antony owen

time comes counting / one two zero by reuben woolley

BalanceOfPower_(cropped)In talking with my wife the other day, we wondered which countries are doing well in the world today. Of course, ‘well’ is an abstraction and it was more easily answered in looking at those doing badly, or not so well. The world is unfurling, especially if we account for the use and impact of social media, exposing great instability. The whole European project is in question, not only in relation to Brexit, but also in terms of resolving proxy wars, as is the case in the Ukraine. Africa is on the whole improving in terms of headline indicators such as child mortality, although it is still high; however, within the individual countries, particularly those who are influential – South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Egypt, not to mention the fluid situation in Zimbabwe – there is instability. India quietly treads water, Pakistan is embroiled in the war in Afghanistan, as well with India through the proxy war in Kashmir. Brazil is also in a state of uncertainty over high level corruption charges. Both Russia and China are becoming increasingly authoritarian and emboldened by the lack of any countervailing powers, both internally, and with Trump, internationally. Pockets of hope come when looking at Scandinavian countries, with examples of Finland’s trial of universal basic income, maybe Canada will have some influence, and Australia has been immune to the international economic crisis – but the latter two examples feel like outposts beyond their geographic location.

Then we have the United States, which is not going quietly into the night. From this side of the Atlantic, it seems the country’s identity is riven with divisions that hark back to the civil war. And the biggest irony in all Trump’s hubris of making the United States isolationist again, is he loves playing draughts/checkers (he’s not clever enough for the chess metaphor) with international relations. In the case of those with North Korea he is being played by China, and to some extent Russia (although they are playing another game with the election interference). So today, we are in a situation where it’s like two children in the playground but both have nuclear weapons. Trump in questioning why Kim Jong Un would call him ‘old’ says, by not saying, that the North Korean despot is ‘short and fat’, to which he, the US president (I still find it hard to comprehend that he is) has been sentenced to death.

me-at-newcastle-stanzaIt is almost beyond cliché to say we have not learned the lessons of history; I say beyond, because of the hopelessness in feeling it could make any difference. But we have to; even if we feel we are repeating ourselves, because after all we are hoping not to repeat history. We see this need in poems such as Reuben Woolley’s ‘time comes counting / one two zero’, which is dedicated to the Coventry poet Antony Owen, who has written and campaigned for nuclear disarmament, in particular his work with the CND education programme and ties with Japan. In Reuben’s usual beautiful brevity and minimalist form, he captures the tragedy of nuclear war in Japan and the impact it still has for subsequent generations; certainly, a history lesson for us all.

Reuben Woolley has been published in Tears in the Fence, The Lighthouse Literary Journal, The Interpreter’s House, Domestic Cherry, Ink Sweat and Tears, The Stare’s Nest, And Other Poems, The Poetry Shed, The BeZine and Goose among others. He has a collection, the king is dead, 2014, Oneiros Books; a chapbook, dying notes, 2015, Erbacce Press; a short collection on the refugee crisis, skins, 2016, Hesterglock Press and a new collection, broken stories, just published by 20/20 Vision Media, 2017. Runner-up: Overton Poetry Pamphlet competition and the Erbacce Prize, both in 2015. He edits the online poetry magazines, I am not a silent poet and The Curly Mind.

time comes counting / one two zero
(for Antony Owen)

when the rain comes
in shadows

                    she said

i’ll see the worlds
like pages

                    the skins
they left
on walls / on

heroes / my
hiroshima angels

they’ll not see
                    she said
not yet / not ever

& the cherry trees still flower
tears for generations


We tend to think of migrants as those who only cross borders. However, Internally Displaced People (IDP) are a huge issue facing countries experiencing humanitarian disasters and wars. All of which puts a great burden on a country’s resources when they are at the most strained. In Syria there is estimated to be 6.6 million IDPs. By the end of 2014, a record level of 38 million people were displaced within their own country as a result of violence; countries such as Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Nigeria, South Sudan and Syria making up 60% of the world’s IDPs.

tebbittIn more wealthy countries people are also pressured to move. For example, because of past policies of selling off council housing, people are being forced to move to a different part of the country if they need a home. Margaret Thatcher’s henchman, Norman Tebbitt, once infamously said, “you dirty worthless working class scum, I’m going to wipe you off the face of this country.” Okay, maybe he didn’t say that exactly, but he did once say in response to the riots of the early 80s, “I grew up in the 30s with an unemployed father. He didn’t riot, he got on his bike and looked for work and kept looking till he found it.” Setting aside the fact that he did as much to dismantle the bedrock of his heritage, and the fact that not everyone can move to find work, the internal migration, to which he is essentially referring is one driven by economic hardship and capitalist discrimination. People don’t generally move because they are happy with their circumstance, unless they may be going to University or have been offered a job they willingly applied for.

received_10206899908830065-1Nonetheless, whether a refugee who has left their country, or internally displaced person, the majority of people still call home the place they were born. Joe Horgan’s poem, “The Maps You Took With You When You Went,” tells of the place he was born, Birmingham and the situation facing many working class people during the 1980s. The irony being that many came to the city, as they did to my own home of Coventry, from Ireland and Scotland, only to see a number of their own children leave; some went back to Ireland during the Celtic Tiger bubble, whilst others dispersed to various corners of the country and abroad. (more…)

Postman in the Smoke, and Inferno by Antony Owen

rathaustrumWhen you look at the iconic picture taken of the German city of Dresden in 1945, it is as though the statue of the Rathausturm, known as ‘Die Gute’ (the Goodness – a personification of kindness), is pointing in disbelief at the utter devastation wrought by the British, where an estimated 25,000 people (many of them civilians) were killed. Almost five years previously in November 1940, my home town of Coventry, was heavily bombed by the Germans because of its industry and munitions factory. Although the death toll (estimated c560+) was far less than in Dresden, it was still massively devastating in terms of the damage done to the city, which took years to rebuild.

Coventry_Cathedral_after_the_air_raid_in_1940The greatest symbol of that destruction is the ruins of the old Coventry Cathedral. I still go up its tower, St Michael’s, and two things stay with me when I look at the view; the first is imagining being up there on the night of the bombings, seeing planes overhead encircling the city. The second is, if you look south across the city, to the west you see the green of the more affluent parts of Coventry, including the War Memorial Park, whereas to the east you see the grey concrete-dominated developments of the less wealthy.

Dresden and Coventry are now twinned. In fact, Coventry was the first to twin with another city (Stalingrad in 1944) and has become foremost in symbolising peace and reconciliation through antony owenwars; its theatre is called The Belgrade Theatre, after the then Yugoslav city donated timber for its rebuilding. Antony Owen’s two poems here, Postman in the Smoke and Inferno, poignantly reflect the impact bombing had on the people of the two cities. In Coventry, “A postman stands in the flame grey postcode/staring at doorways with chimneys around them,/moaning as they open to charred occupants.” Then in Dresden: “These pails of dead firemen filled/with initialled rings weigh heavy.” But it is the men of power, (more…)