Commiserate June – Alec Newman

June 17, 2013

Commiserate is a monthly experiment in poetic collaboration.

June, 2013: Alec Newman

Alec Newman is the editor at Knives Forks and Spoons Press, and an occasional poet.

Alec says: The original concept for this piece was to juxtapose the conditions of Manchester’s working classes in Little Ireland, which stood by the Corner House in the 1840s, with the conditions of the working classes in Chongqing China today. My section would be assembled as found text from contemporary sources, whilst Ryan would compose poems in response to his research.

Of Manchester Of Chongqing


Who wouldn’t want to build a new world
who wouldn’t change a childhood
or take back a bloody word
spit at a mother? If you build it
maybe the ghosts will come
dressed in white and swinging
for forgiveness.


recall the new town || off oxford road ¶ 1801 – 1851 ¶ life expectancy calculated at 25.3 years ¶ in contracted, crooked courts and passages || the air choked with factory smoke and shoddy dust || 4,000 human beings || have reached the lowest stage of humanity ¶ in streets sunk in pools of shit || a weaver || in a dark, wet cellar, in measureless filth and stench || had to bale out the water from his dwelling every morning

An empty beach will not be silent. Diggers
will not rest, not in the open air, not when you must
go so far down to rise. Liveable, safe, the future
goes both ways. I don’t want to talk about food,
what we eat, what mother swallows, what father
dug the holes for. So many buildings marked
for demolition, buried for a better life, mother
crane, father concrete, not even on a map. Puddles
fill the dark and faces bloom orange over a brazier
and the bang bang army shoulders
their quads for 50 kilos of rice, 50 kilos of leaves,
50 kilos of lime, 50 kilos of mint, life
a little better here and sometimes things are heavier,
sometimes we earn less.


talk about food || what they eat ¶ adulterated, poisoned provisions ¶ weaving cotton 69 hours a week for 11 shillings ¶ sometimes they earn less ¶ the villainy || of mixing gypsum, alum or chalk with flour ¶ tainted meat || taken from diseased cattle ¶ a pig found dead and decayed || 4d for pork-chops at the butchers


Megacity, weren’t we capitol? Megacity means princes and the heavy smiles of those who lay under princes. Megacity, 18 is still quite a lot. Megacity, give us this day our daily cheap parts. Megacity means bridges of glass, walls of glass, whole faces of glass. Megacity, means never having to take the stairs. Megacity, when will you send your eggs to India. Megacity, means Moet & Chandon. Megacity, it is 5 O’clock somewhere. Megacity, rev your engines red, no speed limit, no cop no stop, no glitter till we’re at sea. Megacity means never having to say ‘I’m sorry.’ Megacity, Megacity, doo wah diddy.


it should be noted BLOOD that many of manchester’s victorian buildings exploit the semiotics of neoclassical architecture to reinforce the concept of divine-order BLOOD and therefore legitimise the british class system YOUR GRAND HOUSES WERE BUILT WITH THE BLOOD OF YOUR WORKERS the stout doric columns represent the working classes and occupy the ground floor where they support the middle and upper-classes THE MORTER WAS MIXED WITH SWEAT AND TEARS the ionic columns THE WIND HOWLS THROUGH YOUR ESTATE LIKE THE CRY OF A FACTORY CHILD which represent the middle-classes adorn the second floor YOUR WALLS OOZE BLOOD whilst the exquisite corinthian columns representing the aristocracy articulate the third floor


No contradiction, no story
no destruction, no balloon
no power station, no smoke
no smoke, no heat
no fire, no hot water
call the rivers coincidence
call blight, landmark
call it making work

call your bed obsolete, your house obsolete
fence a patch of grass big enough for a gnome
fence a corner, leave it a few years /come back /
and call it / stranger / call it miracle / call
your favourite restaurant deja vu / would you
press pause or raise high the roof beams
call graffitti whatever you want / one day /
it will be framed / all one hundred flowers red
or yellow / will be vased / sipping tea we can’t
talk about anything else / whenever we ask
the answer is always ‘someplace else’

where skyscrapers spurt from plains
like creeping plants / I can place
different things in different boxes
— a rubber chicken, a banana —
but there is little I can change
I name my son / I take my photo
I hang what I can on the line
and wait for the concrete to dry

Ryan says: when Alec suggested this theme, I was daunted because I never start a poem that way and Chongqing, China was way out of my comfort zone. I was spurred on by Alec’s responses and by the juxtaposition itself. A solid idea which I hope I didn’t fuck up too much. x

More from Commiserate 2013

Ryan makes Enemies in the North

March 28, 2013

This Saturday (30 March) I’ll be jaunting down the west coast to sunny Manchester to join SJ Fowler and his awesome collaboration project Enemies. From 5-9.30pm in the Annexe Room of the Cornerhouse, let us take you on a journey of original collaborations in poetry, sonic art and visual art, celebrating the resurgent energy of the northwest innovative poetry scene. Enemies in the North will also see the launch of “Gilles de Rais” (by David Kelly and SJ) and “The Estates of Westeros” (by Ben Morris and SJ), two books in boxes, published by Like This Press; also “Elephanche” (by Marcus Slease and SJ), a book of poemplays, published by Department Press. If you hadn’t noticed, SJ is a busy busy man.

The show will feature so many pairs of awesome creators. These pairs are: Zoe Skoulding & Robert Sheppard; Richard Barrett & Nathan Thompson; Sarah Crewe & Jo Langton; Michael Egan & Bobby Parker; Steven Waling & Matt Dalby; Adam Steiner & Eleanor Rees; Alec Newman & yours truly; James Byrne & Sandeep Parmar; SJ Fowler & Marcus Slease; Daniele Pantano & David Kelly; Tom Jenks & Chris McCabe & Ben Morris. If there isn’t a tag team on that list that quickens your pulse, you may well not have a pulse.

What: Enemies in the North

Where: Cornerhouse, 70 Oxford Street, Manchester, M1 5NH (adjacent to Oxford St Station)

When: Saturday 30 March, 5-9.30pm


Hope to see you there!