Poem

Guest Post: ‘The Story Is’ by Kate B Hall, with poem ‘Avenue’

Today we have the second Bad Betty poet Kate B Hall. She writes a fascinating account of her personal experience of living in the lockdown as a person over 70, and the reminiscences of growing up in privation. It’s accompanied by an evocative poem, from her collection ‘The Story Is’, which you can buy here:

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Kate B Hall
“A lot has happened since my book ‘The Story Is‘ was published. Events both sad and happy have changed me and my life. My second son died at 53, after a lifetime of illness, his son was born a few months later, and now we have the Coronavirus lockdown. Because I’m nearly 75 and my health has been compromised by lung cancer, I have only been out once in six weeks, when we went to post a letter and walked round the block at about 9.30 one night. The streets were almost completely deserted but it still felt quite dangerous. The one person we passed, at a safe distance, smiled and said Hello.

Life seems so very different to the one I described in my poem Avenue (below), yet it is the same place but neither of us go out, everything we need is delivered. The same people live in the street and join in clapping on a Thursday night, I know some people think it’s a pointless gesture and what all the front line staff need is a proper wage and suitable PPE, but for me having signed endless petitions and talked to people on social media and the phone, it is my only way of saying thank you and feeling like we are doing this tiny thing as a community. We are amazingly lucky, our rented housing trust flat has a garden and a front balcony. I can only imagine how dire this lock down must be for people who do not have these things.

badbettypressI try to watch the news once a day; more than that and it is really depressing. Alternatively it is infuriating, why do we need to see Royalty clapping in an obviously posed way with their children outside their front door which does not appear to be in a street where anyone else lives. When have they ever used the NHS?

marmaladeYesterday I made marmalade, from one of those tins of prepared Seville oranges; I knew they were good because my mother used them, rather secretly as she saw it as cheating. When I was quite small I remember going, in our fathers cab, to pick blackberries in Epping Forest, the making of bramble jelly the next day. If there was enough, some would be bottled for use when fruit was expensive in the winter. The jars joined shelves of preserves and pickles all made when things were in season, so cheaper than usual. Sharing a couple of jars of marmalade with neighbours refreshes the memory of how my history in this street began.

I feel now that I am looking through my collection with different eyes, until the poet Joelle Taylor commented on the back cover that my poems were ‘recording the history of marginalised women in the UK’ I hadn’t really seen that aspect of my work clearly. Now I think of times when the lockdown would have been incredibly difficult for me as a single parent, or for my sister when she first developed Alzheimer’s and was constantly angry, or for my parents who were often strapped for cash when we were children.

Kate B Hall coverMy partner and I are both of an age where a store cupboard is normal. Our parents lived through the war so there were always a few tins and packets kept for emergencies. We order our shopping delivery fortnightly and have a kind of general store. We are trying not hoard and so far have managed to get roughly what we need. When our delivery arrives it gets washed, dried and put away. Sometimes the way we talk about what is happening reminds me of my childhood when food was still rationed and my parents were not very well off. My mother was a genius at making things stretch not just food but clothes too.

Writing a book about my working class roots was not particularly conscious, but in hindsight how could it be any different. The poem about my school uniform with its let down hem surprised a lot of younger people who have always thought of uniforms as a leveller, but it certainly didn’t work like that when I was at grammar school. One of the few teachers whose name I remember from over sixty years ago gets a poem in the book and my thanks, even though I’m pretty sure she must be dead by now. There was another teacher’s name that I remember but haven’t as yet written a poem about, who I rather prophetically had a massive crush on, she taught English.

Big thanks to my wonderful editor Amy Acre for pulling the book together and supporting me through the whole process.  Many of  the situations in this book reflect a working class background, just after the Second World War, followed by what my father would have called pulling myself up by my boot straps. I finished an Open University degree in Social Sciences in my early thirties; it changed my life not because of the qualification but because of the new confidence having BA(hons) which I have never used, after my name.

Recently, in my early seventies, I finished another OU course this time a Creative Writing MA. I still haven’t stopped strutting. But I don’t use MA after my name, no one does, but sometimes I have a whisper of inappropriate longing to show off.”

About ‘The Story Is‘:

‘A glorious mix of the historical, quotidian, humorous and tragic. Kate B Hall confronts the often-devastating realities of life and death with a surprising lightness of touch, a beguiling and intimate directness.’  Jacqueline Saphra

Frank, funny and poignant, Kate B Hall’s new collection is a lifetime in the making. From her wartime beginnings as a ‘difficult child’ to the tentative joy of early great-grand motherhood, the power in these poems shines through in the tension held between the tough and the tender. Finding no truth untouchable, Hall squares up to mortality, dementia and unloving mothers, yet almost always unearths a seedling of hope growing amongst the wreckage. Resilient and playful to the last, this is a book that loves hard, a long-awaited chronicle from a well-loved writer.

 

Avenue

Here where trees make an avenue,
where a hundred years ago,
before the Thames Barrier, someone drowned
when the river got ideas above its station.
Where, forty years ago squatters moved in
to keep the bulldozers out, made homes,
formed associations, demanded licences
and were sold on to a Housing Trust for one pound.
Now much older, more respectable people,
who were once us, pass each other with a wave.

Here where I have lived for over half my life
where my daughter grew up and all her childhood
memories begin and end,
where my sons tumbled into our female world
once a month, with a clatter and their sweaty trainers.

Here where I have lived with you, for all of our life together
our kitchen, infused with the smells of coffee and cooking;
my breakfast with the Guardian crossword, at the table
by the window, looking out to see the world go by.
Here is where we sit to plan the day or discuss holidays,
to decide on dinner and to think about our lives,
to sort things out or not and sometimes agree to differ.

Guest Post: William Gee with poem ‘young man’ from upcoming debut pamphlet ‘Rheuma’ (Bad Betty Press)

Today we have the first in a series of poets from Bad Betty Press; a press which is publishing some really interesting work from both established and in today’s case new poets. Check out their publications here (and if you can buy a publication or two, you won’t be disappointed). William Gee will have his debut pamphlet ‘Rheuma’ published late summer. Here he talks about his struggle with Fibromyalgia with some really interesting insights about how it affects our ability to work in a society driven by profit.

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William Gee Profile“For much of my life, I struggled with a range of symptoms which seemed to bare no correlation to one another. Chronic fatigue, an increasingly constant nausea level, violent aching without reason.

Early poems sought to connect these disparate symptoms without acknowledging them, through the general sense of depression and anxiety they unknowingly induced, and I think, as I attempted to distance myself from the experience of living in my own body, that distance found its way into my writing.

Coming to terms with my Fibromyalgia lines up pretty perfectly with the conclusion of my studies, as an MA student at Royal Holloway, and the beginning of my search for full time, meaningful employment.

It feels, at least in my experience, that living with chronic pain is more often than not an act of negotiating the desire to be seen and believed, with the hope that people won’t pick up on your vulnerabilities, and become predisposed in the way they think about you.

Disabled and chronically ill lives are, more often than not, unprofitable lives, and that is largely down to the perception of what it means to be self-sufficient. We are, at our most basal, a measure of our own output. Creatures of capacity. Bodies that need assistance to operate, fail to chime with that age-old capitalist ideal; that each and every one of us is capable of providing for ourselves. Earning our keep.

There’s also this feeling, particularly as a young man, that so much success and opportunity comes off the back of your ability to project virility. A sense of surety and assertiveness that comes with believing there are no limitations to your body’s capabilities.

As I searched for work, these preconceptions really weighed on me, and the value in concealing my physical difficulties became apparent, as did the need for me to be open about how unwell I often feel. The tension between the exposure of my symptoms leading to a depreciation in my perceived economic value, and the support I desperately needed to find and maintain work, became a key concern in both the way I started to lead my life, and in the way I was writing.

badbettypressMy poem, ‘young man,’ was really one of my first explorations of this tension between distance and closeness. It felt like an act of empowerment, as I initially struggled to find work, to admit defeat. To acknowledge flaws, and to ironise them. As it turns out, to be vulnerable in life makes it far easier to be vulnerable on the page, and soon a body of work began to form around the experience of living within my own body.

I was able to make connections between my chronic pain, and some of the traumas I’d been concealing, along with my symptoms, and produce a short collection of poems that have made me able to begin to understand my own life experience.

 

William Gee is a poet and writer based in East London. His work focuses on chronic illness, trauma, and the intersectionality between the two. His debut pamphlet, Rheuma, will be published by Bad Betty Press late this summer.


young man,

you are an expert in having lives to waste and how are we to love you like that
your body lacking in the confidence of your bedroom your body only faking
three-dimensional separate from its own politics incapable of sending its meats
to the right places of un-sending its acids and instead how hard
are you willing to work to get away from yourself young man take all
your beauty out from your natwest student account your beauty is modest as a box
room your beauty is always hungry in the same coat too small to be saved I’m sorry
come back when your body is its most successful factory when you’ve died
at all the punctured versions of yourself

 

 

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.