Today I’m sharing a poem of mine called ‘Magnificut’ and the story behind the healing work in its creation.
I find it so difficult to talk about myself and my work on camera and in interviews, and this isn’t false modesty. It is related to class, and the glamour spell that I put on myself at puberty to shed my childhood accent and dialect.
Once upon a time I was a little Brummie girl from a council estate who passed her entrance exam to grammar school. When I arrived at that school, by contrast I heard my accent and saw my class for the first time. Horrified by how I now saw myself, I wanted to speak like the middle class girls who surrounded me so that I wouldn’t have to experience the pain of being seen as less than. The person who most saw me as less than, was me. This was my internalised class shame.
My parents both worked hard as shop assistants – a notoriously poorly paid job, and much lower paid than if they’d had a trade or worked in manufacturing even. I grew up on the Firs Estate in Birmingham that, according to England’s Survey of Indices Of Multiple of Deprivation (IMD), ranks at around 900 out of 32000. The IMD combines information from seven areas to produce an overall relative measure of ‘deprivation’. That ranking means Firs Estate is judged to be in the lowest 3% of places to live in England when measured by affluence and opportunity.
I internalised shame for being poor, for my class, for my housing environment, and on top of that I internalised shame of the national stereotype of my regional accent and Birmingham dialect as being for the slow witted and unintelligent. In changing the way I spoke I hid part of myself from the world, and projected another self. That is glamour magic. I cast the magic as protection from the pain of judgement.
But now I see this glamour of accent (which has become habitualised in me) is an awkward obscuring of my identity. The assumptions listeners might make when they hear how I speak feels like a barrier to addressing issues of class in my writing with a sense of authority.
At the end of last year I began the healing work of writing poetry monologues in Brummie dialect giving my pre-pubescent voice to female figures from the Classical and Biblical literature of my grammar school education.
These monologues are written so that girls and women who speak a Brummie dialect can see themselves reflected as educated, quick witted, thoughtful and emotionally intelligent, and understand that they can call out systems that tell them other wise. Non-Standard Englishes need to be seen for what they are – a product of geography and class, only.
‘Magnificut’ imagines Mary of Nazareth as a young Brummie girl responding to the Angel Gabriel about the news of her pregnancy, because I hear saying you were from Nazareth used to get a similar reaction to mentioning that you’re from Birmingham.
It’s just that it got obscured in all the filters of translation.