A poem from “All Damn Day” by Jemima Foxtrot

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 Image by Kevin Doncaster*

In 2009 two health experts published an influential book that resonated well beyond their field of interest; it was called The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better (the sub-title was later changed to the less strident, Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger). It argued that inequality has all kinds of negative outcomes on society such as erosion of trust, poor health, and encourages over-consumption. Like many provocations, it divided opinion; these accorded to the rigour of the analysis and unsurprisingly along political lines. Those critical of their argument, as always, didn’t tend to come from the poorer in society, and were bolstered by disingenuously wrapped up as being objective. Thatcher’s biographer, Charles Moore said it was “more a socialist tract than an objective analysis of poverty,” which give its greater strength in my book. And as the authors wrote in 2014, “It is hard to think of a more powerful way of telling people at the bottom that they are almost worthless than to pay them one-third of one percent of what the CEO in the same company gets.”

 

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 Sourced from ADiamondFellFromTheSky

There used to be a term that described the wealth gap in society; “how the other half lives”. I have a book with that title by the photographer Jacob Riis that includes one hundred photographs of the slums of New York at the turn into the 20th century. I am not sure it has even been an equal split between the haves and have nots, but as the rich get richer, the politics of democracy has become more binary. The Yes/No paradigm we have today in the outcome of how we vote seems to be driven by the negative – an ‘us against them’, even though it is not so clear who either side is. Danny Dorling, who for many years has studied the effects of inequality on societies, published a paper showing that of the richest 25 nations, the UK and US were the most unequal. He concluded the paper by saying that if you don’t believe the effects this has on societies, essentially, “go see for yourself what it is like to live in a more affluent nation where people are more similar to each other economically. See how they treat each other, the extents to which they trust or fear each other. Spend a little longer living there and see how it might also change you. Explore!

 

img_7762For those of us not able to do so, we are very lucky to have the likes of multi-talented Jemima Foxtrot who in a poem from her debut collection, All Damn Day, does what a lot of great poets do, allows us to dream. She takes a somewhat Manichean outlook that fits with the division we all feel in what we would like to do: “A half of me wants to exist in a tepee,/breed children who can braid hair and catch rabbits./Drink cocoa from half Coke cans twice a year/on their birthdays, the edges folded inwards/to protect their sleepy lips, cheap gloves to buffer their fingers,/precious marshmallows pronged on long mossy sticks.” However, such ‘rural and romantic poverty’ does not always fit with present circumstance, so we dream elsewhere. “If I were rich/I’d eat asparagus and egg,/in my Egyptian-cotton-coated bed, for breakfast. Bad. Ass./You’d find me in my limo, got a driver called Ricardo,/wears a nice hat. That’s that. Bad. Ass.” And in this dream we may travel to such places as Dorling suggests, but Jemima insightfully shows what lies at the heart these ‘hypocrisies’ we sit in, and how a division of one half or another can lead us all to a false sense of what it is we are after. “Capital has split my dreams in two /like a grapefruit./And I want both.                    And I want both.”

Jemima Foxtrot was shortlisted for the Arts Foundation Spoken Word Fellowship 2015. Jemima performs extensively across the country. All Damn Day, Jemima’s first collection of poetry was published by Burning Eye Books in September 2016. Jemima has written many commissions including for the Tate Britain, the BBC, the Tate Modern and Latitude Festival.  Her poetry film Mirror, commissioned by BBC Arts as part of their Women who Spit series, was available on iplayer for over a year. She has also appeared on Lynn Barber’s episode of Arts Night on BBC2 and on the Tate Modern: Switched on programme on BBC 2 in June this year with a poem especially written to celebrate the opening of the Tate Modern’s new wing. Jemima’s debut poetry show Melody (co-written with and directed by Lucy Allan), won the spoken word award at Buxton Fringe Festival 2015 and was critically acclaimed at its run at the PBH Free Fringe at Edinburgh 2015, receiving several excellent reviews. Melody was runner-up in the Best Spoken Word Show category at the 2016 Saboteur Awards.

 

 

Untitled (from All Damn Day)

Capital has split my dreams, a grapefruit cut in two,
the separate segments of both lives glimmering
          like a new breakfast.

A half of me wants to exist in a tepee,
          breed children who can braid hair and catch rabbits.
Drink cocoa from half Coke cans twice a year
          on their birthdays, the edges folded inwards
to protect their sleepy lips, cheap gloves to buffer their fingers,
precious marshmallows pronged on long mossy sticks.
Wrap them in goatskin. Leave them giggling
                    into drowsiness beneath the pink sky.

A half of me wants to exclude myself
                    – me and some rugged, clever fella –
live in a converted, cramped van. Grow rosemary
                                      and only own two dresses.
Sandals for the summer, boots for the snow.
Pick mushrooms and save them to trip from in springtime.

          Oh, rural and romantic poverty!
Lobster pots, gas lamps, home-grown tobacco,
card games, pine cones,
mussels form the shoreline filled with grit.           This is it!

It has to be.        Or something close to some of it.

I live in London.

And so yes.

And so yes, still the other half appeals to me.

If I were rich
          I’d eat asparagus and egg,
in my Egyptian-cotton-coated bed, for breakfast.             Bad. Ass.
You’d find me in my limo, got a driver called Ricardo,
wears a nice hat.              That’s that.         Bad. Ass.

And if anything important breaks, there’s boy around to fix it.
I’d hire the world’s best campaigner
                    to make everyone a feminist.

It feels so much more comfortable to sit in these hypocrisies when
they’re quilted.

And I’m in my penthouse in the middle of Paris,
          or Tokyo, or Istanbul.
The list of places that I’d like to go is endless and still growing.
But I’m rich now so don’t give a shit about emissions.

I’d buy pink marigolds, plastic crystal on the finger,
fake fur around the cuffs, to pretend to my friends
          that – even though I’m rich now –
I still do my own washing-up.

Do I fuck.

My au pair’s name is Clare, she’s hilarious.
Clare’s on the pots, I’m in the hot tub.

Or on my private beach in Thailand
          or asleep in the Chelsea Hotel.

Quaffing fine white wine,
scoffing oysters and the choicest cuts of beef.
There’s never much grumbling going on.

Restaurants, day-spas, massages, culture, wish fulfilment.

After lunch I’ll take the glider for a fly or got out to buy
a massive pile of overpriced designer tat.

          That’s that.                         Bad. Ass.

Capital has split my dreams in two like a grapefruit.

And I want both.                              And I want both.

 

* Image by Kevin Doncaster

how to write the working classes

The following was recently published on Queen Mobs Tea House.

How to Write the Working Classes by Peter Raynard
(somewhat after Binyavanga Wainaina)

The collective noun for the working classes is ‘These People’, never ‘The People’ or ‘My People’; use of the latter terms will get you the sack for empathetic tendencies. Terms such as rank and file or blue collar are too political, whilst plebeians and proletariat outdated. Chavs has become common parlance, but only use that term to show how they are described by others. Try to maintain objectivity in this regard, as ridiculously hard as that may be.

saggy-trackyIt is essential to make the reader believe there is but one type of working class person; they can be of a different age but they must look related, ideally inbred. The main type will be a saggy clothed, got a loyalty card from Sports Direct, Union Jack pale-faced male who claims he can trace his ancestors back to Neanderthal times, which in reality is just before the Second World War when his great granddad ran off with a Polish woman – but don’t talk about that obviously. Always have them accompanied by a muscle shaped dog, preferably tight-leashed, with a 70s punk rock sell-out dog collar, white drooling jaw, and a ravenous appetite for the calf-muscle of an outsider, which is basically anyone born within a mile of their ends.

female-chavWith females, try to find a young heavily made up woman in her late teens, early twenties at most, with a neck tattoo and a ciggie hanging from her botoxed lips. She must be pushing a pram, if possible with a brown skinned baby inside wailing its lungs out. Even better if she also has slightly older offspring biting at her heels.

When trying to find one of them to interview, go to a Saturday market on a rainy day where the salt-of-the-earth traders shout ‘cum an’ ‘av a lookpand a bowl’ or similar sounding unintelligible  whooping noises, in order to get you to buy their rotting fruit and veg. When approaching them try to speak in their tongue by swearing and commenting on the weather. Begin with the question, ‘how’s business?’ which actually means much more than in the literal sense. That is your ‘in’. Then go onto questions like, ‘do you think there are too many immigrants living in your back garden?’ or ‘how would you feel if your daughter came home with a Caribbean man who claimed he was a rapper?’ Similarly you could ask how they would feel about their son coming home with a gay bloke, who happens to be ‘a coloured’, and is a lawyer or a doctor. Get the camera man to zoom into their yellow teeth as they speak, then pan down to the blue blur of tattoos that sail across their wrinkled forearms, which they got when drunk at sea.

Once you’ve ‘got them’, ask if you could have a look at where they live. This will not only give you a cheap entry but also a safe one. Tell them that you come from a working class estate yourself and that you often go back to visit your withering ancestors. When describing the environment make sure adjectives like concrete, boarded up, brutal, dank, bleak, pepper your sentences like a well-seasoned steak. Highlight the fact that pie and mash shops are all but extinct, although their cultural appropriation is in train from bearded hipsters.

Get them to heap blame on the metropolitan elites (like yourself), who they feel rule over them like hand-me-down warlords from Henry the VIII; politicians will be the main target, but feel free to engage them in wider diatribes against big business, estate agents, and middle-class teachers who try to get their children to learn foreign languages.

However, never, ever bring the Royal Family into this part of the conversation. Reserve that for when you move them into nostalgia, about how life was much better in the good market-traderold medieval days, even though many of them died before the age of five and none of the adults had their own teeth; why do you think they like soup so much? Then move on to Brexit and listen to the range of opinions on this newly found independence, from ‘we can now take our country back’ to ‘we can now send them back’. Pretend to take copious notes at this point to induce a feeling they are finally being listened to.

Ask them about any problems with the estate but direct it towards people; e.g. where five or so years ago you may have inquired about a paedophile problem or the prevalence of ASBO kids, your focus must now be on Muslims, or people with an Arab or South Asian appearance, however vague. Get them to use their senses to describe the stink of the immigrants’ food; then go on to ask them what their favourite meal is when they’ve been out for a gallon of pints with mates – if you’re lucky they’ll say a ruby murray and bingo you’ve got them on the contradiction train. Talk also about the noise from the immigrant’s string-whiny music and the wailing from the wild amount of kids they have. They’ll probably go onto to how these families jumped the queue to get their council house in which they cram so many generations, some have to live behind the wallpaper.

Never refer to any musical or other cultural interests they may have themselves, although it will be very surprising if you found such interests. The only exception will be if they know someone’s second cousin removed who got to the regional semi-finals of Britain’s Got Talent with their rendition of God Save the Queen whistled entirely through their left nostril (the other one will have a ring through it). Of course, they may talk about their pigeons or how they collect Nazi memorabilia, but don’t pursue this because you’ll end up in some rotting smelly shed, being offered a roll up and a mug of quarry brown tea.

Finally, before leaving, slip a score (that’s a twenty btw) into the palm of their hand like a Priest’s Vaticum bread, give ‘em a wink, and say it’s been real. Rush off home to submit copy and then furiously shower yourself as if you’ve just been raped.

St Fergus Gran by Beth McDonough

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Image by Margaret Calvert

We are living in a time of shifting demographics, which has the potential for pitting the young and old against one another. Not in a face-to-face sense, but in the way policy makers shift their thinking to ‘balance the books’. Just recently, in the UK the Work and Pensions Committee has recommended an end to the ‘triple lock’ of state pension payments that sees them increase according to three factors (i.e. whatever is highest in terms of average earnings, consumer price index, or 2.5%). There is a fear that as people live longer we won’t be able afford the state pension in its current form. This is compounded by the roll back in salary-linked company pensions. The elderly then are seen to be costing ‘us’, as though ‘we’ are the ones paying for their inactivity.

This is dangerous and not based on fact. You walk around during the working week and see how many grandparents are picking up their grandchildren from school; or looking after pre-schoolers all day whilst their own children are working. It is estimated that grandparents contribute £7 billion free childcare each year. They are contributing a similar amount to help fund their grandchild’s education. But it is also wrong to assume that they are all wealthy; one in seven pensioners live in poverty and a further 1.2 million live just above that line.

beth-mcdThis sets aside the history they have lived through and the people they became because of it; a World War to monumental technological change from the TV to virtual reality. They have so many stories to tell and be told, and Beth McDonough’s eponymous poem ‘St Fergus Gran’ does just that. “Great Gran lived in weighty old pennies, dropped/from bonehard hands to my fat-cup palm/just before we’d journey west.” Like many stories, hers is one that is handed down the generations, “I never knew of her second sight/All those deaths, and how she kent/her brother lived, when the telegram said not.” Their lives weren’t a straightforward one of getting married and having children; war put pay to that. “I met the East End Glasgow lad she’d/fostered in the war, with all his tricks, his walk/to her from the west coast up to Buchan.” Here Beth tells us a little more about the poem:

“Although my poems are often partly autobiographical, they are rarely so openly so. This one arrived that way. I suspect my Dad would have problems with it, as for his Scots generation there is still a perceived stigma. For my part, I am in awe of my Great Gran – a couthy and brave woman. The knowledge of her  situation, so much later, only increased my respect. The two sisters brought up their families a few miles apart in rural Aberdeenshire, where doubtless no secret about my Grandfather’s paternity could be kept. I feel a certain indebtedness to Norman MacCaig’s Aunt Julia, and yes there are “so many questions/unanswered” and in St Fergus Gran’s case, I mourn too that I will never really know those answers in her beautiful Doric, so specific to that area.”

 

Beth McDonough trained in Silversmithing at GSA, completing her M.Litt at Dundee University. Writer in Residence at Dundee Contemporary Arts 2014-16, her poetry appears in Gutter, The Interpreter’s House and Antiphon and elsewhere and her reviews in DURA. She has a background in teacher trade union activism and she is involved in various disability-related groups. Handfast, her pamphlet with Ruth Aylett (Mother’s Milk, May 2016) charts family experiences – Aylett’s of dementia and McDonough’s of autism.

 

St Fergus Gran

Great Gran lived in weighty old pennies, dropped
from bonehard hands to my fat-cup palm
just before we’d journey west. She was coiled
inky hair, all starling eyes, a bent body leant
on a wooden frame. She lived till I was twelve.

I never knew of her second sight.
All those deaths, and how she kent
her brother lived, when the telegram said not.
She dreamed birds and hearts. It took
my first adult death for Dad to tell me this.

What she could not see, was how
the man who left her pregnant was to wed
her sister in their kirk before
their son was born. It took
his Father’s death for Dad to tell me this.

I met the East End Glasgow lad she’d
fostered in the war, with all his tricks, his walk
to her from the west coast up to Buchan. I loved
his anarchy on buses to the Broch. It took
his Mother’s death for Dad to tell me this.

Today, I asked my Dad about my Great-Gran’s
Christian name. He can recite the cottage signs,
say all those burns that feed the Ythan, but
he cannot tell me this. They had
no need to know her name. She was just
St Fergus Gran.

 

 

 

Life of Thorka by Aisha K. Gill

In the US, the word pacifier is used to describe what we in the UK call a baby’s dummy. Yet, during the Vietnam War, pacification was the popular term used to describe the actions of soldiers entering villages, shooting domestic animals and rounding up all of the men and boys, killing any who resisted (its more official title was Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support). Similarly, the term collateral damage is meant to descale the actual impact of a violent intervention making it a more ‘acceptable’ price of war. The same goes for friendly fire and many other terms. Euphemisms abound when talking of war or violence. And they are not used passively; they have political purpose. As the Encyclopaedia of Violence, Peace and Conflict states: “This instrumental approach to language, detaches language from history and moral judgement, converting it to a mere technique in the assertion of political power.[1] And it gives the example of the “Final Solution” to make its point so powerfully.

Now think of the terms shame and honour; shame can be used in a quite benign way, e.g. “ah, what a shame,” when you just missed out on something. Whilst honour conjures up bravery and sacrifice, maybe for your country or a cause you believe in. But as with euphemisms of war, set in a different context they can mean very different things and Asian Women Awardstherefore have very different connotations. Our poet today, Professor Aisha K. Gill [http://www.roehampton.ac.uk/staff/Aisha-Gill/] is an expert on violence against black and minority and refugee women in the UK, Iraqi Kurdistan and India. In her work she has shown the link between honour and shame that leads to honour based violence (HBV), overwhelmingly against women. “…honour relates to the behaviour expected of members of particular community, while shame is associated with transgressions against these expectations” (Gill, 2014: 2). This HBV is driven by the expectation by men of how women are meant to act in their family’s honour, “by behaving appropriately through deference, fidelity, modesty and chastity” (Gill, 2014: 2).[2]

In her poem, “Life of Thorka” she speaks about her escape from violence. “Anxious for clues,/but, without a clear map/it’s the Midland Main Line that’s/doing the calling to bedsitter land./ Look over your shoulder, Asian woman in hiding / Keep searching, (and watching and hiding/from them).” Education is her aim but also her ‘crime’ and hence the urge to be free. However, many are not able to take this route and have their “aims ruined/robbed of ordinary experience / abandoned, starving in silence / their death even claimed. Found innocent of powerlessness.” And yet there is no sense of revenge in this story, even when completely aware of the wider political and social context, this ‘dance to sociological imaginations’. “But I won’t kill him off!/I’ll just leave him alone/in his unwise ageing/A bare old stick, let him/wither in pain.” The form of the poem is also beautifully rendered to reflect the train and the tracks taken in her escape.

What lies behind the use of seemingly benign or traditionally defined terms is critical to a basic understanding of power and how it is exerted; whether in the battlefields or in communities where patriarchy defines how a woman should act in ‘honour’ of her family.

 

Life of Thorka[3]

ਔਧ ਤੜਕੇ ਦੀ

Two cases stacked on the

          overhead rack.

I’d got my ticket

                  for the runaways’ train.

Anxious for clues,

          but, without a clear map,

it’s the Midland Mainline that’s

                  doing the calling to bedsitter land.

Look over your shoulder. Asian woman in hiding.

Keep searching,

(and watching, and hiding

from them.)

 

Under the brickworks,

(with help from Barnardo’s),

          education’s the goal  –

that’s the promise I’d made –

            the ticket to freedom

for thousands of others

          just like me!

A thousand others just like me…

          aims ruined

robbed of ordinary experience,

          abandoned, starving in silence,

their death, even, claimed.

             Found innocent of powerlessness,

sentenced for years and years

          under spiteful glares

to crisis, prisoner number,

            exposed, time for duty.

 

Put on the mask and

play the game.

                (Insanity pervades the

                spirit, schizo!)

 

(They say that the personal is political.)

 

So memories of make the thorka

[ਤੜਕਾ ਬਨਾ ਲਵਾ] -interlaced with a slap –

          play on

sarson ka saag banane ke liye

 [ਸਰ੍ਹੋਂ ਕਾ ਸਾਗ ਬਨਾਉਣੇ ਕੇ ਲੀਅੇ].

Intersectionality, critical conversations

          dance to sociological imaginations,

the symphony of living in Essex,

the “Masala Curry Queen”from DE23!

 

 Masala channa, punjabi masala, palak

                 paneer aloo, mooli, gobi or just plain

                                 paratha?

 

But I won’t kill him off!

          I’ll just leave him alone

in his unwise ageing.

A bare old stick, let him

          wither in pain.

 

author biography

Aisha K. Gill is a Professor of Criminology at the University of Roehampton, UK. Her main areas of interest and research are health and criminal justice responses to violence against black, minority ethnic and refugee women in the UK, Iraqi Kurdistan and India. She has been involved in addressing the problem of violence against women at the grassroots level for the past seventeen years and has published widely in refereed journals such as Current Sociology, European Journal of Women’s Studies, Feminist Criminology, Feminist Legal Studies, Feminist Review, Journal of Gender Studies, Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law, Violence against Women Journal and Women’s Studies International Forum. [@DrAishaKGill]

 

[1] Source: Encyclopaedia of Violence, Peace and Conflict: Po – Z, index. 3: 308

[2] Gill, A.K. (2014) ‘Honour’, ‘honour’-based violence: Challenging common assumptions, in Gill, A., Roberts, K., Strange, C. (eds) ‘Honour’ Killing and Violence: Theory, Policy and Practice, London: Palgrave Macmillan. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Honour-Killing-Violence-Aisha-Gill/dp/1137289554

[3] First published in Feminist Review, Special Issue of Food. Autumn 2016: Issue 114.  Reprinted with permission of Feminist Review http://link.springer.com/journal/41305

THE MAPS YOU TOOK WITH YOU WHEN YOU WENT BY JOE HORGAN

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. (more…)

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
in
     between
                    where
children sang in cinders

we saw them
     clothed in tired skin
& dying
    daily

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

                    bring them to us now
we’ll have their eyes
& string
a dull
pendant
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…)