war

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

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

 

Don’t Mention the Children by Michael Rosen

Collateral damage. Casualties of war. Seen but not heard. Neither seen nor heard. There are none. They don’t exist. They are the cradle of terrorists. Rubble is their toy. Ideas are their weapons. They are not children. They can’t be children. Let us not hear of such things.

stop killing the childrenPropaganda and censorship are the recognised tools of government; whether that government be the so called western liberal kind, or one more akin to North Korea. Of course, they use different methods in the use of these tools but essentially they serve the same purpose of maintaining power, done in the guise of protecting the values, ethos, or way of life of its citizens. Violent conflict is famously said to be an extension of such forms of politics, but by other means.

War is a different beast than it was a hundred years ago; the dead of the First World War were soldiers. Because of the aerial bombardments characteristic of the Second World War there were far more civilians killed. Today’s wars are said to be different than any other because the fight is now between states and non-state actors (aka terrorists/freedom fighters). But what is common in this new form of warfare to the WW2 is the amount of innocent civilians killed. Actors on both sides, whether through suicide bombs, drones, or barrel bombs are indiscriminate in trying to achieve their bloody aim.

michael rosenAnd it is children, who are the most vulnerable civilian casualty of them all. Michael Rosen highlights this tragedy chillingly in his poem Don’t Mention the Children. The poem refers to the banning by the Israeli Broadcasting Authority of an advertisement by the human rights organisation B’Tselem, where it listed the names of the children killed during the bombing in Gaza by Israel. Every country has its right to defend itself; however, it is an issue of proportionality, which lies at the heart of any response. (Bernie Sanders recently challenged Hilary Clinton over this matter, and she refused to condemn the bombing as being disproportionate). So Michael shows how ridiculous this ban was: “The names of the children must be hidden./The children must be nameless./The children must leave this world/having no names.” Only by erasing such acts from history, can they be kept from the world’s view allowing future actions to continue.

Here is Michael reading the poem:

But not only should we mention the children, let us hear what they have to say themselves. Let’s listen to the children. Here is one short account of a nine year old’s experience of the bombing in Gaza in 2014:

Even our apartment has been bombed. The aim is to make us displaced in UN schools and then be a target for tank shells. As you see we had our three shops completely destroyed, but I know fully in my heart that God will compensate us. Till the last day of the war, we remained in our apartment, but when the apartment next door sustained damages, we ran to seek shelter at my grandpa’s place in Shujayea, and there it was bombed again. We ended up going to relatives in the west. There is nowhere safe. Even al-Shifa hospital has been targeted.” (Osama Ejelah, aged 9)

 

Michael Rosen was born in North London in 1946. His parents were both teachers. After university he worked for the BBC on Play School and Schools TV. He currently presents Radio 4’s long-running Word of Mouth. His many awards include the Eleanor Farjeon Award for distinguished services to children’s literature. He is the Chevalier de l’ordre des artes et des lettres and was Children’s Laureate from 2007-9. He is Professor of Children’s Literature at Goldsmith’s, University of London. Don’t Mention the Children is taken from his collection of the same name published by Smokestack Books in 2015.

 

Don’t Mention the Children
‘Israel bans radio advert listing names of children killed in Gaza.’ Guardian, 24 July 2014

Don’t mention the children.
Don’t name the dead children.
The people must not know the names
of the dead children.
The names of the children must be hidden.
The children must be nameless.
The children must leave this world
having no names.
No one must know the names of
the dead children.
No one must say the names of
the dead children.
No one must even think that the children
have names.
People must understand that it would be dangerous
to know the names of the children.
The people must be protected from
knowing the names of the children.
The names of the children could spread
like wildfire.
The people would not be safe if they knew
the names of the children.
Don’t name the dead children.
Don’t remember the dead children.
Don’t think of the dead children.
Don’t say: ‘dead children’.

Published with kind permission of the author.

Poems of Working Class Lives – 2004 Generation Poets

Following on from my previous post on working class poems by a selection of the 1994 Generation Poets, is the second instalment as part of my paper for the upcoming Institute of English Studies conference on March 13th-14th in London.

Below are ten poems from the 2004 alumni of New Generation Poets, that have been selected in terms of whether I could find a relevant poem online or not.

2004 Generation Poets

Patience Agbabi, The Devil in Cardiff. I could have taken a number from the wonderful reworking of Chaucer, in Telling Tales, but here is the lovable rogue Robbo, who previously appeared on the site.
…non-stop to Hell! Dying for a pint, he is./Only serve tea down there, and bloody biscuits …/Bitter for me … He’ll be back here/in less than a month, though, bet you a fiver,/they’ll be beggin’ him to go./Get an ASBO from Hell, Robbo.’

Paul Farley, Depot. A magical, mysterious place where the objects of the street are housed (dustcarts, lampposts) and where street cleaners know more than you might imagine.
Here are the bays, where dustcarts spend their evenings,/where grit summers, dreaming of Januaries,/and barriers mesh, likes deckchairs off-season.’ (more…)

Poems of Working Class Lives by the New and Next Generation Poets

As part of this project I seem to be developing, I will be giving a paper at the Institute of English Studies conference: “New to Next Generation 2014: Three Decades of British and Irish Poetry” on March 13th (come along). I am on a panel entitled Promoting an Inclusive Poetics (I should be careful what I wish for). So as part of developing the paper, I thought I better get to know who the ‘Generation’ poets are.

I have featured four of the Generation Poets on the site so far – from 2014: Hannah Lowe, Kei Miller and Helen Mort; and one from 2004, Patience Agbabi. None from 1994 as yet.

In line with my belief that all poets have written a poem of working class lives, I am going through the poems (at least the ones that are available online at this stage) of each Generation poet to find out if there is any truth to my belief. So this first instalment is a selection from the 1994 ‘New’ Generation – I have looked at eleven of them so far, there are others such as Don Paterson and Kathleen Jamie I know I will find poems from, but there are still a few that I haven’t found one for (e.g. Glyn Maxwell, Lavinia Greenlaw), though I haven’t lost hope.

1994

Moniza Alvi: The Country at My Shoulder is about Moniza’s country of origin, Pakistan, the poverty and gender divide there and how it weighs heavily on her identity.
the women stone-breakers chip away/at boulders, dirt on their bright hems./They await the men and the trucks….I try to shake the dust from the country,/smooth it with my hands.’

Simon Armitage: Clown Punk is very much a poem about identity, of how for some it changes, whereas others may believe it remains the same as exemplified in fading tattoos.
don’t laugh: every pixel of that man’s skin,/is shot through with indelible ink;/as he steps out at the traffic lights/think what he’ll look like in thirty years time.’ (more…)