Ian Duhig


   A poem lies somewhere between

a song, which to live must be heard,

   and shapes on a page or a screen

where silence can grow round each word

   new meanings  ― if poems need mean,

some say maybe not, merely be …

   that’s not how they’ve always been seen:

according to Paul Valéry,

by being designed to reprogramme your mind,

   a poem’s a kind of machine.


   The frame for this poem’s a song

Tom Daniel of Batley once made

   and he’s why it’s worn well so long,

for weaving was Tom Daniel’s trade;

   his rhymes in it strike like a clock,

the sound of the loom in it’s strong,

   each line-ending holds like a chock,

its metrics don’t put a foot wrong,

his rhythms aren’t subtle but you’ll hear the shuttle

   in Poverty, Poverty Knock,


   ‘Poverty, poverty knock…’

the clatter on cobbles of clogs,

   ‘poverty, poverty knock…’

the snap of worn cast iron cogs,

   ‘poverty, poverty knock…’

old sewing machines blooming rust,

   ‘poverty, poverty knock…’

this air shows a thread of red dust,

there’s blood on these motes and there’s more on the notes

   of Poverty, Poverty Knock.


Once men like Tom burned down mills

Satanic and dark to their minds

because of new terrible looms

that worked at a devilish rate

untrammelled by meanings at all

or needing a breath between lines,

too fast for a song to keep up

or rhymes or refrains to slow down

still less for old weavers to match

who knew they would all lose their jobs

to programmes like Jacquard’s for cloth,

so fetched Enoch hammers by night

to ‘poverty poverty knock…’

but owners just bought in new frames  ―

now credit’s denied to the poor,

yet industry’s long run on tick

though governments try to stop strikes:

clock in and clock out and clock off,

humanity winding up scrap

or serving the engines of wealth

being fed from all over the world

through England’s imperial web

its Maxim machine guns maintained;

soon mills with new looms rattled on

for twenty four hours a day:

‘poverty, poverty, knock…’

while capital piled up in banks

then went out to work for itself

till money was all England made

and money talks louder than words

so English became a machine,

an abacus alphabet loom,

its line-endings bells on a till

its colonies rang with worldwide,

its syntax the frame of the Web

which now spins new emperors’ new clothes

and tissues of lies for the rest

while here where old industries died

the future unwinds a bad dream

where spiders weave shrouds for themselves

for only old whispers are caught

in warehouses silent and dark

whose robots are fetching the clothes,

the books and the goods and the gear

that drones fly directly to homes

of those few who still have good jobs

as elsewhere the clock gets turned back ―

I watched Rahul Jain’s film Machines

while l was researching this text:

it’s set in an Indian mill

where beautiful textiles pour out

like rewoven rainbows from looms

as grey as the faces of men

who stir without masks toxic vats

and breathe in their poisonous fumes

then sleep on bare floors between shifts

each lasting twelve hours without breaks

for just over two quid a day,

where forming a union means death

as fast as Joe Hill takes to sing

or ‘poverty, poverty, knock..’

but ideas come round again

as sure as the weft through the warp

inevitably weaves back to left;

lost causes in time find new homes,

new words grow on frames of old songs

for Ahmed Kaysher and his band,

new music from factory scrap

for Ryoko Akama’s machines,

and India, Yorkshire, Japan,

here helping new worlds turn around,

the music of spheres ringing out

an air for lamenting the dead

who rise from the graves where they turn

like bobbins in grave clothes they wove

and dance to a beat we can’t hear,

the pulse of light writing these words,

a touch light as breath on your skin,

as bright as the skin round the cloud,

a drum skin stretched over a clock:

‘poverty, poverty, knock…’

tick tock

‘poverty, poverty, knock.’




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