Author: Peter Raynard

Guest Post: Hannah Lowe: Reflections on The Neighbourhood, with poem ‘Deportation Blues.’

Today we have the poet, life-writer and academic, Hannah Lowe. Her recently published pamphlet ‘The Neighbourhood‘, written before the current crisis, is so relevant to how we are living now; stuck inside yet still in close proximity to our neighbours. Hannah also addresses the critical issue of the Windrush scandal, with her poem ‘Deportation Blues’. You can buy ‘The Neighbourhood’ here (with ebook option here). So, here’s Hannah:

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credit: Dirk Skiba*, 2019

“I wrote the poems in The Neighbourhood as part of my residency at Keats House in 2018-2019. I thought the theme an interesting one to explore in terms of Keats’ life, but really I was thinking about the difference between wealthy, rarefied, predominantly white Hampstead, and multi-ethnic Wood Green, a few miles away, where I live, with its down-at-heel town shopping centre and shabby rows of pound shops and arcades. Poverty greets me every day in Wood Green. I live right off the high street, at the end of a precinct flagged by a big multi-storey car park, used as a base for local drug users. All the accoutrements of poor urban living are here – homeless people in the doorway, unkempt streets, fly-tipping. It’s not unusual to see a couple of kids running for their lives with an armful of tracksuits just lifted from JD Sports, the shop staff in hot pursuit.

HannahLoweFCBut for all of this, this little area houses many people, or perhaps a better word, it homes them. Above the shopping centre are two residential complexes, Paige Heights and Sky City – architecturally unique when they were built – like neighbourhoods in the sky. You wouldn’t know they were there, looking up from the street. And on one side of the high street lies the vast Noel Park estate, street and after street of Victorian cottage style houses, originally built to home artisan labourers.

So the poems in the neighbourhood emerge out of thinking about how people live close by and high up in overpopulated urban areas. But the emotional energy of the poems probably comes from becoming a mother during the time I’ve lived here. The sequence opens with a dream-poem about losing a baby in an unfamiliar neighbourhood, but closes with a small boy (my son is now six), freely scooting down Wood Green high street, levitating cars and buses out of his way.

In between are poems about gentrification, communal spaces, how children negotiate living in busy, urban spaces, and of course about neighbours. Though the poems celebrate community, not all are cheerful. Both ‘The Trucks’, and more explicitly ‘Deportation Blues’ (see below) concern the forced removal of people because of the hostile environment policy. The latter poem is based on the crucial work of the academic Luke de Noronha, who has traced the outcomes of those forcibly deported from Britain to Jamaica. The form of the poem – a pantoum – with its repeated and varied lines, I hope captures the sense of this ongoing repeated cycle of violation. I also hope it injects some feeling of the personal into a story often generically reported in the news. All the details in the poem are based on real deportees.

I write this from my balcony, three weeks into the Covid19 crisis lockdown. Out of this unfolding tragedy has emerged a great sense of compassion within communities and social action at a grassroots level. It reminds me of how important our neighbours and neighbourhoods are, and how we must fight to protect them.

Hannah Lowe’s poetry books include Chick (2013), Chan (2016) and The Neighbourhood (2019). She has also published three chapbooks: The Hitcher (Rialto 2012); R x (sine wave peak 2013); and Ormonde (Hercules Editions 2014). Her family memoir Long Time, No See was published by Periscope in July 2015 and featured as Radio 4’s Book of the Week. hannahlowe.org @hannahlowepoet

 

Deportation Blues

From small and airless rooms,
they are taken, handcuffed, to silver coaches –
the ex-soldier, the diabetic, the boy who came aged three.
The aeroplane leaves at dawn.

They are taken in silver cuffs
with black-coat escorts on either side.
The aeroplane leaves at dawn.
They are body-belted to their seats

with black-coat escorts either side –
security guards on hourly rates
who body-belt them to their seats,
the man who struggles and shouts

until the guard on hourly rates
closes his hands around his head
until the man cannot struggle or shout.
The one who drops his head in prayer,

closing his hands around his head.
He has six children, three under five,
the one who drops his head in prayer
and two convictions for weed, for speeding.

He has six children, three under five.
He can’t remember Clarendon, Jamaica
but two convictions for weed, for speeding.
They deport you for this.

He can’t remember Mocho, Jamaica,
the young one who grew in care.
They deport you for this.
I need to get back to my son, believe me,

the one who grew up in Manchester.
After the heat, the fingerprints, the interview,
I need to get back to my son, believe me.
It was my little daughter’s birthday.

After the heat, the fingerprints, the interview,
the one who grew up in Yorkshire,
it was my little daughter’s birthday.
Up all night dialling his wife, his mother,

the one who grew up in Yorkshire,
in these small and airless rooms
up all night dialling wives, mothers, England,
the ex-soldier, the diabetic, the one who came aged three.

 

(*you can view Dirk Skiba’s photography here)

Guest Post: David Turner of Lunar Poetry Podcasts, ‘one poem about sex and that’s it ok’

Today’s guest David Turner, is an indefatigable supporter of poets through his Lunar Poetry Podcasts, where you will find interviews with many/many of the UK’s contemporary poets. But I also recommend you buy his debut collection ‘Contained’; it is an extraordinary book both in its form and themes. It’s published by the innovative ‘mostly experimental’ Hesterglock Press.

You can purchase Contained here (there is a pdf version for £4)
There is also a Soundcloud playlist with has recordings of the poems here.

So without further ado, here’s David writing about being in isolation watching The People v OJ Simpson whilst aware of the outside movements of others.

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David T“I am very grateful to Peter for inviting me to submit a blog post and poem for this great website. It’s always nice when someone you respect shows an interest in your work and places you amongst a growing collection of talented artists… especially since I’ve been a little down on my debut ‘poetry’ book, Contained recently. It’s like staring at your own face in the mirror for too long – my features have lost all relevance and no longer make up what I remember. Perhaps, worse still, they make up exactly what I remember.

As so many are at the moment, I’m ‘looking in the mirror’ too much and procrastinating. I’m watching Netflix instead of acknowledging the reading list building up in a corner of the one-bed, housing association, flat I share with my wife. We binge-watch The People v OJ Simpson: American Crime Story – you know, because for what other reason was that streaming service invented, other than to hear the gruesome details of a woman’s murder?

            …heavy footsteps thump the floor above in time to a joe wicks youtube routine, his        instructions resonate through us…

Ross from Friends plays Kim Kardashian’s dad and her and her siblings eat French Fries in a diner. Cuba Gooding Jr can only ever be Cuba Gooding Jr and I always thought Johnnie Cochran was an early Rock ‘n’ Roll star. This is the first time I’ve ever seen John Travolta play anyone other than himself.

            …downstairs, parents scream at their kids for going too close to their friends’ homes…

He actually looks like he’s acting, which is weird because presumably the whole cast is acting, so if I’ve only noticed JT does that mean he’s doing something wrong? Like, is it only good acting if you don’t notice it?

            …we’re all now painfully aware of our neighbours’ work voices as their zoom conference            calls pierce the calm in the yard…

I just keep thinking, ‘JT really looks like someone else here’, so taken by this that I miss several key plot developments. He’s executive producer (I think) so maybe he just got the pick of the best make-up artists. In many ways he actually looks like he’s wearing Nick Cage’s face. Finally.

            …upstairs, on facetime, she shouts to a niece or nephew about how they’re a potato      with a bum hole for an ear…

Watching JT commit, so firmly, to his Bob Shapiro makes my neck ache as I unintentionally mimic the tension he holds in his thick torso and absent neck.

            …there are now loud boisterous gatherings on random weeknights as people struggle to             maintain routines and the old bill hover in helicopters because they know that this city is   only a sunny bank holiday away from mayhem…

containedI don’t know anything about film theory – except a short (but excellent) YouTube series narrated by a feature film producer, preoccupied by the ‘oner’ – but I’m sure every character in these dramas is supposed to have an ‘arc’. But all I see is JT standing there barrel-chested, mush-faced, wide-lapelled and NOT BEING JOHN TRAVOLTA. The whole thing is very distracting. And, of course, maybe he just looks like that now.

You have to find a way to remind yourself that being stuck in the same place/space can breed obsessions and try to enlist the coping mechanisms you’ve already had to consider many times before. And, of course, for certain sections of society the place/space they occupy can be much smaller and hostile. And, of course (of course), a global pandemic is not a writing retreat and that for many of us lockdown isn’t time away from anything.”

David Turner is the founding editor of the Lunar Poetry Podcasts series, has a City & Guilds certificate in Bench Joinery along with the accompanying scars, is known to the Bristol, Kristiansand and Southwark Community Mental Health Teams as a ‘service user’ and has represented Norway in snow sculpting competitions. Widely unpublished. Working-class. Picket line poet. Publications: Contained, Hesterglock Press, 2020; ten cups of coffee, Hesterglock Press, 2019; Why Poetry?’ – The Lunar Poetry Podcasts Anthology, VERVE Poetry Press, 2018

lunarpoetrypodcasts.com; twitter.com/Silent_Tongue;
https://www.instagram.com/david_turner_books/

one poem about sex and that’s it ok

It isn’t clean and we don’t want it in our mouths. Returned pint glass with lipstick on the rim. We’ll drink any old piss before we’ll ask for a fresh drink but draw the line here.

You wake up in horror on the Northern Line at Kennington realising you’ve been resting your head on the day’s accumulated grease. The glass dividers are supposed to keep us apart and we don’t want any trace of the others lingering on us.

Walking through the vaper’s sweetshop mist is somehow worse than the traditional smoker because it’s mainly their breath, innit? They’ve entered you. Even though you’ve expelled all trace of them it’s sort of their memory hanging around. Clinging to your insides.

You’re sitting in one of those rigid plastic chairs in Café House Restaurant (the caff) on the Walworth Road and it’s still warm and you’d move but you’ve been fixated on your nan’s disapproving look (it only takes a look) for just long enough that someone would definitely notice you moving. Like a heat shadow.

As financially challenged teenagers we’d share bottles of MD 20/20. Our biggest fear between the ages of 12 and 16 seemed to be backwash. All this energy spent trying to avoid the ‘wrong person’s’ saliva getting in your mouth.

Guest Post: Arji Manuelpillai, ‘because it’s in the Lonely Planet top five places to visit’

Again, a comrade of Malika’s Poetry Kitchen, Arji Manuelpillai’s new pamphlet ‘Mutton Rolls’ is published by Outspoken Press. You can buy it here, it’s a banger!

Here’s Arji writing about Sri Lanka and the ethics of tourism. It comes with the poem, “because it’s in the Lonely Planet top five places to visit

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20200220-IMG_9172“Three years ago, Lonely Planet made Sri Lanka its number one holiday destination. Tourism exploded over night. With it, Sri Lankans across the world began to be engaged in conversations with white people about everything from beach package breaks to jungle safaris, suddenly everyone adored Sri Lanka. Who can blame them, especially if you are white. Lanka still carries around that colonial charm that means white foreigners get special perks at restaurants and bars, as well as that special British accent from my aunties and uncles.

I was on an Indian train when this poem dropped in my lap. A Californian couple in their thirties were reeling off how their time together in Sri Lanka was magical. In moments like this I do feel a slight sense of pride, mixed with a disconnection, which is topped up by a sprinkling of anger. After listening for a good 35 minutes I decided to drop in a light anecdote about mass murder, you know, to heavy the mood a bit. It went down, as you might imagine, like a lead mortar.

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image Robin Lane-Roberts*

I told them about the war and the problems for the Tamils, at which point she was surprised as she had spoken to a Sinhalese man and he had said it was the Tamils who started the war. And so, as the beautiful Indian outback flashed past the window I became more and more wound up by the self-righteous Californians ahead of me. But who was I to be annoyed? I don’t live there, it isn’t my home and they were only being honest. I did what any poet would do, say very little and write a poem which they would probably never read.

One thing really stood out that day, was when the gentleman adorned in shorts too short for his knees said ‘well, at the end of the day how were we meant to know.’ It made me feel sick to think of this lack of willingness to learn or become part of a solution. It also made me reflect on my own ignorance. In today’s climate, responsible tourism goes way beyond putting your rubbish in the dustbin. Travelling, for me, has become a moral and ethical minefield, asking us to not only question and research, but also to make sure we spend our money in the correct places. These days, it’s important to know where the county stands politically, learn the customs, measure the carbon footprint and perhaps even take a few language lessons. As our Great British Empire begins to disappear into the abyss, we find ourselves in an important position of fading power. How will we British respond? How will we deal with this change in dynamics? How will we accept our history and still create positivity in our future?

Countries are constantly chased by their histories. Every international closet is rammed full of persecution and war and often there isn’t that much we can do about it. However, now, in this time of free information, in this era of limitless online data, perhaps it is time for us all to learn more about the countries we visit. Perhaps our guidebooks have to go beyond the tourist sites and closer to the real people with real lives. Perhaps this is something we can all do to make sure we are supporting the grassroots organisations, fighting for positive change across the world.”

Arji Manuelpillai is a poet, performer and creative facilitator based in London. For over 15 years Arji has worked with community arts projects nationally and internationally. Recently, his poetry has been published by magazines including Prole, Cannon’s Mouth, Strix, Perverse, The Rialto and The Lighthouse Journal. He has also been shortlisted for the 2019 Oxford Brookes Prize, The BAME Burning Eye pamphlet prize 2018, The Robert Graves Prize 2018, and The Live Canon Prize 2017. Arji is a member of Wayne Holloway Smith’s poetry group, Malika’s Poetry Kitchen and London Stanza. His debut pamphlet is called Mutton Rolls and is published with Outspoken Press.

*(More info on Robin Lane-Roberts’ artwork and animation can be viewed here)

because it’s in the Lonely Planet top five places to visit

she is telling me how he asked her   at sunset   as the sun licked the sea red   and the birds punched shrapnel in the sky   she suspected something as he disappeared   just as their song sang from the beach hut   how he knelt into a sandy dune   where Tigers once rested their rifles   and metallic shells were plucked like poppies in the wake   how tears swallowed his words   will you   – I used to march to make change   but since then   I march just to sleep at night   that country changed me she says the bars the sea-views biryani kothu roti plus the people are so generous   they don’t hassle like Indians   they’d drop a bomb   wait five minutes   drop another to kill the rescue party   they spent that whole evening staring out to sea   she says it’s their paradise   they made a pact to go back every ten years   to that bar   in that country where bombs rained in no fire zones   where bodies are hidden sixty to a hole   it’s hard to put into words   he says as their fingers weave together   it’s somewhere we could call our second home   the soldiers were spread across Tamil land   few tried for war crimes   I don’t know why you don’t move back there

 

Guest Post: Rishi Dastidar on his new book Saffron Jack

In these times, when poets have books published but can’t get out there to promote their work, I’ve invited a number of them to submit a poem and write a little a bit about it. I hope you enjoy these posts, and if you can possibly support the writer in question, by buying their book, it will be much appreciated.

Saffron Jack COVERFirst up is my Malika’s Kitchen mucker Rishi Dastidar, who in his second collection ‘Saffron Jack’ (published by Nine Arches Press), gives us a quite unique character; one who decides he’s had enough of unaccountable power, so goes about setting up his own country. Here’s a bit about the book:

“At once an exploration of a man left hollow by fate, a dispatch from the frontline of identity politics, and a rumination on the legacy of migration and empires, Saffron Jack is the story of a man trying to find somewhere he might be himself. Using an innovative form, Rishi Dastidar’s long narrative poem boldly updates Kipling’s ‘The Man Who Would Be King’ to confront one of the most pressing issues our fractured world faces today – how can we live together in peace if we exile the most vulnerable in our societies and deny them a place to belong?

So without further ado, here’s Rishi:

rishi pic

Image: Naomi Woddis

“I’m sure some of you know and have watched I’m Alright Jack, the 1958 Boulting Brothers film starring Peter Sellers as a shop steward at a missile factory, which became a byword for pointing out the various skullduggeries that went on in British business at the time. The title cemented in popular usage the phrase (derived from the old name for a sailor, Jack Tar), meaning roughly people who only act in their own best interests – even when helping others won’t cost them much, literally or figuratively.

I can’t say that the film, or the phrase directly inspired Saffron Jack, but the more I come to look at the book, there is a large part of it that reflects this ‘up yours!’, ‘sod you!’ type of attitude. Of course, my Jack is not alright – far from it – but I think there’s a commonality between Jack as a character, and the extreme individualism he displays. It’s a continuum of sorts, isn’t it: acting in what you perceive to be best for you, all the way to setting up your own country, because that’s the only way you can see to solve your problems. Look after yourself, leave the others behind.

I say this not to be hard on Jack, but perhaps to ask you to be kind to him when you ask: why is he so self-obsessed? Why doesn’t he ask for help? Why doesn’t he try and help others who might be feeling something similar? Empathy comes more easily to some monarchs than others.

There is a class angle somewhere in Jack too, of course. His is, let’s be blunt, a very middle class form of rebellion – the wherewithal to get to this war zone, the natural assumption that of course he should inherit his destiny as the prince he believes himself to be, the lifestyle that he thinks he should be living and isn’t… And of course his solution to the crisis he finds himself in? Become the ultimate aristocrat in his on personal Heimat.

So there’s a moral I should have Jack meditate on more: solidarity in a crisis matters even more than in ‘normal’ times, whatever they are.”

Thanks Rishi: You can purchase Saffron Jack from Nine Arches Press here.

Excerpt from Saffron Jack:

25. How much was this crown?
        25.1. This proof and reproof of your status?
        25.2. It is not a question you thought you might ask, when you were at school.    
        25.3. What happens when you need to buy a crown?
                25.3.1 And you do not mean a tiara.
                        25.3.1.1. (You’re not on your hen night.
                       25.3.1.2. Much as you might wish you were…)
       25.4. You mean a proper, fuck off I’m a king crown.
               25.4.1. (John Lewis don’t stock them).
                       25.4.1.1. Not even Peter Jones.
                       25.4.1.2. The last piece of evidence the shops were founded by a Marxist.
                       25.4.1.3.‘My apologies, sir, we’ve never had a royal headwear department.’

26. Why go where every other monarch has gone before you?

27. Elizabeth Duke.
        27.1. As your royal jewellers by warrant.
              27.1.1. It wasn’t your first choice.

28. A crown helicoptered in specially.
        28.1. Now the only thing you’ll be able to take with you.
        28.2. The last relic of your reign.
        28.3. The only relic of your reign.
        28.4. Not many monarchies will leave a lighter footprint than yours.

29. You would love to stuff your pockets with jewels and dubloons, wine and old masters and furs and silks; whatever you are meant to do – to claim as yours – when the curtain is coming down. A hogshead or two. But no.

30. All you have left is a cheap shit, £9.99 crown from Argos.
        30.1. And a little blue pen.
                30.1.1. ‘Order No. SJ33, please come to the collection point.’

This Thing Moves by Anthony Anaxogorou

Today is World Theatre Day. Here is Anthony Anaxogorou from 2016 writing about the Bush Theatre.

Proletarian Poetry

I was in the room when he kicked her in the stomach. She was pregnant. Her scream was piercing. I was in the room when he drew blood back into the syringe before injecting himself with heroin. I was in the room as others left, unable to cope with what was unfolding in front of them, only a few feet away. I was in the room, at the first showing in London of the play Trainspotting at the Bush Theatre, back in 1995 before it was made into a film. As the eponymous blog says, it was ‘in-yer-face-theatre’.

bush theatreTheatre is often tarred with the same brush as poetry; that it is elitist, not for the masses, etc.. Some of which may be true, but outside of the honeypot of the West End, in fringe and regional theatre, much of what goes on is done with an inclusive…

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Like Mother by Nadia Drews

For mothers everywhere, this by Nadia Drews from 2016. Read it out loud to yourself.

Proletarian Poetry

16659957706_01284e0b15_z Image by G Travels

We are coming to the end of the school year; a year full of turmoil instilled by a Government who feels it needs to do more than tinker with the education of our children, treating them more like guinea pigs in an ideological battle to send us back to Victorian times. Both education Secretaries (Gove and now Morgan), seem to want a war with teachers with the proposed imposition of academy status for all schools (thankfully withdrawn), new SATs for Year 6 students, and the madness of testing those under the grand old age of seven.

Governments still struggle with mass education; with classes of upwards of thirty children, herded together like cattle despite their different needs and abilities and family circumstance, all with the sole intention of getting them to pass a minimum of five GCSEs. I know from personal experience…

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Love Letter to the NHS by Emma Ireland

For these times.

Proletarian Poetry

nhs_march_logoWhen I was born in the early ‘60s, I put my mother through a two day ordeal of labour, then was extracted via C-section; this was in the days when the scar of such a section was twice as long as it is today. So, it is little wonder that when leaving the hospital with my dad, my parents forgot to take me with them. Thank God for the NHS and all its efficiency, for an eagle-eyed nurse came running out of reception saying: ‘Haven’t you forgot something?’ Just over two years later, and my parents were playing cricket with friends in the stretch of scrubland outside our flat; when I was in need of something, I ran up to my mother who was in bat. The ball arrived at her stump the same time I did, she missed the ball and broke my nose. Thank God for…

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Diagnosis: ‘Londonism’ by Rishi Dastidar

Given the crisis were are currently experiencing, and the fact that in the UK, much of the attention in terms of cases is London, I thought it apt to share this again from Rishi Dastidar. His new book Saffron Jack, which I highly recommend is available here (free P&P): https://www.ninearchespress.com/publications/poetry-collections/saffron-jack.html

Proletarian Poetry

“Capitalism has subjected the country to the rule of the towns. It has created enormous cities. Capitalism has agglomerated population, centralised means of production, and has concentrated property in a few hands.”

karl marx london marxwalks.com

Karl Marx was 195 on May 5th last year, and wrote these words albeit using the word ‘bourgeoisie’ instead of capitalism. John Lanchester used this trick when quoting Marx to show how prescient he was in describing the structure of capitalism and the way in which it changes the landscape (I sometimes think that capitalists understand Marx better than Marxists).

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Farewell and all that…

that's all folksJust over five years ago, I began my journey into the poetry world. Blighted by a preoccupation/ obsession with class and the arts, I brought them along for the ride. I started Proletarian Poetry for two reasons: to put more working class poetry ‘out there’, and by doing so, learning from and engaging with what became 150 poets. I have written around 150k words of commentary, which some day might become a book, and there has been 65k visitors to the site.

However, not in small part due to my continued ill-health, but also because I need to move on a little with my own writing, I have decided to bring down the bright red curtain on the site. I will continue to keep it accessible and will tweet missives relevant to class and poetry.

My next venture is two-fold: first, completing the manuscript for my next collection to be published by Nine Arches Press in 2021. Second, I have just been awarded an Arts Council grant to write a novel in verse (gulp).

I want to thank every poet, publisher, and reader who has been involved with PP, including those who read at the events I organised. Fear not, there is still plenty of working class poetry out there, but I hope in some small way, that PP has added to the barbed wire poetry of resistance.

Adios amigos. Venceremos!

In solidarity, Peter Raynard.

Another Life by Jill Abram

In these times of uncertainty and lack of hope – I speak only for myself here 😉 – the following from the archives is a poem by the lovely Jill Abram, imagining Martin Luther King as a postman.

Proletarian Poetry

Many years ago my friend went for an interview at the Royal Mail; when asked why he wanted to be a postman, he said, “Because my uncle runs the pub across the road.” He didn’t get the job, which wasn’t fair really because the pub was always full of posties at lunchtime.

Charles Bukowski was probably the most famous literary drinking postman. When deciding whether to continue at the post or become a full-time writer he said, “I have one of two choices – stay in the post office and go crazy … or stay out here and play at writer and starve. I have decided to starve.”

Imagine however, that instead of delivering other peoples’ letters or junk mail, the postman delivered a message of his or her own. What would the folks of downtown L.A. have thought about missives from Bukowski or Burroughs? Or…

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