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> > > 'Listening to the Dark' a selection of poetry by Peter Street

21 January 2013

black and white photo of the poet as a young lad, being held by his mother

Cover image for Listening to the Dark, published by Penniless Press

Published by Penniless Press, 'Listening to the Dark' is Street's fifth volume, which includes a diverse range of topics from growing up in Bolton, living with disability, his experience as a war poet in Croatia and voicing the concerns of plants and trees.

At school, Street struggled to spell or do basic sums, and it was clear he had a learning difficulty (it was eventually diagnosed as dyscalculia only five years ago). Street left school at 15, with no qualifications and emerging epilepsy, trawling for work from Cumbria to Kent, and doing jobs that included gravedigger, exhumer, slaughterhouse worker, baker, gardener, hotel porter and tree surgeon.

While in this last job, in 1982, he fell off a wagon and sustained a spinal injury that disabled him for life, but ultimately led to his reinvention as a poet. Recovering in hospital, he befriended an English literature teacher who inspired him to learn to read and to channel his extraordinary experiences into writing.

After belatedly failing his English O-levels, he finally found his voice when a Liverpool University lecturer offered him free tuition after noticing his potential through a charity that Street had founded for aspiring artists with disabilities. Since then, he's led a rollercoaster literary life - as war poet on a humanitarian convoy through Croatia in 1993, writer-in-residence for BBC Greater Manchester Radio, and co-architect of a 1998 Poetry Society project to take performance poetry into fish and chip shops in his beloved Wigan.

So what does he think of the hand destiny dealt him in the end? "Breaking my neck was one of the greatest things ever to happen to me," he says, with a chuckle. "I have been able to take time out from society and learn how to become a poet. I've had a fascinating life. It's been amazing."

'Listening to the Dark'  was supported by a grant from the Royal Literary Fund, the benevolent society set up to help professional writers in straitened times. Past beneficiaries have included Samuel Taylor Coleridge, DH Lawrence and James Joyce.

Below is a selection of poems from the collection.

Hallgrim’s Church, Reykjavik
             for everyone with Dyspraxia and Dyscaculia

That church from
where I’m standing:
here bottom of the hill
between green
and yellow houses

south side of Reykjavik
I’m sure is the space-ship 
Miss Clarkson let me draw

in her ‘59 maths class
while other kids were busy
working on fractions.

It has a stair case
on the outside like the one
I pretended to climb
sit close my eyes

and wait for the count down  


Another Sideline – 1957 Bolton
     for Thomas Edgar Street

Two shillings
for every dead dog or cat
run over   poisoned  even shot

would be waiting with heads on
heads off   maybe other bits
missing   every time

my nine years entered
his fire-hole where sulphur
smacked me in the nose

Dad would clang open
an incinerator door   turn
pick up Rover or Tabby

he kept separate from the coal

with a clean cloth
he would first wipe off
any dirt or blood 

then giving them a last stroke
he’d throw them in  
and I would watch

someone’s pet melt into nothing.

 

Mates of ‘58
That outside toilet where mam
used to traipse our night time
piss-pots before work

is now redundant  after
a posh inside one ganged up
with sink and bath

to take over our spare bedroom

it’s now a short walk to my
rainy day place I share
with the old toilet bowl

retired bored does nothing
except sit there reading strips
of Bolton Evening News

stringed on that side of the wooden door

where a paraffin lamp
surrounded by parched strands
of whitewash lights up

my marble assault course
with all the cracks  dips
and holes in those stone flags

 

EXTRAORDINARY MEMBERS MEETING:
AGENDA:  COUNCIL OF WAR:
Copperas Lane, Haigh Hall, Wigan

"Plant geneticists are finding that plants can communicate with each other as well as with insects by coded gas exhalations"
James Donahue – Living Universe

First To Speak
       for all dandelions (Taraxacum  officinale)

I am a dandelion

Yes, one of those who feel
we have more to offer
than this tarmac they like
so much.

It’s why I’m here
to see about a peace deal,
compromise,
their last chance – so to say

before it gets really serious.
Ok, mistakes have been made
on both sides, but while

they are trying to kill us all …..

well, it’s like this:
we are a big family
with lots of friends

who are also losing patience.
This is their last chance

'Listening to the Dark 'by Peter Street is available from Penniless Press for £7.99 including postage and packing

Comments

Melissa Chapin

/
12 December 2013

I'm overwhelmed at the moment. Giving thanks to the universe for Peter Street, who lends his voice to nature with a bold purity rarely seen.

Penny Pepper

/
21 January 2013

I adore Peter's poetry and always will. It is solid, accessible and beautifully crafted. I want to copy out First to Speak and put on my wall.

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