trust, ponders the impact of a bleak yet beautiful poem by the very great John Cooper Clarke.
Eyes dead as vicious fish
Look around for laughs
If I could have just one wish
I would be a photograph
on a permanent Monday morning
Get lost or fall asleep
When the yellow cats are yawning
Around the back of Beasley Street
So ends Beasley Street, the magnificent and gruelling poem by John Cooper Clarke (aka The Bard of Salford). I am not a poetry fan by and large but I’ve always loved this poem for its eloquence and raw anger at social injustice. It had a massive influence on me when I first heard it in the 1980s and I think its power and relevance remains undiminished.
The whole poem depicts many of the truths now illustrated by the evidence of The Equality Trust - that your social position in society affects how you view the world and how you feel and act. This is especially true if you are at the poorer end of the income scale and you know it full well. Then the pressures can become unbearable and corrosive. This is well captured in the penultimate verse:
People turn to poison
Quick as lager turns to piss
Sweethearts are physically sick
every time they kiss.
It's a sociologist's paradise
each day repeats
On easy, cheesy, greasy, queasy
beastly Beasley Street
Although the whole poem is clearly political in the broadest sense its only direct political reference is to a long-forgotten ideologue from decades ago.
Where the action isn't
That's where it is
State your position
In an X-certificate exercise
Keith Joseph smiles and a baby dies
In a box on Beasley Street
Although Mr Joseph has long gone, Beasley-type streets have not. These days they simply have payday loan shops and food banks interspersed between the second-hand shops, the bookies and the pawnbrokers.
All poetry quoted is, of course, the copyright of John Cooper Clarke.