Poem

Anger in Poetry: Fran Lock’s Muses and Bruises

muses bruises imageIs there enough anger in mainstream poetry today; in the journals/magazines and collections? In the US from Audre Lorde to Claudine Rankine, Terrance Hayes to Danez Smith, there is great anger in poems about the discriminations upon which that country is founded and governed. They make it into the pages of POETRY, and sell many books. Here in the UK, I’m not so sure. We may not have the scale of discrimination as felt by the US, but black men are still killed by police here, women are discriminated, abused, and killed by men, and let us not get started on the implications of Brexit and the hatred it has stoked.

This is not meant to be a comprehensive survey of anger in UK poetry, but off the top of my shiny head, there were the Liverpool poets, the original ranters of the 1980s who came out of punk; some still going strong like Tim Wells who chronicles those times in his site Stand Up and Spit. There are others in performance poetry and spoken word (as it is known); Anthony Anaxagorou’s Outspoken Press in London, which includes a number of BAME poets, such as Sabrina Mahfouz and Raymond Antrobus. There are other BAME poets, such as Kei Miller, Malika Booker, Roger Robinson, Nick Makoha (the latter published by the wonderful Peepal Press) who have great subtlety to the anger in their poems. Tony Walsh and Salena Godden from Burning Eye Books (to name only two from that stable) who have been treading the boards with their distinct brand of anger that is often done with humour. Smokestack Books, has consistently published radical, global voices, such as Amir Darwish and Steve Ely, for many years now.

Penned in the Margins publishes the aforementioned Tim Wells, and one of my favourite poets, Melissa Lee Houghton (who recently published Cumshot in D Minor, by Offord Road Press), whose poems of sexual abuse and misogyny burn. Of course, there are other publishers whose catalogue will include poets or poems of anger, e.g. Bloodaxe and Nine Arches Press, two of my favourite publishers, as well as some of Kim Moore’s past and present poems published by Seren. Then there are the online publications, with an overt social and political stance, which include Reuben Woolley’s ‘i am not a silent poet’ and Jody Porter’s ‘Well Versed’. (apologies for any glaring omissions I’m sure I’ve made, please feel free to add to the list in the comments below). However, I do feel these are on the margins.

fran lockFran Lock, who has appeared on this site a number of times, is, along with Melissa Lee Houghton, one of those electrifying poets both on the page and the stage. Since Flatrock in 2011, to the wonderful The Mystic and the Pig Thief (Salt – which no longer publishes poetry), through to Dogtooth (Outspoken Press), and our feature collection Muses and Bruises (published by Manifesto Press) Fran has consistently shouted down those who discriminate against the working class, women in particular. As she says in her introduction to the collection: “I was told once that my writing was inauthentic because working-class women don’t think or speak that way. Bollocks. I am a working- class woman, and I do write and think and speak this way. There is no one homogeneous working-class voice, any more than there is a single monolithic working-class culture. No one has any right to set limits on the way we sound or the words we use.” The collection is complemented beautifully with collages by Steev Burgess, which “bring this to the fore,[with] a mixture of decadence and squalor; grind and grime with a lick of glitter.”

The collection is in two parts; the first is a set of poems based on the muses of the arts from Greek mythology. Here is Clio, muse of history: “My mother was a Goddess, she could charm/ bees and her cheekbones were stunning./ Her silence gathered dust like an heirloom. //I am an unquiet child./ I see things and I must tell: //That man, grinning out from under/ the redacted oblong of his eyes, crawled/ from the comic opera of the past, dragging his period costume;” Similarly in the poem, Erato (muse of love poetry), there is the question of female identity from a patriarchal expectation: “And to top it all off, I’m expected to ride on
a float, my face scraped on in a strong wind, all
tits and teeth, rigid as any a hood ornament: winged Victory, pigtailed and pinioned. Bow to the crowd
like Jackie O, glamming it up at an airport.” Fran is imagining Erato as a Connemara beauty queen who is not allowed to be seen as having any other ‘attribute’ than her physical beauty, and thus like the Greek muse, is imprisoned by it.

m&bThe second part of the collection is a wonderful grotesque imagining of a place called Rag Town and the girls who inhabit it, in particular the ubiquitous La La. In her notes on this section Fran says: “We have the right, and we deserve the space in which to be angry. I started writing the Rag Town sequence with this one thought looping endlessly in my head.” This was driven by Fran’s disillusion with what International Women’s Day has become; originally called International Working Women’s Day, the dropping of the ‘Working’ de-classed the day, so that in Fran’s words it has become divisive to raise issues of class as they relate to women’s oppression. “It’s divisive, for example, to say that white, settled, middle-class women “escape” from unlovable and undervalued domestic labour at the expense of working-class women, immigrant women, women in poverty.”

Towards the end of the collection, in the poem ‘Rag Town Girls see God’, there is almost an inverted elegy in its telling of the end of man as represented by the deity. “There he is, eyes half closed, doing the math of a difficult miracle, wrist-wearied, leaning into his swig, his pull of smoke. We assume he is God. He reminds us of a man we once knew: slender and insulted by life, mixing his blessings like strong drink, suicidally agile, tying a nimble noose the minute your back was turned.” The final poem in the collection has undoubtedly the longest and angriest title, aimed at the mainstream poetry world that ignores the ‘likes of us’: “Rag Town Girls Don’t Want to be in your Shitty Fucking Magazine/Anthology/Stable of Wanky, Middle-class Poets Anyhow.” These following lines from the poem end what is a brilliant collection masterfully complemented by the collages of Steev Burgess.

“How to fake it? How to keep it in, that jittery, impassable grief? Don’t scratch yourselves, girls. Bathe. Point your toes. Glowing in a backward light cast by everything you flee from. You like proper edges, incline a tin ear to the shrug and flutter of our debateable music. If we could only sing like you, a proficient, accredited language. But we can’t, so we won’t. La-la lit a fire instead. It ate a hole in everything.”

You can listen to Fran read two of the poems here and here. You can buy the collection published by Culture Matters/Manifesto Press here.

 

Fran Lock is a sometime itinerant dog whisperer and author of three poetry collections, ‘Flatrock’ (Little Episodes, 2011), ‘The Mystic and the Pig Thief’ (Salt, 2014), and ‘Dogtooth’ (Out Spoken Press, 2017). Her work has appeared in various places, most recently Communist Review, The Morning Star, POETRY, Poetry Review, and in Best British Poetry 2015. She is the winner of various competitions including the 2014 Ambit Poetry Competition, the 2015 Out Spoken Poetry Prize, and the 2016 Yeats Poetry Prize and was shortlisted for the 2017 Bread and Roses Poetry Award.

 

Steev Burgess has juggled his career with an interest in music and art, releasing records and holding his debut art exhibition of collage art in “Red Bologna” with the help of the Circolo Ricreativo Aurora ARCI. Taking a break from music, he concentrated his efforts on making better art and extending his writing skills by “writing proper poetry” and founding the Y Tuesday poetry club at the Three Kings in Clerkenwell. His work caught the attention of the Libertine’s John Hassall. Steev and John now have a song writing partnership with his new band John Hassall and the April Rainers, whose debut album “Wheels to Idyll” has recently been released.

(images by Steev Burgess)

 

 

 

Saving for the Hamper by Ali Jones

oxfam coop stampsWhen I was young, my mum used to collect stamps. We had a Co-op on the corner. I remember she would come home with the shopping and blue stamps, letting me stick them in to slowly fill the pages until you had enough for a dividend (the books are low value collector’s items these days). The Co-op’s stamps were a response to their competitors’ schemes, especially the catch-all Green Shield stamps, which were very popular during the 1960s and 70s. Its founder, Richard Tompkins went on to set up Argos. These were the precursor to modern-day loyalty cards that now involve you giving them information about your habits through your purchases thereby capturing your ‘loyalty’.

The stamps were first introduced in the United States towards the end of the 19th century; given to customers who paid in cash as opposed to credit. There are though other schemes, especially saving for Christmas, which is implied in Alison Jones’ poem, “Saving for the Hamper”: “There was more to it than I thought, the pulling together Profile Picof pennies/ in a small leather purse and counting them when no one was looking,/ the card left face down on the kitchen table, in anticipation of a stamp.” These schemes were/are targeted at those who may not have bank accounts, or a way in which they have enough extra money at the beginning of December. This was the case for the grandmother in this poem, “I did not see the strange woman/ who woke in the dark and went digging through her pockets,/ knowing she would find nothing more than ghosts and prayers.” The schemes are now fairly widespread, the latest being Toys R Us; this despite a number going bust, sometimes before the Xmas return to its customers, such as Farepak where people tried for years to get their money back without success. Pleasures change, whether it be a computer game, or as in our poem, “The sweetness of boxed dates was as surprising as summer rain,/ and now I know that hope was a wellspring beneath the ground.” Merry Christmas everyone, whatever your faith or time of the year it may be, at least when it comes to the concerns of capitalism.

 

Ali Jones is a teacher, and writer, living in Oxford, England. She holds an MA in English, focused on poetry in domestic spaces and has written poetry in a variety of forms for many years. She is a mother of three. She is interested in the relationships between place and personal, in terms of ancestry, the everyday, geology, folk lore and fairy tales.  Her work has appeared in Fire, Poetry Rivals Spoken Word Anthology, Strange Poetry, Ink Sweat and Tears, Snakeskin Poetry, Atrium, Picaroon Poetry, Mother’s Milk Books, The Lake Magazine, Breastfeeding Matters, Breastfeeding Today and Green Parent magazine. She writes a regular column for Breastfeeding Matters Magazine, and blogs for The Motherload. She was the winner of the Green Parent Writing Prize in 2016, the runner up for the Mother’s Milk prize for prose in 2016, and has also written for The Guardian. Her poetry pamphlets, Heartwood and Omega are forthcoming with Indigo Dreams press in 2018.

 

 Saving for the Hamper

There was more to it than I thought, the pulling together of pennies
in a small leather purse and counting them when no one was looking,

the card left face down on the kitchen table, in anticipation of a stamp.
There’s more to making a celebration than I ever expected,

the small processes of finding one thing to set against another
one thing to leave out, to make do without. The chill of the larder,

the echoes in the meat safe that I did not hear, stilted to lift it
from the reachings of hungry mice. I did not see the strange woman

who woke in the dark and went digging through her pockets,
knowing she would find nothing more than ghosts and prayers.

It was always better than I hoped, the old need keeping us strong,
the anticipation of cardboard boxes and shredded newspaper,

spam, Dundee cake, jellied fruits, Baxter’s soup and beetroot relish,
My grandmother’s cooking always tasted the best. At those times,

I think we had something else with us all along, in the way she worked
hour after hour, back bent beneath the heat, drifting between

house and garden, bringing everything in, currants and plums,
potatoes and peas, turning the soil, not a scrap wasted, ever.

The sweetness of boxed dates was as surprising as summer rain,
and now I know that hope was a wellspring beneath the ground,

as she worked, letting things in, immersed in the purr of the wireless,
bleeding carols through the air, making things possible, gathering us in.

For Display Purposes Only by Emily Harrison

My son is now eighteen, has a full-time job and is happy. He is ‘functioning’. This comes after almost three years of depression which at its worst involved self-harm and suicidal ideation. He left school in Year 10, couldn’t cope with another school, nor a part-time one. All schools found it difficult to support him, besides giving him extra time to do tasks, which was not what he needed. In fairness to them, although we didn’t realise it at the time, he simply needed to be withdrawn completely. So for him, no qualifications, no ‘normal’ pathway that as parents you just assume they will take (but boy, can he play guitar and knows his way round a recording studio).

world mental health dayFluoxetine and psychiatry didn’t help; it wasn’t until he was free of daily commitments, went on mirtazapine and saw a therapist fortnightly, that he slowly came back to us. He is now just at the beginning of withdrawing from the medication as it makes him very tired and sluggish. We will see how it goes. The reason I mention this, is that this year’s theme for World Mental Health Day (WMHD) is what’s termed, ‘wellbeing in the workplace’. For the coming weeks therefore, I will be seeking out advice and monitoring how he gets on at work as he begins the withdrawal process.

emily picThe poet, Emily Harrison, in her brilliant collection, ‘I can’t sleep ‘cause my bed’s on fire’ chronicles her journey through the teenage years and into her twenties of dealing with psychiatric institutions. She often does this with humour, as in the poem ‘Stockholm Syndrome’, and importantly on the theme of love, which has its own challenges. There are some beautiful and stark poems, and as I say some are very funny. But a poem that stuck out for me in light of WMHD is ‘For Display Purposes Only’, as it describes what goes on behind the closed doors of hospitals; where the prospect of work isn’t even a distant mirage. “Far from my window,/ I can see across the courtyard/ into the maximum security ward./ I watch violent outbursts/ I watch forced sedation/ I watch men of my father’s generation/ lose every way of expressing themselves/ because talking therapy never suited them.” Like Dan Duggan’s Luxury of the Dispossessed, this is a first-hand account of mental health crises and challenges (as well as other musings as in ‘Swindon makes me feel like a Russian Bride’), which don’t necessarily end because the person is now seen to be ‘functioning’ in the workplace.

 

Emily Harrison performs regularly in London and across the UK. She was awarded Best Spoken Word Performer 2016 at The Saboteur Awards. Emily has performed at Latitude, WOMAD and Glastonbury festival. “Astute and at times painfully humorous”, her first full-length collection ‘I Can’t Sleep ’cause My Bed’s On Fire’ was released with Burning Eye Books last year. She is currently working on a second collection. You can find Emily in East London. She’ll probably fall in love with you on the tube.

 

 

For Display Purposes Only

Jacqui leaves old orange peel and banana skin on my radiator,
says it smells just like potpourri.
To me it’s week-old bin liner on a hot day
but I don’t have the heart to tell her that.

When a nurse asks,
I don’t want to drop Jacqui in it.
I adopt her backward thinking reluctantly,
explain word for word
until the word potpourri loses all meaning.
He nods himself through it like I did.
It’s not that he doesn’t have the heart to tell me,
he doesn’t have the time.
There isn’t a box for that on the form
and he’s only allowed one Biro.

The last time I dobbed Jacqui in
they took her artwork away.
She got 7.5mg and couldn’t talk without dribbling.

From my window
I can see across the courtyard
into the maximum security ward.
I watch violent outbursts.
I watch forced sedation.
I watch men of my father’s generation
lose every way of expressing themselves
because talking therapy never suited them.

And now they sit in armchairs –
                the ‘if you’re sat on it you can’t throw it’ theory.
They watch paint climb the walls –
                the ‘stare at it long enough and it disappears’ therapy.
They wait for nothing to happen
twice.

Over this side we know to let things slide.
I’m staring hard at everything, hoping it all just disappears.

Everything,
except the smell of burning orange peel
and the word potpourri.

 

the spaces left bare by matt duggan

Homage_to_Catalonia,_Cover,_1st_EditionIt is seventy years since George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia was published; his personal account of the Spanish Civil War. Now, the papers’ headlines carry the same title, as the people of Catalonia once again go against the Madrid government in a so-called ‘illegal’ referendum on independence. Irrespective of one’s views about the subject of the vote, the state response of violence against all and sundry was abhorrent. Scenes across the region, but in particular Barcelona where much of the media was concentrated, and lest we forget where a terrorist atrocity was carried out along the famous Las Ramblas, showed an elderly woman with blood pouring from her head, another with a woman’s fingers being broken, and many other such beatings.

But this is not the only concern the people of Barcelona have had to fight against. In August of this year there was a demonstration on the streets and beach of the city against the continued building of tourist apartments, which is having a negative effect on local peoples’ access to housing. The head of the local federation of neighbourhood associations (the FAVB), Camilo Ramos who supported the protest, said it ‘demands that Barcelona reconquers spaces that were previously … in citizens’ control, such as la Rambla…; there are increasing problems in the city, such as expulsion of lower income people due to the increase in prices of rents and shopping halls, as well as a growth of flats altered into tourist houses.’

20150808_152657Matt Duggan’s poem, The Spaces Left Bare, reflects on such a protest during a stay in Barcelona; one that can be seen as a wider indicator of heightened capitalism and its effect on peoples’ ability to afford housing in major cities and conurbations throughout the world; something that echoes developments from San Francisco to Delhi and no doubt beyond. And like in London leaves many places uninhabited, at night the room lights up for no one/ then fades as dusk wakes the clock; / where guests will never reserve or stay.’ In the future, will they say this is a homage to capitalism? Is the Spanish government’s actions a homage to democracy? I think not.

Matt Duggan’s poems have appeared in Osiris, The Journal, Ink, Sweat, and Tears, Into the Void, Black Light Engine Room, Prole, The Dawntreader, Algebra of Owls. In 2015 Matt won the Erbacce Prize for Poetry with his first full collection Dystopia 38.10 http://erbacce-press.webeden.co.uk/#/matt-duggan/4590351997. In 2016 he won the Into the Void Poetry Prize with his poem Elegy for Magdalene. In 2017 Matt did his first reading in Boston in the U.S. and has been invited back to be headline poet at the prestigious Poetry Reading Series held at Cambridge Public Library in April 2018 where he will also be doing his first readings in New York with beat poet George Wallace. Matt is working on a new collection Look What We’ve Become.

 

 

The Spaces Left Bare

The only human figures to pass on these walls
are the shadows in opposing rooms
those reflections

                              during the summer months
bounce from the ceiling like ghosts dressed in black suits.
Air is stale and needs recycling
windows gleam with no visible fingerprints,
immaculate laminated tiles

                              underfloor heating
                                                  the spaces are left bare. ……

Where beneath the plush gothic balcony
a homeless man sleeps in the open air
at night the room lights up for no one
then fades as dusk wakes the clock;
where guests will never reserve or stay.

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
“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, 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 www.nickmakoha.com

 

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…)