We tend to think of migrants as those who only cross borders. However, Internally Displaced People (IDP) are a huge issue facing countries experiencing humanitarian disasters and wars. All of which puts a great burden on a country’s resources when they are at the most strained. In Syria there is estimated to be 6.6 million IDPs. By the end of 2014, a record level of 38 million people were displaced within their own country as a result of violence; countries such as Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Nigeria, South Sudan and Syria making up 60% of the world’s IDPs.

tebbittIn more wealthy countries people are also pressured to move. For example, because of past policies of selling off council housing, people are being forced to move to a different part of the country if they need a home. Margaret Thatcher’s henchman, Norman Tebbitt, once infamously said, “you dirty worthless working class scum, I’m going to wipe you off the face of this country.” Okay, maybe he didn’t say that exactly, but he did once say in response to the riots of the early 80s, “I grew up in the 30s with an unemployed father. He didn’t riot, he got on his bike and looked for work and kept looking till he found it.” Setting aside the fact that he did as much to dismantle the bedrock of his heritage, and the fact that not everyone can move to find work, the internal migration, to which he is essentially referring is one driven by economic hardship and capitalist discrimination. People don’t generally move because they are happy with their circumstance, unless they may be going to University or have been offered a job they willingly applied for.

received_10206899908830065-1Nonetheless, whether a refugee who has left their country, or internally displaced person, the majority of people still call home the place they were born. Joe Horgan’s poem, “The Maps You Took With You When You Went,” tells of the place he was born, Birmingham and the situation facing many working class people during the 1980s. The irony being that many came to the city, as they did to my own home of Coventry, from Ireland and Scotland, only to see a number of their own children leave; some went back to Ireland during the Celtic Tiger bubble, whilst others dispersed to various corners of the country and abroad.

Here Joe tells the story behind the poem and how he came to write poetry.

“I tried for a while to get a shape on this poem as it was based directly on a time in the mid-eighties when myself and my Uncle Michéal went to tat some floorboards from a row of derelict houses in order to put up a shed. I was on the dole and about a year away from escaping to a northern polytechnic. It was Birmingham and everyone was on the dole but even at that time when we passed along the wasteland around the houses and this kid looked up from his bag of glue I remember thinking this is like some kind of documentary and when I speak of this most people will always think it is a kind of exaggeration. It isn’t. I grew up in inner city Birmingham in a big Irish immigrant community and I have tried in my work to capture some of the character of that. I always remember that after my first book came out I was talking to a poet, I didn’t know many so it sticks in my mind, and I said to him that I really wanted to write poems about the city and the people and the urban environment and the lived politics of our lives. Of, you know, the truth of our working class experience. That’s what poetry aims for, doesn’t it, some stab at the truth? Some attempt at drawing out the prisms and phosphenes of our life? He politely told me that poetry was, perhaps, not the form for that ‘kind of thing.’ Isn’t it? I mean how many poems about beautiful flowers is it possible to fucking write?”


Joseph Horgan was born in Birmingham, England, of Irish immigrant parents. He has lived back in Ireland since 1999. He is the author of three poetry collections and a prose work. He has previously been the recipient of The Patrick Kavanagh Award and has been shortlisted for a Hennessy Award, amongst others. His prose book, The Song at Your Backdoor, a meditation on place and identity was serialised on Irish national radio. His collections are, Slipping Letters Beneath the Sea, Doghouse 2008, An Unscheduled Life (with Brian Whelan), Agenda Editions 2012, and The Year I Loved England (with Antony Owen), Pighog Press, 2014.



               the link between me and the factories
               is broken, I have no money.
                                                  Margaret Atwood

When we tatted around the back
there was a kid in a derelict toilet
sniffing glue from a paper bag;
this way ladies and gentlemen,
for our theatre of urban deprivation.
You smoked in the open air unconcerned.
The last free man.

At home the light beneath the Sacred Heart
never ceased its red insistence
and those lost accents continued
their meandering accumulation.
Alcoholism, cancer and accident waited.

I’m going back there now,
to walk the red brick length,
the disused road to Mass,
the cold, forgotten Angels
and as I’m passing I’ll do what you did,
take off my shirt and fight myself
bare-chested in the street.

all fall down by Reuben Woolley

children-aleppoI know that saying children are remarkable, is not a particularly remarkable thing to say. Nonetheless, I see it with my own sons; how they shrug off an argument they may have had, or in my older son’s case, how he recovered from severe depression. And I was reminded of this when seeing young boys smiling as they jumped into a water filled bomb crater, a splash pool of war, in Aleppo.

War is indiscriminate. In the past you could have said children were unintended casualties. But in modern warfare they are often the intended targets; “to kill the big rats, you have to kill the little rats”, was the message on the eve of the Rwandan genocide. Even with the boy-sister-aleppoadvancement in technology and so called smart bombs, civilian casualties are always much greater in the type of modern warfare we see in Syria. Over 11,000 children were killed in the country between 2011, when the conflict started, and 2013; some of them being summarily executed. But tragically, even images such as that of the young boy covered in dust and rubble in a hospital in Aleppo (his sister was also with him but was kept out of the shot), don’t seem to make a difference on the ground.

It appears that Russia is heading for a finishing line adorned by young deaths and a uninhabitable country. In the final week of September it is estimated that over one hundred children were killed in Aleppo. The other powers, especially the US, wallow in impotency; more interested in leaving the baton on the ground whilst they decide who should be their next President.

me-at-newcastle-stanzaReuben Woolley’s poem ‘all fall down’ poignantly captures the tragedy of war, “where/children sang in cinders”. As Michael Rosen did previously in his poem, ‘Don’t Mention the Children’ about the situation in Gaza, Reuben has taken to highlighting their universal plight of being exploited and killed by those in power, leaving untold ‘invisible trauma’, “bring them to us now/we’ll have their eyes.” Yes, children have a great resilience, as demonstrated by the boys making play out of a bomb crater, as children did in London and elsewhere during the Blitz. But one can only imagine the terror they feel as they try to sleep, not knowing what the powers that be have in store for them during the darkness of night.

Here is Reuben talking about the poem and his site, “I am not a silent poet.”

“In November, 2014, I got fed up of the sickening reports everywhere in the media, bth the traditional media and the social media, of the human abuse of other humans and of the planet. Some of my poetry was written very much in protest against this abuse but I felt that something else needed doing. I was sure that I wasn’t the only poet affected by this so I set up the online magazine, I am not a silent poet, and its associated Facebook group page, as a site for bringing together poems about/against any type of abuse anywhere in the world. I invited a few friends and also begged people for poems to get things started. I must admit that I thought it might last for a few months before petering out. I was wrong. It has grown enormously from those small beginnings, but it still tries to provide a space for people’s voices and give a voice to those who haven’t one. It also tries to give a very rapid response so that the work is just as relevant when it is published as when it was written. Like most of the poems on the magazine written about Syria, my poem looks closely at those who suffer most in the conflict: the children.”


Reuben Woolley has been published in various magazines including Tears in the Fence, The Lighthouse Literary Journal, The Interpreter’s House, Domestic Cherry, The Stare’s Nest and Ink Sweat and Tears. His collection, the king is dead was published in 2014 with Oneiros Books, and a chapbook, dying notes, in 2015 with Erbacce Press  Runner-up: Overton Poetry Pamphlet competition and the Erbacce Prize in 2015. Editor of the online magazines: I am not a silent poet and The Curly Mind. A new collection on the refugee crisis, skins, has been published by Hesterglock Press, 2016.



all fall down

& all the story
children sang in cinders

we saw them
     clothed in tired skin
& dying

not meat enough
nor grain
there’ll be no
a game
a ring of posies
& blackened flesh

                    bring them to us now
we’ll have their eyes
& string
a dull
to show a rusty path. i’ll grind
a bone
an arrow head


The Speaker by Hilda Sheehan

Black Power, White Power, Girl Power, Soft Power, Superpower,
I’ve got the power, fight the power, power up, power down,
power to the people, power of the weak, power lists, holders of power,
gatekeepers, gatehousers, laws, wars, protest, silence, apathy, violence,
rational, ruthless, monopoly, oligopoly, oligarchy, autocracy, dictatorship,
cultural power, charisma, charm, patriarchy, matriarchy, infancy,
authority, legitimacy, language, shouting, beating, killing, Simon Cowell.

peoplepowermonumentPower is ubiquitous and multi-layered. Just look at the range of power lists; from political figures, to those in the media, LGBT, there is even one for those working in ophthalmology. Power influences and affects everything we do, whether as individuals, families, groups, organisations, or countries. Your access to healthcare for example, can be determined by your ability to be an advocate for yourself, at a time when you are most vulnerable. At a state level, beyond laws, governments will use ‘softer’ powers to get us to change our habits (otherwise known as ‘nudge’); in the UK this can be something as innocuous as charging five pence for shopping bags or automatically enrolling people into workplace pensions. This then extends at a global level to international relations, where states hold power because of the ‘attractiveness’ of a number of indicators, such as political stability, health systems, wealth, or adherence to human rights. But it tells you something when countries such as the UK and US top the various soft power lists, as these cannot be extricated from their hard power of colonial and imperial interventions backed up by an arsenal of nuclear weapons. It even extends to pop impresarios such as Simon Cowell, although he presses a different kind of button to the nuclear version, thank goodness.

923356_10151603184340218_2128322234_nAs individuals, it is quite easy for us to feel powerless and Hilda Sheehan’s poem The Speaker forcefully captures this sense through the metaphor of noise. “The Speaker//is an electric vulture//….It is/a god of dropped insects/from a carriage clock/or wasp holder/left to go on-off, on-off/riddling the town’s ears/from where it came.” This barrage of messages – part of this idea of influence, of soft power – is now at a ‘volume’ we cannot control. Inside a speaker is Hell -/a radio of church-like/persuasion/from four walls a prison/of persecutors of/television visions/crackling away in the gutters.” It is not that easy to turn things off. But this powerless feeling of not being listened to is what brings people together; we see it with Black Lives Matter, with the Occupy movement, and the Arab Spring protests. There is both a soft and hard power that individuals can exert. One that is more than just a nudge to those in power. One that is a shout so loud it cannot be ignored. (more…)

Voices from the Charcoal by Matt Duggan

trump-juniorLike Father, like son. Well, when your father is Donald Trump, those footsteps should not be ones that you follow. But when nurture combines with nature, Junior treads where he has been fomented. DT Junior, has likened Syrian refugees to a bowl of skittles; if among the bowl there were a few bad ones (and he means really bad, as in blow you, and themselves up bad), would you grab a handful? It is not worth engaging in the argument against this besides saying, ‘Fuck off, will ya!” At the same time, it is the annual UN jamboree in New York, and the UK’s new Prime Minister, Theresa May is there talking about, yes you’ve guessed it, “Refugees”, or is it “Migrants”? She is urging global measures to tackle ‘uncontrolled migration’.

lifejacketsThose who came from another land, whether back in the day, or last week, are the currency of conversation and policy debate and inaction, at the present time. They are used in debates about Brexit, the war in Syria, lone terror attacks in the US, co-ordinated ones in Paris and Brussels. They are said to be the reason for Angela Merkel’s weak results in last week’s election in Germany, pushing her to admit ‘mistakes’ over her refugee policy. The obvious contradiction in all of this, is that in an increasingly interdependent world, there is shock that people who are in situations of war and poverty, look for a better life for themselves. Drawbridges are being pulled up, fences erected, tunnels closed. Fear of the ‘other’ is rife.

20150808_152657Matt Duggan’s poem “Voices from the Charcoal”, captures these fluid, turbulent and fateful times; “fishing boats once floating saviours for the persecuted/now we build walls from those we’ve liberated; /Cutting off our own ears /awakening a poisonous serpent for oil.” The powerful extract economically from other countries, through war for oil, then leave a mess that goes beyond the borders they originally set post-WW1. Matt reflects this marrying of history, “Those dusting jackboots are stomping/on the gravestones of our ancestors,/though we’d fill a whole lake with blood oil /we’d starve our own children leaving them to die on its banks.(more…)

Drones by Jennifer L Knox

16874255011_afc444495a_oHungry? No problem, look to the skies. Well, at the moment only if you’re a student at Virginia Tech where Google has permission to test the delivery of food to its campus by drones. The supplier is Chipotle. Burrito anyone? Yum, yum. Similarly, Amazon in the UK is working with the government to test drones to deliver small parcels within 30 minutes of purchase. It won’t be long before they’ve delivered something you only thought about buying. And there is more than one case of men literally ‘caught in the act’ by a drone camera when having paid sex. The drones are often operated by private individuals. The laws on private drone use are in their infancy, if not embryonic.

Drones are becoming ubiquitous and like much new technology have the power to do both good and bad. As President Obama comes to the end of his tenure, he may not be remembered so much for his expansion of drone use; here he follows in the footsteps of his predecessor George DoubleYou, who is better known as a warmonger. In Pakistan in particular drones have been the weapon of choice. Their accuracy is very questionable, making the US deeply unpopular amongst the general population.  Amnesty International has claimed they could amount to war crimes.

jennifer_l-_knox_0Poets have been aware of this, exposing the darker side of such developments. Josephine Corcoran wrote a sonorous poem about them, and here Jennifer L. Knox has done the same with “Drones”. She takes us beyond their use by governments: “Scientists originally built the toy to murder people/in other countries, and now rich people in this country/want to buy them.” And in typical fashion, she mixes humour with the dark side of what the response will be from people who see them imposing on their privacy and human rights. “I can’t wait to kill one: shoot it with a shotgun, shoot it/with the hose, wing it with rocks,…/Rich people will be outraged.” She gets to the heart of our deep frustration and anger at the unhindered development and use of new technologies by powerful interests. (more…)

The Shoemakers’ Walk by Emma Lee

I don’t think there is a singular act that forces change upon a powerful organisation or state. As I’ve discussed previously with Susan Evans’ poem “#irony”, there are many forms of activism that put pressure on the powerful to change their ways, or go away altogether. Some are explicitly violent, justifiably in response to years of violence by government forces, as in South Africa. Others, on the face of it are peaceful, as in the Velvet Revolution in the former Czechoslovak republic or the Orange version in the Ukraine. Similarly, with organisations like major corporations, a variety of actions can be utilised in protest at such policies as forced redundancies or the exploitation of natural resources. But there are also a lot of behind-the-scenes conflict resolution discussions that often end the dispute in question, as was the case in Northern Ireland.

salt-march-statue-hHowever, there are times when there needs to be protest even when the possibility of positive change has passed. A voice, or a mass of voices, coming together show the powerful in question that although they may have got away with it this time, a battle does not win a war. One of the most powerful forms of activism is marching. Marching comes in many guises outside of protest; from the obvious formation of armies going to battle, through to pipe bands. But as a form of protest the sight of hundreds of thousands of people, a great swathe of banners and heads pictured from above is a powerful image with a powerful message. Notable marches include Gandhi’s Salt March against colonial taxation, the civil rights March on Washington and Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, and the many people who peacefully converged on Tiananmen Square in China, with tragic consequences.

emma-lee-2016The UK has a long tradition of such marches, most notably the Jarrow March in 1936, in protest at unemployment and poverty in the North East. Previous to that was the mass trespass onto Kinder Scout in the Peak District, which is portrayed by the poet Peter Riley in his ‘The Ascent of Kinder Scout’. But previous to both, in 1905 is probably a less well known march as described in Emma Lee’s poem, The Shoemakers’ Walk. “Laid off after the Boer War, shoemakers/from Leicester walked to London – /later inspiring the Jarrow marchers -/lacking work and welfare, wanting a solution.” Of course, they were lambasted by the media, as such marches are today, “The Times reported them as shiftless,/and stated their march should fail./They were a menace, village idiots, restless.” Ultimately they were not successful in their demands. “Fifty thousand met Trafalgar Square./A message’s bland formality:/The King is unable to accede to your/request. Slow return to shoemakersLeicester city.” But nonetheless they were successful in laying down a marker (in one case a physical one with the artwork of seven windows at Leicester’s St Mark’s Church, called The Triumph and Apotheosis of Labour). A united voice to say such treatment of the working classes will not go unheeded nor passively accepted. A marker that is still resonant today.


Emma Lee’s most recent collection is “Ghosts in the Desert” (IDP, 2015). She co-edited “Over Land Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge” (Five Leaves, 2015) and “Welcome to Leicester” (Dahlia Publishing, 2016). Emma reviews for The High Window Journal, The Journal, London Grip and Sabotage Reviews and blogs at”



The Shoemakers’ Walk

Laid off after the Boer War, shoemakers
from Leicester walked to London –
later inspiring the Jarrow marchers –
lacking work and welfare, wanting a solution.

The Times reported them as shiftless,
and stated their march should fail.
They were a menace, village idiots, restless.
Headlines weren’t their worst trial.

The men walked through Northampton,
blisters, sunburn and sprained ankles,
fed by people in villages like Lavendon,
walking on refilling water bottles.

“The Triumph and Apotheosis of Labour”,
panels inspired by the march,
paid for by Beaumanor Hall’s owner,
were installed in St Mark’s Church.

Fifty thousand met in Trafalgar Square.
A message’s bland formality:
The King is unable to accede to your
request. Slow return to Leicester city.

The welfare state was built
when Amos Sherriff became Mayor.
A plaque put in the market
to remember the shoemakers.



(On 4/6/1905, 497 men set out from Leicester for London, led by Amos Sherriff who became Mayor of Leicester in 1922; Sophia Perry Herrick was owner of Beaumanor Hall)


Down Smallthorne by Ann Graal


Coconut Comb Over*

In the last but one feature, I wrote about how in an era of wide choice, generally people are still quite conservative in their tastes. Whether it be clothes, TV programmes, sport or books, the mainstream elicits almost a copybook practice to consumption. This relates to us as being creatures of habit. We will tend only to change our day to day, when something forces us to; e.g. if losing a job, having children, or a mid-life crisis (or all three rolled into one). I liken it to the man who when going bald decides to comb over the exposed parts of his head. He will do this for years and years, even when he is left with only a few wispy strands drawn from the side of his ear.

But habit and routine are not necessarily a bad or delusional thing. They provide great comfort to many people; go with what you know, if ain’t broke don’t fix it, etc., are clichés that many people live by. Ann Graal’s poem, Down Smallthorne, relates the routine of ‘Aunt Maud’: “Asked where she was off to any morning,/summer, winter, wet or dry, she’d shout out,/down Smallthorne –  never spent a night away/from 4, Wharf Street.” This reminded me of Young & Wilmot’s Family and Kinship in the east end of London, in which one interviewee said: “I wouldn’t leave old Bethnal Green, I wouldn’t take a threepenny bus ride outside Bethnal Green, to go up the other end.” (more…)