Month: August 2015

#Irony by Susan Evans

burning monk1In 1963 the persecution of Buddhists in South Vietnam under the rule of staunch anti-communist Ngo Dinh Dien, had reached crisis point. On June 11th three monks walked to a crossroads in Saigon. One placed a cushion on the road upon which sat Thich Quang Duc, a highly revered Buddhist monk; the third man then proceeded to pour petrol over Quang Duc. The picture of the monk’s self-immolation went worldwide and is one of the most iconic forms of activism; the ultimate sacrifice for a cause, which has been undertaken in many notable cases, most recently Mohamed Bouazizi that sparked the Arab Spring.

Activism is an art form and comes in many shapes and disguises. It can be holding a placard, throwing a Molotov, standing in front of a tank, where you choose to sit on a bus, occupying a financial district, or as in the case of Pussy Riot, dancing in a church. In Egypt, much of the activism during their Arab Spring, came from young women, who were not allowed to protest at Tahrir Square for fear of violence against them. So they took the internet and became cyber-activists, sharing messages, feeding news to other protestors across the Arab world. Activism can also be the simple act of writing a poem as with Ai Weiwei.

Susan Evans Performance Poet - Photo by Helen PinnerSusan Evans’ poem # Irony, covers some of these approaches to protest and the perceptions that arise. Marching online she joins/the virtual protest ‒/bloke in armchair calls her/an `armchair activist’“ But you can also sign petitions “she shares petition after petition ‒/38 degrees”, or watch events unfold “‘The People’s Poets’ upload pics,/pleased as punch; bunched outside/Westminster,” driven by examples of friends who, as mothers are greatly affected by austerity measures as they “fiercely fret over/the going rate of the Tooth Fairy.” (more…)

Inside Out by Zeina Hashem Beck

The late great Liverpool football manager Bill Shankly had many famous sayings that are repeated to this day. The one that struck me growing up was, “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.” Although I have followed football all my life, I have rarely, if ever Palestine-Logo-Bigworn my team’s shirt. For one, I didn’t want to get beaten up by any wayward away fans; and two, I have never liked the tribal allegiance element of the game nor the violence that lies behind it.

Football is also not devoid of influencing national politics to the point of igniting armed conflict as was the case in 1969 between Honduras and El Salvador. The political map influences where teams will play; most notable being that the Israeli national team and its clubs compete in Europe. The Palestinian team was only recognised by FIFA in 1998, but has great potential despite the political and social conditions that surround it. I bought the Palestinian football shirt, as a small act of support when at the large protest march against the war in Gaza last year.

Zeina's PhotoOf course, football is a passion among many people in Gaza and the West Bank, and Zeina Hashem Beck puts that into stark perspective in her heart-breaking poem Inside Out, where she paints a scene of Gaza under attack during the World Cup in Brazil in 2014. “my friend’s mom in Gaza is cheering/for Brazil and Holland/all that orange/burning almost/a sunrise all that/smoke”. Zeina goes back and forth from the football to the terrible scene unfolding, “there’s an old woman/who dies holding/her spoon waiting/for iftar/which comes but so do/the rockets/and the news/Brazil loses to Germany 7-1”. The poem continues without punctuation reflecting the relentless nature of the Israeli bombardment, until the end of the tournament when, “a player kisses a trophy/his wife his son/a mother/kisses a dead child/grief inside out/is resistance” Like Laila Sumpton’s poem ‘Morning Prayers’, Zeina juxtaposes the everyday events we take for granted, such as watching a football match with the tragic situation in which Palestinian people live, in a wholly different type of everyday event. (more…)

Monochrome by Angela Topping

Family in front of TV 1

Image by Paul Townsend*

When I was about five or six, towards the end of the 1960s, my parents and I visited my gran in Gateshead. My gran had lived a tough life; she had seven children, and her husband died two years after her last child, my mother, was born. The same week she was born, her twelve year old brother died and another sibling didn’t live beyond five. These were the 1930s and much like that conveyed in Angela’s Ashes. My father’s family were similar; ten born, only five surviving to school age.

When we went into her high rise flat, she was sat in the small living room, where there was a TV in each corner. I was so impressed that she had two TVs, but puzzled as to why they were in the same room. When I asked, “Why’ve you got two tellies gran,” she said in her usual matter-of-fact way, “One’s for BBC, and one’s for ITV.” Somehow or other, she had found two broken TVs that served her purpose. She wasn’t bothered about BBC Two. You still didn’t take TV for granted in the 1960s, and there were great events to marvel at, most notably the moon landing in 1969, when Neil Armstrong stepped out onto that studio set in Hollywood and said those famous words.


Angela Topping gives us a snapshot of this magical, black and white time in her poem Monochrome. “A candid photograph, a moment caught/in black and white, nineteen fifty nine,/a council house estate interior.” We have a picture within a picture, of a father with his camera, who is watching his daughter and her friend in front of a new television, “in rapture where they lie,/on bellies, heads propped up by hands, enthralled,” You can see that he embraces new technology, and bringing the TV home, “feels some pride in its unveiling day.” There is both a sadness and great sense of love conveyed in Angela’s touching poem; this was a time when the rebuilding after the Second World War and the austerity of the 1950s crossed into a new era, more positive, liberal, and where the screens that are so prevalent today, were just beginning to be turned on. (more…)

Work by Anthony Costello

shadow of a soldierHow can you have a shadow without the subject? The picture (right) is the shadow of a Japanese guard taken by Matsumoto Eichii only a few weeks after the bombing of Nagasaki. The image is the burned-in imprint of the man with his ladder and sword at his side. We have just marked the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, and it is images such as these that remind us of such horrors.

The photograph of the soldier was part of an amazing exhibition, Conflict, Time, Photography at the Tate Modern in London last year. I was fortunate enough to be on a poetry course run by Pascale Petit at the gallery that used the images from the exhibition, to write poems. Many great poets have drawn on classic paintings for their poetry; Pascale herself drew on the life and work of Frida Kahlo in her TS Eliot shortlisted collection, What the Water Gave Me.

IMG_20150607_203342-2Anthony Costello has taken this approach in his poem Work, which is inspired by Ford Maddox Brown’s painting. The pre-Raphaelite Brown was fascinated by the social make up of Victorian London, with the noble ‘navvies’ (“like my labouring Irish ancestors/amongst the soil, shovels and lime”), the orphaned children and poorest (“flophouse inmates, bouncers, ragamuffin children”), and upper classes (“the gentlemen-flaneurs,/the yellow waistcoats and red bonnet Gentry”). In a single painting, a single poem, we have the Victorian system of work and hierarchy – ‘a place for everyone, and everyone in their place’. (more…)