Back to Leftside

Preface to Leftside
by Ray Hearne

Ray Hearne

With his ‘Yorksher’ tongue lodged a little mischievously in his leftside cheek still, Jim Sharp refers at one point in this book to his own ‘autodidactic motor mouth.’  This selection, ‘poetry/spoken words or whatever,’ itself a heart-warming act of solidarity on the part of the editors, bears testimony to some of those words ‘larded’ into and back out of that self-directed ‘motor mouth’ over a lifetime of engagements with the stuff that realities are made on; the day-in day-out experiences of working class living, on two sides of the globe, with its endless spinning accompaniment of words, some that imprison us and manacle our minds, and some that can be made to lift spirits, raise up heads, open eyes and ears, invigorate hearts, power tongues and inspire towards action.
Love, community, landscape, class struggles and their viciousnesses, migration, labour and trade union activism, the joy that childhood can and should be, all these and more in their own languages and variants of languages, recorded, interrogated and tuned in the great music box of Jim’s memory.  What comes out is a robust, uncompromising and hard-earned song of solidarities, ‘owd and new.’
A South Yorkshire antipodean Pablo Neruda, Jim reaffirms for us that ‘the experiences of the multitude’ can demoralise and debilitate but they can also prove a singing school out of which the finest of choirs, the most captivating of voices can be forged.
‘Absolutely nobody listens/to perpetual pontificatin’ critics’ he reminds us; folk want songs not sermons.  Marx or Lenin, Christy Moore or John Lennon; those hungry for change will take their inspiration where they find it and once the awareness begins to bud there’s no road other than forward.
Jim’s poems model such a journey, from the South Yorkshire ‘rother don valley confluence’ of his schooldays and early youth, that steel cauldron surrounded by coal mines that nurtured his ‘roots and shoots.’  The poems revisit the vanished landscapes of his playing-out time, giving the familiar old names a fresh jingle; Rawmarsh, the Roman Banks, Warren Vale, the Mangham, Bramley, Maltby Crags.  The black and white pandemonium of heavy industry, a ‘muck oil’ (muck hole) islanded at its green edges by woodland, the domain of rabbits and weasels, where excursions might be made after that single permissible bird’s egg.  Back then into the titanic clash of a steel community in wartime through a child’s eyes; the anger, bitterness and brutishness of disputes with employers that most history books ignore; ‘women and men gaspin’ and suckin’ polluted industrial air,’ the solace and warmth of an occasional Saturday afternoon with a cousin at Millmoor watching Rotherham United.
A slow but steady awakening.  Apprenticeship to the butcher’s knife.  Mentors like his mate, Rotherham’s Mike Haywood
‘painter & royal marine.../ steelo’s delegate & tutor organiser/ playwrite, poet & fella of letters’
who gave an intellectual edge to Jim’s sharpening, not forgetting those original primary sources represented by his family; ‘granny sharp telled us stories’ one poem repeats, suggesting Jim’s own view of where it all came from.  So, he’s bagged up his skills and headed Ozwards, the words nagging away at him until he starts to follow the grain of them into his own lingo.
Jim’s song, ‘poetry/spoken words or whatever,’ sounds part ‘Yorksher’ dialect, part ‘oz-pragmatic universalist,’ part eighteenth century South Yorkshire Jacobin, and part something else that is entirely his own.  His great achievement and the reason why he should be an inspiration to so many others is not just what he’s got to say, and how he says it, but the fact that he could and did make himself say it.
He’s made a pen of his boning knife and set about eviscerating cant and claptrap.  All that accumulated experience, learning, reflecting, sizing up, is the muscle behind that blade filleting the body politic, hauling its carcass up on his butcher’s hook;
‘up-side down power! wi trickle down-sizin’/and a billion starving people’
And yet, that’s not the whole beast.  Occasional glimpses into the world of nature, the pop of a bud into blossom, the warmth of an afternoon at a workers’ gala, the afterglow from a heroic life or act – all these and more demonstrate to Jim, and he is able to show us, that there are possibilities of other ways of being and feeling and envisioning and living.  He’s ‘sharp’ all right.
In the unbesmirchable delight of a child spinning carelessly he senses ‘one uninhibited life force/of dance and music’ and we know what he means.  It’s something like the same charge that fuses a ‘prolie’ tyke’s flat vowels and rolling rhetorical r’s into a great singalong chorus of hope.

Ray Hearne