Month: September 2017

the exact reverse is true by nick moss

hillfieldsIn 1980, the tower blocks of Hillfields that overlook Coventry city centre were mainly occupied by the working classes of West Indian and British origin. My friend had a flat on the eighth floor of Douglas House, a maisonette he shared with his girlfriend. We used to go round regularly, spending much of the night smoking weed and listening to reggae. One time, he wasn’t in so we knocked his neighbour and went through her flat, climbed over the balcony, shuffled along at one hundred feet up, and got in via his balcony. I still can’t comprehend the stupidity of that act now; just so we could find somewhere to hole up and get charged listening to Red by Black Uhuru.

Although the number of high rise blocks in the UK are nothing compared to those built throughout eastern Europe during the communist era, they were still the homes of choice for Grandgrind-like architects during post-war years. I swear, the architects of 220px-Ronan_Point_collapse_closeupworking class homes during the 1960s have a lot to answer for. Such housing was quickly seen as going against the way in which humans should live together. One early example was the Ronan Point Tower block in Canning Town, Newham which partly collapsed due to a gas explosion. Since then, many have been pulled down, like in Glasgow, where a quarter have been demolished over the past ten years. That is not to say however, that they should all be pulled down, at least not in the way planners often go about it, with little consultation, and without proper alternatives for rehousing.

So many remain, and with the most shocking disaster of Grenfell, their utility and safety has been brought into greater scrutiny. Nick Moss’, The Exact Reverse is True, is a powerful and angry poem that marries memories of reggae culture during the early 1980s, and the area of West London where Grenfell Tower now stands. “ ‘Murderer/ Blood is on your shoulders/ Kill I today you cannot kill I tomorrow’/ There are “Missing” posters plastered all round Ladbroke Grove./ The faces of the missing who are the not-yet-officially-dead/ Of Grenfell Tower.” The public inquiry has just begun after much delay and continuing controversy; heart rending stories are emerging to compound the reality of peoples’ lives now they are dealing with both grief and homelessness. It’s a tragic irony that it takes a disaster for change to happen, especially when financial considerations and lack of accountability, take priority over social needs and tenant concerns.


Nick Moss grew up in Liverpool but now lives in London. He was released from a prison sentence two years ago. He began to write poetry as a way of mapping his experiences in jail, and won Koestler awards for his collection The Skeleton Choir Singing, and his poem “Never Again?” In 2016 he was awarded a May Turnbull Scholarship, and had work featured in, and performed at, the We Are All Human exhibition at the South Bank. He performs regularly and continues to write because “if we keep shouting, eventually we’ll hear each other.”



the exact reverse is true

Ladbroke Grove used to have a Dub Vendor store
At number 150. Now that shop sells mobile phones.
I can remember some of the vinyl I bought from there.
A Delroy Wilson album with “Better Must Come”.
Michael Prophet ‘s “Gunman”
Wayne Smith, Tenor Saw
(“Victory Train” on a twelve alongside all his big tunes on pre )
All the Jammys and Taxi and George Phang tunes
That soundtracked my twenties.

And “Murderer”.
Murderer by Buju Banton.
Murderer by Barrington Levy.
The Buju tune goes
Blood is on your shoulders
Kill I today you cannot kill I tomorrow”
There are “Missing” posters plastered all round Ladbroke Grove.
The faces of the missing who are the not-yet-officially-dead
Of Grenfell Tower, which stands now
A 24 storey fire-black column
Sucking all the light out of this year’s  spring
And shadowing the Grove.
Not far from here Aswad recorded “Live and Direct”
Meanwhile Gardens, Carnival, 1982.
Music made  to make you feel like a warrior
Horns callin’ down Jah fire  and bassline thunder
And Brinsley Forde yelling “Murderah”
And the crowd all ravin’ and shoutin’ “Murderah”
But no-one’s ravin’ now.

“The £10m building refurbishment included the installation of insulated exterior cladding,
Mothers throwing babies from windows.
new double glazed windows and a new communal heating system
Mothers throwing babies from windows
The two year project, which was designed and delivered by KCTMO in partnership with Rydon Construction, was a complex one as it took place with all 120 flats occupied throughout. The logistics had to be carefully managed to minimise disruption. “
Mothers throwing babies from windows.
The windows all blown out now
You can still see shreds of curtains
And the patterns on some- a horse, an owl
Cauterised, flapping.

At the next meeting
Of the full council at K&C
Shout “Murderah, murderah”
Til all of them reach jail
While remembering of course that
The opponents of so-called austerity seek to paint
The supporters of sound finances as selfish or uncaring.
The exact reverse is true.”
We are the ungrateful bastard brothers and sisters of the burned –alive
Selfishly shouting “murderah , murderah, murderah”.

Another tune I remember buying at Dub Vendor
Johnny Osbourne “Thirteen Dead, Nothing Said.”
That one was produced by Aswad. And the Linton Kwesi Johnson album
“Making History”
With the track “New Crass Massakeh.”
John La Rose called the New Cross fire
“an unparalleled act of barbaric violence against the black community “
I guess history teaches us to be wary
Of words like “unparalleled.”
In the Ladbroke Grove rail crash 1999
31 killed, more than 520 injured.
The public enquiry that time round
Concluded there was
A conflict between issues of operational safety and commercial considerations
We will soon  hear the same again, another useless echo.
Wormwood Scrubs isn’t all that far from Kensington Town Hall
But it’s a thousand million miles away.

Posters of the not-yet-officially-dead
In Ladbroke Grove
Portobello Road
Goldbourne Road
As we selfishly shout “Murderah”
And the trains to Henley Regatta always run on time.

At Gunpoint by Nick Makoha

In the last year of my degree in the late 1980s, I took a course on African Politics that was a gateway to doing a Masters at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London. One option for an essay was to write about an African coup from the past few years. We had a quite a few to choose from: Although 1988 had been a fallow year, with only one unsuccessful coup in Uganda (the last of many during their troubled post-independence era), in the following three years there had been ten (three, three and four respectively). It was a sad fact that one aspect of the course was its reliance on the continued instability in Africa caused by military coups.

One of the most iconic of these takeovers, was that by Idi Amin of Uganda in 1971. As well as many atrocities during his eight-year rule, he expelled around 60,000 Asian Ugandans, calling them “bloodsuckers, who milked the country of its wealth”. Amin’s predecessor, Milton Obote had though lay the ground for such inhumane action, with a number of laws limiting their rights. Half of the refugees were reluctantly accepted by the Ted Heath government (he had initially tried to find a remote island to house them). I remember a number settling in the Foleshill area of Coventry, becoming an integral part of the city’s diverse heritage.

NICK-6218 copy yx copyAlthough not an Asian, the poet Nick Makoha and his mother also left the country due to the coup, becoming part of the Ugandan diaspora. In his haunting poem ‘At Gunpoint’ (and throughout his brilliant collection ‘Kingdom of Gravity’), he describes the terror of a country under military rule. “The Times will report of people/ being forced to volunteer to avoid/ being a body hiding in the toilet/ or a corpse folded on a table.” Beyond the terror of trying to survive, questions of what you should do in such a situation arise, that challenge your own identity. “A man can’t but look into his own imagination/ to solve the conflict of himself. Should I have been/ the doctor, or the poacher in the clearing, a mad man,/ or shepherd boys minding their business?” Like many of the diaspora, Nick tried to find a way to express who he was, or had become: “There were many rivers running through me. I was a Ugandan in the diaspora who had already lived in four different countries thrice over. I felt fractured and fragile but often lacked the courage to confess or express this in my work.” Luckily for us he became a writer because of his experience.


Nick Makoha’s debut collection Kingdom of Gravity is shortlisted for the 2017 Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection. He won the 2015 Brunel International Poetry prize and the 2016 Toi Derricotte & Cornelius Eady Chapbook Prize for his pamphlet Resurrection. A Cave Canem Graduate Fellow & Complete Works Alumni.  His poems appeared in  The New York Times, Poetry Review, Rialto, Triquarterly Review, Boston Review, Callaloo, and Wasafiri. As Creative Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Goldsmiths, University of London he started the filming of Black Metic Poet interviews as part of the Metic experiences of Black British Writers.  Find him at


At Gunpoint

My body is the protagonist watched by soldiers
in patrol cars. Roof down, the front windscreen
frames them. Amin’s voice bleeds
from a radio wafting up into a window of sky.

The Times will report of people
being forced to volunteer to avoid
being a body hiding in the toilet
or a corpse folded on a table.

I have heard men say We will serve you.
Others will say he saved them,
and yet others will flee, by passage
out to a border that no longer exists.

I have only made it as far as the long grass,
virgin territories whose mountain plains
and tribal inhabitants are a garnish,
part of a failed colonial experiment.

Holding my breath, words are now shadows
walking me down a corridor of all the wrong things
that brought me here. In this cracked republic
I have made a film of my life and played myself.

A man can’t but look into his own imagination
to solve the conflict of himself. Should I have been
the doctor, or the poacher in the clearing, a mad man,
or shepherd boys minding their business?

All soldiers must die – some by bullet, some by knife;
the sharpest cut is betrayal. Lips are their usual servants.
I do not want to know the whistle of a bullet in the air
or how it seeks blood to release the weight of the soul.


Befriending the Butcher by Anna Saunders

he's hiding somethingOne of the darker but also more playful songs by Tom Waits is “What’s he building in there?” where the narrator is essentially a nosy neighbour, who ponders on what a man can be doing in his house, simply because he ‘keeps himself to himself’. “He has subscriptions to those/ Magazines. He never/ waves when he goes by/ He’s hiding something from/ the rest of us. He’s all/ to himself.” There are many things we don’t know about people that I’m sure would surprise us. People aren’t all just work and telly and pub and match and gym and restaurant and work and etc., etc.. Many people have projects, and dare I say ‘hobbies’, that word which now seems to either appear old fashioned or derogatory – something people did before the Internet, before telly even, like stamp collecting or knitting; a recent evaluation of the writing centre Ty Newydd described the attendees of the courses are ‘retiring hobbyists’, which is both ageist and short-sighted. These are the things that keep people alive; we are told many times these days to keep our minds and bodies active to ward off the advancement of the ageing process, and the delights that can bring like Alzheimer’s or cancer.

aligning-superintelligence-Benya-Fallenstein-845x321But I also think that people are amazing in the projects they engage in. My son watches endless YouTube videos of everyday inventors – people who try to make their own telescope for example completely from scratch, where they even make the glass. Then when it comes to the working class, the notion that we are all hard workers without two pennies to rub together and therefore only have time to watch X-Factor meets Strictly, topped off with the icing from Bake Off cake, is a myth. This has been debunked by many writers over the years such as Ken Worple, with his first book ‘Dockers and Detectives’ about a writers’ group from Liverpool, and the work of Jonathan Rose and Richard Hoggart. There is a recently published memoir of a bodybuilder who secretly read Keats in the gym, hiding the book between the covers of Muscle & Fitness magazine.

annaAnna Saunders’ beautiful poem “Befriending the Butcher’, tells the story of a working class life that furthers this idea that you never know what a person might be. “He spent his days dressing flesh/ preparing Primal Cuts and his nights – carving wood,/ reading brick-heavy biographies of Larkin or Keats.” And what you start will carry you into later life, “There we sat, …./ on chairs as dark and immense as the Wagner/ which poured into the room,” So think again when you’re at the checkout, at the bar, chatting with the postman or the butcher, for you never know what they may be building when they get back home and hide themselves away in the attic or the shed. (more…)