#Monday Blogs Tongue and Talk: Dialect poetry featuring DH Lawrence

Mard arse

DH Lawrence was a master of dialect. His plays, novels and poetry captured the rawness of mining communities with such precision, it frightened the life out of middle class Edwardian critics. As part of a BBC Radio 4 series Tongue and Talk: Dialect Poets, I’ll be visiting Lawrence’s childhood home Breach House, and exploring ‘pit talk’ and the Nottingham accent with various poets and musicians.    

Like DH Lawrence, I grew up in a mining village. Whereas he was born north east of Nottingham in Eastwood, I was raised in Cotgrave, five miles south east of the city centre. Cotgrave derives from an Old English personal name, Cotta, + grāf, (grove or copse). So over time we went from ‘Cotta’s grove’ to the more sinister Cotgrave. Our respective divides across the city also influence the way we speak and use dialect, even though we might be referring to the same word. This is best illustrated by the commonly used word ‘mardy’. I pronounce this ‘mardeh’ using what Al Needham calls the south Notts ‘eh’ or ‘ah’. Living on the Derbyshire border, Lawrence would have experienced the trimming off of syllables, shortening it to mard as in ‘Eh, tha’rt a mard-arsed kid’ a famous line from his poem The Collier’s Wife.

Mardy is a brilliant word. It means sulky, as in a badly behaved child, and is used throughout the East Midlands as well as parts of Sheffield and Yorkshire. However, it can also mean non cooperative, bad tempered or terse in communication, attributes we can definitely associate with DH Lawrence. In 2017 Toby Campion selected it as his word for Leicester as part of the Free the Word campaign.

cotgrave and Brinsley
The modern headstocks of Cotgrave Colliery and Brinsley Colliery where Lawrence’s father worked.

Lawrence came from a family of coal miners. His father, Arthur, worked as a butty. The butty was popular during the early part of the nineteenth century when the coal miners were not directly employed by the owners. The butty acted as a contractor, putting together a team to mine coal at an agreed price per ton. I had a slightly different experience growing up. My mother was a typist and my stepfather was a manager of a company in Mansfield. But in the eyes of the locals, anyone who didn’t work down the pit was a ‘posho’. Therefore we were fair game for the occasional kicking. These were rough times, particularly during the Strike of 84. Like Lawrence, I couldn’t wait to escape.

Lawrence would vividly capture life growing up in a mining community in novels such as Sons and Lovers, his Eastwood trilogy of plays, and dialect poetry such as The Collier’s Wife. I’ve done this through a BBC Radio 4 series called Tongue and Talk: The Dialect Poets. In episode 2, broadcast on Sunday 20 May at 4.30pm, I’ll be exploring the Notts dialect and the ‘pit talk’ of mining communities.

One of the guests on the programme is David Amos, an eight generation miner and fellow member of the DH Lawrence Society. David has been working as a research assistant with Natalie Braber at Nottingham Trent University on mining heritage projects. He invited me to attend a rehearsal for Songs and Rhymes from the Mines as part of the Nottingham Poetry Festival. Bill Kerry III told me he had discovered that his grandfather had worked down Ormonde Colliery at the same time as Owen Watson, author of Strong I’th’ Arm – The Rhymes of a Marlpool Miner (1975) and so he’s turning his poems into folk songs to make them accessible to new generations. Meanwhile Al Rate (who also uses the pseudonym Misk Hills) has penned some new songs inspired by pit talk, introducing new generations to words such as ‘powder monkey’. This was the poor bogger who had to set off the explosives down the mine. Such songs are a reminder of how dangerous life was down the pit, something beautifully captured in Lawrence’s poem The Collier’s Wife. In this, a miner has had yet another accident down the pit:

It’s a shame as ‘e should be knocked about

Like this, I’m sure it is!

‘E’s ‘ad twenty accidents, if ‘e’s ‘ad one;

Owt bad, an’ it’s his!

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A visual narrative celebrating D. H. Lawrence’s dialect poem by Russell Hopkins at Cargo Collective.

The wife in the poem has seen and heard it all before and is more bothered about the compensation as food still needs to be put on the plate. You can hear David Amos read the entire poem is one go during our show. I only managed the first verse.

When Lawrence used dialect in his early plays about life in a mining community they were dismissed as a ‘sordid picture of lower class life’ with middle class Edwardian critics unimpressed with ‘its lack of verbal beauty’. Lawrence was a master of dialect, using multiple variations of speech patterns that drew influences from the Erewash Valley, Derbyshire and Notts. By using dialect, Lawrence enabled the reader to understand a collier’s particular social class, their education, and their intelligence. The way his characters spoke represented the history of the community, even down to what street they lived on.

Lawrence’s family moved many times across Eastwood, upscaling each time. So during the programme we visit ‘Breach House’ where the family of seven lived between 1887 until 1891. To enter Breach House is to step back in time to Edwardian Britain. Moleskin trousers hang up above the fireplace, the snap tin is on the table, and the Bible and piano take pride of place in the ‘best’ room. Of course it would have been nice to record the show in Durban House, where a young Lawrence and other miner’s sons would go and collect their father’s wages, but this was sold off by Broxtowe Council and has now been converted into a spa – which I guess is more preferable than a Spar.

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David Amos holding up a pair of Moleskin trousers. Plaque outside Breach House.

Breach House was the inspiration for The Bottoms in Sons and Lovers, my favourite Lawrence novel. It opens with this wonderful description:

‘To accommodate the regiments of miners, Carston, Waite and Co. built the Squares, great quadrangles of dwellings on the hillside of Bestwood, and then, in the brook valley, on the site of Hell Row, they erected the Bottoms. The Bottoms consisted of six blocks of miners’ dwellings, two rows of three, like the dots on a blank-six domino, and twelve houses in a block.”

The novel also helped solve another mysterious word from my childhood: blue. But if you want to know what this means then either read Sons and Lovers or tune into Talk and Tongue on the iPlayer. Let us know what you think on Twitter using the hashtag #TalkandTongue. The programme was a Made in Manchester production.

dhl-trunkIn the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts. How do we represent his childhood growing up in Eastwood? What role does coal have to play in his writing? How can we incorporate dialect into our memory theatre? In 2019 we will be building our Memory Theatre and retracing Lawrence’s savage pilgrimage both physically and digitally. If you have an idea for an artefact, get involved. Submit ideas here.

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#MondayBlogs – Lawrence Essays: ‘Getting On’ (1927)

lawrence eastwood

I am 44. The same age as Lawrence was when he died. So far I have a couple of digital projects on my CV: The Sillitoe Trail, Being Arthur and Dawn of the Unread (see image above). Lawrence wrote 12 novels, 4 travel books, 8 plays, numerous short stories and 12 poetry collections published during his life. And that’s not including the non-fiction, forays into psychoanalysis, and the eight volumes of his letters published posthumously. It will probably take me my entire life to work my way through them, let alone replicate his phenomenal output.

When I was the literature editor of LeftLion magazine I once interviewed a self-published author who proudly informed me that he had written his novel in 25 days and then pressed the publish button on Kindle. Although Lawrence may have welcomed the ease with which we are now able to get our work out into the public domain, particularly given the censorship he experienced throughout his life, I suspect he would also be suspicious of the instant gratification offered by digital technology. This is evident in the short essay Getting On, unpublished during his brief life. In this essay he reveals that he struggled for five years to get his debut novel, The White Peacock (1911), “out of the utterly unformed chaos of my consciousness, having written some of it eleven times, and all of it four times”. Lawrence didn’t just bang out books, he worked tirelessly on them, perfecting and correcting until they were ready. The self publish button on Kindle does not encourage such discipline.

Due to his work being so heavily censored, many of Lawrence’s books were either banned, burned or deemed too controversial to read by respectable society. Consequently, he lived large periods of his life in abject poverty. He could have churned out more edifying narratives in order to live a comfortable life but he wasn’t interested in comfort. He had a message to tell and nothing would detract him from this. From 1919 he lived his life in self-imposed exile, travelling the globe in what he described as his ‘savage pilgrimage’. He addresses this in the opening lines of Getting On: “They talk about home, but what is home? I find I can be at home anywhere, except at home.”

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Sun Inn, Derby Road, Eastwood, 1920s. Source: Picture the Past (AP Knighton)

On briefly returning home, Lawrence reflects on his parent’s relationship. His father, Arthur, was a collier “who drank, who never went to church, who spoke broad dialect”. He was a commoner and this annoyed Lawrence’s mother Lydia, a well-spoken city girl who enjoyed chapel and derived pleasure from temperance. Growing up, Lawrence sidled with his mother. His father would be brutally portrayed in his novels. In his latter years, Lawrence realised his mother was a snob and that her aspirations were not born out of a desire for spiritual self-improvement, rather the more mundane and obvious desire to climb social ladders. He notes this in her admiration of Henry Saxon, a “burly bullying fellow” who owned a shop and would provide the model of Paxton, the elderly paralysed tyrant in Lady Chatterley’s Lover. What seems to infuriate Lawrence the most about his mother’s admiration of Saxton, who “wore his gold watch and chain on his full stomach as it gave off royal rays”, was it represented an underselling of herself. She was better bred and better educated. She didn’t have a shop, though, and she was married to a collier.

“Now I am forty I realise that my mother deceived me. She stood for all that was lofty and noble and delicate and sensitive and pure, in my life. And all the time, she was worshipping success, because she hadn’t got it.”

As a child, Lawrence prayed that his father might be converted to the chapel or die from a bad mining accident. But “they were not my own prayers. They were a child’s prayers for his mother, who has captured him and in whom he believes implicitly”. He recognises that his mother was conflicted. That she “begrudged and hated her own love” for her husband and that this had an impact on her feelings for Lawrence and his siblings as “we were her own, therefore she loved us. But we were ‘his,’ so she despised us a little”.

Lawrence’s writing, particularly his letters, are full of contradictions and conflicts. One moment he craves the simplicity of life in Italy. The next they’re all ignorant peasants. Amit Chaudhuri picks up on this in DH Lawrence and ‘Difference’, arguing for an intertextual reading of his poetry, suggesting Lawrence’s works cannot be read in isolation. Perhaps this is why he constantly revised his work: He was constantly revising his life. He was “divided”. Andrew Harrison, in his critical biography of Lawrence, notes that Lawrence addresses these profound divisions in the family home in his poem Red Herring, where he describes himself and his siblings as being “in betweens” and “little non-descripts”.

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Lydia Lawrence had a profound effect on Lawrence. He adulated her. But he resented her snobbery as well. She was proud when he won his scholarship to the Nottingham High School because he was going to be “a little gentleman”, he would find a respectable profession above ground rather than an unrespectable life in the bowels of the earth. For a while he lived up to her expectations as a teacher, but education bored him. He quit and pursued a life as a writer which is why his debut novel went through so many drafts: “I hewed it out with infinitely more labour than my father hewed out coal.”

The great tragedy of Lawrence’s life is that he never got the recognition he deserved during his 44 years on this planet. He would enter the Canon decades after his death in 1930. The White Peacock was published when he was twenty five and his mother was dying of cancer. She held the book in her hands and then died two days later. It was probably for the best as the controversy surrounding his novels would no doubt have brought shame to the family name. He would never be a Henry Saxton, thank goodness. But at least she was able to witness “the delicate brat with a chest catarrh and an abnormal love for her” begin to carve out a career that, at the very least, meant clean fingernails.

“Perhaps she thought it spelled success. Perhaps she thought it helped to justify her life. Perhaps she only felt terribly, terribly bitter that she was dying, just as the great adventure was opening before her. Anyhow she died.”

There is no way of knowing the exact date Lawrence wrote Getting On as it was unpublished during his lifetime. James T Boulton has traced a duplicate copy of the essay being sent to Nancy Pearn in a letter dated 9 January 1927. He suggests it was probably a personal article written for the German publishing house Insel Verlag and that it most likely refers to his visit to Eastwood in September 1926.

In the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts. If you can think of a way that we can address the “divided” conflict of his homelife or his perception of his siblings and he being “in betweens” please get involved. You can submit ideas here.

Getting on is published in The Cambridge Edition of the Works of DH Lawrence: Late Essays and Articles, edited by James T Boulton.

DH Lawrence Festival 2017

DHL-fest 2017

Don’t be a mard arse and miss out on the fun. Get down to one of these events over the next couple of weeks. Full listings available at Experience Nottinghamshire

READING GROUP: “Fanny and Annie’
Monday 4th September, 7.00pm (Free)
Horse and Groom Pub, Moorgreen, NG16 2FE
You would presume that this short story revolves around the lives of the two characters in the title. But with Lawrence things are never that simple. Written in 1921, the year that women got the vote, we observe Harry’s relationship with Fannie and the ways in which men are able to get away with just about anything. The reading discussion is hosted by Dr. Andrew Harrison, author of the latest Lawrence biog.

TOUR OF BRITAIN
Wednesday 6 September (see website for updated times)
Eastwood Square and throughout the Town
120 of the world’s top cyclists will be racing through Eastwood and Brinsley as part of OVO Energy Tour of Britain – the UK’s premier road cycling race. To celebrate the Tour of Britain various activities will be taking place in Eastwood Square and throughout the town centre. To welcome the cyclists’ costumed guides from the D.H. Lawrence Birthplace Museum will be out touring Eastwood and meeting residents and giving out free masks of the bearded one.

engine-lane-mural-eastwood

CONTROVERSIES IN COAL
Thursday 7 September, 7.30pm (small charge on the door)
Kimberley School (Community Room) Newdigate Street, Kimberley, Nottingham NG16 2NJ
Illustrated talk by David Amos to the Chinemarelian (Kimberley) Historical Society. Internment, Impoundment and Intrigue at Harworth Colliery (1913-1924). The talk is about the near German colliery which was being developed at Harworth just prior to World War One and its subsequent demise on the outbreak of war. There is a strong local presence in the talk through the Barber Walker Company who took over the development of the colliery from 1917.

READINGS AND DRAMATISATIONS BY WAYNE FOSKETT
Friday 8 September, 6.00pm (£5 including a drink)
The Breach House Garden. The Breach House, 28 Garden Road, Eastwood, Nottinghamshire NG16 3FW
“Bottoms Up!” Readings and dramatisations of some comic and dialect elements from D.H. Lawrence’s works, with actor Wayne Foskett, as well as an opportunity to join in (after an interval and a drink or two) an ‘unrehearsed reading’ from “Sons and Lovers’. Entrance by pre booked ticket – numbers limited.
Info: mjgray220@gmail.com

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THE D.H. LAWRENCE BIRTHPLACE MUSEUM OPEN DAY
Saturday 9 September, 11.00am – 4.00pm (Free)
8a Victoria Street, Eastwood, Nottingham NG16 3AW
We are opening our doors for FREE to celebrate D.H. Lawrence’s 132nd Birthday! Enjoy a taster tour of the ground floor of the museum, for absolutely no admission fee! Interactive demonstrations will be held in our Victorian Wash-house and we will be having an ‘open garden’ with Victorian games and crafts for all to enjoy. There is no need to book for this event, just come along and join the fun!

BREACH HOUSE OPEN DAY
9 Saturday and 10 Sunday September, 11.00am – 3.00pm (Free)
The Breach House, 28 Garden Road, Eastwood, Nottingham NG16 3FW
Members of the D.H. Lawrence Society will be on hand to guide visitors around this historic property. D.H. Lawrence and his family moved to ‘The Breach House’ from Victoria Street in 1887 and lived here until 1891. It became the inspiration for ‘The Bottoms’ in Lawrence’s novel, ‘Sons and Lovers’.

ORGAN RECITAL BY ALAN WILSON
Sunday 10 September, 3.00pm (£5 includes a drink)
Greasley Church, 10 Church Road, Greasley, Nottingham NG16 2AB
A programme chosen by a ‘one time local lad’ to reflect his memories and links to Lawrence and the local landscape. Alan hopes to present a programme which reflects Lawrence’s own enjoyment of music. He recalls that Lawrence knew the composer Peter Warlock (Heseltine) whom he met in November 1915. Warlock called Lawrence ‘the greatest literary genius of his generation’. Alan may also include music associated with Byron and Newstead. Acknowledgement is also to be made of the composer Eric Coates. “Music compositions and improvisations will entwine with local inspired poetry and prose, celebrating a heritage of rich culture within this neighbourhood presented on a fine historic organ in an atmospheric country church”

GUIDED WALK: STEPPING OUT WITH YOUNG BERT LAWRENCE
Monday 11 September, 11.00am Starting point: The White Lion (now called The Lion at Brinsley), Hall Lane, Brinsley, Notts, NG16 5AH [SK459488]. Use the pub carpark or on-street parking.
“Wednesday we shall walk to Codnor Castle – we shall be out all day…” (D.H. Lawrence to Blanche Jennings, 30th July 1908)
According to Jessie Chambers – whose influence on Lawrence’s writing career cannot be overestimated – the young Bert Lawrence loved to organise walking parties: ‘explorations of the countryside’ of which ‘Lawrence was always the originator and the leader’, as she put it in her memoir ‘D.H. Lawrence: A Personal Record [1935]’. Join us, on Lawrence’s birthday, for a walk to one of Lawrence’s favourite destinations: the ruined, 13th-century Codnor Castle, once the administrative heart of much of the local area and home, for nearly 300 years, of generations of the de Grey family, who were local dignitaries and trusted lieutenants of successive kings of England. This is a moderate, 6-mile circular walk, with a number of stiles. Bring a packed lunch, though tea, coffee and cakes will be served at Codnor Castle Farm on arrival.

The D.H.LAWRENCE BIRTHDAY LECTURE
Monday 11 September, 7.30pm (Free)
The Hall Park Academy, Mansfield Road, Nottingham NG16 3EA
“The Art of Living; D.H. Lawrence and Health”
Speaker: Dr. Jeff Wallace of Cardiff Metropolitan University

For more information about other events going on during the festival please download the programme from Experience Nottinghamshire website

To join the DH Lawrence Society please see their official website