Robert Punton: Poetry of a disabled activist

Photo of white, male wheelchair-user
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Hi, my name is Robert Punton and I have been writing in one form or other most of my adult life. Like most wannabe writers, I have dabbled in writing a novel; unfortunately, life got in the way and the one novel – that is said to be in all of us – never gets finished.

I was born with Cerebral Palsy and, due to society’s attitude towards people like me, have been living the life of a disabled person most of my life.

Several years ago, a friend and fellow campaigner, Robin Surgeoner (aka Angryfish) playwright, songwriter, and performer invited me onto a creative writing course he had developed. Lo and behold, I discovered a poet struggling to express himself hiding within me. I let him loose, and, even more surprisingly, people seemed to enjoy what I wrote. So, I started sharing my verse on my social media platforms such as Facebook.

Most people who know me, do so because I have been a disabled activist for most of my adult life, which spans nearly 40 years. I was a “danner” in the 80s and 90s, involved in the accessible transport and the free our people campaigns. Latterly, I have been heavily involved in DPAC (Disabled People against the Cuts) where I have blocked many highways, invaded PM question time, tried to Save the Independent Living Fund, and have been involved in many other campaigns.

I am a committed Socialist, joining the Socialist Workers Party eight years ago. In 2015, I stood as a TUSC candidate in Perry Barr, Birmingham in the General Election. I am a member of Stand up to Racism and have performed several of my poems as a Poet against Racism as part of Love Music Hate Racism, where I met Basil Gabbidon who inspired me to write the poem “Basil” which is included below.

In November 2016, Robin invited me to perform in his stage show “All the things I could have been” in Wolverhampton, where I performed some of my poetry under the name “Prophet of Possabilities”.

I have chaired the Birmingham Coalition of Disabled People and other organisations; have worked for many years as an advocate and am currently a Director of my own Social Justice Community Interest Company, Community Navigator Services, which I run alongside my fellow Directors Clenton Farqhurson MBE and Jack Nicholas. It is a venture I am both excited and proud to be part of.

I would like to thank Disability Arts Online for giving me this opportunity to share my work with you and I hope you enjoy reading my poems.

Vanguard
I am proud to be counted
Amongst the ranks
Of the disabled peoples’ movement
Carrying on the tradition and work
Of those who came before me
The vanguard of independence

Those wheelchair warriors
Those more ambulant
Who fought for our freedom
Who spoke out
In a system that kept us silent
Their names whispered
In quiet corners
Their stories never told
Their history never taught
We owe you a debt
We can never pay
That is why we fight on
So, your struggle
Was not in vain
Pioneers too many to mention
We salute you
We must never forget you
© Robert Punton

The Curse of the Poet
Being a wordsmith is wonderful gift
On that I must agree
However, there is
The curse of the poet
We are tweakers and tinkerers
Always seeking
The perfect phrase
The right set of words to write
We can’t leave things alone

I guess that makes us
Great Social Justice campaigners, activists
Always working towards a better world
A better life

Poetry is like life
You think you have it sussed
Then something will come along
Send you down another road
I bet the purpose of this poem
Changes before I reach
The last line

My poetry is like my life
In as much as
I hope to get
the final word
© Robert Punton

Basil: A tribute
They say when Smokey
Sung you heard violins
Well I know that when
Basil sings
All hearts in the hall leap with joy
All our spirits rise on high
As he beats out his message
Of hope, overcoming fear
Fear shrinks before our eyes
Let us stamp on the racists to his rhythms
Let the bigot begone to his beat
So, sing your songs Basil
Let us join in your chorus
As we aim for a fairer society
Reach for a better world
I am honoured to sit by you
Sing loud, Sing proud
Let the world hear your song
Hear our voices
Singing the message
of hope in harmony
© Robert Punton

Cutting Down
The axe does not mourn
For the tree it fells
It just obeys the command it is given
What or who
Is to blame
The axe itself
Or the person
Administering the death blow
“They cost too much
They have no use
We can’t afford
To keep them”
Is the constant
Message we are told

Before we know
As we turn our backs
All our forests
Are cut down
Condemned to history
Never to be seen again
Never to be spoken of

In this time
Of austerity
We are told
There must be
Cut-backs
We are forever
Being preached at
We must all
make sacrifices

Is the destruction
The cutting down
Of our woodlands
The fairest way
Of accomplishing this!
© Robert Punton

A Disabled Socialist
There is one
Big difference
Between Corbyn and me
I am a
Socialist who happens
To be disabled
Corbyn is a
Disabled Socialist

I and those
Around me
Work towards
Removing the barriers
That disable us
We all move
Towards the same goal
We have no leaders
We have no followers
We are equals
In one team
Striving for Social Justice
Through Socialist beliefs

Mr. Corbyn and Mr. McDonnell
I believe have
The same goals
Follows the same path
Unfortunately for
Them and Us
The party they
Lead does not follow them
Does not share their
Views and Values
While Corbyn moves
In the correct direction
The party continues
Its migration to the Right
Digging up its
Socialist roots
Replacing them with
The Capitalist seed
The Conservative Ideal

This Parliamentary
Labour Party
Has fallen
Adrift from
Real people’s
Needs and values
A shadow
Of the Party
Formed by
their founding
Fathers and Mothers
They mute their voices
With their constant bleating’s

Which is why Corbyn
Is becoming
A Disabled Socialist
© Robert Punton

Getting on
Let me Introduce you
To the Murphy’s
As they would tell you
They are getting on in life
In their 70’s
They are getting on with life
Just like many such couples
Up and down our country
Throughout our society

All their lives
they have done their bit
Done their best
Raised their children right
Made many sacrifice’s
To ensure they had
A better life
Loved their grandkids
Spoiled them rotten
Every chance they got
Worked hard all their lives
Never spending a day out
Of employment

Now all they want
Is to spend their latter days
Doing what they dreamed of
But hold on
Their dreams of pleasurable summer days
Have turned into wintery nightmare nights
Their hard-earned pensions
Stolen from under their noses
The health service and welfare state
Their generation worked so hard to build
Is being dismantled when they need it most
Their family have melted away
Leaving them feeling vulnerable
Unwanted, unloved

Beth Murphy is mortified
They moved onto this street
Over 30 years ago
Since then she has been
The cornerstone of the community
The pillar of the street
Her front door forever open
Her fireplace a friendly place
Where you could
Bring your woes
Share your problems
Find a soft shoulder to lean on

Now none enter her doorway
Or sit at her hearth
Now she needs assistance
Doors are barred to her
Backs are turned on her
The soft shoulder
Has turned into a cold shoulder

Where has the caring sharing community gone
It has vanished like the smoke
Up the chimneys of the fancy
Wood burners of her not so
New neighbourly neighbours

So they are left
At the mercy
Of state charity
From their city council
With their confusing, complicated policies
With their penny pinching principles
Reciting like parliamentary parrots
Well this is the age of austerity
We must make cut backs
It not our fault you know
But the Murphy’s like many more
Wonder why must I
Pay the price

They got a visit
From Social Services
Lectured by a Social Worker
Who looked no older than
Their Grand daughter
Told to release their assets
In other words, re-mortgage
their family home
to buy the assistance they need

We are pushed into denying and
Hiding our needs
In fear of being
Labelled as scroungers and lay-abouts
My the media
Of suckling of the state
We have seen
The news stories

We are independent people
they state with pride
not sure what we feel
about strangers in our home
doing things, we took for granted
we’d always done ourselves

We are perplexed
We grow increasingly concerned
Whatever happened to
The caring communities
The family values
The values of the family
We were taught
We lived by

As we are told
that we could move into
one of these new old people’s villages
that are sprouting up
wherever you look

Why would we?
Why should we?
We are not old
Why would we want to live
With the elderly?
We are not ready
To view life
We have still got
A life to live

Michael Murphy is mystified
Why do people think as you?
move into older age
You stop living
Stop exploring, growing
They expect you to sit
on the window ledge
like a house plant
and wait for death
to come and claim you
well we refuse to comply
we will live on
we will fight on
right to the end of our journey
together till the end
we hope
© Robert Punton

Ages of Austerity
A mother and her toddler
Have too much money
Time to spare
All they do is
Watch telly all day
Let us slash their benefits
It feeds their greed
All they do is breed
What do we Tories care
As long as there
Is champagne to share

As for school age
Let us not spend anymore pence
On trying to teach them
They are destined
To be our future factory fodder
What do we Tories care
As long as there
Is champagne to share

As for our young
Men and Women
Who join our
Armed forces
Sign up for
The Queens shilling
Go off to fight our fights
In far off foreign lands
Some return in coffins
Some return in chairs
Or return scared physically, emotionally wrecked
Some return with missing limbs
Their heroism forgotten
Their shillings worthless
What do we Tories care
As long as there
Is champagne to share

Let us not forget
The disabled who have
Scrounged and suckled
Off the state
For so long
They now think
It is their
God given right
That it continue
For ever more
Let us make them
Squirm, sweat and shiver
In their isolated homes
What do we Tories care
As long as there
Is champagne to share

As for these
These disabled campaigners
For Social Justice
These protestors for
A better life
They need to
Get themselves a job
Not shout and scream
Stamping their feet
Screeching their brakes
Blocking our thoroughfares
Stopping us from getting
On with our live
What do we Tories care
As long as there
Is champagne to share

And the homeless masses
Huddled in our
Shop doorways
Sleep under cardboard boxes
With the starry skies
As their roof
Begging for scraps
From us as
As we scurry on by
To our happy families
And heated homes
What do we Tories care
As long as there
Is champagne to share

Then there are our
Old and infirm
Who have outlived
Their usefulness
Demanding we pay
Their food housing and heating
Out of some sense
Respect and duty
Towards them
Let them starve
Let them freeze
What do we Tories care
As long there
Is champagne to share

I am sure
There are some
Reading this, thinking
What has this
Got to do with me
I don’t belong
To any of the
Mentioned parties
Well let me
Enlighten you
Once we have
Finished hounding them
We will come after you
After all
What do we Tories care
We must always
Have champagne to share
© Robert Punton