Yorkshire Times
A Voice of the Free Press
Steve Whitaker
Literary Editor
10:56 AM 28th January 2024

Poem Of The Week: The NUM By Sarah Wimbush


I am here
in your breast pocket,

the size of a bus pass
and the Magna Carta –

been sacked for
been starved for.

My foundations
are federations,

old as the moon
and lassoed to oceans.

You may smash me
between coal imports

and blackcoats
and turncoats,

but I will resolve,
shall gather

in the sediment
to re-emerge as bedrock.

The narrator of Sarah Wimbush’s fine poem of resolve, and the deep consanguineous undertow that makes of the idea of community something aeonically enduring, is a humble union card. The membership pass that came to be the hard-earned symbol of the end of an era is as resilient and durable as the sedimentary rock that supports so many coal faces.

Written as part of a collection of poems to commemorate the defining conflict of a time of division, ‘The NUM’s’ direct, polemical lines amount to an elegy. Whilst Wimbush’s tone is defiant – her own family background, embedded as it is in the mines, underwrites the partisan sentiment – forty years of hindsight confer irony on a cause now lost, on flattened pitheads and coal imports in a time of irreversible climate change.

But the symbol of unity remains: the narrator’s language is unbreakable, the confederation of memory inviolate - a confraternal breaking of moulds as palpable as the Magna Carta. That the Union-smashers, ‘turncoats’ and scabs continue to provoke resentment is one measure only of a profound sense of affiliation.

‘The NUM’ is taken from Strike, published by Stairwell Books (2024) and is reproduced here with the kind permission of the publisher.

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