Black Country Prophet: Joel Lane Archive 6

Notes On Five Poems by Joel Lane

As well as being a celebrated fiction writer and essayist, Joel was also a noted poet. My thanks are due to Simon Bestwick for passing many of Joel’s poems over to me. As someone who goes to a lot of poetry readings, what strikes me most about Joel’s poems is that each piece has a purpose and a clear point of view. I have chosen a few here where he is writing about being a writer, about his childhood and, of course, about Birmingham and the west Midlands. 

Allen Ashley



Joel Lane - photograph by Nicholas Royle

Joel Lane – photograph by Nicholas Royle

Five Poems by Joel Lane


1001 Nights

The stories. How did they start?

From broken nights. Trying to escape.

I made things up all the time.

Kept a torch under my pillow

for when they kept me awake.

Tried to build a wall of stories

thicker than the plaster between

my little room and their war.

Journeys, adventures, miracles,

dreams and terrors. Night after night

it was the only place I could go.


How often were you woken up?

Maybe twice a week, for ten years.

First the arguing, low but intense,

then the shouting, howling, fighting,

slamming against walls, the crying. 

Those were the thousand nights.

I never slept well. Still don’t.


And the thousand and first night?

Don’t ever ask me that.


Hard Face

It took three days of junior school:

to weave a wire frame around

an inflated balloon, then burst it

to leave an empty skull


over which I moulded a face

of torn newspaper and glue,

left it to dry in class overnight

and then painted on eyes,


dark red hair and a smile.

The annoying little brat I was:

so bright, but so full of words.

A liar. Too fond of himself.


You don’t want to know that child.

These days, neither do I.

The mouth that never closed,

the void behind the painted eyes.


The voices fighting in my head.

Blows falling beyond the wall.

Words I can’t set to any music.

Tapes that can’t be erased.


My only barrier the mask

of not caring about anyone.

Hard face, little bastard face,

so brittle it might crack open.


Some day I’ll try to cut through

this sallow, middle-aged skin

to reach that bitter child –

but it won’t work: the razor


will only slice away layer

on layer of newsprint, minor events,

lying editorials, sports results,

never getting close to the wire.



In the shadow of the flyovers

and tower blocks, the old streets

of North Birmingham are drowning

as the water table shifts up


through brick and woodwork,

through the roar of traffic.

It’s too late for a spray job,

for not in front of the kids.

Put It Back

Redrafting is a nightmare.

Too many conflicting parts:

some too personal or too cold,

some libellous, some obscene.


Cutting out what doesn’t fit

creates a batch of side projects

while the book itself is pure

but thin, in tune with its own


delicate silence. Outside

a storm rattles the window

and the dark is pressing hard.

The traffic won’t let up.


Last night I was blind drunk,

today I was crying. Tonight

I’ve reopened the files.

Time to put it all back in.


The Ballad of Tyseley Dump (abridged version) by Joel Lane

He did not wear a scarlet coat,

For blood and wine are red;

He was a vicious little scrote

With stubble on his head,

And he often drank, then had a wank

And sometimes pissed the bed.


He never would repay his debts

Nor drive a bus or truck,

But sank his cash in scams and bets

Yet never had much luck.

He had betrayed the thing he loved,

But no-one gave a fuck.


For each man cheats the thing he loves,

It always comes to pass:

Some do the dirty on their wives

And some sell out their class;

The hard man does it with his dick,

The faggot with his arse.


In Tyseley town near Tyseley dump

There stands a knocking shop

Where sad old gits drool over tits,

Then shag until they drop;

For each man born will get the horn

And won’t know when to stop.


For each man cheats the thing he loves,

By all let this be known;

Some do it on a dusty floor,

Some on a mobile phone;

Some do it in a crowded place,

Some do it on their own.




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