Group Interview by Paul Tanner

We size each other’s gangs up.

I am
as per
with the long termers:
those pram pushers from the north end
all monobrowed and dribbling

WHA WE WANT YER TER DO TERDAY
the barely legal middle management tell us
IS TER MAKE A SMALL TABLE
OUTER JUST NEWSPAPERS AND SELOTAPE

YER WHA? the teams look at one another.

YEAH! they warn
AN IT’S GOTTER HOLD UP DIS PHONEBEWK! GO!

so we all scurry into our corners
ripping up the pages
and yanking at sticky tape

AM OVERSEEIN DIS
this old git pushes past me
AM NOT LIKE YOUSE
I WAS MADE REDUNDANT

we’re all redundant ere, mate
I tell him
but he can’t hear over his own yelling:
NO NOT LIKE THA LIKE DIS and FASTER

our motley crew
they get sticky tape in their hairy spotted ears
they chew on the job sections

COME ED LET’S AVE A BIT MORE TEAMWERK
Redundant waves his hands
for the benefit of the clipboarders
clipboarding in the corner
DARE’S NO ‘I’ IN TEAM

there’s no ‘U’ in it either,
I tell him
but he can’t hear

WELL WELL WELL
the clipboarders strut over
YOU SEEM TER BE TAKING CHARGE
OF DER SITUATION?

OH YEAH he nods manically
WAS A FOREMAN, ME
KNOW OW TER WHIP EM INTER SHAPE, I DO

FOREMAN, AY? they look at each other amused
THAT’S SOME CURRENT TERMINOLOGY
YER USIN DARE!
YEAH one slaps his curved back
KEEP IT UP GRANDDAD
and they run off
hands over their mouths

SEE he stabs his thumb at his heart
AM WELL IN ERE, ME
while they snigger behind his back

HARD WORK
a Pole sits at his feet
HARD WORK
winding miles of tape around and around
the rolled up tabloids
I WORK HARD FOR YOU, FOREMAN

as the north enders sit spot popping

ONE MINUTE LEFT
the clipboarders clap their hands
like they’re trying to scare pigeons
which is too painful a metaphor
COME ON COME ON
IF WE HIRED YER
YOU’D AVE AD TER WERK
TER TIME LIMITS YER KNOW

and the hypothetic finality of that sentence
is lost on them all,
they freak out and start flailing madly:
one more strip ripped from their teeth
one more page of tabloid
will decide their fate

LOOK AT DEE UVERS
Redundant stamps his wellies
DEE’VE GOT LEGS AN SHIT
AN OURS IS JUST A FUCKIN PILE

HARD WORK, FOREMAN
Poley Joe claws at his wellies
SEE MY HARD WORK?

the north enders burp
and spots pop
when they do
like their heads are sieves

ALRIGHT TIME’S UP
the clipboarders go around the teams
putting the phonebook
on their paper desks –
they all hold up
and everyone’s
whooping and hollering
like small grey americans

then they come over to us:
they look dubiously at our pile
of modern art
they drop the book on it
and DUMF –
it collapses into a pile
of even more modern art

the other teams cheer at our failure
like even smaller even greyer americans

IT WAS DARE FAULT
Redundant points at us
AH DIDDEN AVE THE STAFF

SHODDY CRAFTSMAN
they smile two adjoining crescents
OOH BLAMES IS TOOLS, GRANDDAD

I WORK HARD, FOREMAN
Poley Joe makes praying hands
YOU SAW ME WORK HARD

BUT Redundant splutters to himself
BUT AM GOOD, ME
NOT MY FAULT, BUT
NOT LIKE DEESE, ME

OK, Clipboard 1announces
IT DOESEN MATTER, COS, RIGHT
DIS WAS JUST AN EXERCISE IN TEAMWERK!

OOOH everyone gasps, and AAAH
genuinely taken aback
by the anthropological twist the afternoon’s taken

WIV BIN WATCHIN YERS ALL, AN
Clipboard 2 shrugs ER YEAH,
WILL BE IN TOUCH
OR NOT

I DID ALRIGHT DEN, DIDDEN I?
Redundant grabs him by the shoulders and shakes
IF IT WAS ABOUT WERKIN
AN NOT DER RESULTS
DEN AM A DEAD CERT, ME, ARN I?

as the other teams saunter out high-fiving
the smallest greyest americans that ever was

TELL THEM ABOUT ME, FOREMAN
Poley Joe begs
TELL THEM HOW HARD I WORK

as the north enders
wipe each other’s faces
on each other’s faces

and then I have to go
scrum under the bus shelter
with the two of them,
Redundant saying his name over and over
and Poley Joe nodding about hard work
watching sheets of rain stab around us
thinking shit,
even the north enders must have cars
making me have blasé poet thoughts like:
‘we live in a small grey america’

so I leave them there
to their small grey americanisms
and go home soaking

I write about it
and send it to a literary magazine
so they can reject me too
because it’s not a poem, this poem that’s
one of them poems about not belonging anywhere
one of them poems about being broke
one of them poems about der norf
one of them poems about poems

maybe I do belong
maybe I belong too much
in this small grey america

it’s hard to find a new angle
in this life
or to this art
that imitates it.

Paul Tanner photo
Paul Tanner’s new book ‘Notes of A Pleb Vol. 4’ will be available soon and this poem’s from it.
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