Beat Poetry Day

October 7th is Beat Poetry Day. It marks the anniversary Allen Ginsberg reading his radical poem, ‘Howl’, at the Gallery 6 in San Francisco in 1955. The poet and owner of the City Lights Bookshop (still there to this day, visit if you get the chance),
Lawrence Ferlinghetti, was subsequently tried for obscenity and cleared. Here, Visiting Research Fellow, Martin Jesinghausen, reflects on Ferlinghetti’s influence.

New American Poetry against the Plague

Over the last year or so I found some relief from virally or politically induced nightmares in poetry. New American writing proved particularly good as antidote against the atrocities of budding US-style fascism.

I came across two new writers Ocean Vuong (born 1988) and Jennie Xie (no data), immigrants into the USA from Asia at an early age, one from Saigon, Vietnam, the other from Hefei, China. Both are offering new perspectives on global culture and on North America today, often by rendering strange the tropes and images from an unknown homeland they left behind, through blending them with material representing their new-world environment, at the same time alien and familiar to them. As child-migrant outsiders they have grown up inside an adopted culture, in language acquired and honed to standards of poetic expressiveness. This is poetry that offers fresh and raw vistas, new ways of seeing and feeling across divides. Vuong’s collection Night Sky with Exit Wounds came out in 2016, Xie’s is called Eye Level and was published 2017.

Awarding the 2020 Nobel Prize for literature to Louise Glück (born New York 1943) came as a lovely surprise, the second American poet in a row following Dylan’s selection of 2016. Glück’s poetry is dark post-modernist word-music, her special voice that of a peculiar stream-of-consciousness, often as if history itself were speaking or dreaming. Material from myth and the collective unconscious resurfaces, salvaged from an underground flow of cultural jetsam and flotsam reaching us from ancient times. She has not published much very recently; her career is fully documented with complete collections in Louise Glück. Poems 1962-2012. The latest title dates back to 2014: Faithful and Virtuous Night.

A few weeks ago I discovered Terrance Hayes’s prize-winning 2018 collection entitled American Sonnets for my Past and Present Assassin. The intricate and strict formal architecture of the Sonnet, a new poetic form originating at the beginning of the modern period with Petrarch, proved attractive for the expression of complex, often contradicting, or even paradoxical thoughts, ever since its heyday when it was adopted (and adapted) in Elizabethan poetry, and especially Shakespeare, of course. Hayes appropriates the Sonnet as an Afro-American form. He does so by breaking away from the prescriptive traditional rules of Sonnet-construction. He ‘deconstructs’ the Sonnet by overhauling its old formal parameters so that it becomes fit as a medium for debates of the aggravating contradictions in contemporary US-culture. Riveting stuff!

Two of my older favourites, rather well-known in this country because of their long-standing association with the London Review of Books, have also been publishing new work recently. The first of them, Frederick Seidel (born St Louis 1936!), especially appeals because his texts are irreverent, grumpy, sinister, funny, sarcastic, and often politically less than correct, a virtuoso technician of words with a sharp scalpel against the arteries of current pseudo-culture and ogre-politics. Check out his 2016 poem ‘Trump for President’ published first in the LRB 29, 2016.  Seidel is a city-jungle poet. His two last collections give evidence again of his deep attachment to New York: Widening Income Inequality, 2017, and Peaches Goes it Alone, 2019, are Seidel’s ‘late style’ monuments. Also search out perhaps ‘Karl’, ‘In memory of Karl Miller’, erstwhile editor of the LRB and friend of Seidel’s (first published New York Review of Books, November 20, 2014, also collected): a love letter from an American cosmopolitan writer to London as a hub of urban culture. Last month Faber published the latest selection of what Seidel deems fit for posterity: Frederick Seidel New Selected Poems, 2021. –  The second of the old guard close to my heart is August Kleinzahler (born 1949, New Jersey), more gentle than Seidel, and as accomplished and wide-ranging in themes and forms, perhaps with a more narrative scope. His latest collection Snow Approaching on the Hudson came out this year, and cuts to the chase of the situation.  The eponymous poem I found very touching. It chimes as a commentary on the current virus misery, a Covid winter-journey of the freezing mind.

Meanwhile, thankfully things have come to a head on the politics front, for the moment at least, or so it seems, with American fascism defeated on 21 January.  Can poetry save the world from evil and affliction? American poetry had certainly done its bit in the battle against populism as a form of public deception  and fascist dictatorship. A month after Bidens’s inauguration Lawrence Ferlinghetti passed away, on 22 February, at the ripe age of 101. 

Ferlinghetti used poetry as a political weapon. As a publisher and in his own poetry he fought political authoritarianism. He advocated enlightenment values, breaking a lance for liberty, equality, justice, globally and at home, reason, internationalism, and, in true Californian spirit, free love, boundless imagination and expansion of the mind.  With  the slaying of the Trump dragon he lived to enjoy a small victory in his lifelong, nearly 70 year-fight against bigotry, obfuscation, dictatorship, war-mongering and media terror.  

A few more thoughts on this large figure of post-war poetry might suffice. Ferlinghetti entered the arena 1955 with a first collection called Pictures of the Gone World, published by City Lights Books Press, the printing-press side of the bookshop he founded in San Francisco in 1953.  The independent bookstore-publication model he had transplanted to San Francisco from good old Modernist Paris, Europe, where in 1919  Shakespeare & Company, was set up by the American Sylvia Beach: from Paris to San Francisco with love – a transatlantic shuttle that worked in both directions. Like Shakespeare & Company for new experiments in Modernist writing, City Lights Books turned into a laboratory for new forms and styles of post-modern writing, a locus/focus for the Beat Generation. And like the Parisian motherlode, before it was closed down by the Fascists in 1941, the San Franciscan franchise provided (they both still do; Shakespeare & Company re-emerged after the war! Go visit!) networking space and independent printing opportunities for artists and writers, with an agenda of broadening cultural and political horizons of readers, writers and small-gig audiences at readings and concerts. The publication of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl in 1956 by City Lights Books press was as momentous for the burgeoning revival of post-modern American poetry as the publication of Joyce’s Ulysses in 1922 by Shakespeare & Company for the elevation of the Modernist project on both sides of the Atlantic.

Ferlinghetti’s poetry always was political, in all senses of the word. Thus he flipped the notion of populism on his head in his Populist Manifestos, published 1976, when he demanded of poetry to get out there and go populist (First Manifesto):

‘Poets, come out of your closets,
Open your windows, open your doors,
You have been holed up for too long
in your closed worlds…’

In the Second Manifesto he asks the

‘Sons of Whitman sons of Poe
Sons of Lorca and Rimbaud
or their dark daughters, 
poets of another breath
poets of another vision
Who among you still speaks of revolution
Who among you still unscrews
the locks from the doors
in this revisionist decade?
“You are president of your own body America”’,

He here quotes a Mexican poet with a statement that he throws as a wake-up call at his North American poetic fellow travellers to start the fight for a political re-envisioning of a progressive America. I detect echoes here of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s dictum (in Defence of Poetry, 1821) that ‘poets are the legislators of the world’.

Ferlinghetti’s sees poetry as an ‘insurgent art’ (title of a poem of 2007), but he can also speak with a tender and intimate poetic voice, privately political, as in much of his work, notably in the aforementioned A Coney Island of the Mind, for example

A Coney Island of the Mind #20
The Pennycandystore beyond the El
is where I first
                       fell in love
                                        with unreality
Jellybeans glowed in the semi-gloom
of that september afternoon
A cat upon the counter moved among
                                              the licorice sticks
                         and tootsie rolls
            and Oh Boy Gum
Outside the leaves were falling as they died
A wind had blown away the sun
A girl ran in
Her hair was rainy
Her breasts were breathless in the little room
Outside the leaves were falling
                                  and they cried
                                                       Too soon! too soon!

Conference on Architecture, Urbanism and Culture

It was a pleasure to meet architects, urban planners, artists and performers from Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Sweden and the UK at the eurau conference over the last few days. Panels were held at Staffs and at Birmingham City University. The panel I chaired attended to the concerns of art and performance in engaging with the contemporary city and addressing issues of marginalisation and regeneration. Fabiano Miocci considered the historic and contemporary use of collage to imagine and re-imagine the city by juxtaposing images and symbols that relate to the experience of urban space in the context of 21st century Athens. Ludovica Campione and Giovangiuseppe Vanneli, both postgrads at the University of Naples, talked about the relationship between architecture and performative arts in articulating marginalised identities in heterotopic spaces in both conventional theatre spaces and site specific performance. Anna Moro told us about the fascinating new processes and methodologies being used in and around Milan to reconnect marginalised, disadvantaged and fragile communities to the wider city through community arts.

As part of the conference, we were treated to a fantastic meal at the sumptuous Potters Club near to the university and a performance on the last day exploring, through dance, play and multi-media (joined by the magic of the internet by artists from India) the relationship between the body and space. We concluded with a tour of the inspriring Stoke on Trent British Ceramics Biennial.

A new project has been conceived as a result of the conference. A Psychogeography of the 6 Towns will explore the polyvalent nature of Stoke on Trent’s historic six towns through urban exploration, architectural history, poetry and urban theory. The participants will be Maria Maria Martinez Sanchez (urban planning and architecture), Martin Brown (urban and architectural history), Lisa Mansell (geo-poetics) and Mark Brown (urban cultures and theory). We will deploy Situationist techniques to explore the centres, margins and inbetween spaces of the city to plot and map its history, culture and future.

200th anniversary of the birth of Baudelaire

Charles Baudelaire - Wikipedia
Charles Baudelaire, 1821-1867 – the poet’s poet

Today is the 200th anniversary of the French poet, Charles Baudelaire – a poet associated with the emergence of literary modernism and the figure of the urban wanderer; the flaneur.

The flâneur is the prime urban walker and recorder in literature.  The flâneur’s impression of the city is formed through walking and is thus shaped at street level, through the confusion and immediacy of the urban sensual phenomena of the crowd.  From the crowd emerge the individual ‘urban types’ that populate Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal (1857).  Baudelaire’s poetry is that of the flâneur (along with other marginal figures), who has, in some form, inhabited the city in literature since Edgar Allan Poe.  One of the most famous statements on modernity and the modern metropolis is in Baudelaire’s essay on the artist Constantin Guys in  ‘The Painter of Modern Life’: ‘modernity is the transitory, the fugitive, the contingent; it is one half of art, the other half being the eternal and the immutable’. 

Baudelaire isolates the ragpicker and the flâneur (along with the prostitute) as types with whom he associates himself as a poet. The ragpicker is the epitome of human misery in the city, collecting rags to be used in industrial processes.  The affinity between the ragpicker and the poet arises from a coincidence of activity – as Baudelaire also sees himself collecting social refuse from the city street and fashioning it into a precarious living. 

Baudelaire’s flâneur occupies a very particular time and place and is of a class that is able to indulge in strolling as a pastime.  His arena is initially that of the boulevards, but with the advent of the arcades he finds his perfect environment.  Here he can be an observer, and a peruser of the commodities in the arcades, as well as a commodity spectacle to be observed.  He is a man, according to the 20th century critic Walter Benjamin, who goes ‘botanizing on the asphalt’ and who is at home in the street. 

            Baudelaire’s poem ‘To a Passer-by’ invests the crowd with a potential to offer exciting but fleeting metropolitan encounters.  The poet describes a brief and anonymous encounter with a beautiful widow who is borne to him and away from him by the crowd.

To a Passer-By

The street about me roared with a deafening sound.
Tall, slender, in heavy mourning, majestic grief,
A woman passed, with a glittering hand
Raising, swinging the hem and flounces of her skirt;

Agile and graceful, her leg was like a statue’s.
Tense as in a delirium, I drank
From her eyes, pale sky where tempests germinate,
The sweetness that enthralls and the pleasure that kills.

A lightning flash… then night! Fleeting beauty
By whose glance I was suddenly reborn,
Will I see you no more before eternity?

Elsewhere, far, far from here! too late! never perhaps!
For I know not where you fled, you know not where I go,
O you whom I would have loved, O you who knew it!

William Aggeler, The Flowers of Evil (Fresno, CA: Academy Library Guild, 1954)

 ‘What this sonnet communicates is simply this:’ Benjamin writes, ‘far from experiencing the crowd as an opposed, antagonistic element, this very crowd brings to the city dweller the figure that fascinates. The delight of the urban poet is love – not at first sight, but at last sight’.  The way in which the crowd conveys this mysterious beauty to the gaze of the poet illustrates both the anonymity and the fascination of the crowd.  However, Baudelaire’s attitude to the crowd as ambivalent. It is Baudelaire’s very status as a poet that prevents him becoming fully immersed in the city; both his class position and his professed role as dispassionate observer must separate him from the mass. 

            The complexity of an environment emerging from these conditions requires a mode of expression equal to its volatility.  Consequently, Baudelaire’s poetic project was to create a prose adequate to the metropolis of his age.  Baudelaire as a poet, seeks an urban poetics adequate to both the rational and the phantasmagorical elements of urban experience.  In an echo of the two parts that constitute modernity, he wrote of his own poetry:

Who among us has not dreamt, in moments of ambition, of the miracle of a poetic prose, musical without rhythm and without rhyme, supple and staccato enough to adapt to the lyrical stirrings of the soul, the undulations of dreams, and the sudden leaps of consciousness.  This obsessive idea is above all a child of the experience of giant cities, of the intersecting of their myriad relations.

What Baudelaire seeks is a mode of representation that engages with the eternal and (seemingly) immutable physical metropolis in terms which at the same time are able to capture the ephemeral and fugitive interrelations he finds so compelling.

Staff Picks for World Poetry Day

Our English and Creative Writing lecturers pick some some significant poems for World Poetry Day

Kate Tempest: Brand New Ancients (2013)—The New Waste Land.
If you invest in just one poetry collection this year, get Brand New Ancients by Kate Tempest. In fact, it is not a collection—rather, a long poem which bounds with vociferous energy over its forty-seven pages. The book begins with an aphoristic inscription: “This poem was written to be read aloud”, and to read it alongside a recording of Tempest’s virtuosic spoken-word performance is enthralling.
The text begins with a meditation on myth:

In the old days
the myths were the stories we used to explain ourselves.
But how can we explain the way we hate ourselves,
the things we’ve made ourselves into,
the way we break ourselves in two,
the way we overcomplicate ourselves?

But we are still mythical. (Tempest, 2013, p.1)

Note the lexical stride of ‘ourselves’ as it shifts its syntactical position in each line, much like the shifting of our own subjectivity, culture and the passing of time: a civilization taking one step forward and two steps back.

In this next passage, assonant sonority meanders through these phrases like a soundwave where ‘your’/ ‘distorted’ and ‘moss’/’emboss’, ‘rock’/work’ curl subtle filigrees against the more stoic, conventional rhyming of ‘loathing/clothing’ at the lines’ end. Generous, round vowels evoke gravitas and the echo of deep, ancient time:

[. . .] Kevin, your altar is covered in moss,
the inscription distorted, embossed long ago, it said once—
stay true, even if others do not.
He breaks through the rock of his silent self-loathing,
climbs into his clothing
and heads off to work. [. . .] (Tempest, 2013, p.8)

Tempest is not the first poet to gaze into the antique past, to myth and the Classical world, in order to explain ‘ourselves’. T.S. Eliot’s monolithic poem, The Waste Land (1922), too is a collage of intertexts which crisscross through Dante, Shakespeare, ancient Buddhist scripture, but also popular songs and lewd limericks. Part II of the Waste Land, ‘A Game of Chess’, dramatises the unhappy marriages of two couples, inflected with allusions to Anthony and Cleopatra, Dido and Aeneas, Elizabeth I and Leicester. Tempest, in her narrative poem, renders the relationships of two families with Eliotian pessimism, but not in the manner of pastiche. Tempest layers her own careful palimpsest of lyric pathos, dramatic epic, and their modern-day reincarnations: street poetry and rap. She glissades easily between speech, recitative and song in stiches so rhythmically complex they defy traditional scansion.

Brand New Ancients is, perhaps, the Waste Land of our age.

Lisa Mansell

My grandma died on the 16th of March 2017 and it was a strangely hot day. It took her a long time to die. And while I waited I read a lot of poetry.

I wrote a creative non-fiction essay in part about her death called ‘The Familiar Absence of Words.’ Here is a brief extract:

I stayed with grandma for most of that day and read from a poetry book. The words were soothing. Love and loss are easier on a page: less ragged than real life. I read in bursts to the noise of grandma’s rasping breaths and paused during the worrying silences in between. I read with intensity: I held the book like a bible.

This was one of the poems I read as my grandma lay dying.

Eamon Grennan

I was watching a robin fly after a finch — the smaller bird
chirping with excitement, the bigger, its breast blazing, silent
in light-winged earnest chase — when, out of nowhere
over the chimneys and the shivering front gardens,
flashes a sparrowhawk headlong, a light brown burn
scorching the air from which it simply plucks
like a ripe fruit the stopped robin, whose two or three
cheeps of terminal surprise twinkle in the silence
closing over the empty street when the birds have gone
about their own business, and I began to understand
how a poem can happen: you have your eye on a small
elusive detail, pursuing its music, when a terrible truth
strikes and your heart cries out, being carried off.

You can read the full essay ‘The Familiar Absence of Words’ here.

Hannah Stevens

A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London

Dylan Thomas

Never until the mankind making
Bird beast and flower
Fathering and all humbling darkness
Tells with silence the last light breaking
And the still hour
Is come of the sea tumbling in harness

And I must enter again the round
Zion of the water bead
And the synagogue of the ear of corn
Shall I let pray the shadow of a sound
Or sow my salt seed
In the least valley of sackcloth to mourn

The majesty and burning of the child’s death.
I shall not murder
The mankind of her going with a grave truth
Nor blaspheme down the stations of the breath
With any further
Elegy of innocence and youth.

Deep with the first dead lies London’s daughter,
Robed in the long friends,
The grains beyond age, the dark veins of her mother,
Secret by the unmourning water
Of the riding Thames.
After the first death, there is no other.

The renowned critic, Terry Eagleton, argues of this poem that ‘the imagery … is largely at a tangent to the poem’s official subject’, and goes on to say how much he dislikes it. But isn’t this to miss the point of Thomas’s refusal and the anti-elegiac ambition of the verse? We have here 4 tightly structured sestets of rigid line-length and rhyme structure, giving the feeling of the conventional poetry of famous elegists such as Milton and Shelley. We become aware of the challenge to the conventions of the form in the long first line that takes us, breathlessly, from the opening, resistant ‘Never…’ into the 3rd stanza. It is only here, in the 13th line of the poem, that the girl killed by the fire bombing of London becomes the subject of the poem; this line becomes the pivot of Thomas’s contemplation of time and loss. Once acknowledged, the site and manner of the girl’s death, in the underground stations where Londoners sheltered from the bombers, she becomes London’s daughter, buried with the city’s innumerable dead and the earth of the city takes her back as a mother. The symbolism of the poem draws attention to the condensation of time into these moments of loss: Thomas records how he enters the ‘Zion of the water bead’ and ‘the synagogue of the ear of corn’ to show how nature contains all of time.
Thomas defers the lamentation of the dead girl to the second half of the poem to illustrate the futility of attempting to capture the tragedy of this loss – one of so many in the war – in the form of a poem. He ‘shall not murder’ her again, he insistently tells us, with an ‘Elegy of innocence and youth’.
Dylan’s anti-elegy records the loss of the girl in the blitz but as her death is insignificant in the scale of the war and the immensity of time, he is unable to offer consolation.
Mark Brown

Here is a great old-fashioned Romantic poem by Thomas Hardy: The Darkling Thrush. I love this poem because it spoke to me when I was about 12 and in no way a reader of poetry. When I say ‘spoke to me’, I mean it spoke of things that had, up till then, been only the vague and unfocused experience of my own life. It was a surprise to read, for example, that ‘The land’s sharp features seemed to be the century’s corpse outleant’ and to realise that somebody else (a dead poet) had once felt a rocky landscape, like the ones I knew from the Welsh mountains, to be an ancient body. The ‘century’s corpse‘ gives this image a stronger connection with human life (our artificial slicing up of infinite time into hundreds of years). And this corpse is then made even more human by the addition of cloud and wind: ‘His crypt the cloudy canopy, The wind his death-lament‘.

That ordinary landscape could express the whole drama of human life so clearly and directly seemed magical to me. And that is just in one of the verses. How about the next bit: ‘The ancient pulse of germ and birth was shrunken hard and dry’? What is the ‘ancient pulse’? It doesn’t exist, except in our own sense of what life is. Dylan Thomas, in another great nature poem, called it ‘the force’. The title alone is a poem: ‘The force that through the green fuse drives the flower’. Learn these two poems and they will stay with you for life: every winter, every spring, you’ll communicate with these two long dead voices.

The Darkling Thrush

Thomas Hardy

I leant upon a coppice gate

When Frost was spectre-grey,

And Winter’s dregs made desolate

The weakening eye of day.

The tangled bine-stems scored the sky

Like strings of broken lyres,

And all mankind that haunted nigh

Had sought their household fires.

The land’s sharp features seemed to be

The Century’s corpse outleant,

His crypt the cloudy canopy,

The wind his death-lament.

The ancient pulse of germ and birth

Was shrunken hard and dry,

And every spirit upon earth

Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among

The bleak twigs overhead

In a full-hearted evensong

Of joy illimited;

An aged thrush, frail, gaunt and small,

In blast-beruffled plume,

Had chosen thus to fling his soul

Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings

Of such ecstatic sound

Was written on terrestrial things

Afar or nigh around,

That I could think there trembled through

His happy good-night air

Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew

And I was unaware.

Margaret Leclere

World Poetry Day and in/fertility

We are publishing work from our students for World Poetry Day.

Here, Layla tells us about the work she is doing with a health website and brings us a poems on the theme of IVF.

I am writing and recording a series of poems on the theme of infertility for a media company. The poems are based on interviews with people who have experienced fertility issues, as well as research into how those affected sufferer mentally and emotionally.

The poems are part of an ongoing creative project with the company to creatively explore the complex emotions, fears and prejudices around the issue of fertility.

The poem “Game of Hormones” is performed by actor Eddie Bammeke, who is a film student at Staffordshire University. It was written for the Tiktok app, so it’s exactly 59 seconds long.

The prose poem “Just” was commissioned by a company that makes fertility probiotics to explore the advice that their customers are given at various stages of their life.

Layla Randle-Conde


Just don’t come home pregnant, your dad will lose his mind. Just remember to take your pill every morning. Just don’t sleep around & you won’t have to worry about it. Just slow it down, don’t get too serious too quickly. Just remember, you have plenty of time for all of this.

Just don’t ruin your life like she did. Just her and the baby in that tiny flat. Just a waste of potential really. Just threw her life away.

Just focus on your studies. Just get your qualifications first. Just get to know each other.
Just save up and get a house before you start worrying about babies. Just wait another year for the promotion.

Just got married have you? Just don’t keep us hanging around too long for grandchildren, OK?

Just relax, you’re overthinking it. Just go on holiday, it’ll happen. Just keep trying, that’s the fun part! Just enjoy the peace while it lasts! Just enjoy your lie-ins while you can. Just hurry up a bit though, time’s getting on.

Just get that checked out. Just to make sure. Just sit tight, I’ll ring the hospital. Just don’t blame yourself, that’s all. Just try to breathe. Just remember, everything happens for a reason. Just try again when you’re ready.

Just a bit of advice, don’t keep that photo on the side like that. Just a bit morbid, that’s all. Just need to move on. Just need a holiday or something. Just the two of you.

Just do some yoga. Just lose a bit of weight. Just lose a bit more weight. Just cut out alcohol, caffeine and dairy. Just get him checked out too just in case. Just get yourself fit. Just don’t overdo it with the running though. Just don’t get too thin, that’s all.

Just talk to the doctor. Just choose a clinic. Just do the IVF. Just a needle, that’s all. Just your hormones. Just have another cycle as soon as you can. Just save up! Just borrow it off your Mum. Just take out a loan. Just sell the car.

Just use donor eggs! Just, I don’t know, get a surrogate like that woman off the telly did. Just adopt! Just playing Devil’s Advocate, that’s all. Just saying. Just give it another go. Just my opinion. Just give up. Just a waste of time. Just accept it. Just too old. Just wasn’t meant to be then, was it.

World Poetry Day – the pandemic and social media

We are publishing work from our students for World Poetry Day on March 21st.

Here is Chloe’s poem, meditating on the effects of the pandemic on her generation. Thank you, Chloe, for your contribution.

Generation Lost In Satellites

We are the generation
that got lost in satellites.
Caring more about comments
on our social media than the fact
that an empty packet of
crisps can kill the environment.

We’re restless.
We have no wars to fight,
Stonewall has been rioted.
Women got the vote.
The Bastille has been stormed.

We are the restless generation.
We have nothing to do.
There’s nothing left for us to do.

We’re just sat on this
floating rock, drifting in an infinite
loop until the sun expands
and we all burn.

We’re restless.
There are no new worlds left to conquer,
Everest has been climbed.
Slavery was abolished.
There are footprints on the moon.

We are the restless generation.
We have nothing to do.
There’s nothing left for us to do.

But that’s not entirely true…

Now we face a new foe,
a new enemy to be vanquished.

Now we have a war to fight,
one we fight together.
With doctors and nurses on the front line,
while everyone else is told
to stay inside.

This time there are no evacuees,
no bomb shelters to hide in,
no air raid sirens to listen out for.

Although the industries have been revolutionised,
there is still lots of work to do.
with new vaccines, a ray of hope,
a light at the end of the tunnel.

But we are just the generation
that got lost in satellites.
Who cares more about comments
on our social media than
whether or not we
should say please and thank you.

What do we know?
With the world on pause,
and the stock market a minute away from crashing,
the queue to the jobcentre is
longer than the list of jobs available.

But we are just the generation
that got lost in satellites,
what do we know?

We live in a world that revolves
around diet plans and phone updates,
where nobody can say what
they mean in fear of offence.

But we are just the generation
that got lost in satellites.
Who cares more about comments
on our social media than
whether or not we meet
with people outside in real life.

Chloe Birchall, March 2021

The Last Beat – Lawrence Ferlinghetti

(Mark and Lisa)

Lawrence Ferlinghetti was a friend and a publisher to the writers of the Beat Generation, and an influential poet who was both critically and commercially successful. His bookshop, City Lights, became the epi-centre of the San Francisco phase of the Beat movement when it’s major figures, particularly Ginsberg and Kerouac, moved from New York to the West coast. City Lights has been open in the same premises since 1955 and along with Shakespeare and Co in Paris – which had been an inspiration for Ferlinghetti – is one of the best known and most inviting bookshops on the planet. San Francisco was an enclave of non-conformist culture at the time, possibly because of the siting of a camp for pacifists and conscientious objectors nearby during the war. Once released back into society, these renegades fostered a community of radicals and rebels. Ginsberg and Kerouac were drawn to San Francisco by the promise of literary freedom and like-minded artists. The little black and white covers of the Pocket Poets series have become a design classic and have remained unchanged for nearly 70 years. The shop, too, remains a beacon to poets, travellers and those with a love of the writing of the Beats.

The City Lights Books Pocket Poets series was thrust into the glare of publicity by Ginsberg’s collection, Howl and Other Poems. Ferlinghetti had seen Ginsberg read the title poem at a now famous reading at the Six Gallery in October 1995 and contacted the young poet to arrange to publish his work. The content was scandalous for the time, a period of political and social conformity enforced by a Cold War culture that valued a narrow consensus that privileged an anti-communist, white, middle-class, male hegemony. Ginsberg’s famous opening lines, ‘I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,/dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix’, challenged everything that the mainstream cherished. His portrayal of angelheaded hipsters ‘with dreams, with drugs, with waking nightmares, alcohol and cock and endless balls’ attracted the attention of the SFPD, who failed to have the book banned for obscenity and succeeded only in bringing a radical new poetry to the attention of a much wider readership. The Beats became internal exiles, attacking what they saw as America’s conformity, inequality, consumerism and warmongering. The Beat writers were in search of ‘IT’ – the soul of jazz, orgasm, the freedom of the streets, the heightened consciousness of drugs – and Ferlinghetti was an important guide on that journey. Ferlinghetti was himself a poet of some note and he toured the world with Ginsberg, bringing Beat poetry to the Beatniks and hippies of the 60s – including a famous reading at the Royal Albert Hall in 1965.

Ferlinghetti’s iconic 1958 collection, A Coney Island of the Mind, remains one of the bestselling poetry collections.  (link: .  It is a masterwork of lyricism and realism which weaves together motifs of music and the clothes-pegged, telegraph-wire strewn cityscape.  In many ways, this collection is about lines: telegraph lines, poetic lines and musical lines reaching from the improvised line of jazz, to birdsong, to more classical structures of phrase and cadence:

The poet’s eye obscenely seeing
sees the surface of the round world
                         with its drunk rooftops
                         and wooden oiseaux on clotheslines
                         and its clay males and females
                         with hot legs and rosebud breasts
                         in rollaway beds

City boundaries and lines which demarcate social spaces are blended and problematised in the ‘plastic toiletseats tampax and taxis’ (note the generous texture of internal consonance and alliteration) which nestle amoung ‘stemheated cemeteries’ and ‘protesting cathedrals’ to form a ‘surrealist landscape’.  The projective, ‘open field’ lines which arc across the page architecture the poetic space and unleash a ‘wired’ energy through this opening sequence of twenty-nine poems.

Ferlinghetti lived in the bohemian North Beach area of San Francisco up to his death last week at the age of 101.

English and Creative Writing Students Support Each Other to get Industry Experience

Most students wait until they have graduated before they seek work experience, but others are keen to get straight into their chosen industry. One of our second year students Kudakwashe Phiri was hand-picked for a paid internship with a media company, before she’d even finished the first year. She has just had her first article published in the commercial sector.

Her ongoing internship for a media company in the fertility niche, includes researching articles on law and medical issues, writing book reviews and scientific articles, and even appearing on the company’s Tiktok account. You can read one of Kuda’s book reviews here.

Kuda was talent-spotted in class by a fellow student who also works for the company because of her thorough preparation for lectures and teamwork ethic.

Kuda said: “I thought I would be working a normal job through university, but this is bringing me straight into the industry. It’s just a few hours a week, but it’s paid and I am learning how to write for the commercial market. It works really well with my studies, and I can translate the skills I learn in the classroom directly to a work environment.”

The company, Best Fertility Now, is a startup led by a former BBC journalist. The fertility niche is a rapidly expanding market, and a combination of lifestyle, medical and technical knowledge is needed to navigate it.

The CEO of the company said:

“Kuda is a fantastic addition to the team, and I’m really looking forward to seeing how she develops as a writer.”

Kuda’s love of writing and literature clearly runs in the family as her mother, Edna, also received a degree in English from us just 2 years ago.

Course leader, Mark Brown, said: “we always encourage our students to get their writing out there and get real-world experience. It’s even better when they are able to encourage and support each other.”

(Layla Randle-Conde, 2nd year English and Creative Writing)

Edna and Kuda: the Class of 2019 and the Class of 2022

Diane di Prima (1934–2020)

Diane di Prima (1934–2020)

Prolific feminist beat poet and cultural icon, whose revolutionary work continues to be relevant.

Diane di Prima, one of the last surviving beat poets, has died in San Francisco at the age of 86. Of the few women associated with the Beat movement, Di Prima’s work reflects the upheaval and rebellion of the 1960’s from a feminist point of view. Her life’s work includes more than 30 collections of poetry, and she also wrote plays, short stories and nonfiction. Her work has been translated into more than 20 languages, and she was named San Francisco’s Poet Laureate in 2009.

Born in Brooklyn in 1934, Di Prima began writing at the Hunter College High School in New York City. When she was 19 she was mentored by Ezra Pound, whom she visited at a psychiatric hospital in Washington. She went on to Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, but dropped out two years later to join a bohemian community in Greenwich Village, Manhattan. Her most famous work Memoirs of a Beatnik (Penguin, 1969) recounts this period of her life, where she was a contemporary of, and became friends with Jack Kerouac, Alan Gisnberg, John Ashbury, Denise Levertov and Frank O’Hara, and became part of the Beat movement.

Her first poetry book was entitled This Kind of Bird Flies Backwards (Totem Press) and published in 1958. Three years later she co-founded the New York Poets Theatre and became co-editor of the Floating Bear, a mimeograph newspaper.

Her subjects were often contentious – feminism, class and counterculture, and Di Prima was regularly targeted by the authorities. She was arrested by the FBI in 1961 for publishing two obscene poems in the Floating Bear, but the case was dismissed. Alan Ginsberg praised the radical slant of her work, declaring her “heroic” and “brilliant”, and stating that she was “a learned humorous bohemian, classically educated and twentieth-century radical, her writing, informed by Buddhist equanimity, is exemplary in imagist, political and mystical modes.”

Di Prima founded the Poet’s Press in 1964, and moved to California, where she taught at various colleges and arts institutes, and was formative to Naropa University’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics.

She died on October the 25th 2020, in hospital in San Francisco.

Layla Randle-Conde

Daisy Egerton – Graduate profile

Communications Coordinator, Daisy talks about the advantages of the English 2-year accelerated degree and some of her highlights of studying at Staffs.

Why did you choose a 2-year degree over a 3-year degree? 

I decided to apply for a 2-year degree as I had taken a few gap years after leaving Sixth Form to go travelling and wanted to get on the career ladder as soon as possible. I also knew that most of my friends were coming close to finishing their degrees and I didn’t want to be too far behind them. A 2-year degree was the perfect solution!  

What were the advantages for you? 

The main advantage was how quickly I could start working again; taking three years to study felt like such a long time, but two years felt really achievable! It also helped me to stay motivated as I knew the hard work would be over before I knew it. Another major advantage of a 2-year course is how much money you can save – I have the same degree as everyone who has completed the 3-year course but I have £15,000 less debt!  

What challenges did you have to overcome? 

The main challenge that I had to overcome was balancing work and studying. As I continued to work an average of 16 hours a week whilst studying, there were times when it felt like I wouldn’t be able to get everything done that I needed to. It has also been difficult during the summer semesters as you are in control of your own schedule, however, I now see that as a huge benefit as I have learnt how to manage my time and work effectively to achieve a deadline.  

How did the English fast-track help you towards your new career? 

Completing the English fast-track degree has meant that I can demonstrate to employers I am a dedicated and self-motivated person. The fast-track degree has shown that I am willing to work hard and quicker than others to achieve a goal. This aspect is something that really helped whilst I was in the interview process for the graduate scheme as I was able to evidence my ability to work efficiently and it meant I had something that made me stand out from everyone else.  

What were your course highlights? 

One of my course highlights was meeting one of my best friends! I thought I would probably get along with a few people on my course, but I never imagined I would meet someone who I got on with so well and will be friends with forever. I have also really enjoyed working with the amazing lecturers on the English course who have made my university experience truly memorable. Another highlight has definitely been the opportunity to take part in the Open Days and Welcome Week as a Subject Representative as I have been able to share my enthusiasm for the English course!?

What are you doing now?

I’m currently working as an Internal Communications Coordinator at Synectics Solutions. I currently manage the communications to over 350 employees and look after our employee intranet. I work alongside the Employee Engagement Coordinator to ensure everyone at Synectics is happy, has what they need to do their jobs and that they benefit from all of the wellbeing offerings.