reuben woolley

A Cold Soil Waiting by Reuben Woolley

headlineImage.adapt.1460.high.Syrian_deaths_092915.1443561481518There are so many deaths in Syria that the United Nations stopped counting in 2014 because it could no longer rely on its own data. According to the pro-opposition Syrian Network for Human Rights, 222,114 civilians had been killed between March 2011 and September 2018

I drew a sad child because my brother died. When I am sad I draw.” (11 year old girl, internally displaced in Iraq)

There have been an estimated 85,000 child deaths in Yemen over the past three years due to famine. ‘For children under the age of five this situation is proving a death sentence’ (Bhanu Bhatnagar, Save the Children) 

Child casualties for 2017 in Afghanistan stood at 3,179 (861 killed and 2,318 injured) – a 10% drop from 2016.

We cannot sleep day and night due to the frightening sounds of firing,’ an 11-year-old girl told Unama (The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan)

Delphine says that three of her four children, ages three, four and six – as well as her 28-year-old husband – were shot dead when rebels from the National Movement for the Liberation of the Central African Republic (MNLC) attacked their village

‘If I close my eyes I think of my friends, the school and all my favourite places at home: everything there is better than here. They ruined everything for us. I just want to go to school, and learn a job and work! Here we have nothing, only this tent with no electricity.’ (Firas, 16 years old, internally displaced in Iraq)

A child soldier poses with a libyan helmAn estimated 2,000 to 3,000 children, sometimes as young as 9, are currently enlisted in the Somali armed forces. According to Unicef, the situation is currently getting worse because the militia have transformed schools into recruitment centres and forced teachers to turn their students into child soldiers’ 

My squad is my family, my gunis my provider, and protector, and my rule is to kill or be killed.”(Ishmael Beah, child soldier Sierra Leone)

‘Last week (in late October), over 250,000 children across Syria are sitting for their national Grade 9 exams, including students who have benefited from the UNICEF-supported remedial education programme in Tartous.’

“Aside from all the academic support I received at the centre, the teachers believed in me so much and lifted me up,” says Naya with a smile. “They became my friends and family,” (Naya, aged 16, internally displaced in Syria)

Me at Newcastle StanzaReuben Woolley has been published in quite a few magazines such as Tears in theFence, Lighthouse, The Interpreter’s House, the anthology: TheDizziness of Freedom, Ink Sweat & Tears, Proletarian Poetry, And Other Poems and The Poet’s Shed. He has five books to his name, the latest being ‘some time we are heroes’, published by The Corrupt Press (2018). He has a book forthcoming, this hall of several tortures, to be published by Knives Forks and Spoons Press (September 2019). He edits the online magazines, I am not a silent poet and The Curly Mind.

 

a cold soil waiting

not dead i say not
yet.they deal in cold
bodies / hope
for some
                 disaster

                 i will
not lie
in such dark
matter.it is
short a
way & not to move

i lose a wrinkled
face no means is
this not human
                          a possible / a
slight stretch of poor
accord.tell them where
a child sleeps in cold
ground / where they fuck
a lost mother still
there are no titles.these
pages blank they
tremble
               never
a peace

& rain falls dry.bring
a life / a sickness
in this black earth

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
turn
like pages

                    the skins
they left
on walls / on
pavements

                    my
Nagasaki
heroes / my
hiroshima angels

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

& the cherry trees still flower
tears for generations

all fall down by Reuben Woolley

children-aleppoI know that saying children are remarkable, is not a particularly remarkable thing to say. Nonetheless, I see it with my own sons; how they shrug off an argument they may have had, or in my older son’s case, how he recovered from severe depression. And I was reminded of this when seeing young boys smiling as they jumped into a water filled bomb crater, a splash pool of war, in Aleppo.

War is indiscriminate. In the past you could have said children were unintended casualties. But in modern warfare they are often the intended targets; “to kill the big rats, you have to kill the little rats”, was the message on the eve of the Rwandan genocide. Even with the boy-sister-aleppoadvancement in technology and so called smart bombs, civilian casualties are always much greater in the type of modern warfare we see in Syria. Over 11,000 children were killed in the country between 2011, when the conflict started, and 2013; some of them being summarily executed. But tragically, even images such as that of the young boy covered in dust and rubble in a hospital in Aleppo (his sister was also with him but was kept out of the shot), don’t seem to make a difference on the ground.

It appears that Russia is heading for a finishing line adorned by young deaths and a uninhabitable country. In the final week of September it is estimated that over one hundred children were killed in Aleppo. The other powers, especially the US, wallow in impotency; more interested in leaving the baton on the ground whilst they decide who should be their next President.

me-at-newcastle-stanzaReuben Woolley’s poem ‘all fall down’ poignantly captures the tragedy of war, “where/children sang in cinders”. As Michael Rosen did previously in his poem, ‘Don’t Mention the Children’ about the situation in Gaza, Reuben has taken to highlighting their universal plight of being exploited and killed by those in power, leaving untold ‘invisible trauma’, “bring them to us now/we’ll have their eyes.” Yes, children have a great resilience, as demonstrated by the boys making play out of a bomb crater, as children did in London and elsewhere during the Blitz. But one can only imagine the terror they feel as they try to sleep, not knowing what the powers that be have in store for them during the darkness of night.

Here is Reuben talking about the poem and his site, “I am not a silent poet.”

“In November, 2014, I got fed up of the sickening reports everywhere in the media, bth the traditional media and the social media, of the human abuse of other humans and of the planet. Some of my poetry was written very much in protest against this abuse but I felt that something else needed doing. I was sure that I wasn’t the only poet affected by this so I set up the online magazine, I am not a silent poet, and its associated Facebook group page, as a site for bringing together poems about/against any type of abuse anywhere in the world. I invited a few friends and also begged people for poems to get things started. I must admit that I thought it might last for a few months before petering out. I was wrong. It has grown enormously from those small beginnings, but it still tries to provide a space for people’s voices and give a voice to those who haven’t one. It also tries to give a very rapid response so that the work is just as relevant when it is published as when it was written. Like most of the poems on the magazine written about Syria, my poem looks closely at those who suffer most in the conflict: the children.”

 

Reuben Woolley has been published in various magazines including Tears in the Fence, The Lighthouse Literary Journal, The Interpreter’s House, Domestic Cherry, The Stare’s Nest and Ink Sweat and Tears. His collection, the king is dead was published in 2014 with Oneiros Books, and a chapbook, dying notes, in 2015 with Erbacce Press  Runner-up: Overton Poetry Pamphlet competition and the Erbacce Prize in 2015. Editor of the online magazines: I am not a silent poet and The Curly Mind. A new collection on the refugee crisis, skins, has been published by Hesterglock Press, 2016.

 

 

all fall down

& all the story
in
     between
                    where
children sang in cinders

we saw them
     clothed in tired skin
& dying
    daily

not meat enough
nor grain
there’ll be no
               joyous
               noise
a game
a ring of posies
& blackened flesh

                    bring them to us now
we’ll have their eyes
& string
a dull
pendant
to show a rusty path. i’ll grind
a bone
an arrow head