Month: September 2018

But now by Stuart Charlesworth

I have thought quite a lot lately about jacking in poetry. Besides my dysfunctional health, the main reason is the frustration at poetry’s gated community who situate themselves far away in the wildlife of their own comfort; their liberal stance and inability to help us live a little bit better life by being the provocative fairground mirror to surrounding events. The somewhat disingenuous basis for the argument that, the reason most people hate poetry is because it doesn’t achieve what it sets out to do (i.e. be universal), means that its self-made pedestal is built on sand. I think a lot of poetry is an escape from life, not an engagement with it. By a lot, I mean that which is published in the magazines, whether online or in heavily over-submitted under-subscribed hard copy versions. There are glimmers of hope from across the Pond (Danez Smith, Eve Ewing, Terrance Hayes), but not a lot like that is prominent here in the UK poetry scene, and I would argue we are in the same shit pit as the US.

11015203525_62c7b63436_zThe actor Riz Ahmed, when asked where he saw the problem in the lack of diversity, answered ‘those who don’t believe there is a problem’. I would extend that to those who perceive it is a problem, but don’t feel it relates to them, and thus do nothing about it within their interests and responsibilities to the poetry world. Unconscious bias is thus the reality when confronted with the ‘why I did nothing’. Unfunnily enough, you often find answers to why this is so from the business world (know thy enemy, right?). In an article in Fast Company, the way business can better address bias in the recruitment process is being aware, self-conscious of our own biases – that is something we all have and must manage. “When we are aware of our biases and watch out for them, they are less likely to blindly dictate our decisions.

image1Stuart Charlesworth’s poem ‘But now’ reflects the dissatisfaction I have with this poetic disjuncture of bias and inaction very well. I will leave the poem to show this, but a quote from a V&A Director within it, neatly sums up the situation we are in, and therefore how poetry should be better at responding to it. ‘the terms and conditions have changed/ and we cannot continue the same’. The T&Cs are constantly changing, it is the nature of the social etc., dialectic. By not being aware of our bias, and how we therefore ‘opt out’ of acting, means that those who believe there isn’t a problem will one day see, “the little men come goose-stepping/ out of the palm of your hand and into your home.” I don’t think I’m going to give up poetry, at the moment, but I do wonder if efforts would be better placed in another area of writing, which is more receptive to change, and aware of its own bias.


Stuart Charlesworth was commended by Pascal Petit in the 2018 Brittle Star Competition. He is a nurse, and a committee member for Café Writers, Norwich. He has an MA in Creative Writing from UEA and his poems have appeared in Butcher’s Dog, Cake, Ink Sweat & Tears, Lighthouse, Poetry Review, The Rialto and Under the Radar. He is working on a first collection.



                  But now

Mr. Roth,
leaving his post
as the V&A director,
because of the European Union
referendum result,
is speaking on Radio 4:

the terms and conditions have changed
and we cannot continue the same

while the last gallant knights of Great Britain
                    — you know them, you’ve seen them on your phone:
the AlbionFirst,
the UKPatriots,
the #IAmProudToBeBritish —
the last gallant knights of Great Britain
                    — and for ‘Great Britain’ please read
a featureless,
spotless white sun —

the last gallants boldly meme crosses,
swastikas, bulldogs,
hijabs and poppies,
same as they do in France and Sweden,
America, Russia and anywhere with a signal

and honestly, I would much rather
draw my curtains shut on their thumbing
and privately conduct a careful study
of the accumulation of dust
in the grooves of my second hand vinyl

and ruck up the carpet,
strutting like Freddie Mercury,
try to swing the lowdown dirty
blues of Bessie Smith —

but now, when you can hear the packing
of bags through your Bluetooth connection;
and now the little men come goose-stepping
out of the palm of your hand and into your home.


Image (top right) ‘Fiddling While Rome Burns’ by Shena Tschofan





Mum’s Spicy Chicken by Nafeesa Hamid

Hegel infamously said that history was a process of thesis (the current paradigm) bumping up against antithesis, which then (through war, debate, demographics) becomes a synthesis, a resolve, whether it be chaos or calm. The rite of passage of a child is similar. The typical model is the young child being totally dependent on the carer, living by the values of their parents; they are helped, to walk, to speak, to read, etc.. Then, when reaching their teenage years, they become independent, at least in their eyes; wanting to go out more, liking different things, rebelling even. Eventually, in this theoretical scenario, the synthesis is interdependence, or rapprochement or mutual relationship of empathy; the young adult, gets a job, a family and realises what the other side of the coin looks like.

handsup-300x292Well that’s the theory, and in more traditional times, it appeared to work well. But what lies behind that, is many children became adults before their time. How many of our parents who are elderly now, left school when they were fourteen or fifteen? My own father left school on a Friday aged fourteen, started work on the Monday and never stopped for the next fifty years. Today, as we know, our pathway is far from clear – no job for life, a multitude of distractions, consumer items, but also a greater variety of people. We are in the seventieth year since Windrush, and people from the Caribbean coming to work and live here (we thought safely until recent events). Similarly, people from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh came here at a similar time.

It is the children of these immigrants, who have had to take on an added challenge when growing up. For not only will they face racism, and discrimination, they have to deal with being part of two cultures – ones that can be at odds with each other. And they have to do this at their most vulnerable time; that time when they move into the independence stage of their life, where they want to discover things for themselves. Let’s not forget also, they are British.

IMG_0360[1]bcVertSQNafeesa Hamid’s poem Mum’s Spicy Chicken, from her blistering debut collection ‘Besharam‘ published by the exciting new Verve Poetry Press, sums up this clash and how for a female in particular this is very difficult, even beyond any hope of interdependence. “I’m picked out, well-browned; just how they like me./ Brown on the outside, pink on the inside./ A cultural mish-mash.” The use of meat in the poem, as a metaphor is so powerful, especially when looked at as a woman. “The boys like me;/ their eyes all bright and empty like hers.// They tear off my crackling coat/ and dig teeth into my flesh/ which falls off with ease.” A previous poem on Proletarian Poetry by Aisha K Gill (Life of Thorka) gave a similar account of her having to escape violence, and where getting an education as a woman was considered a crime. When cultures are so set, especially by an intractable religion that categorises women in a subservient role, the model of development is either broken, or at best meets a sort of standoff resolution. Either way, it is characterized by conflict and far from reaching any type of interdependence.


Nafeesa Hamid is a British Pakistani poet and playwright based in Birmingham. She has featured at Outspoken (London), Poetry is Dead Good (Nottingham), Find the Right Words (Leicester) and Hit The Ode (Birmingham). Nafeesa has also performed at Cheltenham and Manchester Literature Festivals as part of The Things I Would Tell You: British Muslim Women Write, a recent (2017) anthology publication by Saqi Books, edited by Sabrina Mahfouz. Besharam, published on Sep 20 2018 by Verve Poetry Press, is her first collection.

Besharam is an outstanding collection from Nafeesa… I think her poems are very special.’ – Imtiaz Dharker.



Mum’s Spicy Chicken

Rumble. Grumble. Rumble.
Splash, stroke, thrust
and rest.
I’m thinking she probably doesn’t want to touch me;
she looks at me with blank eyes,
too full with other thoughts
for me to be seen.
She’s bored of this lifetime routine.
Chop, cut, chop, chop, cut –
I don’t bleed.
Spark – it doesn’t light up so she tries again.

Flame. Thump, sizzle.
My skin tightens around my body,
anemic legs burn in the heat.
My insides loosen up.
She swings me on to my back,
prods her finger down my spine;
I’m picked out, well-browned; just how they like me.
Brown on the outside, pink on the inside.
A cultural mish-mash.

The boys rush to greet me,
grab me by my leg and slap me
on their plates;
my sweat already congealing their fingers.
The boys like me;
their eyes all bright and empty like hers.

They tear off my crackling coat
and dig teeth into my flesh
which falls off with ease.
The boys like me
when I’m well-browned
and have stopped sizzling
and am silent.