Poem

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…)

Teatime in the Seventies by Robin Houghton

chips ketchupMy first taste of independence came when I had authority over the amount of ketchup I spread over my tea. It wasn’t like drizzling icing over a cake because this was the days of the bottle, where if you weren’t careful, huge globules would flood your ham, egg and chips; with the introduction of the squeezy bottle in 1983 more children were allowed the treat of splurging their food with the essential accompaniment. But it also gave rise to the more refined way of putting a dollop on the side of your plate which I reckon also means we waste more ketchup – that’s right it’s a capitalist ruse! Just to be sure that the iconic bottles are still used to their most wasteful effect, Heinz has shown that by tapping the 57 moulded into the glass, you can release the ketchup with the same ease of the squeezy variety. My sons often leave a red mark on their plate that I have to wash away, as I cry into the sink.

Gone are the days when food was a simple menu of boredom and over-cooked meat and vegetables (with the latter limited to carrots, cabbage, and a tin of processed peas). Although the nutritional value of food today is expansive, I believe it has a paradoxical effect on today’s teenagers, which sees them being an inch or more taller than previous generations (I am only 5ft 6ins – a hundred years ago I would have been 5ft 2in) but also heavier, and not just because of the increase in height but also excess baggage with its associated ill-health effects The UK is the fat man of Europe, with a 25% obesity level (it was 1-2% in the 1960s).

robin-reading-magmalaunch-smBut I have veered into the serious, which I’m trying not to do for once. This feature was prompted by the poet, Amy Key who on Twitter posted a picture of a salad (see below) from her childhood, accompanied by jars of pickled onions, beetroot, and mayonnaise; to which I responded by saying that my working class credentials were undermined by the fact that I never liked corned beef, but in my defence I never liked salad either. I then asked for a salad poem, to which I am very pleased to say was answered by Robin Houghton, with her poem Teatime in the Seventies’. This is such a lovely poem in how it depicts the way children vet their meals, as though making sure they weren’t being poisoned by their parent: ‘I’d…decide how little lettuce/ I could get away with eating/ hide a few slices of cucumber/ under an oblong of corned beef.’ Dinner was the punishment, pudding the reward, as we were ‘forever eyeing up the cake to come/ and jelly’. We’ve all been there. If you’re looking to go back in time in the way Robin has, check out the twitter account, @70s_party, it is so colourful and yummy. (more…)

Kinmont’s Bairns by Jon Tait

No Tenemos Miedo’, is the status many Latino young people have been using in the US; they are undocumented and unafraid to say so. They, and others who support them in their now precarious situation, have been turning to art to protest against the rise in hatred towards them. In the past week we have seen the terrible scenes in Charlottesville, where the worms of fascism have come out of the rotten word they have been living in to spread hatred. This has undoubtedly come from the permission gave them by Donald Trump, and his rhetoric against the Mexican people and his ‘promise’ to build a wall.

mex borderThere is already a wall along the US/Mexican border, and in many parts there are works of art protesting against what it stands for. One exhibit has a series of day-of-the-dead like mannequins, hanging from the wall. It is a powerful image. Across the world, where walls have divided people, protest art has inverted the purpose of the canvas. From the Berlin Wall, to the Israeli Wall, and the Peace Wall in Northern Ireland, there are beautiful but at the same time heart-rending images to remind people, either of the reason they are there and/or the damage that they do, e.g. in cutting off families, or families from their land, etc.. (more…)

Permission, Disability, Stairs and Whispers, and a poem by Nuala Watt

I only came across the term ‘permission’ in regards of writing when being mentored by Jo Bell. Her wonderful project, 52 had given over five hundred writers the safe space to share their poetry with others in a similar position; the project had essentially given many of them permission to write. Recently I received a different type of permission when attending the Stairs and Whispers event at Ledbury Poetry Festival; the permission to accept that I have a disability.

Stairs and Whispers COVERThis was the launch of the anthology of “D/deaf and Disabled Poets Write Back”, edited by Sandra Alland, Khairani Barokka and Daniel Sluman, and published by Nine Arches Press. From the perspective of someone whose hearing and sight is not particularly impaired the event was a multi-media experience of poetry films, readings, and questions, supported by sign, subtitles, and the full text of poems. The editors described themselves for those with sight impairment, and in a large hall it felt like the most intimate and captivating experience.

However, it was only afterwards, when I went away, sat in a café and took a breath that it resonated with me more personally. I have a number of autoimmune conditions; Addison’s Disease, Underactive Thyroid, secondary hypopituitarism (causing low testosterone), low Vitamin D, along with asthma, high cholesterol, chronic fatigue, periodic chronic pain, and depression. I am lucky, as I don’t have to rely on welfare, beyond NHS treatment and free prescriptions, and there are times when I am relatively healthy and able to exercise. So I have had no need to register as disabled and go through the horrendously cruel process that the austerity government has implemented in the past seven years.

(more…)