Poem

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.

Screenshot 2020-04-12 at 15.03.49

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.’

They count on you getting tired, giving up by Kathy Pimlott

When I first moved to London in 1992, a friend said to me ‘get your name down on the council, else you’ll never be able to afford to live here’. I didn’t and he was right. After ten years, and with a partner and young child, we upped sticks and moved outside the M25, where we still couldn’t afford to buy anywhere but could just afford to rent a house. This is the hollowing out of London, leaving only those clinging to their council/social housing and the upper rich and their extorted money.

Whether you’re a bearded Marxist, or a bearded hipster, you would have to agree that it is much more expensive to live in London than it was thirty years ago. Extremes of wealth are seeping into every pore starting from the boil’s epicentre, The Square Mile, reverberating across the country from the 1980s’ deregulation earthquake.

kathy_pimlottFor those, like our poet today, Kathy Pimlott, who have lived in the centre of London in ‘protected’ housing (whether council or social housing) for many years, it has felt like only a matter of time until the long claws of late capitalism, tear into peoples’ homes for profit. In her poem, ‘They count on you getting tired, giving up’ she shows us howMoney wants no-one/ to belong here, just pass through, hold no memories /worth fighting for to temper plans to squeeze the streets’. Maggie Snatcher’s Housing Act in 1980, saw the stock of social housing in London fall from being the most popular form of habitat, to the lowest – now at only 20%. For Covent Garden in particular Kathy says: ‘The specifically galling thing about the monetisation of the picturesque and ‘villagey’ Covent Garden/Seven Dials is that the area would have been flattened and replaced with a raised central ‘island’ of hotels and offices surrounded by a three-lane ring road if the community hadn’t fought these plans for demolition and redevelopment in the 70s.’ And coverKathy shows this ‘gentrification’ of both housing and business in a number of other poems in her wonderful new pamphlet, ‘Elastic Glue’ published by prodigious The Emma Press.

There are a number of crises facing Londoners today, most prominent recently being knife crime. But there are others, such as pollution, jobs, and our subject of today, housing. Too much I feel is expected of the likes of London’s Mayor Sadiq Kahn; who doesn’t have the powers that many people perceive him to possess. A (con)tradiction began when New Labour attempted to decentralise power with greater local council autonomy, the setting up of city mayors, then the Con/Dem pact’s Police and Crime Commissioners, because all were done without the economic coffers to endorse these new powers. It’s like giving a toilet cleaner the keys to the public bogs, but nothing to clean them with, or someone a pop-up tent with no land to pop it on. Time for them to do one.

Kathy Pimlott’s two pamphlets, ‘Elastic Glue’ (2019) and ‘Goose Fair Night’ (2016), were both published by The Emma Press. Born in Nottingham, in the shadow of Player’s cigarette factory, she has spent her adult life in Covent Garden. She has been, among other things, a social worker and community activist and currently works on community-led public realm projects. www.kathypimlott.co.uk @kathy_pimlott

 

They count on you getting tired, giving up

No-one lives here, you’d think, in the city’s glitzy heart
except the agile young wanting to shimmy and shine
before taking a van out to somewhere more… private.

Yet here we are, in infill blocks we made them build
all those years ago, knowing your mum, your kids
since before they had their own, so close we hear

each other’s sneezes, dying. Upstairs, temporary men
keep Spanish hours that clatter on their wooden floor,
my bedroom ceiling. They’ll go. I know who plays away,

who cooks mackerel, who’s been inside, uses Economy 7,
tunes in to Magic Radio. I know we’re on borrowed time.
Where are the old girls of the market, theatres, print?

Gone to Guinnesses in the sky. Money wants no-one
to belong here, just pass through, hold no memories
worth fighting for to temper plans to squeeze the streets,

trick them out in shoddy to look like style, smell like profit.
Silly us. All that time we thought it ours, rallied, witnessed,
held the line, all that grief, just making it nice for Money.

 

 

Telling the Lads by Toby Campion

homophobiaThe Sultan of Brunei, not known for being a man of contemporary enlightenment, has decreed that gay sex and adultery will be punished by stoning to death. A number of countries, including Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Nigeria, and Indonesia still employ stoning as a method of capital punishment. Of the 53 Commonwealth countries, 37 have laws that criminalise homosexuality. Such discrimination harks back to colonial rule. And yet, every four years, athletes compete in the Commonwealth games, where gay people face the danger of being imprisoned, when all they should be concentrating on the competition – one which is meant to bring people together. (more…)

Eighty Four: Poems on Male Suicide, Vulnerability, Grief and Hope (edited by Helen Calcutt)

davLast Wednesday, I hosted a very special event at Foyles’ Bookshop in London; the launch of the poetry anthology ‘E ghty* Four’ published by Verve Poetry Press in support of the charity the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM). Why E ghty Four? (* the ‘i’ signifies a life lost)

E ghty Four is the number of men in the UK who take their own lives every week; twelve a day, one every two hours, 4,368 a year. More women experience depression, more women take anti-depressants, but men are four times more likely to end their life. It is a national epidemic, which is not confined to this country – the US for example has 129 suicides a day, half of which are carried out with a firearm.

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Guest Blog by Alison Patrick, plus poem: At Large in Ratchup

convicts_at_botany_bay_commonsHenry Foulk appears in records from the eighteenth century held in Shropshire Archives. Prisoners awaiting trial in Shrewsbury Gaol were listed in the Calendar of Prisoners from the records of the Quarter Sessions and Assizes. These were meetings of the Justices of Peace, held as the name suggests, four times a year. Before the establishment of County Councils after 1888, administration at county level was largely in the hands of the Justices of the Peace. Their judicial powers included trying and punishing all felonies and trespasses, arresting on suspicion and taking sureties for good behaviour”.  The Calendar of Prisoners gives the name and age of the prisoner, details of the offence and a note of the sentence given.

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Lean Back as instructed by Fat Joe by Theresa Lola

You know that band? What were they called?
The band that gave you permission;
the band that blew the bloody doors off.
Who stood you upright, against the face
of X & Y cardboard chromosomes, dressed
as show homes on streets lined with every sign
except a U-turn. The band that took you away
like a rapture cult. Yes, that’s the band.

Well, whether it was a band, or – as is the case with our poem today, a song – teenagers have been shaken and taken out of the mundanity of school life, or hanging out on street corners, by music. Often it is a ‘fuck you’ to all that has gone before.

Lucky enough to be fifteen years old in 1977 with forgiving parents, it was punk, reggae, then being from Coventry, Ska (especially the Specials), that blew the bloody bedroom door off for me; the music, the bands, the look, all felt like a revolution. The Clash song ‘1977‘ summed up the mood; ‘No Elvis, Beatles or the Rolling Stones, in 1977!!!!!’ – (Elvis in fact died that year, so it was very prescient, as the song was written before his death). It was the camaraderie which, essentially said: no-one likes us, we don’t care.

Theresa LolaMost teenagers have that moment, when the music is for only them; it reflects their mood in the face of world issues and adults who they feel don’t understand them. It can often be the first step to independence, which you and your friends own. I see this in Theresa Lola’s wonderful celebration of Fat Joe’s Lean Back, ‘in the unofficial national anthem at school. When the students gather you recite the lyrics to Lean Back, lean your shoulder at a 45-degree angle and watch them gaze at the perfect arch, your tongue burning with no lyric left un-scraped.’ We can see the whole playground making the moves, mouthing the words, coming together. Then the poem takes us to deeper stuff, how the music makes us feel about our identity, our position in society. ‘Till now you carried the name ‘unidentified female body in the yearbook pictures’. You tried scratching out the name, shifted to the busy table at the cafeteria.’ This is what makes great music, and great art more generally; both uniting, whilst at the same time making us feel it so personally. (more…)

Guest Post by Steve Pottinger, with his poem ‘Desaparecida’

sofaOn January 8th this year, a friend of mine was kidnapped by a Mexican drugs cartel. John Sevigny is a photographer, a US national who spends a lot of time in Central America; he was visiting Cordoba, in Veracruz state in Mexico, when he and a woman he was working with were abducted by a large number of heavily armed men.

Abduction in Mexico isn’t uncommon. Over 30,000 people have disappeared, and while I knew of los desaparecidos I guess it’s human nature to believe this ongoing tragedy – like all tragedies – is something which happens to others, and never to anyone you know or care about. Maybe that’s a necessary disconnect which allows us to live free from anxiety and constant fear. Perhaps that explains the shock when it turns out not to be true. (more…)

‘Mine is Not a Holocaust Tale’ and ‘Leaving Odessa’ by Rachael Clyne

15535288254_766cf5cdc4_zI don’t know my paternal great grandfather’s ethnicity, but the trail of his history has all the hallmarks of him being Jewish. Across the turn of the 19th to 20th centuries, he traded leather and shoes from Russia to England. Between the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881, when violent anti-Semitism rose, and the first revolution of 1905, he sensed the change that would eventually shake the world and left for England.

Arriving at Southampton with my great grandmother and two young children, they settled in the East End of London, where my grandfather was born in 1900. My great grandmother died there and is buried in Bow Cemetery. My grandfather moved to Glasgow, but his father and brother stayed and eventually went back to what is now Ukraine, and although kept in touch were not heard from again after the Germans swept through in 1941. Whether he was Jewish or not will remain a mystery, but I know from my Jewish father-in-law, and of course from reading the history, that such migrations were very common. (more…)

On Alan Morrison’s Shabbigentile (with poem, ¡Viva Barista!)

shabbigentileIn novels and films, plays even, there are state-of-the-nation portrayals aplenty; from Dickens to Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem the rich and the poor are double acts of a political stage that is the United Kingdom. In poetry? Not so much. The Waste Land comes to mind of course, and the writing of such poets as Fran Lock, and performances by Luke Wright, tell of the political scene in different forms (historic & contemporary). So, in reading Alan Morrison’s brilliantly titled ‘Shabbigentile’ you will be bowled over by the constant stream of anger-flecked images, which properly reflect the ill-state-of-the-nation we find ourselves in today. (more…)