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.