The Two-Way Poetry Podcast: Pete Green

Posted on 25th December 2023 in News

In this episode, Pete Green reads and discusses Chapter Eight from Louis MacNeice’s book-length poem Autumn Journal and how it played a part in the writing of their own long poem Sheffield Almanac.

In the programme, Pete talks about their own long relationship with MacNeice’s poem, how it ‘works’ as a poem, stitching together contemporary ‘pinch points’ of late 1930s history and the author’s own autobiography.  In a wide-ranging (roaming) conversation Pete talks about how the form of MacNeice’s poem influenced their own approach to Sheffield Almanac. They also explore how MacNiece brings together high and low culture to discuss notions of privilege, politics, and the state of the nation. Pete goes on to reflect on the first and second editions of Sheffield Almanac, and how their own work as a song writer has informed their own poetry writing skills. Pete talks about conflating the personal and political in Sheffield Almanac, and ‘the predicament of the city of Sheffield’ that is interrogated in this extended lyrical narrative.

The edition that Pete reads from here is Autumn Journal (Faber, 2012).

Pete Green is a song writer, musician, and poet. They have published two pamphlets with Longbarrow Press – Sheffield Almanac (first edition, 2017 and second edition, 2022), and Hemisphere (2021).  Pete’s first full-length came out with Salt in 2022, entitled The Meanwhile Sites.

from Chapter One of Sheffield Almanac (second edition, Longbarrow 2022):

             And we were timeless

As the empty afternoons when we would settle
   In for desultory shifts at the Fellow & Firkin 
Unprepared to take one more step
   Toward the millennium’s unmapped plains 
Without a pint of cloudy ale and a doorstep
   Sandwich loaded with fat chips. 
Some seminar on Woolf and Joyce just finished,
   We might stay put, we might loose happenstance 
With suburban wanderlust undiminished —
   Let the current bus us to Cotteridge or West Bromwich, 
Let the bondage of deadlines unravel
   Free in time and space, at least within the bounds 
Of an off-peak pass from West Midlands Travel. 
   Suede supplanting Blur, Blair succeeding Smith: 
Tumbleweed days. None of us paused to cherish 
   Carefreedom since we never knew — or just 
Suppressed the knowledge — that it could perish 
   While the ink dried on our dissertations. 
Weeks were some abundant currency one borrows 
   At deceptive interest rates, pays back
At breakneck terms, in repossessed tomorrows 
   And when the time came to consolidate 
Sheffield was our redemption, our second 
   Bite at adulthood’s sour cherry; 
And when it’s done, when the tallies are reckoned 
   And we feel the slowing of the birthdays zipping 
Past like the exit signs for junction 
   33, will we have come this far 
Only for the settled life itself to seal our dysfunction 
   Rather than those years of frenzied chasing? 
We thought those threadbare rented rooms, curtained
   With frost and damp, would be the time the 
Low tide turned amid the hurt and

   Searching. What if they prove instead the 
High water mark? These kids have 4G, streaming media, wi-fi, 
   Colossal debt, jobs pre-empted by machines; 
We had payphones, typewriters, a dust-strewn, scratchy hi-fi,
   Student grants and jobs that worked us like machines 
And all of us austerity, austerity and ISIS,

   Seas that go on rising through each summit, 
Refugees, and leaders somehow baffled by a crisis 
   Every bugger else could spot a mile off
Just as, this time last year, we watched the occupation 
   Of Central Office while they pricetagged hope and knowledge,
Surprised by the moral pluck and spunk of a generation

   Dismissed as dismal materialist go-getters. Equally 
Wrong-footed, the coppers made a kettle,

   Flung kids from wheelchair seats, performed the miracle 
Of raising a new cohort to its feet and on its mettle 
   To pick up where we left the poll tax off. 
This time, beyond London’s hall of mirrors, every region 
    Saw insurgent youth again 
And round Coles Corner marched a stoked-up legion

   Of sophomores and schoolkids side by side. We know any 
Booming cogwheels will surely crunch and seize up 
   Should we live to see recovery, we know the rest: 
Clegg and the Tories put the fees up —

   But now we know the nature of autumn’s bonus hope: 
Despite the cost of learning going treble,

   The spirit that radiates as halls of residence revive 
Is the spirit not of the entrepreneur but the rebel. 
   Let’s go again: 
Psychology, Landscape Architecture, 
   Biotechnology, East Asian Studies: 
An occupied theatre hosts a free lecture — 
   From barricades to trending topics 
I followed the movement online while tending 
   The baby: one feed for the jaded, one 
Feed for the pure. While we’re expending 
   Reproductive energies, a revolution’s spent 
And look now: winter extends a brittle hand, calling
   Last orders on the year 
But I’ll be the obstinate last drinker, stalling

   For time while autumn’s tables are wiped down; 
I’ll be the flâneur in the park, passing

   Dead leaves and regrets from hand to hand 
While squirrels hunker below the slow massing

   Of polar air at the season’s borders. I’ll see you on the
Other side. Perhaps they’re right, perhaps the interweaving 
   Of our threads into our children will be our
Making after all, and soon we’ll be retrieving 
   Optimism from these lengthened nights as our 
Adopted city draws new breath this morning 
   Like this oblique first light along the streets of Crookes
With those unloaded bags of socks and books adorning 
   Freshman lawns. Let them be young 
And daft, let fortune attend their drunken 
   Stumbling into roads. Let the kids be alright. 
The shine will dull on this clutch of conkers, their shrunken
   Drying bulk brittle like ageing bone, as blown 
And brushed from grates go the last of the old year’s embers
   And the season’s first curls of chimney smoke 
Stroke the underside of the first chilly sky, while September’s 
   Evenings graduate from the grey of slate to the black of carbon. 
Let the nights not draw in quite yet nor the kids grow sober — 
   Autumn’s advance and the slants of the Earth 
Shade on these vestiges of warmth into October,

   Shade on, prolong, the welcome of this shifted city, 
Let its embrace still widen. Now’s no moment for this prudent 
   Stock-taking, bean-counting, the accountant’s wary eye. 
Let this place take in the refugee, the student,

   The one and all who reinvent, renew, regenerate. 
Underfoot the leaves accrue like debts for tuition, 
   Degenerate to mulch: this is the dying season 
Yet these guests now unpacking lives make scant imposition 
   But loan this city life, new blood, new reason.