Poem About Poverty
A world of peeling paint and mildew,
Where things stop working like clapped out minds.
Looking across desolate concrete,
I wonder why hope is so hard to find,
I wonder where dreams go,
When the dreamer gives up and looks the other way
And graffittis anger on a wall
While little children play.
Striking at a broken down goal -
A crazy parody of this life.
Our ill-fitting shoes on the ripped-up felt,
Cut aspiration back down with a knife.
Bottles smashed on stairwells
And worse - self imposed curfews by night,
Nobodies just trying to be someone,
No one turned on the light.
Ambition like a rusty bike,
The pedals seized; tyres coroded.
The wrong clothes; the coins for hot water.
Just like a gun, emotion is loaded
Then contained and held in -
Though it only fizzles away; a silent bomb
Set to burst when the suffocating mould
Reminds us where we're from.
Kick at my heels; life moves nowhere.
Sighs; fraught words; kids crammed in one room,
Squashed, like canned beans - can't focus on school.
Don't want to grow up, not anytime soon.
Can't see the horizon,
Just a world of budget food and endless TV
Nothing else to do. Nothing to be.
Do you wish you were me?
About This Poem
This summer, I watched a documentary on BBC1, entitled 'Poor Kids'. It was a revelatory programme; an insight into the very real problem of children living in poverty in the UK. The number of families living below the breadline is increasing, and for some young people, things are so bad that it is hard to imagine in a developed country.
Stepping away from the documentary, I was talking recently to a neighbour of mine. She is a teacher, and has taught in the past at a primary school in one of the less privileged parts of Norwich, the city I live in. Norwich is a great city that does not have a reputation as an impoverished area, but the conversation was revealing:
''Sometimes we would have to feed the children because they would come to school on Monday morning with no breakfast and having hardly eaten over the weekend,'' she told me. ''They would be wearing their sibling's clothes and shoes that didn't even fit.''
The 'Poor Kids' documentary focuses on the lives of several UK children facing constant poverty. One eleven year old boy wore his sister's shirt to school (so obviously a girl's style) and trousers long outgrown. In Glasgow, the Gorbals estate displayed some of the worst living conditions in the UK - council flats with such severe damp problems that it affected the health of children. Children inhabitating seriously damp homes suffer a high level of asthma and breathing problems. One of the children told of how her little sister smelled of damp whenever she hugged her. The outdoors football pitch was a torn layer of green felt that wasn't even flat to the ground but more like a discarded carpet. Somewhere else, two young sisters who lived with their single mother explained how they hated the school summer holidays because there was nothing to do. Other people went out on day trips, they revealed, but they couldn't even go swimming, not even once. Instead, they hung around derelict buildings or inside their undecorated home.
I decided to write this poem from the perspective of children living in poverty in the UK, because the documentary was such a moving experience. So many of us complain over things that hardly matter at all - too many of us don't even realise how other people live on our own soil. As for the children from 'Poor Kids' - what will happen to them? Cycles of poverty can be very hard to break; many children simply follow on in the footsteps of their parents. The words of one ten-year-old hang in the air - ''I don't want to grow up.'' After all, what does she have to look forward to?