Poem

Pink Pyjama Suit by Deborah Alma

white middle classWhen a person walks out their door, whether going to the shop, to work, or for a night out, I imagine it is only the lucky ones, who are not conscious, or made conscious of, who they are. I imagine the stereotypical, white middle class male, irrespective of their political hue, on this journey imbibing the day without constraint; not physical, psychological, nor spiritual. They may believe they are completely unbiased in respect of how their position, influences their decisions, or perspective when dealing with other people. They may give to charity, volunteer, despise racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination, whilst at the same time, feel totally at peace with the world – that for all its faults, see the world moving in the right direction. And on the whole, they are right – headline figures, which the late Hans Rosling so eloquently showed, see many indicators of human development (child mortality, mortality, rates of disease, etc.) on a positive trend. However, this position is also the problem. On whose backs were these improvements in quality of life carried? Often, it was either the existing poor, and when there weren’t enough of them, immigrants, such as the Windrush generation.

The problem of discrimination is usually seen to be individual or institutional; but a collection of the individual across a spectrum of institutions, is the opaque face of ‘steady-as-we-go’. Organisations such as the English Defence League, are quite rightly the poster boys of racism and violence. And evil clowns like Toby Young or Katie Hopkins feed this extremism. But the tut-tutting of the liberal middle is not enough. Well-meaning and instructive journalists like George Monbiot, Larry Elliot, and Johnathan Freedland, who expose the corruption and inequality of the elites, are part of that privileged collective. We don’t see them resigning and making way for a more diverse set of journalists; and we see the same with politicians, academics, and I’m afraid to say those who gate-keep poetry (there are some exceptions, with Michael Mackmin at the Rialto introducing the editing development programme some five years ago).

WWM DEB ALMA (50 of 50)Deborah Alma’s poignant poem ‘Pink Pyjama Suit’ I feel encapsulates this ‘problem’ of difference, in particular when identity is far from monolithic and when you have to walk out that door, conscious of who you are and what people might think of you. I must have been just five,/ in my pink, shiny shalwar kameez.// Mummi-ji, I don’t want to wear it to school./ North London laughs too easily,/ makes fools of us and this mix-up family, this/ half-caste council-estate bastard.’ I have never been one to use identity in selecting poets, it has always been about the poem. But I also know that I won’t get the diversity of voice, without the diversity of the individuals. As you will see from Deborah’s bio, she is part of that diversity of voice, both in background and foreground.

This sentiment of the oblivious liberal elite, was more succinctly and directly made by Lisa Mackenzie, (author of Getting By) at an Oxford Union debate of all places, when saying: “I met Jonathon Dimbleby the other day, he thought it was hilarious that he met a working class academic, couldn’t understand it, he said: ‘how can you be a working class academic, You’ve got a Phd?’ my response was, ‘Working class people can read books’.” QED.

You can hear Deborah read her poem on BBC Radio’s Woman Hour here (from 32 mins)

Deborah Alma is a mixed-race Indian/ English woman, born in London and now living in the Welsh Marches. She is a UK poet with a MA in Creative Writing, Honorary Research fellow at Keele University & taught Writing Poetry at Worcester University. She has worked using poetry with people with dementia, in hospice care & with vulnerable groups. She is also Emergency Poet prescribing poetry from her vintage ambulance. She is editor of Emergency Poet-an anti-stress poetry anthology, The Everyday Poet- Poems to live by (both Michael O’Mara) and #Me Too – rallying against sexual assault & harassment- a women’s poetry anthology (Fair Acre Press).  Her True Tales of the Countryside is published by The Emma Press and a first collection Dirty Laundry (published by Nine Arches Press, May 2018).

Pink Pyjama Suit

I must have been just five,
in my pink, shiny shalwar kameez.

Auntie, Karachi, pinched my cheeks,
Chorti pyara, like a doll
like a little blonde doll.
Walk this way, try some dancing.
Behen! Now you have
your little blonde doll to play with!

Mummi-ji, I don’t want to wear it to school.
North London laughs too easily,
makes fools of us and this mix-up family, this
half-caste council-estate bastard.

Miss Minchin, one arm shorter than the other
knew how North London could laugh, and said:
Knock on all six doors and tell them
Miss Minchin says I must show the children
my clothes from Pakistan.

Mummi-ji, the glass on the doors is too high
and all those eyes
as I turn round and round, up on teachers’ tables
to twist in my pretty pink pyjama suit
like a little blonde doll.

The Other One percent? by Peter Raynard

Much is written about the top 1% in our society; the single percentage who were privately educated, have a family history of exclusion from the masses, hold the majority of the world’s wealth, and thus political power. This situation was borne out of the neo-liberal emphasis on the individual; that if you give someone the means to progress, through education, economic freedom, free market, etc., then society as a whole will prosper. Much of this thought is behind the promotion of social mobility, in particular enabling those who have been born into a low economic and social status, who without some help in terms of wider opportunity, will remain both inactive and unproductive. (more…)

‘Barbie’ & ‘Freedom’ by Elaine Baker

barbieNext year Barbie will be sixty years old. Some might say she hasn’t aged a bit; still has that long blond hair, 19 inch waist, the perfect match for the most eligible bachelor in the world. Others would agree that she hasn’t aged a bit, but argue that is the problem. In 2010, Mattel produced a book with Barbie as a computer programmer – impressive? Well, not when she is still reliant on men, “I’m only creating the design ideas,” Barbie says, laughing. “I’ll need Steven and Brian’s help to turn it into a real game!” Then in 2015, Barbie was said to be a feminist in an advert entitled, ‘Imagine the Possibilities.’ I have to admit, it is a good advert. A number of girls, aged around 8 or 9, take on adult roles with responsibility – football coach, Professor, Museum tour guide; and in those roles their audience is the general public who have no idea this is an advert for Barbie. That, however, is the problem. The lead Barbie at the end, is still the iconic, soon-to-be 60 year old, never looked better, blonde haired version, who is surrounded by those more reflective of today’s society. Although, all of them are still tall and slim. In response to such developments, in Nigeria there is now a ‘Queen of Africa’ doll that outsells Barbie. (more…)

Tipton by Roy McFarlane

‘In our Coventry homes! We speak with an accent exceedingly rare, you want a Cathedral we’ve got one to spare, in our Coventry homes.’

three spires 1Ah, the poetry of football chants. Often it is football that defines what home is for the working classes. And in the League Two play-off finals, that sound rang around Wembley Stadium; forty thousand of us, compared to Exeter’s ten, when we got promoted to the heady heights of League One at the end of May.

Going back to my home town Coventry, and the Cathedrals as alluded to in the chant, it is the fact that the ‘old’ cathedral was destroyed in the Second World War that characterises the city. The city centre was totally rebuilt, divided into quarters, and encircled by a brutalist ring road. But I think, time and again, although it is a cliché, it is the people who define a city; and where I came from, it was migration which alongside the physical rebuilding, came to make what Coventry is today – the Irish and Scots, Polish, West Indians, Pakistanis, Indians, and others. (more…)

‘Precarious’ & ‘The Combination: a poetic coupling of the Communist Manifesto’ (please scroll down to exit via the gift shop)

PRECARIOUS

Precarious CoverPrecarious was published by Smokestack on April 1st this year, and I have been on a Precarious Tour around the country, with the novelist and poet Richard Skinner (whose book The Malvern Aviator is also published by Smokestack) . So far we have read in Oxford, Huddersfield, Newcastle, and London – with Bristol and Swindon to come later in the year. I have also read in Derby, St Albans, and London (at the launch of Jane Commane‘s book launch of Assembly Lines), and later at Ledbury Poetry Festival, Cork, and Merthyr Tydfill. (more…)

Tom Palin at Cinderloo by Jean Atkin

cinderlooI’m sure most of you will know Shelley’s poem, the Masque of Anarchy, written in Italy in response to the Peterloo Massacre. It was 1819 in Manchester, and a crowd of up 80,000 people had gathered to listen to the ‘radical orator’ (a term of disparagement by his opponents) Henry Hunt speak about widening the franchise and challenging the corrupt political system. Due to a massive over reaction by local yeomanry, fifteen people were killed and hundreds injured. Hunt ended up in prison for two years. A widening of the franchise has always been fought for, and against. (I personally think, we should rise up to lower the voting age to sixteen). (more…)

Love Letter to the NHS by Emma Ireland

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 the NHS. Aged sixteen, down to five stone in weight, everything had been tried, to understand why I was slowly dying – a nurse’s strike delayed final test results coming in, but eventually they discovered I had Addison’s Disease. Thank God for the NHS. And subsequently, I have frequented various hospitals as more diagnoses of auto-immune attacks have been found. Thank God for….yes, you get the picture. (more…)