J.B, a Checkout Operator meets Factory Girl, E.H.

The third selection by our guest editor Kinsman had a very direct appeal. They said “On a personal note, I live in Stalybridge which has historically been a centre of protest and campaigning for civil rights among workers. For me the most effective political protest draws upon our histories. This poem very much understands it is in dialogue with the past of the working classes as well as the present.”

J.B., a Checkout Operator meets Factory Girl, E.H.

I’m trying to picture you, as I mindless drag the clutterations
with my practised hand. E for Emily, Edna, Elizabeth, Ethel,
EnidH for Hallelujiah? Godknows, my forbear. I don’t.

Tatties, tatties, staple of the poordontcha think you oughttabe
cutting out the stodge? In a different life. This is comfort, filling
a family up on mash. What did you do, mystery E? Cotton or silk

were you bound in a servitude of cloth? Lungs trapped with fluff,
ears dinned with shuttle-clack, mouth pinned but mind not silenced.
Nailed to the factory at eightthe rest of your life craving school.

You slept beneath the loom. You will never be unravelled.
Who wanted then the ramblings of the poor? Who wants them still?
Let them on high tell us how there’s no divide. Map out our lives.

Keep us away from good jobsin a postcode lottery, in our place.
Claim for your duck-house, cushions, second home. Stuff us
a craw-full of Royals, fool us into kneeling before your Golden Calves,

forget the food banks, needless deaths. E, you put your anger to the page.
Look at the courage you had in writing that. I wish I could tell you that
we’re louder now, that bit prouder of who we are. I’ll tug a forelock

if it’s on the face of a bonny horse. Bow if I’m rooting a cupboard.
Shake hands as an equal or not shake at all. Curtsey? Kiss my arse.
Ain’t nobody shutting my mouth. Beep, beep the beer and bottles

of drink, high as kites on BOGOF Lurpakget your wages, pay them
straight back in. Hours of Trading still means loss of family, loss
of freedom. Thank you, laws for twentyfourseven greed. People working

nightshift, graveyard, clocking in at dawn to miss their kiddies birthday,
miss the birds. You’d laugh at the poster in the locker room, E – the one
that tells you how to look after your mental health. Laugh, or cry.

We’re sad, all the time. We get our holidays paid don’t know we’re born.
Did you ever even get as far as the Lakes? Did you get time to gather apples
come autumn-time? Where you lived, were there even trees? Working

with some of the best folk you ever met and all in the same boat.
E, I’m sorry. I didn’t realise how deep these years of bitterness have run.

I didn’t know I’d be so fucking mad.


On Joseph Rayner Stephens was a poem written by a woman known only as ‘E.H., a Factory Girl of Stalybridge’ in which she documents the extreme inequalities and lack of opportunity and education for working class women trapped by their circumstances. It is a poem that hopes for reform. She was sent to work in a factory in what is now Greater Manchester at the age of eight and keenly felt the many injustices. ‘If they had sent us to school, better rhymes we could make.’ Her poem was first published in The Northern Star in May, 1839.

‘Their children, too, to school must be sent,

Till all kinds of learning and music have learnt;

Their wives must have veils, silk dresses, and cloaks,

And some who support them can’t get linsey coats.’

Jane Burn’s poems have appeared in many magazines, such as Butcher’s Dog, The Interpreter’s House, Strix, Under the Radar, Bare Fiction, The Rialto, Prole, Long Poem Magazine,  Elsewhere, Crannog, Domestic Cherry, Iota Poetry andThe Poet’s Republic. Her poems have also been published in anthologies from The Emma Press and Seren. Her poems are regularly placed in competitions and have been nominated for both The Pushcart and Forward Prize. Her latest collections are Fleet, from Wyrd Harvest Press, One of These Dead Places from Culture Matters and Remnants (co-written with Bob Beagrie) from Knives Forks and Spoons Press.   

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