steve pottinger

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.

3926767553_5c10b7d25c_zAfter two long, brutal days, John and his friend were set free. He is now recovering in the States, and she has got well away from Cordoba. However, she’s still in Mexico. That’s one reason for not naming her. The fact that what happened to her is her story to tell, and not ours, is another.

What has this got to do with poetry? Well, one of the pleasures of poetry is that it allows us to speak our truth in our voice. One of its privileges is that it gives us a platform to point a reader at something we feel they should know about and say Look! Look at this. I’ve always written about the world around me, because that’s what makes me tick. At the same time, I’m aware that writing a poem about a desaparecida – a disappeared woman –  does next to nothing. When things change in Mexico, it will like as not be the result of backroom deals, of huge pressure, of political leverage being lined up and brought into play. It won’t be because of a poem. But here’s the poem, nonetheless.

postscript: to draw attention to what’s happening in Mexico, John has started writing about what he and his friend went through. If you want to, you can read what he has to say here, but I should warn you that it’s as far from an easy read as it’s possible to get, and comes with a fistful of trigger warnings.

Steve Pottinger has gigged the length and breadth of the country, in pubs and clubs, at poetry nights and festivals. But that doesn’t really tell you anything. He loves words, loves people more, and enjoys poetry which makes him smile, or think, or want to man the barricades. When not standing behind a microphone or in front of an audience, he can often be found down the pub. He hopes you enjoy his work.” You can find out more about Steve at http://stevepottinger.co.uk; twitter @BigStevePoet.

 Desaparecida

I did not know you.

I did not know you and I was not there
when Tuesday morning burst in upon you,
kicked down the doors and stormed
into the flat, when a dozen men with guns,
– policia doing the work of the cartel –
dragged you to the cars that waited,
idling outside, dance tunes on the radio,
drivers tapping their fingers, humming along.

I did not know you and I was not there
when they drove you to a nameless faceless place
built of breeze blocks, nightmares, fear
of hours that stretch forever
and the death of strangers
I was not there and when they did to you
what men with brutal minds and guns
have always done to women
I still didn’t know you. I still wasn’t there.

I did not know you and I was not there
when they set you free
when you stumbled back home
I was not there and I do not know
if you leant chairs against the broken door
to close out the world and its guns and its hate
I do not know if you curled up on the bed and sobbed
or stood under the shower for dripping hours
hoping to wash away hurt and sin and shame
I was not there when you sat at the table and shook
when you smoked one trembling cigarette after another
when you cursed the god who lets these men
– these malditos culeros – run free
when you prayed to our lady,
to anyone who’d listen.

I did not know you and I was not there
when they came back
when they came back
and took you away again
when the car waited, idling outside,
driver tapping his fingers, humming along
when they wrote your name in sand and blood
in the long long list of desaparecidas

I did not know you and I was not there
and it’s not enough, it will never be enough
but I write this poem
to keep alive your name
to light a candle of words,
a small but steady flame
that burns bright in the howling dark
and remembers you.

© Steve Pottinger, 2019

(over 26,000 people have gone missing in Mexico, victims of drug cartels, the police and state authorities who often work with them)

 

 

 

 

Stabberjocky by Steve Pottinger

ShelleyI can’t imagine there to be a poet who so enraged those in authority, that long after his death, his naked statue would have its testicles removed. Yet this was the lot of Percy Bysshe Shelley. As the late Paul Foot explains in his classic book, Red Shelley. “The naked Shelley was the subject of much sport each summer was at Oxford [University]. As a climax to what is known as Eights Week, the future leaders of the nation would mourn yet another disaster for the University College First Eight by squeezing between the bars of Shelley’s cage, and wreaking havoc on his statue. ‘We’ve got Shelley’s balls!’ was the plummy cry of triumph which would echo through the quadrangles at three or four in the morning.”

I don’t suppose that the Notting Hill posh heads of Cameron, Johnson, and Gove are great fans of Shelley, or similar modern poets so resistant to their right wing elitist values. Well, fortunately their short-lived bubble of power (remember they were only solely in office for a year), has been self-punctured. However, there is little to celebrate from such a demise; the country is in its greatest level of uncertainty for many years with Brexit, and the grip of the Right is still vice-like, especially with the battle raging between the Labour People’s Front and the People’s Front of Labour.

Poets have begun to respond to this exit from Europe and resultant political dislocation, with online magazines and anthologies from the likes of Well Versed (as usual), The Stare’s Nest, The Bogman’s Cannon, New Boots and Pantisocracies, and I Am Not a Silent Poet. Steve Pottinger is a stalwart of political poetry, whether with poems against tax avoiding corporations, or as steve pottingerwith his poem here, Stabberjocky, holding power to account in the most surreal and satirical way. This reworking of Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky is a real classic in the making. So much so, that if Steve was to ever have statue made of him, I am sure that descendants of Shelley’s stealers would be on the lookout for Pottinger’s crown jewels. (more…)

Birmingham to London by Coach, by Steve Pottinger

In 1925, the newly installed Chancellor of the Exchequer Winston Churchill, linked the pound the gold standard in a vain attempt to boost a dying empire. This led to an economic catastrophe and the now famous General Strike of 1926. Always one for war war as opposed to jaw jaw, Churchill advocated troops firing on strikers. So to stop him from inflicting such harm, he was assigned the editorship of the British Gazette, the government’s propaganda machine during the strike. The paper ridiculed the strikers and claimed they were a direct threat to the country’s democracy.

sun arthur scargillsunsplashThe media has continued with this tradition of ridiculing and demonising the working classes. During the Miner’s Strike of the 1980s, Thatcher wanted to take a very similar approach to Churchill, with a secret plot to use 4,500 troops to crush the miners and she had the backing of the right wing tabloids of the day. The Sun tried to run a front page of a straight-armed Arthur Scargill (he was mid-wave) under the heading, “Mine Furher”, but the print union (who knew if the miners lost they’d be next) refused to run it so the paper had to back down and run the alternative (see right).

However, the focus of today’s media demonization is the out-of-workers; those on benefits, who we are told have too many children, are promiscuous, criminal, and feckless. These types are paraded on the screens from Jerry Springer to Jeremy Kyle, with characters like Vicky Pollard and Frank Gallagher, and are regularly on the front pages of the tabloids. It feeds into politicians’ minds and speeches; in the UK election the focus is very much on hard working families, who can only be helped through cuts – cuts which implicitly will affect those on benefits. So if you are unemployed, disabled or unwell, elderly, you are seen as a drain on the state. All this, despite the fact that many “hard working people” are in poverty and rely on benefits and food banks. It is a classic divide and rule strategy.

steve pottingerHow does one deal with this? One obvious way is with frustration, anger, protest, and voting against those propagating a perception that disadvantaged people are the problem. The other way, which Steve Pottinger has done with great wit in his poem Birmingham to London by Coach, is to write about it in a satirical way; turn our perceptions around, make us think differently about the current demonization of a class of people, who somehow hold little power and little money, and yet seem to dictate the policy of the main political parties. I know, it’s fucking bizarre! (more…)