Flying the flag for Rotherham

All the old dreams and nursery rhymes
of Habershons and Guest and Chrimes
the old ghosts working overtime
steelmen in their fettled prime
colliers in their undergrime
all the popular paradigms
that render local song sublime
the tragedies of muck and slime
heroic workers, gaffers’ crimes
grotesqueries and pantomimes
the belly laughs, the bags of lime
the Rawmarsh Parish church-bell chimes
as a red moon over Canklow climbs
and a few ghost-words work overtime

flying the flag, flying the flag
flying the flag for Rotherham

to fashion a future from a well-made past
that’s unacknowledged and undergrassed
a future hanging too long at half-mast
in a sky perennially overcast
where gloom-merchants stand aghast
where the optimistic view is outclassed
by the cynics’ blasts and counterblasts
where the pessimism’s unsurpassed
but the clouds are rolling by double-fast
and the untapped talent of the people is vast
and the regeneration enthusiasts
are taking the agenda back at last
with more than tradition and elastoplast
to fashion a future from a hard-won past
those partnerships, they’re learning fast
they’re gonna fly that flag from a taller mast
and more ghost-words are working late
as the moon has a minute above Parkgate

flying the flag, flying the flag
flying the flag for Rotherham

did I mention Brinsworth? Did I mention it?
I’ve got to keep trying to make Brinsworth fit!
as everywhere the old ghosts gather
someone’s uncle, mother, father
shaking their dewy chains till they rattle
chirruping a fine unearthly prattle
revenants from here, ghosts from there
soon as you look they disappear
are they trying or not to communicate?
the poet’s task is to translate

while he’s flying the flag, flying the flag
flying the flag for Rotherham

well, I was coming down through Thrybergh-space
via Dalton Brook and ancient Thrace
when I met a woman with a vanity case
from Eastwood Sands she had a frosty face
but she trumped my knavery with a straight ace
she said “talk proper, you’re a thorough disgrace
with your polysyllabic carapace
and your ‘poetry belongs in the market place’
with your flat vowels and bardic grimace
and your pseudo-semantic paper-chase
at a ten and fourteen inch mill pace
with your lamp to lamp and your touching base
and your Mushroom Garage-bought wheel-brace
poetry should be a thing of grace
pretty and bright with flowers and lace
truth and beauty? – not a trace
in your ghastly excuse for a rhyming race
and your accent’s dire, you’re an utter disgrace”

I said “you’ve got me wrong missis, you’ve got me all wrong
I don’t do ‘poems,’ I just find songs
rooted in the music of the Rotherham tongue
I love that twang when it’s coming on strong
them ‘tha’s and thee’s that we thrive among
‘sithees,’ ‘nathens’ and ‘reyts’ that throng
into living speech to spell ‘we belong’
it’s a great magniloquent Rotherham song
it’s a great magniloquent Rotherham song
the song for Rotherham, the Rotherham song
I said a song’s like a communal ghost, I said
where the urgent living and the laid-back dead
co-exist in the ephemeral
with its all for one notes, and its one for all
articulate and at best, lyrical
virtual but still physical
and some are great and some are not
and some put poetry on the spot
and some are just giving it all they’ve got

when they’re flying the flag, flying the flag
flying the flag for Rotherham
because they’re flying the flag, flying the flag
flying the flag for Rotherham

Have I mentioned Brinsworth? Have you heard it yet?
There’s some think I won’t get it in, I’ll bet

Well I did the Che Guevara bit
I wore my beret but it didn’t fit
my head was too big for holy writ
from anyone’s church so I abandoned it
at an early age for “English lit”
well, the Parkgate “do it yourself cock” kit
how to make yourself a Yorkshire poet
a laureate, though your mates don’t know it
and though the perks are few and there’s little profit
there’s benefits for the pure in spirit
and that’s what keeps the embers lit
as the intellectual atoms split
the drive to make the words submit
to push old rhymes to untested limits
of the highest quality – that’s the remit
(and it’s easier than working down the pit)
telling the tale and making it fit
with the chit-chat of the kids with zits
with folk in the Advertiser obits
with the letter-writers’ weekly skits
with the I’m all right Jack hypocrites
with the daily, hourly spats and splits
with the armchair Jill and Johnny Opposites
with the flag-flyers when they do their bit
with the flag-flyers when they keep their wits
with the flag-flyers when they purl and knit
when they show their Rotherham guts and grit
when they plan and graft and stand or sit
when they keep our vision at the heart of it

when they’re flying the flag, flying the flag
when they’re flying that flag for Rotherham

there is a hole where the centre of town used to be
but you can see that negative- or positively
you can let your history get you down
or you can forge the vision of a future town
you can help to fill that old abyss
with a new dream of town-centredness

there’s folk in partnerships and groups
looping loops now and jumping through hoops
a growing ferment borough-wide
young and old are getting on side
business people, rugby fans
writing community action plans
(and there’s some of them not afraid to be seen
consorting with divas on the big civic screen)
giving up time and energy
symbiosis and synergy
in Rotherham accents, daughters and sons
coming together ‘cos that’s how it’s done
folk from Swinton, Rawmarsh, Wath
women of substance, men of the cloth
Dinnington, Ferham, Kiveton Park
men with walking sticks, women with spark
the Bramptons Bierlow and en-le-Morthen
Rother Valley South and Wentworth Northern
Off to meetings, teas uneaten
In Brinsworth, Catcliffe, Clifton, Treeton
(Brinsworth and Catcliffe, we’re there at last
Catcliffe and Brinsworth – was it a bit too fast?)
and Thorpe Hesley, Treeton, Maltby Crags
all raising voices and raising flags

and all the ghosts of Rotherhamshire
the ones we can and cannot hear
the ones who can and can’t be here
are swelling the chorus from far and near
(festival goers, singers of songs
Air guitarists, bangers of gongs)
(joiners in with chorus, refrain…)

all flying the flag, flying the flag
flying the flag for Rotherham

for everything on a night like this
comes down to that common synthesis
old enmities, contempts and prides
old differences can be set aside
and all the things that might divide
can re-emerge transmogrified

with all of us whatever our game
dedicated to the one same aim
word and language, act and deed
consecrated to the single creed
and the mayor’s the one who symbolizes
all the flag-flying folk even as the water rises

‘cos he’s

flying the flag, flying the flag
flying the flag for Rotherham

we’re all…

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