21st c enlightenment blues

Rattling through the low hills
in the darkness and the endless endless rain
the train is overcrowded
because the train is overcrowded
because the train is always overcrowded
and the conductor’s now a manager
a voice we never see
mumbling something through the tannoy
about weather and delays.
We used to have seats
now we stand
and this is progress.

the airwaves are full beyond bursting
with reports of death death death
of young men gorged on bitterness and bullets
who want a world in their own image
who take Kalashnikovs to café bars
and spew their hatred into headlines.
The numbers mount
twenty, forty, eighty
one hundred and twenty-nine

and journalists run to keep up
as our disbelief stumbles beside them
barely able to count
deafened by the online chatter
lost in the conviction of our powerlessness
to do anything that matters
while the 24-hour news channels
send you numb with repetition
driving home the horror
till you scream at them to
before you too view your neighbour
through the sour veil of suspicion.
You know we trust people less now
than we did twenty years ago
and this is progress.

We’ve more than enough hate to go round.
Anyone has access to a keypad and a cause
and it’s easy to believe that our future
is Paris, Beirut, Baghdad, Nairobi
that hope is so last century
now it’s all about circling the wagons
and building the walls
higher higher higher
like the prophets of doom
have always wanted.
They see the end of days in everything.
Here, barbarians at the gate;
there, immorality, apostates.
They go to war over oil
or the meaning of texts
written by desert tribes
trying to make sense of the senseless
forgetting we’re idiot monkeys
running over a small blue planet
reliant on rain and the heat of a star
for pretty much everything.
Arguing about skin colour
and nationality like it matters
filling cyberspace with ignorance
and white-hot indignation
judging a child’s laughter
a mother’s hope
or a girl’s dreams
by which side of a border they live on
or the god they follow
while the rest of us scramble
to put food on the table
look after the ones we love
wait for the rain to ease off
or the rains to come
and pray our kids will have a better life
that they’ll see progress.

And the voice of the train manager
announces our arrival at a station
mutters an apology for overcrowding
due to breakdowns, floods,
inadequate investment, cancellations
asks us to take all our belongings with us
to take care when disembarking
thanks us for choosing to travel with etc.
He sounds tired and beaten-down
but when he wishes us a safe onward journey
and says he hopes he sees us soon
this evening, for once
I decide to believe him.

© Steve Pottinger 16 November 2015


And so, it comes.
That winter morning when you wake
and find that you have had


You will give it up, you tell yourself,
retreat to the hills, the coast,
a cottage, a boat, a hut
some place out on the edge of it all.
Anywhere but here.
Anything but this.
You make plans to see out your days
walking beaches
scattering resting gulls
climbing mountains
to stare at far horizons.
You tell yourself
you will tend vegetables
grow old by the heat of a fire
lose yourself in books
and the view from a window.

Let the rich and the furious
have the world for themselves.
Much good may it do them.

There’s no shame, you tell yourself,
in howling your grief
into the roaring wind
at the stars, the moon,
anything that listens,
in finding solace in the bottle
or the bottom of a pint.
There’s no shame in walking
away from the fight,
throwing the towel in.

Just let the rich and the furious
have the world for themselves.
And much good may it do them.

You tell yourself all of this and more.
You even believe it.

And then, one day, it comes.
That morning which has always
been written into your bones
woven into your future
that morning when you wake
and find that you have had


and you roll up your sleeves
and set to once again.

© Steve Pottinger. 13th December 2019

the punch that never was

Laura’s snaffled an exclusive
freshly minted by the Tories
a left-wing thug has punched a bloke!
she tweets, ignores the story
about the PM and the photograph
the crisis in our NHS
kids on drips curled up on floors
the current government’s heartlessness
you see, a stolen phone is nothing
when you’ve a brand-new lie to share
about the punch that never happened
by a mob that wasn’t there
in a city where foodbanks aren’t needed
in a country of streets paved with gold
where any negative talk comes from traitors
and the right thing to do is just do what you’re told

and where Laura has got an exclusive
freshly minted by CCHQ
it’s the whiff of a Cummings, the stench of pure bull
but Laura won’t check if it’s true
you see it gets her mate the PM out of trouble
throws the slavering tabloids a bone
because this Bullingdon bully, this chancer
had stolen a journalist’s phone
after refusing to answer a question
about a boy on a hospital floor
and he desperately needs a distraction
a dead cat or two, maybe more

and so Laura has got an exclusive
from sources who tell her because
they know that she’ll tweet what they send her about
the punch that never was
by a mob whom footage conclusively shows
were nowhere to be seen
and the kid on the floor with no hospital bed
is forgotten by her, like he’s always been.

© Steve Pottinger. 10th December 2019

the drunken Polish labourer, homesickness, and the 529

if there is god thinks Piotr
then this bus will not stop
at sentchiles sick tempull
places which he cannot name
places which all look the same
bus will not leave him in darkness
on dog-shit chip-box puddle pavement
cold flat waiting

if there is god, bus will drive through night
head south, east through towns
villages neon cities lit by rain
will fall idle only on boat, engine cooling
Piotr will swig at beer through sunrise
turn up music on his phone
see autobahn and kirche
from top deck front seat window

if there is god
bus will deliver him to dark bread,
barszcz, kielbasa, kopytka,
wódka, wódka, wódka
Piotr gazes out into blur of noo slain
knows bus will deliver him home
if there is god
if there is fockin god

(St Giles, Sikh Temple, and Noose Lane are stops on the 529 bus route from Wolverhampton to Walsall)

© Steve Pottinger

runner-up in Prole poetry competition 2019


I did not know you.

I did not know you and I was not there
when Tuesday morning burst in upon you,
kicked down the doors and stormed
into the flat, when a dozen men with guns,
– policia doing the work of the cartel –
dragged you to the cars that waited,
idling outside, dance tunes on the radio,
drivers tapping their fingers, humming along.

I did not know you and I was not there
when they drove you to a nameless faceless place
built of breeze blocks, nightmares, fear
of hours that stretch forever
and the death of strangers
I was not there and when they did to you
what men with brutal minds and guns
have always done to women
I still didn’t know you. I still wasn’t there.

I did not know you and I was not there
when they set you free
when you stumbled back home
I was not there and I do not know
if you leant chairs against the broken door
to close out the world and its guns and its hate
I do not know if you curled up on the bed and sobbed
or stood under the shower for dripping hours
hoping to wash away hurt and sin and shame
I was not there when you sat at the table and shook
when you smoked one trembling cigarette after another
when you cursed the god who lets these men
– these malditos culeros – run free
when you prayed to our lady,
to anyone who’d listen.

I did not know you and I was not there
when they came back
when they came back
and took you away again
when the car waited, idling outside,
driver tapping his fingers, humming along
when they wrote your name in sand and blood
in the long long list of desaparecidas

I did not know you and I was not there
and it’s not enough, it will never be enough
but I write this poem
to keep alive your name
to light a candle of words,
a small but steady flame
that burns bright in the howling dark
and remembers you.

© Steve Pottinger. 21 Jan 2019

over 26,000 people have gone missing in Mexico, victims of drug cartels, the police and state authorities who often work with them.

published on Proletarian Poetry. 6th March 2019

the tipton jedi

at her terminal in the library
of a small, forgotten planet

she wonders who the others are
and how they made it here

when it closes, she walks to the stop
finds the 42 left a long, long time ago

sees the young girl chattering on her mobile
hair up, Princess sequinned on her T

the warrior monk striding to the bookie’s
firm hold on a can of Tysker and his staffie

and the delivery driver who steers his truck
through a hold-your-breath gap

as the school crossing lady parts afternoon
traffic with her lightsaber lollipop

he’s a heart-stopping whisker from disaster
grins, drops his payload, motors on

when the bus comes, she boards
for the far-off galaxy of West Brom

and a date with a man who claims
he’ll take her places, has a pal

who knows a Wookiee or two, gal
she stares through the bus window

passes the young lad as he downs another pint
tries to get his head around the news about his father

In the 2011 census, fifteen people in Tipton put their religion as ‘Jedi’.

This poem is taken from ‘Tipton Tales’, commissioned by Multistory and featuring work from ten Black Country poets.
You can buy it here.

on hearing of the financial difficulties of a peddler of hate

This morning, you have forgone
the sullen trudge to work,
spring – two at a time – up bus stairs,
whistle as you settle into a seat
at the front with the world’s best view.

The grey skies are wonderful,
the traffic a joy, one long beautiful
bless it!
nose-to-tail going nowhere
a symphony of horns
and idling engines.

The city has been washed brighter
overnight. You smile at strangers, cyclists,
policemen, wish chuggers a cheery good day
offer your breakfast pastry
to a figure curled in a shop doorway.

Cackling, you play hopscotch
the length of the high street,
vow to laugh at the boss’s lame jokes.
Vow to try.
Some days, you tell yourself,
are truly magical. What times,
what times, what times to be alive!

© Steve Pottinger

published in Morning Star’s ‘Poetry on the Picket Line’ column on 11th October 2018


(with apologies to Lewis Carroll)

‘Twas Brexit, and the slithy Gove
did frottercrutch in dwarfish glee;
he snicker-snacked the Camerove,

Beware the stabberjock, my son!
The empty eyes, the robo-glint!
who fellobrates the Murdocrone
the Ruperturtle übergimp!

He pallerised the BoJo cloon
they chummed upon their sunderbus
emblazoned it with fibberoons
and bambulluntruthoozled us.

The tousled toddler slaughterchopped,
his destiplans an Eton mess,
the slubbergubby gollumgove
a shadowhand of viciousness.

O gipperchund! And vomberblast!
The skitterchit of slick and sly
the snicker-snack of backstablades
the scrabblage to ruthlerise.

The bubberchut of charismissed
the turdletruck of banalbore
is patterfrondled on the head
a pawn upon a checkerboard.

Beware the stabberjock, my son!
The empty eyes, the robo-glint
who fellobrates the Murdocrone
the Ruperturtle übergimp.

© Steve Pottinger. 3 July 2016