malikas poetry kitchen

Guest Post: Charlotte Ansell with poem, Drowning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drowning

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

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

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

 

Guest Post: 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

 

Another Life by Jill Abram

Many years ago my friend went for an interview at the Royal Mail; when asked why he wanted to be a postman, he said, “Because my uncle runs the pub across the road.” He didn’t get the job, which wasn’t fair really because the pub was always full of posties at lunchtime.

Charles Bukowski was probably the most famous literary drinking postman. When deciding whether to continue at the post or become a full-time writer he said, “I have one of two choices – stay in the post office and go crazy … or stay out here and play at writer and starve. I have decided to starve.”

Imagine however, that instead of delivering other peoples’ letters or junk mail, the postman delivered a message of his or her own. What would the folks of downtown L.A. have thought about missives from Bukowski or Burroughs? Or how about messages from those promoting social justice and equality, like Gandhi or Jerry Springer.

B&W by Naomi

Photo by Naomi Woddis

Jill Abram, in her poem, Another Life, does just that when she imagines Martin Luther King walking the streets with his dream, ‘but instead of sharing it/with all the world at once,/he would have told people individually/household by household.’ Can you imagine getting a personal message from MLK, how life changing that could be? And how you could pass on his word, “neighbour to neighbour/over garden gates and hedges/and cups of tea.”

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