Hammerman Poet

Born close to Brunel’s broad gauge at South Marston,
While Richard Jefferies measured the red brick growth
Of New Swindon’s terraced street advance
Towards ‘The Gamekeeper at Home’,
You studied express trains from farm and field,
Hammering on their way to Paddington,
Dreaming of forge and furnace and steam hammer:


And when you first walked through the tunnel,
Fourteen years of age, a rivet hotter,
A frame builder’s boy, a furnace boy,
A self-taught student of poetry, folklore and the classics,
Walked without any condescension,
Through a factory of ten thousand men:


Stampers, painters, watchmen, carpenters,
Carriage finishers and upholsterers,
Washers down, cushion beaters, ash wheelers,
Wagon builders, storemen, smiths, turners,
Boilermen, platers, riveters, labourers,
Fitters, firemen, drivers and cleaners,
Pattern makers, moulders, bricklayers, clerks.


You ate your snap in solitude, though,
Away from the loud quick kick-about,
Composing a poem within the piston’s din,
Wary of the foreman’s workshop power:


You saw the molten burns, the short-time working,
The union men sidelined by the piles of ingots,
The speed-up of machines in stifling smoke and steam,
The piece rates cut in the coal and the dust …


You walked out past the old iron rails and the ballast,
Past carriage and wagon, axle, wheel and tyre,
Past mountains of coal, pig, bar and cast iron,
Past the rolling mill, the block, the dies, the tar,
The gleaming steel, the shearings, clippings,
Wheelbarrows, ash pits, pinchings, drillings,
The clinker, the canal, and the clocking out;


You then walked four miles home to South Marston,
See to the garden; sit with Mary at twilight;
Compose your verse; translate the classics;
Study the stars, and the household accounts;
And the next day, before the factory hooter’s call,
You would walk four miles into ‘The Works’,