Birmingham Poet Laureate Blog: Ten pigs’ hearts
Almost no-one makes a living writing poetry. Some poets have positions in universities, teaching creative writing. But most poets are gainfully employed in trades and professions which relate only tangentially to their creative calling, if at all. Poets are bus drivers, journalists, estate agents, school teachers, landscape gardeners, police officers, bankers, foundry workers, motorcycle couriers, librarians, and so on. In my day job I am Professor of Bilingualism in the School of Education at University of Birmingham. In the normal course of things my academic role does not overlap significantly with that of poet. But occasionally it does.
I am currently engaged in a research project in which we are investigating how people communicate with each other in ‘superdiverse’ cities. We are looking at people getting along and understanding each other (and sometimes not) when they bring into contact different histories, biographies, languages, and trajectories. We observe people very closely in public and in private, writing detailed notes, audio-recording them and video-recording them. We build up very detailed pictures of how people rub along together despite their apparent differences. It is rewarding and fascinating work.
More information about the research see the link Translation and Translanguaging
In the course of the investigations I spent four months in Birmingham Bull Ring indoor market, closely observing the butchers’ stalls, writing notes, taking photographs, making recordings, and interviewing the traders. The market is of course multi-sensory – the smells of fish, the sounds of the market traders’ call-outs to passing customers, the vast variety of cuts of meat, all this almost overwhelms the visitor. After four months my colleague Rachel and I had written more than 100,000 words of field notes which described the experiences of the market. So when I sat down to write a poem it was hardly a surprise that some of these notes, and some of these experiences, resurfaced as verse. Here again was the frozen head of a young goat as it defrosted behind the counter. Again the elderly man who came each Monday morning to buy pigs’ hearts; again the massive ox tongues. The phrase ‘beef mask’, previously unknown to me, introduced to the poem a narrative about Hallowe’en. Cows’ feet looked for all the world as though they had been painted with bright nail varnish. Honeycomb tripe put me in mind of my grandparents from Wigan – when they visited Birmingham market they would seek out this particular delicacy, to be boiled and eaten only with malt vinegar.
The Bull Ring market is a place where people from everywhere (except, perhaps, from posh places), rub shoulders with each other, and get along happily. The poem may not quite capture that sense of conviviality. For that read the research report on the project website. But the market is a place that inspires, and on this occasion it inspired poetry.
On May 3rd I am giving a free reading of my poems, together with Birmingham Young Poet Laureate Serena Arthur. The reading is at 5 pm in the School of Education, University of Birmingham. Everyone is welcome.