Month: September 2016

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…)