A Poem for Hillsborough

This year saw the conclusion of the enquiry into the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans at Hillsborough. The families had waited 27 years for this. It found that they had been ‘unlawfully killed’ and did not in any way contribute to their own deaths – I wrote a poem about it.

At the heart of the matter was class discrimination, the idea that the establishment could tell as many lies as they wanted about football fans and scousers, that it didn’t matter – that such people would not and could not be heard or believed when weighed against the forces and vested interests of the rich and powerful.

I showed the poem to a friend who thought it was great, and that if I had been quicker off the mark it could have been a Social Media hit. I performed it a couple of times at open mics. At one, it was a ghastly ‘tumbleweed’ response. At the other, it went down better, yet someone commented to me afterwards that it was ‘controversial’. Really? Why? How could solidarity with those subjected to an appalling abuse of power be controversial?

Perhaps part of the problem is that the poem is tangential. It does not actually mention Hillsborough at all, except in the title. It requires a degree of trust in the poet, and performed live it needs the audience to be awake and listening from the start rather than worrying about whether they have left the gas cooker on – only to be startled somewhere mid-flow when I start talking about wankers. By that stage it is difficult to actually fathom the poem’s subject or meaning. It also requires an understanding and recollection of the facts of the Marchioness disaster, so is likely a very British poem in terms of its frame of reference. I suppose at worst it could be read as me criticising the victims of that separate tragedy, but you would have to be an enormously dozy (and lazy) bugger to think that, frankly.

I tried submitting it to a few likely places for publication but it was not well received. It holds the record for my fastest ever rejection. A poetry mag over in Liverpool itself emailed back a ‘no’ five minutes after I had sent it to them. I had mostly given up hope with it and had decided that if it got bounced again by the place looking at it now, I would file it away as a failed experiment. I was therefore delighted when today they replied with an authoritative Yes. The poem will appear at The Stare’s Nest next Thursday 18th August.

With hindsight, I wonder if the enquiry outcome was significant in broader ways. The whole matter of Hillsborough and the eventual triumph of justice for the families was iconic. A symbol of how the disadvantaged are abused, and how they can, in fact, prevail. Has this fed belief in the supporters of the Labour movement that actually, yes, you can win, that you don’t just have to accept the routine abuse of power? That Corbyn and a genuinely socialist agenda are, in fact, possible?


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