Grenfell: for the victims
Sunday, 22 October 2017 00:52

Grenfell: for the victims

Published in Poetry

Author's Note: Joyce Grenfell (1910-1979) was a British actor, singer and stage entertainer who specialised in comic monologues and achieved huge popularity in the decades following World War Two. Among her best-known imaginary monologue-speakers was a teacher of very young children, among them George who was more than once asked to stop doing something (nature undisclosed). Grenfell Tower was named in her memory.

George Osborne was Chancellor of the Exchequer between 2010 and 2016. He – or his advisors – promoted the drastic and divisive creed of ‘austerity’ that inflicted great damage on many aspects of British social, communal and political life. The cuts to local authority spending on health and safety regulation were adduced by some as having contributed to the catastrophic fire at Grenfell Tower.

 

'George, don't do that': Joyce Grenfell in the role
Of hard-pressed infant teacher, trying not
To let it get her down or lose control,
But at a stage where things have clearly got
Just a bit much and now she's left in sole
Charge of this endlessly demanding lot
Of noisy five-year-olds. What really stole
The show was having listeners wonder what
He, George, was doing and how she'd cajole
Him out of doing it, first by a spot
Of gentle blandishment, then, as the toll
On her nerves grew, by adding just a shot
Of reprimand, and lastly – as the whole
Class seemed to sense a lesson gone to pot –
By one more plea before the bell, with droll
Yet perfect timing, closed her lesson-slot.

'George, don't do that': don't give us all that spiel
About austerity, the debt, how we're
'All in this thing together', or how we'll
Just have to pull our belts in and adhere
To your fine plan for cutting a great deal
With your old banker pals. We've done 'austere'
For long enough to guess it's us who'll feel
The pinch alright and them who'll stand to clear
A fortune when the billions you steal
From those who put the work in yield their year-
On-year fat bonus. Know what made it real,
What brought it home, that sense we had of sheer
Unutterable rage? That you could seal
Your devil's pact and no one interfere
To bring those crooks to justice or reveal
The swindle in a reckoning more severe.

'George, don't do that': for Christ's sake don't pretend
You haven't grasped the Grenfell link, or take
The standard Tory view that one can bend
The safety rules and regs for profit's sake
So long as those affected are low-end
In status terms, with no financial stake
Or friends and influence that might extend
Beyond their local patch. And, just to make
The point more plainly: when the plan’s to spend
A bit less on the stuff for those fire-break
Partitions in the high-rise towers, or mend
The cracks less frequently, it's in the wake
Of all your government directives penned
By jobsworth types who know just how the cake
Gets sliced. Losers and immigrants, my friend:
Don’t fret too much if cladding starts to flake.

You'll do that, George, you'll let the paupers fry
(Crass metaphor: forgive the vulgar taste)
So long as they're the ones who just get by,
Or don't, while you and your lot are well-placed
To fix it so that no-one gets a try
At changing things. If we lament the waste
Of talents, lives, or chances not to die
A needless death because you lot embraced
'Austerity', then no doubt you'll reply
With some glib chunk of right-wing wisdom based
On trickle-down. This aims to justify
What's really plain old dog-eat-dog showcased
In think-tank talk to stop us asking why
They've not run riot, those survivors faced
With the charred tower each day while some rich guy
Like you says let's not act with too much haste.

But how to stop you, George, how make the kind
Of full-scale revolution that they’ll need,
Those tenants yet to come, if we're to find
Some remedy for scenes like this and heed
The hard-won lesson that it leaves behind,
That blackened witness to the Osborne creed
That, by malignant chemistry, combined
Mammon with Moloch, your sharp-suited greed
With everything the system does to grind
Its victims down. But then, a point that we'd
Do well to keep continually in mind
Is how keen the survivors were to lead
Discussion back to life-hopes intertwined
With Grenfell Tower and show how we'll misread
Their testimony should our anger blind
Us to the fact that those hopes may succeed

Despite the heaviest odds. That's because they're
Flat contrary to every point of your
Unspoken doctrine: that the poor should bear
The greatest burden just because they're poor,
Or just because they've not yet done their share
To fill the vast tax-coffers destined for
Long-planned redistribution on the fair
(By your lights) principle which goes: the more
Ye have, the more shall what ye have declare
You worth ten times as much. The Grenfell score
Looks bad on your side, George, if we compare
Your moral credit-rating (through the floor!)
To high-rise tenants with no cash to spare
Yet with the guts and dignity to shore
Against disaster. 'Ta'en too little care'
You have, like Lear; these deaths you can't ignore.

 

 

 

Justice 4 Grenfell
Sunday, 22 October 2017 00:52

Justice 4 Grenfell

Published in Poetry

Justice 4 Grenfell

by Zita Holbourne

So many lives that never needed to end
Trapped in a fire box, no way to defend
From the fury of flames spreading rapidly
Imagine how frightening this must be

They built ghettos in the sky to hide us away
Boxed in on top of each other without a say
Placed those who have children on the highest floors
No gardens to play so they're stuck indoors

Treated like inferior people
Never seeing us as relevant or equal
Disregarded then and disregarded now
Like its okay to treat us anyhow

Wrapped the tower up in a flammable cloak
Ignited in the night so the flames and smoke
Took lives, belongings & dreams for the future
What once was their home became their abuser

The residents warned of the dangers for years
Whilst those in charge didn't just ignore their fears
But threatened young women with legal action
Claiming their cries were an over reaction

Now they with many others perished in the fire
Little chance to survive for those who were higher
Like the mother of a 7 month baby
Twenty four floors high descending to safety

But no way to escape, she couldn't get free
A whole life ahead for that tiny baby
Taken away because her life didn't matter
To those who ought to have cared and known better

Mothers, fathers, grandparents and babies died
Children and entire families tried
To escape from the flames before it was too late
Before they were assigned to a horrific fate

Many saved their families and neighbours
Some before that night may have been total strangers
Fire fighters couldn't stop the fire
Because of the cladding it spread higher

Some people were trapped for several hours
Calling from windows across to other towers
Even throwing their children to people below
Desperate to save their loved ones from the fire's glow

After. The humanity of communities
In stark contrast to that of the authorities
Whilst survivors find themselves homeless and displaced
Lack of action by government, complete disgrace

Failing to organise support on the ground
With devastation happening all around
People traumatised and searching for loved ones
Hoping help would come from someone - anyone

On the ground a floor of floral tributes grows
And on every surface the faces of those
Who died or are declared missing are smiling
At the memorial wall, we stand crying

Looking in sorrow at the beautiful faces
We hold each other tightly in warm embraces
While looming over us the burned out shell
Once full of the lives of those who used to dwell

Now a vertical mass coffin in the sky
Where forensic tests must identify
Too many who were unable to get away
And below a sense of disbelief and dismay

The cry for answers and justice rings in the air
And for those who have lost it's too much to bear
The pain and the anguish fills each day and night
Displaced, grieving, yet finding the strength to fight

While the authorities take donations away
The community is there every day
To bring those who survived love and support
But basic needs ought not need to be fought

Nobody who's been through what they have been through
Should have to navigate, search, ask for or queue
Or have to live, even temporarily
In a crowded boxroom, unnecessarily

Or be orphaned, alone, grieving and homeless
While those who are negligent, seem not to care less
Ahead - years fighting for justice for everyone
What happened to them can never be undone

If it were not for the community
There's no knowing where they would be
And meanwhile a long battle for justice ensues
There's no justification and no excuse

What happened to residents of Grenfell Tower
Is the responsibility of those in power
None of us should rest until we see justice is served
And those responsible get what they deserve

Some try to say we shouldn't politicise
But if they stopped a moment to analyse
They'd see that everything about it is
If you're in any doubt just consider this

Seven years with the effects of austerity
More and more cuts without accountability
Add to that outsourcing and privatisation
Deepening injustice and discrimination

Security, safety and peace of mind
Shouldn't be things we have to seek and find
Working class people's lives are not lessons to be learned
We must never forget the night that Grenfell burned.

Grenfell 3

Grenfell Engulfed
Sunday, 22 October 2017 00:52

Grenfell Engulfed

Published in Poetry

Grenfell Engulfed

In memory of those who lost their lives in the Grenfell Tower fire

by Alan Morrison

In spite of recent refurbishments – fireproofed? –
Grenfell Tower was engulfed in flames the full length
Of its eyesore height ringed by brown-brick mansion blocks
(Much better Thirties relics of curvaceous art deco);
Now Grenfell Tower is a blackened jagged tooth
On the smoking skyline – but still, by night, a whole day after
The main blaze, orange flames flickered from inside
Like the glows from pumpkin lamps lit up at Halloween parties –
And those broken charred windows now glare
Like the zigzagged grimaces of pumpkins' carved mouths,
Once the candles have been snuffed out in their hollowed pulps.

This gutted, lugubrious building burnished black is now
Nothing more than a charnel house, those still missing
Among its tenants now presumed consumed in smoke,
Burnt out of their tenancies, cremated in their flats, no
Spontaneous combustion of a faulty fridge alone
Could have caused such rapid conflagration – no, those
Refurbishments last year had not been properly fireproofed,
In fact, were done more for external aesthetics
Than for the benefit of the residents' wellbeing or safety,
Simply to prettify the outside of the towerblock
To blend better in with its salubrious surroundings
Of the rich part of Kensington – well now the tower
Has been prettified by fire, Kensington's well-rinsed
Can survey, instead, a fuming burnt offering, a black
Smouldering monument in Brutalist anthracite,
A colossal sooty cactus scorched in the hottest June
Since '76 (when millions of ladybirds coated Brighton beach).

Landlords, maintenance agents, Tory councillors and Tory
MPs had unknowingly conspired to lay in place
The components for a catastrophe predicted by the Tenants’
Association, their complaints and warnings ignored by
The men in grey suits at Westminster, and at Kensington
And Chelsea Council – why would any authority listen to the concerns
Of social housing tenants with no stakes in anything,
Not even the right to justice, courtesy of legal aid cuts,
600 impoverished people cooped up in high-piled compartments,
Many trapped on benefits through no faults of their own,
Or caught in the Russian roulette of zero-hours contracts,
Reliant on food banks, many Arabs, Muslims, immigrants,
Asylum-seekers and refugees among their numbers,
Those whose lives are deemed verboten by tabloids,
Now their homes more than metaphorically put to the Tory
Torch – hindsight haunts Kensington: outside sprinklers
Could have been retrofitted, should have been, in fact.

Now after the flames, the blame games: whose gross
Negligence lit this tinder box, what cultural drift of anti-
Immigrant rhetoric ignited the match? The flammable
Padding in the new zinc cladding apparently helped the flames
Catch! The yellow helmets say they've never seen anything
Like this before... The tower protrudes as a combustible
Symbol of the vulnerability of the disadvantaged,
Never have so many people perished for a metaphor,
The surviving tenants are spitting tar, now homeless,
Will they be given permanent shelter? Some survivors
Voice fears that Kensington and Chelsea Council
Will take advantage of the tragedy to decant the tenants
Elsewhere and refurbish the tower block (and properly
Fireproof it this time, presumably) to house better-heeled
Private tenants – Grenfell gentrified by fire? The arms-
Length maintenance organisation might have a hand
In this, more profits for future, while tight-lipped ministers
Of an arms-length Government avoid the gazes
Of camera lenses, mute in suits; and a spineless
Prime Minister is photographed skulking awkwardly in black
Among the uniforms, looking like the rich distant
Relative at the funeral keeping apart from her mourning
Poor relations; while Jeremy Corbyn responds more promptly,
Goes among the families of the missing, comforting them,
Hugging those who are denied even the vent of grieving
For not yet knowing if their bereavement is temporary
Or permanent, surviving relatives who catch on the grapevine
Of drip-fed information that the bodies still inside
Might be so badly burnt they'll not be able to be identified –
Forced out by fire, is this how Grenfell's gentrified?

On the Up
Sunday, 22 October 2017 00:52

On the Up

Published in Poetry

On The Up

by Paul Dovey

He was on the up,
He knew what to say, voted the right way,
And he kept the report buried,
In the time capsule under his desk,
The hermetically sealed preservation of the old order.

The area was on the up,
Shopping centres and investors,
The supersonic property boom,
Legacy tenants just taking up room,
Because, "There's no magic money tree,"
Well, not for the likes of you and me.

They looked up,
From their multi-million pound mews,
From their gentrified Victorian slums,
At the blocky, vertically angular skyline,
And at other people's homes,
Spoiling their view.

She was on the up,
21st fucking floor,
Buggy, shopping, three kids,
Builders, hard hats, hi-viz,
Banging, crashing, acrid tang,
Maybe they'd make it better again.

Then it went up,
They never heard a thing,
Until it was too late,
Stay put, stay safe,
Compartmentalised, like our lives,
As the cladding went up like a cheap night-shirt.

Time's up,
A blackened monolith stands against the summer sky,
A giant smoking question mark,
How could it happen? We already knew!
What needs answering now...
Is what will we do?