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.” In overall terms we do live in more prosperous and healthy times, but at what cost? The growing social and economic inequality, set in the paradox of a more integrated world, is manna to the conservative populists, and makes for all kinds of strange alliances. When Trump says he admires Putin, and when ‘communist’ China is propping up global capitalism, you know we live in the weirdest of times.



Matt Duggan won the Erbacce Prize for Poetry in 2015 with his first full collection Dystopia 38.10 which is now available via Erbacce Press http://erbacce-press.webeden.co.uk/#/matt-duggan /4590351997. His poems have appeared in The Journal, The Seventh Quarry, Prole, Graffiti, Bunbury Magazine, Lakeview International Literary Journal.



Voices from Charcoal

In this land of neo brown shirts
white cliffs a strict border layered in red brickwork,

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 –

that lay dormant inside Persian sands;
which resurrected buried voices from charcoal

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,

No longer do we recognise the enemy
taking sides for the highest and most convenient price.

Did we cut off our ears from empathy?
Those holocaust skeletons in white and blue stars.
Near gutting of human hope – where repetitive acts
lined up like contemporary nights of Kristallnacht.

We have become what we dreaded
An isolated island – a ghost ship drifting with no sails

our captain unsure of our final destination,
stirring us into unknown waters
towards an economic tsunami.
Our heads held with fingers slated into scalp;

Cold tears drop onto canvas
like rain drops darkening dead rhino skin,
In this land of neo brown shirts
white cliffs a strict border layered with red brickwork.

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 http://emmalee1.wordpress.com.”



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…)

The Hatred of Poetry and Social Realism, and the Love of the Poetry of Social Realism

I have just read The Hatred of Poetry by Ben Lerner. Lerner’s thesis is that poetry is hated because it can never live up to its ultimate aim of conveying the universal truth. “Poetry isn’t hard, it’s impossible.” It is impossible for a poet to translate their thoughts into a poem that achieves universality. In the words of Socrates, “Of that place beyond the heavens none of our earthly poets has yet sung, and none shall sing worthily.”

Lerner uses the cliché of the creative dream where you have some kind of enlightened idea, only to see it dissolve when you wake. “In a dream your verses can defeat time, your words can shake off the history of their usage, you can represent what can’t be represented.” But then life gets in the way, with its ‘inflexible laws and logic.” And so he concludes: “Thus, the poet is a tragic figure. The poem is always a record of failure.”

He ends the book quite cheekily and somewhat grandly with, “All I ask the haters – and I, too, am one – is that they strive to perfect their contempt, even consider bring it to bear on poems, where it will be deepened, not dispelled, and where, by creating a place for possibility and present absences – like unheard melodies, it might come to resemble love.” It is essentially that comment you got from that teacher you were sure hated you; “not good enough, try harder.”



Putting aside my initial reaction that Lerner should maybe lower his expectations a little, I feel there are comparisons in his argument to the ideals behind social realism and portrayals of the working classes. Social Realism began as a movement of artists and photographers in the early 1900s (peaking in the 1920s & 30s); it was a counter to the idealistic and one sided bourgeois depictions of life at the end of the 19th century. It was hugely important and is one of the lesser regarded aspects of modernity. It exposed the harsh realities of working class life with endemic poverty and consequent poor health and high rates of mortality. It challenged the aesthetic in order to change the system. You could argue that the New Deal and the Welfare State were positive policy reactions to the exposure of social realism. (more…)

Chip Van by Lorraine Carey

tesco farmsThe supermarket giant Tesco did a funny thing recently. They invented farms. They began selling food items produced on farms that don’t exist. So now you can buy chickens from Willow Farms, diced beef from Boswell Farms, and a variety of fruit from Rosedene Farms. The amazing thing is, they can get away with it. But the reason they did it actually makes sense, for they realised that people still want to feel that the food they buy is made locally, and not in a factory. The tragic irony is that it is the real farms upon which these imagined ones are modelled, which are suffering at the hands of this type of big capitalism.

vans shoesOne of the contradictions of capitalism, or should I say one of its cons, is the issue of choice. On the ugly face of it, your choice of purchase, whether it be an earring or a car, is endless. You can get a seeming boundless range of designs; for example, when researching chip vans for this feature, I came across the popular shoe brand Vans, and yes, you’ve guessed it (unless you haven’t) was an image of a pair of shoes covered in chips – you can also get a pair with pepperoni pizza design. But the contradiction in all of this, is that as consumers we tend not to go outside our comfort zones. We wear remarkably similar clothes, eat a small range of foods. Hence trends emerge, promoted by social media, the most recent of which sees half the western world running around playing Pokemon Go.

Within this advanced stage of capitalism, a concentration of ownership by large corporations, puts pay to many small businesses which simply can’t compete with such economies of scale and bullying marketing tactics. You have to go ‘niche’ if you want to succeed; to carve yourself a slice of choice no-one has yet had a taste of. But even here, big business will eat it up. Take real ale, for example. For years the likes of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) supported such producers, but now it has been taken up and turned into ‘craft’ ales so as to make you feel that is more artisanal. Similarly, local coffee shops are under attack from the main chains such as Starbucks.

lorraine careySmall family run businesses and trades have been squeezed from such practices for many years. But I think one of the businesses that hasn’t been corporatised in this way, is your fish and chip shop (with the exception of Harry Ramsden’s in the UK, which is now a series of franchises). Lorraine Carey’s nostalgic poem, “The Chip Van,” takes us back to a time when such food outlets were more ubiquitous. (more…)

The Rainbow Club by Yomi Sode

My Father, who was born in 1933, said to me recently, that during his life he had seen so many inventions that had now become everyday utilities. The radio was the decade before his time, but FM was patented in 1933. Television began broadcasting in 1936 but poorer families such as his weren’t able to see it from the luxury of their own home till decades later. Computers started to emerge during the 1960s, and then in the 1990s the internet and mobile technologies. We are at the frontier of extraordinary technological developments, of which we have little clue of what its short, let alone, long-term impact will be. Whilst such communications have opened up a great deal of fantastic opportunities, at the same time there are many horrors (e.g. live killings by terrorist groups).

If you are below the age of 18, you won’t remember a time when people’s lives were private. It is now a given that at the click of a button, you can know what almost anyone in the world is up to. Facebook in particular is a black hole of personal information and can be used for peer pressure or cyber bullying. I fear this has put a greater pressure on young people than any other generation in history.

One of the more dark sides of this use of the internet is grooming and sexual exploitation of young people, especially girls. The NSPCC highlights the ways in which grooming take place online: “Groomers can use social media sites, instant messaging apps including teen dating apps, or online gaming platforms to connect with a young person or child. They can spend time learning about a young person’s interests from their online profiles and then use this knowledge to help them build up a relationship. It’s easy for groomers to hide their identity online – they may pretend to be a child and then chat and become ‘friends’ with children they are targeting.”

yomi sodeYomi Sode’s poem ‘The Rainbow Club’ highlights the end point of this type of child sexual exploitation. As Yomi explains:

“Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) is an issue within the borough that I work in. Young people engage in one to ones, giving examples of what (for the most part) they consider to be harmless fun but in its greater context, they are being exploited.  The Rainbow Club is an example of this. It’s to raise awareness as well as creating discussions as to how best support young people in flagging up when they are put in these predicaments at present and in the future.”  

This poem is a tough and disturbing read, and that is exactly what poetry should be.


Yomi Sode balances the fine line between Nigerian and British cultures, which can be humorous, loving, self-reflective and uncomfortable. He is a member of Malika’s Poetry Kitchen and has just been selected for phase 3 of The Complete Works mentoring programme, following in illustrious footsteps including Mona’s (phase 2) and Karen’s (phase 1) – watch this space! http://www.iamgreeds.com/

The Rainbow Club

Kí Ọbìnrin to atorìn, ka wo eni tí o ma lomi leyìn esee ju ara won lo – Competition between people reveals who is stronger.

Their Lolita hearts are not prepared
for the smoke or vodka. Each burn tugs
a tolerance soon ignored for the sake

of cool. they wear different colours
on lips, plump and ready. lips
they press together then wipe the smudge,

their skirts short as patience. Shivering as if
the warmth they seek reside in their homes.
he calls them by their rainbow colour – red and orange

and pink and green. not by names their mothers’
gave them. maybe to avoid feeling that this could be
his daughter or sister.

they stand in line. he is sat, trousers below his knees
watching this shadow approach him like a myth,
shaping into a physical being.

red giggles as she walks, each strut
insinuates sex, each curved hip holds air
and let’s go. she stares him down, prying

his pupils for a weakness because
an erect man awaiting service means
he’s vulnerable. she bends, hovering over

a pre-ejaculated cock, opening her mouth,
going deeper until it lightly taps
the back of her throat, the aim is to reach the base

of his manhood but she can only go so far.
when Red reaches her limit,
she marks her personal best with her lips

and stands upright. The other girls applaud.
next it’s Orange, followed by Pink, swapping spit,
Blue, Violet, Yellow

leaving him, trousers down staring
at the ring of colours
red and orange and pink and green,

each other