Poem

Guest post: ‘Letters Home’ by Jennifer Wong with poem ‘My father, who taught me how to fold serviette penguins’

Jennifer Wong’s collection ‘Letters Home’ was recently published by Nine Arches Press. The book “unravels the complexities of being between nations, languages and cultures. Travelling across multiple borders of history and place, these poems examine what it means to be returning home, whether to a location, a country, or to a shared dream or language.” You can buy a copy of the book here: Over to Jennifer,

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JW portrait_by Tai Ngai Lung_Fotor

credit: Tai Ngai Lung_Fotor

“In writing this collection, I reflected on my upbringing at a much deeper level than I would normally allow myself to; an unsettling experience in many ways. In writing ‘To my father, who taught me how to fold serviette penguins’, I seek to understand who my father really is. For many years, he worked very long hours, initially as a waiter, and was eventually promoted to be the food and beverage manager in a five-star hotel. On weekends, my mom used to bring me and my brother to the Tsim Sha Tsui promenade in Hong Kong, where the waterfront is always packed with tourists. There, on the pedestrian footbridge fronting the harbour, we would be able to catch a glimpse of dad at work inside the hotel restaurant—with its magnificent, floor-to-ceiling windows—and wave at him.

Because he would spend all day talking to customers and colleagues, dad tended to be very quiet when at home. I felt quite ambivalent about this. I was also jealous of my other classmates who enjoyed family outings during the weekends. In the poem, my ambivalence or incongruous feelings made their way through the snippets of family knowledge and the sharp edges of the slashes. And I chose to highlight the word 嘥錢, a Cantonese slang meaning ‘wasting money’, a preoccupation for working class families, particularly in a consumerist society such as Hong Kong.

Letters Home CoverAnd as I looked for ways to complete my father’s portrait, I noticed how proud I am of him, how his work ideals and diligence have come to define him. Coming from a more working class background and without a university education, he wanted a different future for me, a future alien to him and his class, where more doors would be open with the promise of a good education.

There are also other poems in the collection that question the value of money (or wealth), poems that explore working class lives, and the intersections with racial and gender identities. Are you able to spot them?”

 

Jennifer Wong was born and grew up in Hong Kong. She is the author of two earlier poetry collections including Goldfish (Chameleon Press 2013). She studied English at Oxford, received an MA in creative writing at the University of East Anglia and earned a PhD from Oxford Brookes University. Her work, including poems, reviews and translations, have appeared in various journals including The Rialto, Poetry London, Poetry Review and Wasafiri, amongst others. She was runner- at the Bi’an Writers Awards and long-listed in pamphlet competitions, and the National Poetry Competition.

 

My father, who taught me how to fold serviette penguins

I was eight or nine when I saw you practise / folding serviette penguins. For a long time, / Christmas was a matter of watching fireworks on television / mother trying / not to let her feelings show. / And those evenings you came home / too tired to speak / your voice already spent with the customers. / Thirteen hours of pacing around dining rooms / impeccable cutlery well-ironed table linen other families’ / happiness under the chandeliers / that’s what work is, has been, for you / since you turned eighteen  / and for all the fathers in the golden eighties / it’s been     a hard day’s night / a husband must provide /as long as he is alive. I try to think about / who you really were, a schoolboy before duty / your father who never offered your mother / a kind word, a kiss / but he kept a white shiny statue of Mao / long after the cult was over. / You never finished high school / because your father said / he couldn’t tolerate the idea of excessive schooling, a sign of / moral corruption or 嘥錢. / The day I was accepted for the school / on 1 Jordan Road, where the school drive glittered with Mercedes, we knew / we were moving beyond our league. / And yet, and yet, it suddenly seemed / as if something was brightening again in you /something that has nothing to do with table napkins

 

 

 

Guest Post: thirty one small acts of love and resistance by Steve Pottinger, with poem ‘Mothers’ Day’

Publication day for an author is a joyous, exciting, and a nervous day; and more so than ever because of the lockdown, which has been the main reason for opening up the site again during this time. So I am delighted to be featuring Steve Pottinger on the actual publication day of his sixth collection, thirty-one small acts of love and resistance’. Please buy it if you can, as a small act of love and resistance. Here’s Steve.

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steve pottinger“When we rang in the New Year, I don’t expect any of us thought our 2020 would include supermarket queues, panic buying, empty motorways, or an invisible Prime Minister, but here we are. The world is a quieter place, where we keep our distance from each other, do our weekly shop, and – in my case at least – spend far too much time online, seeking some kind of social interaction. For better or worse, our worlds have shrunk to our immediate neighbourhood, the few streets round us, the distance we can walk or cycle in an hour.

The place I live is nowhere special. It’s one of the sprawl of once-industrial towns that make up the Black Country. Outsiders would be hard pressed to tell where it begins or ends, and – on learning that a lot of people here see Brexit as a good thing, and returned a Tory MP with an increased majority at the last election – might think they know everything they want to know about it.

Spend time here, though, and you’d learn there’s a real sense of pride among the people who live in this small town. That the response to lockdown has been, for a team of volunteers to co-ordinate support for vulnerable residents, deliver food parcels and prescriptions, and liaise with local supermarkets for supplies. That helping each other – because you can’t ever rely on the government – is as much part of life here as the roller-shutters and the petty thieves.

small-acts-front-cover-130x200Many of the poems in my new book ‘thirty-one small acts of love and resistance’ explore the beauty of life here as well as the grit. The wonder and the limitations. The poem I’d like to share, Mothers’ Day, is a celebration of our town which was commended in the Prole poetry competition 2019, and has taken on an added poignancy since lockdown. When I close my eyes, I can picture the faces of the people in this poem, I can hear the laughter and the chat, I can feel trouble waiting just out of sight, around the corner. And I can’t wait to be in that pub again.

The place I live is nowhere special. But it is remarkable. Like thousands of other remarkable, unsung, communities up and down the land. Maybe, when all of this is done, we’ll remember that.”

Steve Pottinger is a poet, author, and workshop facilitator, and a founding member of Wolverhampton arts collective Poets, Prattlers, and Pandemonialists. He’s an engaging and accomplished performer whose work has appeared in magazines and anthologies, and he’s a regular contributor to online poetry platforms. He’s performed at Ledbury and StAnza poetry festivals, at the Edinburgh Free Fringe, and in venues the length and breadth of the country, from Penzance up to Orkney. His sixth volume of poems, ‘thirty-one small acts of love and resistance’ was published by Ignite Books this Spring.

‘thirty-one small acts of love and resistance’ is on sale here: https://ignitebooks.co.uk/products-page/steve-pottinger-books/

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Mothers’ Day

Let us sing a song of the tiny tattered townpub singing
of the pub at its locked-down, knocked-down heart
and of those who drink there.
Let us sing of Mothers’ Day and celebration
of the family night out
of a large glass of red and the make that a double
of burgers with all the trimmings
a side of onion rings and chips with everything
sing of curry and a pint and change from a tenner.

Let us sing of the bevy of traveller women
loud and drinking and drunk
and their don’t care a toss if you serve food
we’re bringing the pizzas in anyway
don’t think of stopping us
nonchalance,
sing of their children
who climb barefoot over the tables
over and under and through
caring nothing for rules.

Let us sing of the bar-staff, budget-uniformed,
overworked and underpaid
who are suddenly busy at the other end of the bar
who have a finely tuned instinct for looking
the other way
who know there’s not a chance in the world
the money covers this, no chance at all.
Let us sing of it being someone else’s problem
quite definitely someone else’s problem.

Let us sing, then, of the young manager
his stooped shoulders, his muttering, his sighs
as he wanders over for the third time
counting the minutes, praying to get to
the end of the shift without it kicking off,
sing of the token gesture of negotiation
sing of putting to one side the memory
of what happened last time.
Sing of his hope he doesn’t have to draw the line.

Let us sing of everyone in there
knowing the cops will be late, useless
sing of keeping one eye on the exit
of knowing that if it all goes down
well, devil take the hindmost.
Let us sing of take a deep breath and bear it
of it not being your business, none of it
of swallowing this down, of letting it slide.

Let us sing of hours measured pint by pint
of old men slipping home
of the crackling tension of trouble ebbing
like a tide you hadn’t noticed turn.
Let us sing of lost nights, last buses,
of just one more before you go
of pizza crusts trodden in carpets
of traveller women, beyond drunk now,
queens of all they can keep in focus.

Let us sing, my friends.
Sing a song of the tiny, tattered town
of the pub at its locked-down, knocked-down heart
and of those who drink there.
Let us sing of Mothers’ Day and celebration
of the family night out
of empty glasses and a last one for the road.
Let us raise our cracked and tuneless voices
and let us sing.

Guest post: Her Lost Language by Jenny Mitchell

Today’s guest post is by Jenny Mitchell. Jenny was Joint winner of the Geoff Stevens Memorial Poetry Prize, run by Indigo Dreams Publishing, with her beautiful collection ‘Her Lost Language’.  Paul McGrane of the Poetry Society, described the book as ‘a unique insight into a family history that invites you to re-imagine your own. I love this book and so will you!” You can buy a copy of the book here.

Jenny has given us the title poem from her book; a poignant depiction of life as a woman against a backdrop of terror and kidnap and the lack of refuge for those who escape.

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Jenny Mitchell“The title poem for my debut collection, Her Lost Language, feels a bit like a ‘cuckoo’ in that I usually write about the legacies of British transatlantic enslavement, with direct reference to Jamaica. This seems to be where I find my voice, and can cover subjects from the maternal, food, past, present and future.

But the poem Her Lost Language was inspired by reports of Boko Haram in Nigeria, and their kidnapping/abuse/murder of girls and women, especially those seeking an education.

The articles about them seemed to coincide with more and more reports of a ‘hostile’ environment in the UK for immigrants and asylum-seekers.

I wanted to write about a woman who, having faced inhuman physical abuse, was being forced to endure the trauma of being ‘a stranger in a strange land’ that does not offer refuge.

I often write without knowing exactly what I mean but re-reading the poem I see that it’s very oral, lots about food and the sheer loneliness that can be symbolised in eating alone. I wonder if this is a metaphor for someone who cannot speak her language to anyone – a real language and an internal/emotional one – so ‘compensates’ by eating? Is she trying to cope by stuffing words down with food? Is cooking also a way to ‘recapture’ home?

4636313604_272x428It feels clear on re-reading the poem that the environment I describe is not just ‘hostile’ for the character but for everyone who has to live in it. The phrase, ‘A lift shaped by urine is’, to me, about real suffering – for those that have to endure it and those that cause the offence in the first place. How alienated do you have to be, to literally piss where you live?

The fact that the character has come from a place where the hills are shaped like God says something, to me, about what we have lost – ‘God’ as nature. Instead, the character in the poem looks for ‘God’ in a pastor who is remote, on television and instructing her to Give thanks when she lives and breathes suffering.

It’s always great to know what other people think so if you’d like to send your comments about this, or any of my poems, get in touch on Twitter @jennymitchellgo, or in the comments section below.”

Jenny Mitchell is joint winner of the Geoff Stevens’ Memorial Poetry Prize (Indigo Dreams Publishing). Her work has been broadcast on Radio 4 and BBC2, and published in The Rialto, The New European, The Interpreter’s House; and with Italian translations in Versodove. She has work forthcoming in Under the Radar, Finished Creatures and The African and Black Diaspora International Journal.

You can buy a copy of ‘Her Lost Language’ here.

Her Lost Language

English mouths are made of cloth
stitched, pulled apart with every word

Her life is mispronounced.
She cooks beef jollof rice for one;

braves the dark communal hall:
a giant’s throat when he is lying down.

He’s swallowed muffled voices,
stale breath of food and cigarettes.

The lift is shaped by urine.
The sky’s a coffin lid.

Back in her village, days from Lagos,
hills took on the shape of God,

scant clouds the colour of her tongue.
Now she must walk past ghosts who leer like men,

to eat fast food from styrofoam,
binging to forget her scars

are less important every day,
when words must match

from one assessment to the next.
Back in her block, the lift vibrates

like an assault or panic rammed
beneath her skin by soldiers taking turns.

She skypes to smile at parents
aging in their Sunday clothes.

They say more teachers have been raped.
A baobab tree is balanced on her father’s head.

When the connection fails,
she flicks to channel Save Yourself.

A pastor bangs the podium, demands her Hallelujah.
She kneels to pray her papers will be stamped –

passport wrapped in green batik.
Pastor screams Give thanks.

Guest Post: ‘Sod ’em and tomorrow’ by Des Mannay, with poem ‘On the death of Muhammad Ali’

Hope everyone is doing okay as we head into another week of lockdown. Unfortunately it looks like the weather is finally going to break; maybe it’ll be a good thing to have a bit of rain, if only as a change scenery. Today we have Des Mannay. Des has a fascinating history, which he encapsulates beautifully in the following feature. His debut collection, ‘Sod ‘em and tomorrow’ is published by Waterloo Press, and you can buy a copy here:

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desnewheadshot“Cardiff has one of the oldest BAME populations in the UK. However, it wasn’t a slave town like Bristol. The majority of the Black population were merchant seamen – who settled in Cardiff’s docks area, or Tiger Bay as it was known back then. My grandfather came to Cardiff via a familiar route in the 1890’s. Cru men from Liberia would head to Freetown in Sierra Leone, (then known as British West Africa), get work on ships, while claiming to be born in Freetown, dock in Liverpool and then walk to South Wales. Then settle and work out of docks in Cardiff, Barry and Newport. Many owned their own boarding houses, renting rooms to other sailors. Many had white wives, even back then; some of whom were Welsh speaking. My grandfather and his wife survived the 1919 race riots.

The Tiger Bay area is cut off – you would have to cross a bridge to enter. Once the rioting started it was possible to defend from racist mobs. There are accounts of mobs trying to burn down boarding houses but being dispersed by a volley of gunfire from demobbed black soldiers. Both rioters and police were driven out, and the Chinese population moved in for their own safety; having been victims of race riots 8 years earlier.

cover1Gradually people migrated to other parts of Cardiff, My grandparents moved out in the 1940’s. Unfortunately my grandfather was on a ship which was torpedoed during World War 2 – so we never met. I grew up in what I jokingly referred to later as a Black & White family with a ‘coloured’ telly…. It’s funny when you’re a child, you don’t think of yourself as a colour…. I discovered I was black accidentally. We would always watch the news at teatime. It was sometime around 1972, and the newsreader barked “and the Blacks are rioting in…”. It was somewhere in London. I said, ‘Dad – who are the blacks?’. My dad looked at me quizzically and said ‘We are son…’. It was a light-bulb moment. “Aaaah – that’s why people call me funny names at school”, I thought. They were strange times – ‘Love Thy Neighbour‘, ‘Till Death Us Do Part‘ and the ‘Black and White Minstrel Show‘ were on TV. My hero was Muhammad Ali. Bob and Marcia’s ‘Young Gifted and Black‘ probably sums up that period in time succinctly. There are a few poems which are in my first collection, which touch on some of these issues: ‘They Call Me’, ‘On the death of Muhammad Ali’, ‘outgrowth’ and ‘That’s Life’ spring to mind

muhammed aliThe poem I have chosen from my collection, has to be ‘On the death of Muhammad Ali’. A) Originally, it was one of my poems that Eric Ngalle Charles chose for his ‘Hiraeth Erzolirzoli: A Wales – Cameroon Anthology‘. so I got to reconnect by proxy with my African roots. B) It’s pretty autobiographical. When you come from a background like mine, you find your heroes where you can. Ali was one of mine. Writing it helped me process everything – from childhood almost up to the jingoistic uncertainty of our post-Brexit Covid-centric times. It’s also a reminder of what writer and activist Ambalavaner Sivanandan has taught us – there is no automatic unity of the oppressed. It is something that has to be fought for and reforged. In the context of a disbelieving/discounting/disengaging world, (which is the dark side of ‘social distancing’), I’m an outsider’s outsider. I guess that’s why I write…”

Praise for the collection has come from both page and stage wings of the poetry fraternity. Attila the Stockbroker has said, “Des pulls no punches. It’s a real read, a hard read… A different Cardiff, a different Wales… where the earliest Black immigrants found work, love and a future. Des’s heritage. ‘On the death of Muhammad Ali’ is heartbreakingly brilliant: past, present and future combine, as they do in so many here”. Costa Book Award for Poetry winner and Editor of Poetry Wales, Jonathan Edwards, has added, “Performative, funny, passionate… an important voice – from police racism to the death of Muhammad Ali. In this thrilling collection, Mannay speaks eloquently of experiences that need to be shared, need to be yelled about.”

You can order Des Mannay’s book online here

On the death of Muhammad Ali

Goodbye butterfly
you stung like a bee.
You stung me!
From you I learnt
resistance!
To all the
‘nigger, nigger – pull the trigger’
playground taunts
I could reply –
“C’mon Bugner!”

The kids at school
never listened
to ‘Blue Mink’.
They didn’t know
that what we
needed was
a great big melting pot.
My parents did –
they had me

The ‘Ugandan Asian’ crisis hit
and I became
a ‘Paki’ overnight
because Enoch was right
and I should go back
to where I came from –
even though
I was ‘there’ already.
And to some Asian kids
I was a ‘gori’

And the white girls
didn’t stay too long
because they
didn’t want to be
called “dogmeat!”
by their peers.
Shove thy neighbour
So tell me –
what the hell
is the colour of love?

And the ‘Rastas’
wore Wales football tops-
they were red
gold and green.
To them I was
a threat also –
‘Babylon!’
I could not
go back to Africa;
a place I’d
never been.
And my heroes
all spoke perfect English –
Sidney Poitier, CLR James

The old-old ladies
in Cardiff’s docks
told me about
Africans –
when they came,
how tall they were,
how smart they were
in top hats, spats and canes…

And my grandad
was a ‘Cru’ man
and then he
joined a crew.
He sailed
and settled in
the bay of Tigers –
raised a family.
And my father was a ‘half caste’ –
that’s what they
said back then.

And he would
sing Calypso
as he did
the washing up –
but said
Jamaicans were
johnny-come-lately’s.

As I got older
boundaries blurred.
Bigotry,
rescinded
like the tide.
I became
‘exotic’ –
Amerindian?
Latin-American?
Because of long
straight black hair
and Melanin
darkened skin –
myth-maken identity
yet again.

I don’t know
where I come from –
but you don’t know
where I’m going.
I worry the tide is
coming in again,
and sometimes I
(really do) “feel like
throwing my hands
up in the air”.
So – goodbye butterfly,
you have spread
your wings. And I
have been stung
by the world…

Guest Post: Charlotte Ansell with poem, Drowning

Today we have Charlotte Ansell with a poem from her third collection ‘Deluge‘ published by the wonderful press ‘Flipped Eye‘ (which has published the first work of many now well-known poets such as Warsan Shire, Malika Booker, Inua Ellams). I really relate to this post as I haven’t been able to write much at all during this time. A fellow member of Malika’s Poetry Kitchen, you can buy ‘Deluge’ here. So over to Charlotte:

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IMG-20200322-WA0006“It seems to me, that this global pandemic leaves me unable to write a thing except maybe clichés; tired phrases. I can’t write about it but writing about anything else seems unthinkable. I’m aware that for some poets I know, the opposite is true and poems are pouring out of them. One way or another we are all affected and not just in regards writing; some people find themselves unable to do anything productive whilst others throw themselves into activity – we find our own ways of dealing with the anxiety. There is a definition of trauma that makes a correlation between the perceived level of threat and the perceived level of helplessness we feel in response to it; essentially when an event overwhelms our ability to cope. The reverberations of this collective trauma will be around long after the lockdown ends.

For me, unable to go on a planned family holiday this Easter, I have spent the last two weeks immersed in renovating and decorating the boat we live on which was badly in need of attention inside. I find painting soothing and therapeutic – the physical activity lends itself to mindlessness and a break from the over exertion of my brain when I am at work.

This decorating stint has put me in mind of a time a few years ago when I was painting a shipping container we used as a shed on our old mooring on a canal in Yorkshire. That was a time when the world was in the midst of another global disaster albeit one that affected only a small group of people directly but left its mark on our collective psyche. Back then it seemed every newspaper and every TV news bulletin brought images of bodies washed up on beaches; those of refugees making impossible journeys by boat and why? Because as Warsan Shire put it so deftly in her poem ‘Home’:

You have to understand,
no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land.

fe_deluge_frontI remember the helplessness I felt then too and how painting led me to writing this poem, ‘Drowning’. I wanted to send something cheerful and uplifting for this guest post but of the few more cheerful poems I’ve written nothing seemed right. I read a Facebook post a friend shared recently by someone who said the last time they were in lockdown was during the Bosnian War, which was a whole different story to the lockdown most of us are enduring now. We have food, all the usual amenities, even Netflix and there is something in these comforts whilst the privation, is in not being able to see loved ones, not being able to meet up and hug and come together. This lockdown is trying mentally, and terribly so for some; especially those living alone or those for whom home contains the risk of domestic abuse. I don’t want to underestimate the impact of that but for most of us there is not the loss of the very basic necessities or the desperate impetus to flee from the unimaginable horrors that make home no longer a safe place. So here is my poem about our most fundamental need for a home- and here’s hoping  that the next time I embark on a DIY project the world will not be in the grip of another catastrophe.”

Charlotte Ansell‘s third poetry collection ‘Deluge‘ was published by Flipped Eye in November 2019 and was a PBS winter recommendation. She performs her poems regularly and her work has appeared in Poetry Review, Mslexia, Butcher’s Dog, Prole, Algebra of Owls and various anthologies; most recently ‘These are the hands’ – an anthology of poems by NHS workers. She has won various  competitions (Red Shed, BBC Write Science competition in 2015,  Watermarks in 2016, commended in Yorkmix  in 2016 and shortlisted in the Poetry in film category of the Outspoken prize for poetry in 2017). Charlotte is the recipient of a Royal Society of Literature Award 2020 with fellow poet Janett Plummer for a forthcoming project enabling adopted young people to explore their experience via creative writing workshops. She is a member of Malika’s Poetry Kitchen collective.

Drowning

When the news breaks and the tide cannot be turned
I find comfort in the Muslim call to prayer on TV,
its mathematical calm laps over me
like today as I paint, ripples of chatter
from the Eastern European family fishing
on the opposite bank of the canal.
I relax into the peace of incomprehensible words
the laughter of children – still the same –
the cheers when they catch a fish.
I wouldn’t eat anything from this water
maybe they wouldn’t either,
I push my assumptions down, drown them in paint.
We co-exist in this subdued day
Cloud muffling out any extremes
the odd phrase in English reaches me
and when they leave, a man calls out:
Beautiful painting- you come paint my house?
See you next time!

Not everything can be covered, made new.
When my friend’s appeal for asylum was refused
I went around; the nakedness of the packing boxes,
the panic in her daughters’ eyes
and her without her hijab.
Somehow, I couldn’t hug her
seeing her so exposed.
Three years later they let her stay.

Isn’t that all anyone wants,
a safe place to call home?
I go back to painting,
the grey green expanse grows,
soothing my eyes. If only
it didn’t remind me of the cold sea,
the slip slop of the brush like the slap of waves
lifting a dress to expose a nappy
breaking over pliable limbs,
on her head a swirl of dark curls
frames her little face,
as if in repose.

 

Guest Post: ‘A Beautiful Way to be Crazy’ by Genevieve Carver, with poem ‘Champagne, Cocaine and Sausages’

Welcome to Week-Whatever in the big brother/sister PP lockdown showcase. Today we have something quite different, a little bit musical, a little bit performative, and more than a little bit rebalancing the gender imbalance in the music industry. The videos of her band The Unsung are a great watch. This all comes from Genevieve Carver’s Verve Poetry Press book, ‘A Beautiful Way to be Crazy’, which you can buy here. Oh, and download sales from the band’s music will go to ‘Refuge‘ the domestic violence charity.  So without further ado, here’s Genevieve:

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A Beautiful Way to be Crazy_credit Alexandra Wallace

credit: Alexandra Wallace*

“I’m a poet, but music has always formed the backbone of what I do. Song lyrics are always creeping into my poems, and in the past I’ve written about people whose death was caused by music, and the relationship between music and mental health. I perform in a gig theatre ensemble along with three multi-instrumentalist musicians (Ruth Nicholson, Brian Bestall and Tim Knowles) called The Unsung, and our latest show, A Beautiful Way to be Crazy, explores female experiences in the music industry. My debut poetry collection of the same name was published by Verve Poetry Press in February 2020.

Women make up just 30% of the music industry as a whole, and as little as 2% in certain, usually more tech-heavy roles. I decided to talk to some of that 30%, and gather together some of their experiences. I interviewed almost 50 people, including cis-gendered, trans, non-binary and intersex individuals. I spoke to singers, instrumentalists, sound engineers, producers and events promoters, covering genres from classical to folk, electronica, rock, pop and jazz. I interviewed performers in a sex workers’ opera, 4O2A2439internationally touring DJs and members of an all-female band of adults with learning difficulties. My aim wasn’t to get famous names but to talk to women who lived and breathed music in their everyday life, either professionally or at an amateur level.

The show I ended up making, combines the themes I pulled out from these interviews with my own personal experiences. It weaves together music from my incredibly versatile band with original spoken word, readings from my genuine teenage diary entries from 1999 (aged 13) and audio clips from the interviews.

Two tracks from the show are currently available to watch in full:

Human Being – a pop song:

Little Green – a Joni-Mitchell inspired lullaby:

You can download our music from https://genevievecarvertheunsung.bandcamp.com, and all money from download sales is being donated directly to Refuge domestic violence charity.

The book that has been published by Verve includes the whole sequence of poems from the live show, as well as other poems from my performance repertoire covering themes including hangovers, roundabouts, existential dread and why I don’t do yoga.”

https://www.genevievecarver.com/@theunsungpoetry

Champagne, Cocaine & Sausages

“I want champagne, cocaine and sausages” – Nina Simone.

I am Nina Simone’s anger
I am Etta James’s veins
I am Ani DiFranco’s middle finger
I am your little sister’s bedroom door.

I am the ripple in the pond
I am the rip in your jeans
I am wild and unwashed and broken
I am not taking it lying down.

I am shit at lots of things
I am difficult
I am wrong
I am tied in knots    I’m free
I am simply trying to be me
I am frightened
I am flawed
but I am here
and I’m not going anywhere.

I am Kate Bush’s treble
I am Jacqueline du Pres’ tremble
I am Polly Harvey’s pedals
I am Kathleen Hanna’s rebel.

I am Clara Schuman’s manuscript
I am Stevie Nicks’s sleeves
I am Alanis Morisette’s misunderstanding of irony
I am Bjork’s clenched fist.

I’m just a girl
I wear my hair in curls
I wear my dungarees
down to my sexy knees
I am sugar and spice and all things
deep and lost and painful and real
I am fighting to be heard
and not only seen
I am a woman, phenomenally.

I am Tori Amos’s cornflakes
I am Sinead O’Connor’s skull
I am Taylor Swift’s reputation
I am Madonna’s youth.

I want champagne, cocaine and sausages
I want it all and I want it now
I want what I cannot have
I am hungry
I am greedy
I will bite off more than I can
vomit back into the void
it’s a new dawn
it’s a new day
it’s a new life
and I’m feeling ready for it.

I am the reason the caged bird sings
I am the thorn in the side of the boy
I am the fat lady telling you it’s over
I am spinning
I am floating
I am so close to the edge
I am busting at the seams
I am everything you ever hoped you’d be

so take a piece, just try it
there’s too much here
for you to even make a dent in me.

(*Alexandra Wallace’s photography can be viewed here)

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.’