Poetry

Poetry

It goes on one at a time,
it starts when you care to act,
it starts when you do it again after they said no,
it starts when you say we and know who you mean,
and each day you mean one more.

Marge Piercy

Thursday, 17 December 2015 23:12

The Privatisation of Poetry

Written by
in Poetry

Andy Croft argues that poetry is essentially a collective and communist art, with the potential to overcome alienation and increase our sociality and connectedness. It belongs to everyone, it cannot be owned nor become property, and is ultimately committed to the common good of humanity.

‘Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto’

 (‘I am human, and nothing which is human can be alien to me’)

- Marx’s favourite maxim

At the end of the fourth film in the ‘Alien’ franchise, Alien Resurrection (1997), the film’s only two survivors are preparing to visit Earth. Although we have previously been told that it is a toxic ‘shithole’, one of them observes that from a distance the planet looks beautiful. ‘I didn't expect it to be,’ she says, ‘what happens now?’ The other gives a puzzled half-smile and shrugs, ‘I don't know. I'm a stranger here myself.’

The ‘stranger’ is Ellen Ripley, who has been fighting the xenomorph aliens ever since Ridley Scott’s original Alien (1979). Her bewildered description of herself as a ‘stranger’ is one of cinema’s great understatements. For Ripley is a stranger, not only to a planet she has not seen for three hundred years, but to herself. Ripley was killed at the end of the third film, and has been resurrected as a clone with part-alien DNA. She does not yet understand the extent of her humanity or know just how much of an alien she is.

All the human characters are dead at the end of Alien Resurrection. The film’s only other survivor (played by Winona Ryder) is an android. Earlier in the film, when Ripley discovers that her companion is a robot, she observes, ‘I should have known. No human being is that humane.’ This is an idea that has been running through the series since Aliens (1986), when Ripley compares one of her companions to the aliens he is planning to sell to the Company’s weapons division – ‘I don't know which species is worse. You don't see them fucking each other over for a goddamn percentage...’

Alien Resurrection was a bleak fin-de-siecle farewell to a century of violence, avarice, fear and cruelty, and a grim welcome to a new millennium in which we are estranged from each other and from ourselves by exaggerated fears of differences. Ripley is a familiar figure in the twenty-first century – an alien, a homeless exile whose children are dead, a stranger in a strange land.

ALIENATION AND POETRY

The phrase ‘I’m a stranger here myself’ is also a quotation from a song by Kurt Weill (another exile). Written with Ogden Nash for the 1943 Broadway hit One Touch of Venus, the song is a satirical comment on contemporary US life. In the musical, an ancient statue of the Greek goddess of sexual love (played by Mary Martin) comes alive in a New York museum. She is confused by the strangeness of the world in which she finds herself, especially by the apparent absence of love in the cold modern city:

‘Tell me is love still a popular suggestion
Or merely an obsolete art?
Forgive me for asking, this simple question
I'm unfamiliar with this part
I am a stranger here myself.

Please tell me, tell a stranger
My curiosity goaded
Is there really any danger
That love is now out-moded?

I'm interested especially
In knowing why you waste it
True romance is so freshly
With what have you replaced it?’

As a study in alienation, One Touch of Venus may not have been as hard-hitting as The Threepenny Opera or Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, but it was nevertheless clearly shaped by Weill’s experiences in Weimar Germany, where hysterical ideas about ‘aliens’ of course carried toxic political meanings. In the musical it is the non-human alien who understands more about human happiness than the human characters. It is not an exaggeration to say that Venus is both ‘the heart of a heartless world’, and an example of the commodification of desire in a society where ‘all fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away... all that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned.’

Which brings us to Marx’s idea of entfremdung, the process by which, in class societies, we are alienated from Nature, from our work, from the products of our work, from each other and from ourselves. Each dramatic new stage of human social, economic and technological development has simultaneously pushed us farther apart from each other and from ourselves – property, slavery, money, territory, caste, class, religion, industrialisation, migration, urbanisation, mechanisation, militarisation, nationalism, empire, computerisation, globalisation...

Of course we all experience this ‘self-estrangement’ differently. As Marx argued in The Holy Family, although ‘the propertied class and the class of the proletariat present the same human self-estrangement,’

‘the former class feels at ease and strengthened in this self-estrangement, it recognizes estrangement as its own power, and has in it the semblance of a human existence. The class of the proletariat feels annihilated, this means that they cease to exist in estrangement; it sees in it its own powerlessness and in the reality of an inhuman existence.’

In a bewildering world where we feel ourselves to be strangers in our own lives, the false consolations of nostalgia, nationalism, chauvinism, religious fundamentalism and racism are tempting to many, especially to those with the least power. Each of these is an illusion ‘which revolves around man as long as he does not revolve around himself’ (during international football tournaments there is always a greater concentration of England flags in those parts of our cities with the smallest economic or political stake in British society). But fearing ‘strangers’ will not make the world less strange; attacking ‘aliens’ cannot mitigate our alienation from ourselves.

On the other hand there are those forces that still pull us together – kinship, friendship, desire, solidarity, collectivity, utopianism, socialism. Despite all the commercial, cultural, social, economic and political pressures to emphasise our uniqueness and our separateness, the differences between us are not very great. We all share the same small planet, we breathe the same air and we share the same fate. And one of the ways in which we demonstrate and feel our common natures is through art. It is not just that creativity can raise individual ‘self-esteem’ or ‘well-being’. All artistic creation, whether individual or collective, amateur or professional, private or public represents a kind of resistance to the complex, centrifugal forces that push us apart. Art is both a reminder of our co-operative origins and a promise of a collective future. Art can be many things – painting, dance, music, literature, sculpture, poetry – but it cannot be property. As soon as a work of art is owned by one individual it is not shared; if it is not shared, then it is not art.

THE POWER OF POETRY 

Poetry in particular contains the potential to connect writers to readers, and readers to each other. It can help us feel a little more connected to each other than usual. When any poet stands up to read in public they have to address the readers outside the page, the listeners across the room and beyond. Poetry can remind us what is significant and help us to imagine what is important. It can help to naturalise ideas and arguments by placing them within popular literary traditions. Anticipation and memory implicates reader and listener in the making of a line or a phrase and therefore in the making of the argument. This establishes a potentially inclusive community of interest between the writer/speaker and the reader/ audience – through shared laughter, anger or understanding.

According to George Thompson in Marxism and Poetry:

‘we find in all languages two modes of speech – common speech, the normal, everyday means of communication between individuals, and poetical speech a medium more intense, appropriate to collective acts of ritual, fantastic, rhythmical, magical... the language of poetry is essentially more primitive than common speech, because it preserves in a higher degree the qualities of rhythm, melody, fantasy, inherent in speech as such... And its function is magical. It is designed to effect some change in the external world by mimesis – to impose illusion on reality.’

Over the last five hundred years, poetry has lost many of its historic functions. Character has fled to the novel, dialogue to the stage, persuasion to advertising and public relations, action to cinema, comedy to television. This always seems to me to be an unnecessarily heavy price to pay for the development of the original ‘voice’ of the poet. But the shared, public music of common language and common experience remains its greatest asset – the power to communicate, universalise and shape a common human identity. The power of all poetry is still located in society – in the audience and not in the poet. Writing – in the sense of the composition of memorable language to record events that need remembering – is essentially a shared, collective, public activity. Poetry is essentially a means of communication, not a form of self-expression. Difficulty is only a virtue if the poem justifies the effort to understand it. Why write at all, if no-one is listening? If they think no-one is listening, poets end up talking only to each other, or to themselves. The poet Adrian Mitchell (who once observed that ‘most people ignore most poetry because most poetry ignores most people’) put it like this:

‘In the days when everyone lived in tribes, poetry was always something which was sung and danced, sometimes by one person, sometimes by the whole tribe. Song always had a purpose – a courting song, a song to make the crops grow, a song top help or instruct the hunter of seals, a song to thank the sun. Later on, when poetry began to be printed, it took on airs. When the universities started studying verse instead of alchemy, poetry began to strut around like a duchess full of snuff. By the middle of the twentieth century very few British poets would dare to sing.’

It seems to me that this is still understood at a subterranean level within British society, a long way from the centres of cultural authority and the cult of the ‘new’. Poets like Linton Kwesi Johnson, Kokumo, Moqapi Selassie, Benjamain Zephaniah and Jean Binta Breeze do not read their poems in public – they sing them. The most distinctive feature of an Urdu-Punjabi musha’ara (a marathon poetry-reading) is the level of audience participation. Poets do not always read their ‘own’ work. They often sing. And they are frequently interrupted by applause, by requests for a line to be read again, by the audience guessing the rhyme at the end of a couplet or by joining in the reading of well-known poems. This is a collective, shared poetry, the expression of a literary, linguistic and religious identity among a community whose first language is English, but whose first literary language is Urdu. And musha’ara attract hundreds of people of all ages.

POETRY AND COMMUNISM 

There is something comparable about the role of poetry inside prison. Men who would not often go near a library in their ordinary lives, in prison can find solace and encouragement in reading and writing poetry. Prison magazines always carry pages of poetry. The Koestler Awards are an important part of the prison calendar. No-one is embarrassed to say that they like poetry in prison. There are certain poems – usually about love, heroin and regret – that prisoners take with them from one prison to another, copying them out and learning them by heart until the poems ‘belong’ to them.

In other words, the idea that language – and therefore poetry – belongs to everyone, is still felt most vividly among those who have been historically excluded from education and literacy by the forces of caste and class, empire and slavery.

The French Marxist philosopher Alain Badiou has moreover argued that it is not a coincidence that most of the great poets of the twentieth-century were communists (Hikmet, Brecht, Neruda, Eluard, Ritsos, Vallejo, Faiz, MacDiarmid, Aragon, Mayakovsky, Alberti, Darwish, Sanguineti, etc). For Badiou, there exists ‘an essential link between poetry and communism, if we understand “communism” closely in its primary sense’:

‘the concern for what is common to all. A tense, paradoxical, violent love of life in common; the desire that what ought to be common and accessible to all should not be appropriated by the servants of Capital. The poetic desire that the things of life would be like the sky and the earth, like the water of the oceans and the brush fires on a summer night – that is to say, would belong by right to the whole world... it is first and foremost to those who have nothing that everything must be given. It is to the mute, to the stutterer, to the stranger, that the poem must be offered, and not to the chatterbox, to the grammarian, or to the nationalist. It is to the proletarians – whom Marx defined as those who have nothing except their own body capable of work – that we must give the entire earth, as well as all the books, and all the music, and all the paintings, and all the sciences. What is more, it is to them, to the proletarians in all their forms, that the poem of communism must be offered.’

Of course, there are always forces pulling poets in the other direction. Like everything else, poetry is a contested space. The broadsheets, the BBC and most literary festivals are dominated by corporate publishers and a celebrity star-system. The whole apparatus of arts-coverage by press-release, celebrity book-festivals, short-lists, awards and prize-giving ceremonies seems almost designed to alienate as many people as possible from poetry – except as consumers. The result is the victory march of Dullness, characterised by humorlessness, political indifference, a disregard for tradition, a serious underestimation of poetry’s music and a snobbish hostility to amateurs. And all decorated in the usual language of PR disguised as literary criticism (‘sexy’, ‘dark’, ‘sassy’, ‘edgy’, ‘bold’, ‘daring’ etc).

POETRY CAN NEVER BE PROPERTY

Last year I published, at Smokestack Books, a collection of poems by the Newcastle writer Sheree Mack. Sheree’s mother is of Ghanaian and Bajan ancestry; her father is from Trinidad. Laventille told the story of the 1970 Black Power Revolution in Trinidad and Tobago, when for forty-five days an uprising of students, trade unions and the disaffected poor threatened to overthrow the government. It was a courageous and beautiful book, an original attempt to combine history and poetry as a ‘shrine of remembrances’ for the ordinary people behind the headlines.

A few weeks after the book was published Sheree found herself accused of borrowing phrases without attribution from other poets. Most were happy to see elements of their work resurrected and re-made like this, but a few were not. Although I variously offered to insert erratum slips in the book, to reprint the book with the necessary acknowledgements, and to print a new version of the book without the poems in question, Sheree’s accusers seemed more interested in mobilising a howling mob on social-media, armed with the usual pitchforks and burning torches. There followed several weeks of extraordinary personal abuse directed at author and publisher, a feature on Channel 4 News, demands that Sheree should be stripped of her qualifications and sacked from her teaching job, an editorial in Poetry News, and threats of legal action from two corporate publishers. Several festivals withdrew invitations for Sheree to read from the book. Eventually the book was withdrawn from sale and pulped.

I do not believe for a minute that Sheree intended to ‘steal’ anyone else’s work. Some of her borrowings were so obvious that they did not need acknowledging (any more than her poem called ‘What’s Going On?’ did not need to spell out its debt to Marvin Gaye). ‘Laventille Love Song’ for example, did not attempt to disguise its debt to Langston Hughes’ ‘Juke Box Love Song’. The point of the poem was to throw together two different moments in Black history, dialectically linked by the deliberate echoes of one poem in the other.

Sheree’s fault was one of omission and carelessness; the reaction of her accusers was deliberate, hysterical and disproportionate. Sheree made no attempt to conceal her borrowings, she did not profit from them, she has apologised for them repeatedly and she has been excessively punished. No-one has lost anything – except a sense of proportion and decency. Sheree’s faults may be forgiven; the venom of her pursuers is unforgiveable. And a beautiful, revolutionary book has been lost.

I am not interested in calculating how many words a poet may borrow from another writer without being accused of ‘theft’, or swapping examples of successful plagiarists – most notably, of course, Shakespeare, Stendhal and Brecht. (For the record, my last three books were comic verse-novels based on Hamlet, Nineteen Eighty-four and Don Juan.) But I am fascinated by the moral panic around ‘intellectual property’ in the contemporary poetry world, in the way that notions of private property have entered the world of poetry.

Property is a very recent (and contested) innovation in human history, usually used to determine access to scarce or limited resources such as land, buildings, the means of production, manufactured goods and money. It is a shifting concept; not so long ago, women, children and slaves were subject to property law; today we have ‘copyright’, ‘intellectual property’, ‘identity theft’ and ‘image rights’.

There are three kinds of property – common property (where resources are governed by rules which make them available for use by all or any members of the society), collective property (where the community as a whole determines how important resources are to be used), and private property (where contested resources are assigned to particular individuals).

It is difficult to see how the many various elements of any poem – words, phrases, grammatical structures, rhyme and metre, emotional syntax, allusions, echoes, patterns, imagery and metaphor etc – can be described as ‘property’ in any of the above senses (except perhaps ‘common property’). None of these elements are scarce or finite; their use by one person does not preclude their use by any number of others. In an age of mechanical reproduction, it is not possible to ‘steal’ a poem or part of a poem, only to copy it.

POETRY BELONGS TO EVERYONE

All poetry inhabits the common language of everyday living. A poem can be unique without being original; it can be ‘new’ at the same time that it is already known. As the French communist poet Francis Combes has argued:

‘Poetry belongs to everyone. Poetry does not belong to a small group of specialists. It arises from the everyday use of language. Like language, poetry only exists because we share it. Writing, singing, painting, cooking – these are ways of sharing pleasure. For me poetry is like an electrical transformer which converts our feelings and our ideas into energy. It is a way of keeping your feet on the ground without losing sight of the stars. It is at the same time both the world’s conscience and its best dreams; it’s an intimate language and a public necessity.’

Most important human activities are not subject to ideas of ownership. Talking, walking, whistling, running, making love, speaking a foreign language, cooking, playing football, baking bread, dancing, conversation, knitting, drawing – these are all acquired skills which we learn by imitating others, but they are not subject to ideas of ownership.

Historically, poetry was always understood to be much closer to these than to those things that the law regards as ‘property’ (land, money etc). No-one in, say fourteenth-century Italy would have understood the idea of ‘stealing’ a poem. Most cultures, even today, regard poetry as ‘common property’. You don’t hear many ‘original’ poems at an Urdu-Punjabi musha’ara. Everyone borrows/steals/copies/appropriates poetry in prison. Which is another way of saying that everyone owns it. And if everyone owns it, there is nothing to steal.

Until very recently in human history, poets were popularly understood to speak for and to the societies to which they belonged. The development of printing and publishing and the emergence of a reading-public have helped to elevate poets into a separate and professional caste. The Romantic idea of the sensitive individual alienated from ordinary society (by education, sensibility and mobility) has become in our time the cult of the international poet as exile, crossing cultural, intellectual and linguistic borders. This cult reached its logical conclusion a few years ago with the Martian poets, who wrote about life on earth as if they really were aliens.

The current moral panic over ‘plagiarism in poetry’ seems to derive from several overlapping elements – the post-Romantic privatisation of feeling and language, the fetishisation of ‘novelty’ in contemporary culture, half-hearted notions of intellectual property, the long-term consequences of Creative Writing moving from university adult education onto campus as an academic subject, the creation of a large pool of Creative Writing graduates competing for publication, jobs and prizes and the decline in the number of poetry publishers. If poetry is privatised, a personalised form of individual expression rather a means of public communication, then it needs to be policed by ideas of copyright, grammatical rules, unified spelling, critical standards and a canonical tradition.

The witch-hunting of Sheree Mack was an instructive episode in the internal workings of intellectual hegemony. The corporate lawyers and national media only joined the chase after a handful of poets (most of whom had not read Laventille) had already attacked one of their own, in the name of economic forces which are inimical to poetry.

Poetry arises out of the contradictions and consolations of a whole life and a whole society. It requires the proper humility necessary for any art. Poetry is not a Meritocracy of the educated, the privileged or the lucky. It is a Republic. Poetry is indivisible. If it doesn’t belong to everybody, it is something else – show business, big business, self-promotion, attention-seeking, property. As Alain Badiou argues:

‘Poets are communist for a primary reason, which is absolutely essential: their domain is language, most often their native tongue. Now language is what is given to all from birth as an absolutely common good. Poets are those who try to make a language say what it seems incapable of saying. Poets are those who seem to create in language new names to name that which, before the poem, has no name. And it is essential for poetry that these inventions, these creations, which are internal to language, have the same destiny as the mother tongue itself: for them to be given to all without exception. The poem is a gift of the poet to language. But this gift, like language itself, is destined to the common – that is, to this anonymous point where what matters is not one person in particular, but all, in the singular. Thus, the great poets of the twentieth century recognized the grandiose revolutionary project of communism something that was familiar to them – namely that, as the poem gives its inventions to language and as language is given to all, the material world and the world of thought must be given integrally to all, becoming no longer the property of a few but the common good of humanity as a whole.’
Tuesday, 15 December 2015 10:50

November Paris Blue

Written by
in Poetry

Written after the Paris attacks, November 2015

It is a blue November dawn
I imagine a day without conflict
It looks like a globe of light
With an absence of shadow
A world filled with wonder and colour and joy
I close my eyes to soar and fly above the cities we grieve

I don't trust any politicians anymore
I don't believe in our Prime Minister
Or any of our world leaders, presidents and kings
It stinks the way they continue to lie and conspire
To make money, to trade arms, enslave and murder people.

One bomb does not a country kill
But the missile aims to kill the faith in peace and love
One attack will not burn all the flags and castles
But intends to incinerate hope and burn bridges
And fuel the media propaganda trading in fear
Giving the war-mongers ammunition to wage war
Avenge the revenge, that was revenge for the revenge...
And an eye for an eye and the whole world goes blind.

We are nothing without each other
We are our reflections and our differences
We are ants on a hot blue marble in space
We have one planet and one chance to be good to each other
Or be smashed and scattered as ash and dust.

Today, France is dropping bombs on Syria
Who knows what retaliation tomorrow brings
Who knows which city gets bombed next?
We can presume the politician holding the receipts for the latest arms deal will know.

But we all know that more bombs means... more bombs
More revenge, more retaliation, more casualties, more death
More refugees, more displacement, more ignorance, more intolerance, more tension
More blood in the gutters and broken bodies tangled in concrete, rubble and glass
More refugees suffocating in abandoned lorries and washed up on beaches
More rape and violence to vulnerable women and children
More shock-stained faces staring down the news camera lens pleading
"Why? Why do you treat us like animals?"
More mouths; bloody mouths, screaming mouths, hungry mouths, angry mouths, lying mouths
Politicians mouths like piranha mouths with razor teeth to bite any truth in half.
Stop people killing people for killing people who are killing people to kill people...

Media, click bait, hot takes, turn us inside out
Guts spilled and wrung like chip paper laundry
We are being spun in a washing machine on a negative cycle
I want to stop the spin
Switch the machine off and press restart
We need soap to wash out these lying mouths
We soak our world in salt water to remove blood stains
But all our tears are never enough.

We slap and split the lip of the present
Bloody our shared history
And leave scars on the future
A black eye for a black eye.

We must be the change we want to see
I won't give up, I won't stop being idealistic
Idealistically we must break the chain:
Stop people killing people for killing people who are killing people...
Stop people killing people for killing people who are killing people...
Stop using death as the whole sentence
When talking was not listening
When listening wasn't hearing.

It is a blue November dawn
I imagine a day without conflict
It looks like a globe of light
With an absence of shadow
A world filled with wonder and colour and joy
I close my eyes to soar and fly above the cities we grieve

Feel the sorrow of the ghosts of all the lost
And the hearts of the souls beating
The universal rhythm of a new day
Fresh coffee, umbrellas and pigeons
And Paris, wine and poetry and
Beirut and music and Syria and spirit and
London and spice and tea and books
And as this blue November dawn breaks
I remember that is who we all are
That there is a breath inside us we share
Together we live through this moment in time
This brand new morning
With one long slow exhale.

Monday, 14 December 2015 23:23

from Coventry Blue

Written by
in Poetry

from 1.

They say that true blue means to stay fast and true
However antediluvian the view –
It’s those who don’t waver: Covenanters,
Conservatives, and all other Naysayers;

The phrase was rinsed from another phrase,
As many are, wrung through human gaze,
Then pressed in the mangle of the rolling tongue:
“As true as Coventry Blue” – and John Ray’s

Compleat English Proverbs traced its root
To a cloth whose fibres were so resolute
That it lost none of its colour when washed,
As stubborn as obstructed blood going bruit…

from 3.

The rich sup ripe apples while the pipped peasants
Are chucked sour cores of antidepressants
To sharpen up penury-depleted spirits –
Or prodded with shocks of Protestant Ethics…

from 5.

We’re hurtling back to the Thirties today
In our Eton Blue Twenty-First Century –
Our leaders once more cut from public school cloths,
Abetted by Liberal buff-coloured moths;

Those shop steward days of woodbines and roses,
Of scholarship Harolds, Teds, Jameses –oases
Of opportunity for more life-shaped opinions
Cropped amid landscapes of palmed nepotisms;

Empirical pools slowly emptied to glimmerings
Of once-greening gains, while privileged springs
Gush back with blue vengeance –in hindsight, a mirage,
That gentler interregnum of grammar and marge

And lowering rungs, when Meritocracy’s rise
Was more than just a glint in Michael Young’s eyes,
But already rooting, up until it was nipped
In its proleptic bud when the Milk Snatcher quipped

She’d “banish the dark, divisive clouds of Marxist
Socialism” –as she did, promptly replacing it
With the dark, divisive clouds of private avarice,
Of property-worship and acquisitiveness,

Pub-emptying pulls for blue collars, carrots
And sticks: Right-to-Buys and Buy-to-Lets;
(Young Junior mapped –while his father was napping–
Playgrounds that trapped the sound of no hands clapping)…

from 8.

Now was ushered in an age of sky-blue grace
When, for three decades, that purple trace
Rinsed fainter and fainter, and pale blue
Pelicans occupied polemical space,

Richly instructive but cheaply priced
At sixpence a pinch, pocket-sized
Portable paperbacks: reimbursement
In trickledown tri-band bouleversement;

Blue-and-white titles to the put-upon
Proletariat, now lifted up on
Pinions of social philosophy
Purchased and trousered philanthropy –

Ripe pickings for black-nailed autodidacts,
The real life Jude Fawleys, Frank Owens, bracts
Of the artisan class whose sepals support
The mortarboard petals of the middling sort,

But whose own thirst for didactic succour,
So long neglected as wrinkle and pucker
In cloth cut for donkey work, multiplied
To corduroyed ridges that couldn’t be dyed

In the usual adulterated yellow-rinse
Of sports colours, gossip, prurience
Scooped up by Grub Street’s bowdlerising hacks
With racing tips feathering their bowler-hats;

This corduroy was no newfangled fabric,
It was an ancient cloth of an authentic
Shade gained with age, and its’ furrowed textures
Demanded nourishment, a cut of ploughshares –

So it fell to red hearts of the better-heeled
To redistribute to them belated bond yields:
Books in sky-blue for workers downed tools
To browse as they put up their feet slipped in mules;

Each in its striped livery, colour-coded
By subject: dark blue for biographies, red
For drama, sky-blue for social sciences,
Cerise for travel, purple for belles-lettres,

And those sea-green intrigues (less encouraged),
Crime fiction a cut above colportage
Potboilers –common folk’s cultural cures,
Wholesome brown stouts of yeasty literatures…

from 9.

Coventry Blue – so resolute, so true
‘To itself and always the same’, through and through,
Impermeable, inscrutable blue,
Ineluctable Baron of British rubes;

Our island race prizes above anything
The right to self-determination,
The right to be told to “do the right thing”,
The right to take flight on just the right wing;

The right to be ruled by those who know best
What is and is not “in the national interest”;
The right to have opinions spoon fed to us
By red-top parrots with blue-torch crests;

The right to worship at the planted feet
Of the elephant god of property –
Ganesha of buy-to-letting agencies;
The right to fleece tenants through legalese;

The right to buy up unlimited empties;
The right to deny others’ rights to tenancies:
‘No smokers. No children. No Chavs. No pets.
No unemployed mothers. No benefits’;

The right to earn livings to cover the rent
For castles which we’ve no entitlement
To enter; the right to elective enslavement,
Grey subservience we revel in: employment;

Britons may ‘never, never, never… be slaves’
But will ever be servants; reives of grey waves;
Our green island salvage is a gem of mildew
In a sea not of silver but Coventry Blue….. 

The full text of the poem ‘Coventry Blue’ will be included in Alan Morrison’s poetry collection, 'Tan Raptures', which will be published by Smokestack Books in February 2017.

K2_PUBLISHED_ON Monday, 14 December 2015 23:08

Two Poems by Owen Gallagher

in Poetry
Written by

The Accumulation of Capital

Marx and Engels almost drained this bar in Soho,
finishing ‘The Manifesto of the Communist Party’.
Thirsting for another round, I consider pickpockets,
not the ones working streets and malls,
or those in pulpits pilfering what’s left in minds,
but the one kitted out like a toff,
currently lifting my friend’s wallet. I ram
the full force of justice behind his knees
and haul him to his feet, lecture him, mercilessly,
on the nature of Capitalism, how it encourages thieves.

First published in the Morning Star

I Saw A New World Being Assembled

 
In the tenements
    there were workers
who built dreams for others,

singers who got drunk
    on rebel songs,
fighters who fought

for themselves
    in the workplace
and lost every round.

All were in revolt
    against their masters
one way or another.

I saw a new world
    being assembled
in a sweatshop, dreamers,

singers, fighters, unfurled
    a union flag, voices
were bolted and welded into one.

From Militant Thistles, militantthistles.moonfruit.com

´╗┐Muslims Say Sorry! The poetry of Amir Darwish
K2_PUBLISHED_ON Monday, 14 December 2015 22:48

´╗┐Muslims Say Sorry! The poetry of Amir Darwish

in Poetry
Written by

Wars rage in the Middle East. The US and its allies pursue their policies of economic and military aggression, regime change, and the deliberate fomenting of chaos, instability and hardship. Refugees, asylum seekers and economic migrants are forced to flee, towards the richer countries of Europe, whose wealth has been built on the imperialist exploitation of the rest of the world. There they are met by steel fences, police with dogs, endless paperwork, squabbling politicians and suspicious populations. Random atrocities are committed against civilians, on the ground and in the air, in Paris, Damascus, Jerusalem and Beirut.

That is the world in which we are living, and it is a world familiar to Amir Darwish. Amir was born in Syria in 1979 and came to the UK during the second Gulf War. His poetry has been published in the USA, Pakistan, Finland, Morocco and Mexico.

His recent book of poetry, 'Don’t Forget the Couscous' is in the words of the publisher, 'a book of poetry about exile and home. It is a love-song to the Arab world – Syria, Kurdistan, Morocco and Palestine. It is a memoir of the failed Arab Spring and the civil war that has turned Syria into a ‘fountain of blood’, as Darwish puts it in one of the poems. It’s a bitter account of the demonization of Islam in the West, and the violent interference of the West in the Islamic world. It is about being a Muslim and not a terrorist.'

Here are some poems from the collection, showing Darwish's poetic skills as a light, musical lyricist; as an honest, informative and insightful political commentator; and as a skilled ironist and satirist, capable of both sharpness and warmth.

Sorry!
An apology from Muslims (or those perceived to be Muslims) to humanity

We are sorry for everything
That we have caused humanity to suffer from.
Sorry for algebra and the letter X.
Sorry for all the words we throw at you;
Amber, candy, chemistry, cotton, giraffe, hazard,
Jar, jasmine, jumper, lemon, lime, lilac,
Oranges, sofa, scarlet, spinach,
Talisman, tangerine, tariff, traffic, tulips,
Mattress (yes, mattress) and the massage you enjoy on it:
We are sorry for all of these.
Sorry that we replaced alcohol with coffee for Enlightenment philosophers.
Speaking of hot drinks,
We are sorry for the cappuccino the Turks brought over.
Sorry for the black Arabian race horses,
For the clock,
Maths,
Parachutes.

Abdul in the US is sorry for what so and so did;
He does not know him but he is sorry anyway.
Sorry that we accompanied Columbus on his journey to the States.
And sorry for the Arab man with him
Who was the first to touch the shore and shout ‘Honolulu’
And named the place after him.
Sorry for the architecture in Spain and the Al Hambra palace there.
We apologise for churches in Seville
With their stars of David at the top that we built with our hands.
We say sorry for every number you use in your daily life from the 0 to the trillion.
Even Adnan the Yezidi (mistaken for a Muslim)
Is sorry for the actions of Abu whatever who beheads people in Syria.
Sorry for the mercury chloride that heals wounds,
Please give us some –
Because the guilt of initiating all of the above
Gives us a wound as big as this earth.
Sorry for the guitar that was played by Moriscos in Spain
To ease their pain when they were kicked out of their homes.
Sorry for the hookah as you suck on its lips
And gaze into the moon hearing the Arabian Nay.
Sorry for cryptanalysis and the ability to analyse information systems,
To think what is the heart of the heart of the heart and bring it to the world.
Sorry for painting Grenada white to evade social hierarchy.
Sorry for the stories inThe Arabian Nights.

Every time we see a star, we remember to be sorry for Astronomy,
We are sorry that Mo Farah claimed asylum here
And went to become the British champion of the world.
Sorry for non-representational art,
Pattern and surface decoration.
We are sorry for all the food we brought over:
From tuna to chicken tikka masala,
Hummus,
Falafel,
Apricot,
Doner kebab
Right up to the shawarma roll.
And don’t forget the couscous.

If we forget to apologise for something, never mind,
We are sorry for it without even knowing it.
Most of all we are sorry for Rumi’s love poems,
And we desperately echo one of them to you:

Oh Beloved,
Take me.
Liberate my soul.
Fill me with your love and
Release me from the two worlds.
If I set my heart on anything but you
Let that fire burn me from inside.
Oh Beloved,
Take away what I want.
Take away what I do.
Take away what I need.
Take away everything
That takes me away from you.

Please forgive us.
We are sorry and cannot be sorry enough today.

Palestine

Palestine is a rose that rose
To refresh the air as it enters the nose.

There must be a light at the end of this tunnel

There must be a light at the end of this tunnel
At a point where
So many eyes look into darkness
Cut through a bone and
Shine it.

There will be a creature there
A strange one
With no hands
No lips
No arms
No ears
No body
And only eyes
Eyes and soul.

That being will find a light from within you
And strike it out to the world.

Over there
In that place
The river of sadness dries
Melancholy waves hush and
The Sorrow garden
Reflects an Arabian desert moonlight
Shining the universe.

There
You sit with your hand back and forth
Playing the water of a Damascus fountain.

I interviewed Amir about his past, his poetics and his politics. Amir asked me to make it clear that he is not speaking on behalf of all poets, nor does he intend offer advice to others on what to think or write. His views are his and his alone.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself to start with, please?

I am a British/Syrian poet of Kurdish origin, born in Aleppo in 1979, and I came to the UK in 2003. I started writing at the age of 16 or 17. My poetry has now been published in the USA, Pakistan, Finland, Morocco and Mexico and in the anthology Break-Out. I recently completed an MA in International Studies at the University of Durham, and prior to that I gained a BA in history from Teesside University.

The book you've chosen the poems from, 'Don't Forget The Couscous' is a collection of poetry about exile and home, love and loss. My next book will be an autobiographical work, 'From Aleppo Without Love', touching on themes of pain and agony felt by myself and my sisters, Shaza, Rana and Layla.

Can you tell us something about your approach to writing, about why and how you write?

As a child and as a teenager, I experienced oppression both in the private and public spheres. I was both a subject and witness to violent acts for several years, and those memories have inspired my writing. My writing has become an outlet, to channel some awful experiences and redeem their pain.

Inspirational moments, for me, often arrive while on a journey. At stations and airports, poems are born, and then later on rise and mature, in quietness. The first stage of the process, the poem's conception, is more important than the second. I am constantly ready with pen, paper, phone and laptop, to put down words and thoughts when on the road. I am a writer who starts big and then goes small, small, small until the word is loud and clear. Nonetheless, the increase and decrease of thoughts is sometimes done as an experiment. Clarity, a sense of simplicity, and fluency are continuous aims.

How do you find living in Britain, on Teeside?

Living on Teesside gave me a good start on the poetry road here in England. The poetry scene is lively and dynamic, with new faces often coming to light. Particularly through the MA Creative Writing course at Teesside University, led by two local poets, Andy Willoughby and Bob Beagrie.

I appreciate what Britain offers in terms of safety, shelter and an atmosphere to write fearlessly. These aspects are particularly relevant to my next work, “From Aleppo without Love” which is scheduled for publication in 2017. Not many places on earth are available to write such work bravely and feel safe. Britain is one.

Can you give us your thoughts on the current refugee crisis, and the troubles in Syria and the Middle East?

A poet is not a politician for sure, but more someone who can guide public opinion so that politicians are directed onto certain paths. When a poet tries to become a politician, there is a danger for him/her of restricting the imaginative self to intellectual certainties. Nothing kills creativity at the cradle more than adherence to one sole, specific view. As a poet, I try to stay free of specific political thought as much as possible, like a bird who visits nests but never resides forever in one of them. Not sure if I do that successfully! I do perhaps still exhibit partisan views, like everyone I have certain biases.

As for what goes on now in the region, I still feel traumatised by what went on, what goes on now and what might happen next. I don't have the ability to take up a pen and write properly on recent events. Maybe the next generation can. Possibly that is why some of my attempts to write poems about the refugee crisis are weak, powerless and tend to fail as poems. Humanity, and here I mean worldwide not specific governments or locations, will need to examine itself after such a crisis. The current Syrian refugee crisis is the largest since WWII, who would have thought the world would see such a massive refugee crisis?

What other poets do you admire, and would recommend to our readers?

Humanist poets in the Middle East are now necessary more than ever. The Syrian poet Adunis is a great example, tightly embracing the humanist ideal when the Arab Spring/revelation/uprising/ unrest (or whatever you prefer to call it) started. For an intellectual from the region to hold such views is not an easy task. Adunis consistently provokes us away from the thought of taking sides, whether that's Arab nationalism or another system of thought. The Middle East needs more poets like Adunis and wise words like these:

Do you remember how I followed that war? And how once I turned to time and said,
'If you had two ears to listen with
You too would have walked the universe, deluded and dishevelled,
no beginning to your end'

The second poet and writer who comes to mind instantly is Muhammed Shukri. Moroccan and of Berber origin, Shukri's writing breaks down social barriers that are put into place to hide the unknown. That 'unknown' is at the heart of what goes on now in the Middle East. Shukri speaks about Arab society with micro details. He does it with openness, frankness and insight into the 'how' and the 'why'. After all, rulers of the Middle East come from the region’s social fabric, not from Mars.

For Shukri to give us such a detailed vision is a luxury. Unfortunately, he is yet to find adequate echo from other writers in the region, and yet to be given the status he deserves. That is possibly due to the culture of shame, which still shackles the process of liberation in the Arab world.

Thanks very much, Amir. Which poem from your collection would you like us to end with?

I would like you all to read and enjoy 'It's All About Love'. And thank you very much!

It's All About Love

Be grateful for everything written about love
From the first ink humanity slaughtered in Syria

To this very last exact word right now on this page: LOVE.

Love is a misbaha:

Full of beads
Suddenly
Cut loose on the world
To drown lovers up to their ears
Leaving only the brain
To think of love.

Love like a red wall in the Al Hambra

Blushes when you enter.

It is an Andalusian hammam

A scar left for ever on the face of Granada.

Love is a palm tree in Fes

Taaaalllllll with a nest at its top
Grass on grass assembled by lovebirds.

Love is a poem you perfect for months

And like an ardent and sexually demanding young lover
Always wants more of you.

So follow the fine line of the curve

Then rest your head in deep sleep.

Love is a tear

About to explode
In the middle of an eye.

It’s a Barkouk with wrinkles.

The squeeze let its remnants come out of the fist
The way runny butter does.

Love rises with every virgin who keeps herself intact only for one.

Love is a pair of naked lovers in a pickle jar

Twisted on one another and promising to stay this way forever.

And this life must go on to have more of love

Be in and out of it,
Fall for it,
Around it,
Because of it.

Finally

One refuses to call love it
Or he,
Or she,
Or they,
We,
Us,
Them,
Love is different.
It is a ferry crossing between lovers’ eyes.
It’s in trees,
Water,
Sky,
Rivers.

It’s an ember as lovers embrace

By a fire in the Atlas mountains.

And as the story goes in The Arabian Nights:

Love becomes a red rose that jumps into the Nazareth palace
And gives it colour
While lovers sent to the moon kissing
Stay there forever.

Love gives itself to everyone

Everywhere,
But since Eve’s arrival
What it gave so far nothing but this:.................

Love is a religion

So follow its scripture
Make love at certain times a day
On Friday,
Saturday,
Or Sunday,

Or even make your own new holy day and call it:
Loveday.

Love is a wave between Tangier and the sweetheart’s eyes
Daily it sails between the two.

Or maybe love is a stream of milk between a nipple
And the world to feed it tranquillity.

Love has one flavour

One colour
And no country.
Its inhabitants are everything that moves
including this pen as it writes.

It’s even in the sand clock that appears in a pupil,
Dropping endlessly as you watch it nonstop.

Love is the three quarters of the earth
Which is water,
You swallow it all

And your stomach can contain more if that is what love wants.

Love is a high mountain shadow

It appears and disappears on your lover’s back nightly
As he rises up and down in the act of making love.

Love is pure and never mixes itself with hate,

Yet it is part of it
The way an oil-slick moves in the sea.

Love is beautiful
So beautiful

That when you see it
You fall into a love-coma.

Love is the best form of government that political philosophy can offer

Where you have no duty but one:
To make love.


Thanks to Amir Darwish, and thanks to his publisher Smokestack Books for permission to publish the poems.
The poems are taken from Don't Forget the Couscous, by Amir Darwish, Smokestack Books, 2015.
Lions After Slumber: six poems by Peter Branson and one from Daniel Defoe
K2_PUBLISHED_ON Monday, 14 December 2015 22:34

Lions After Slumber: six poems by Peter Branson and one from Daniel Defoe

in Poetry
Written by

Lions after slumber

for Maxine Peake, who read Shelley's ‘The Mask of Anarchy’ in Manchester

D’you recognise them, university?
They’re playing hunt the beggar, light cigars -
'It’s only money' - festival of fools.
Their greed’s a virtue: let me get this right,
one day, if we don’t kick against the pricks,
no promises, some scraps may fall our way.
What price our hopes, our punctured commonweal,
our national health? We bleed, a thousand cuts.
They lay the blame on us. We foot the bill,
bankers who bring this ogre to its knees
get pensioned off. We do their dirty work
abroad, come back in body-bags, no clue,
rhyme, reason why. These thoughts in mind, recall
the poesy, 'Ye are many – they are few'.

Blue Shift
The ayes have it all: General Election Day plus one

After the razzmatazz, papershop bloke’s
hindsight mumming-play trite, grounded, you know
little will change for many, yet, for some,
strings will snag tight. Their mates, they’ll do all right,
gross ever more. Poor, jobless, old and sick
will moulder on the vine: disparity
their sub-text, by degrees, ex Bullys, old
Etonians, will spin to weave crook law.
My youth, we dreamed the time danced free, yet they
unlevelled things again, each five year stretch
a liberty, hard labour, public face
'No other way!' one nation, same tired score;
key players crowding Mother’s market stall,
Necessity unbridled, tooth an’ craw.

It’s Ours
(Tune: adapted from ‘Spanish Lady’ – Irish traditional song)

Chorus:
They’ll say it can’t be done; the profit motive makes the world go round.
Go tell that to our soldiers who they’ve maimed or planted underground.
Tell folk who work for charity, tell teachers, nurses, others who
give everything for little pay: self sacrifice is human too.

1.
Let’s claim what’s ours by right from those who hold the future in their hands,
spiv bankers and fund managers, all smoke and mirror, shifting sands.
Let’s take our water companies on, the oil, electric and the gas:
vast billions go to shareholders; we’ll act to grab that back en masse.

Chorus: They'll say it can't be done etc.

2.
Let’s wrest our transport back, control our buses, trains and aeroplanes,
not subsidise smug plutocrats who run things for their private gains.
Let’s keep our national health our own and pay a reasonable amount
for vital drugs sick people need: let’s sort those multinationals out.

Chorus: They'll say it can't be done etc.

3.
Let’s win control, co-operate, get organised, campaign and fight,
not let the greedy few make hay from what we all should own by right.
Let’s plan for what the future holds, root out unfairness far and wide;
let’s work with nature in our thoughts, green city, town and countryside.

Final chorus:
They’ll say it can’t be done; the profit motive makes the world go round.
Go tell that to our soldiers who they’ve maimed or planted underground.
Tell folk who work for charity, tell teachers, nurses, others who
give everything for little pay: self sacrifice is human too -
self sacrifice is Christian too –
and Muslim too.

‘High Ho Silver, Away!’

1.

Light slides down reels
of spinning celluloid,
freewheels through silvered streams
of space and time where ghosts
dance out from two dimensions, black
on white, rides technicolor myths
to flood the screen.
The stranger in the mask
would choke injustice in a cloud
of dust on sets of cardboard rocks
and plywood frontages,
where punches pull
and shell blanks ricochet.
A cowboy arms and head,
mad galloping
through hobbled streets
on hopalong back legs
and slapping thighs, you’d wing
hostile young kids with finger guns
beneath dark cobbler skies.

2.
That hero tucked inside
your head, recall
first rueful day your thoughts
outgrew his dreams.
He’d conjure reds from greys
where Pax Americana rules,
seel hearts and minds,
Korea, Vietnam,
time-warp, same script,
like Superman and Captain Kirk.
You’ve seen what’s happening:
talking forked tongues in cheek,
(‘The national interest’);
Afghanistan, Iraq; lost souls
in orange isolation suits;
wetbacks who hold
this brave new world intact?
As troops clean up
another street, stars fizzle out,
stripes cringe from sheer embarrassment.

No Use Aged Forty-Two
(for the Sally Army lady who shakes her tin at us)

The brass band’s playing in the square,
Sing Merrily on High,
King Wenceslas, The First Noel,
Watch Ships Come Sailing By.

Chorus:
Well it’s winter now with Christmas here,
No angel’s wings for you,
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,
No use, aged forty-two.

Your bed tonight a cold stone floor,
Shop doorway off the high street,
With cardboard for an eiderdown,
Brown paper for a sheet.

Chorus: Well it’s winter now etc.

You crave long summer days, warm nights,
Some shelter from the rain,
Bleak winter is your terror time,
Chills bones and dulls the brain.

Chorus: Well it’s winter now etc.

What brought you here, so far from friends
And family, tell me why
You’ve slept outdoors alone for years,
Blank stares from passers-by?

Chorus: Well it’s winter now etc.

'Lost everything, job, wife and kids,
The demon in my head;
No other way, I had to leave,
That’s what my voices said.'

Chorus: Well it’s winter now etc.

'I read their faces, people round,
Grow louder by the day:
To them I’m an embarrassment
They wish would melt away.

Chorus: Well it’s winter now etc.

Folk wash their hands, police move you on,
Leave charities to cope;
Your world inside one carrier bag,
Can’t live on faith and hope.

Chorus: Well it’s winter now etc.

First verse repeated

Chorus: (modified):
Well it’s winter now with Christmas here,
No angel’s wings to cope,
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,
Can’t live on faith and hope.

Excerpt from The True Born Englishman
by Daniel Defoe, 1701

Thus from a mixture of all kinds began,
That het'rogeneous thing, an Englishman:
In eager rapes, and furious lust begot,
Betwixt a painted Britain and a Scot.
Whose gend'ring off-spring quickly learn'd to bow,
And yoke their heifers to the Roman plough:
From whence a mongrel half-bred race there came,
With neither name, nor nation, speech nor fame.
In whose hot veins new mixtures quickly ran,
Infus'd betwixt a Saxon and a Dane.
While their rank daughters, to their parents just,
Receiv'd all nations with promiscuous lust.
This nauseous brood directly did contain
The well-extracted blood of Englishmen.

Which medly canton'd in a heptarchy,
A rhapsody of nations to supply,
Among themselves maintain'd eternal wars,
And still the ladies lov'd the conquerors.

The western Angles all the rest subdu'd;
A bloody nation, barbarous and rude:
Who by the tenure of the sword possest
One part of Britain, and subdu'd the rest
And as great things denominate the small,
The conqu'ring part gave title to the whole.
The Scot, Pict, Britain, Roman, Dane, submit,
And with the English-Saxon all unite:
And these the mixture have so close pursu'd,
The very name and memory's subdu'd:
No Roman now, no Britain does remain;
Wales strove to separate, but strove in vain:
The silent nations undistinguish'd fall,
And Englishman's the common name for all.
Fate jumbled them together, God knows how;
What e'er they were they're true-born English now.

The wonder which remains is at our pride,
To value that which all wise men deride.
For Englishmen to boast of generation,
Cancels their knowledge, and lampoons the nation.
A true-born Englishman's a contradiction,
In speech an irony, in fact a fiction.
A banter made to be a test of fools,
Which those that use it justly ridicules.
A metaphor invented to express
A man a-kin to all the universe.

For as the Scots, as learned men ha' said,
Throughout the world their wand'ring seed ha' spread;
So open-handed England, 'tis believ'd,
Has all the gleanings of the world receiv'd.

Some think of England 'twas our Saviour meant,
The Gospel should to all the world be sent:
Since, when the blessed sound did hither reach,
They to all nations might be said to preach.

'Tis well that virtue gives nobility,
How shall we else the want of birth and blood supply?
Since scarce one family is left alive,
Which does not from some foreigner derive.

Our Mongrel Breed
by Peter Branson

This poem’s a fox amongst the hens, each word
a claw, each phrase a wrecking ball, roof, wall
and floor, foundation – ignorance, till there’s
no house of folly left at all, that sense
of being overwhelmed by strangers, folk
who try their fortune here – blind panic, bile,
'What a to-do! – in Europe’s jakes, enhance
our culture, vitalise our mongrel race.
This morning’s pallid, root-stock still, time stalled,
ice chandeliers on twigs, the slightest move,
keen-set hawk’s breath, will shatter, send to ground
to glisten like the dew, these brittle shards
of frosted glass, self-doubt, small-mindedness,
ill will, that meld to nothing in the grass.

'High Ho, Silver, Away!' was first published in Ambit.

Little Mosque Poems
K2_PUBLISHED_ON Monday, 14 December 2015 22:11

Little Mosque Poems

in Poetry
Written by

Little Mosque Poems
By Mohja Kahf

In my little mosque
there is no room for me to pray.
I am turned away faithfully
five times a day

My little mosque:
so meagre
in resources, yet
so eager
to turn away
a woman or a stranger

My little mosque
is penniless, behind on rent
Yet it is rich in anger—
every Friday, coins of hate
are generously spent

My little mosque is poor yet
every week we are asked to give
to buy another curtain
to partition off the women,
or to pave another parking space

I would like to build
a little mosque
without a dome
or minaret
I’d hang a sign
over the door:
Bad Muslims
welcome here
Come in, listen
to some music,
sharpen
the soul’s longing,
have a cigarette

I went to the mosque
when no one was there
and startled two angels
coming out of a broom closet
“Are they gone now?” one said
They looked relieved

My little mosque
has a big sense of humor
Not

My little mosque has a Persian carpet
depicting trees of paradise
in the men’s section, which you enter
through a lovely classical arch
The women’s section features—
well, nothing

Piety dictates that men enter
my little mosque through magnificent columns
Piety dictates
that women enter
my little mosque
through the back alley,
just past the crack junkie here
and over these fallen garbage cans

My little mosque used to be democratic
with a rotating imam
we chose from among us every month
Now my little mosque has an appointed imam
trained abroad
No one can dispute his superior knowledge

I miss having a mosque,
driving by and seeing cars lining the streets,
people double-parking, desperate
to catch the prayer in time
I miss noticing, as they dodge across traffic
toward the mosque entrance between
buses and trucks,
their long chemises fluttering,
that trail of gorgeous fabrics Muslims leave,
gossamer, the colors of hot lava, fantastic shades
from the glorious places of the earth
I miss the stiff, uncomfortable men
looking anywhere but at me when they meet me,
and the double-faced women
full of judgment, and their beautiful
children shining
with my children. I do

I don’t dream of a perfect mosque
I just want roomfuls of people to kiss every week
with the kisses of Prayer and Serenity,
and a fat, multi-trunked tree
collecting us loosely for a minute under
its alive and quivering canopy

Marshmallows are banned
from my little mosque
because they might
contain gelatin derived from pork enzymes
but banality is not banned,
and yet verily,
banality is worse than marshmallows

My little mosque
is fearful to protect itself
from the bricks of bigots
through its window
Doesn’t my little mosque know
the way to protect its windows
is to open its doors?

I know the bricks of bigots
are real
I wish I could protect my little mosque
with my body as a shield

I love my dysfunctional little mosque
even though I can’t stand it

I would like to find a little mosque
where my Christian grandmother
and my Jewish great-uncle the rebbe
and my Buddhist cousin
and my Hindu neighbor
would be as welcome
as my staunchly Muslim mom and dad

My little mosque is as decrepit
as my little heart. Its narrowness
is the narrowness in me. Its windows
are boarded up like the part of me that prays

I went to the mosque
when no one was there
No One was sweeping up
She said: This place is just a place
Light is everywhere. Go, live in it.

The Responsible Bomb
Monday, 14 December 2015 21:55

The Responsible Bomb

Written by
in Poetry

A short message inspired by a British politician discussing bombing Syria on BBC Radio 5, November 2015

I am the Syrian child
Awaiting the British Responsible Bomb.
Each day I wake and rush to my window
Hoping to catch a glimpse as it falls
I want to welcome it with open arms
Because it keeps the British safe in their beds.
I want to catch it and caress its metallic beauty
This glittering message of peace
This reasonable response.

Each day I scribble crayon pictures of
Responsible Bombs
On smooth sheets of paper.
I stick them to our fridge with magnets shaped like butterflies,
My infant brain imagining friendly fire.

Before

The pieces of my skull
Tear the paper
Smear my blood across the wall
Sprinkle spleen and scorched skin
Across my simple art.

The Responsible Bomb
Screams out my name

I am the Syrian child!

Wednesday, 09 December 2015 23:23

Hosts

Written by
in Poetry

‘Australia’s hosting refugees’, I heard the newsman say,
and I wondered just how many are received the proper way.
For hosting is a practice where some social rules hold sway,
and a host has obligations to behave a certain way:
all guests should feel they’re welcome (so a guest should never pay)
and if they’re tired and hungry having come from far away,
each guest might well expect to have at least one canapé,
a drink or two and a decent meal. And, for a long-term stay,
a comfy bed, some private space, and things to do each day.
They need to know just where they are in case they go astray -
they’ll need an introduction to the shops and the café,
to the people round about them , to the customs of the day –
you do not want your guests to feel all lost and in dismay.
You do of course expect that there are rules they will obey
but it isn’t right to say that you will meet your guest halfway
for hosting isn’t like that. It’s up to you to say
you’ll do anything you can to help. You can’t say “Go away!”
and if their need is urgent you can’t quibble or delay…

(nor should you hand them over to some quickly hired valet.)

A Strong and Stiffly Worded Letter Should Do the Trick
Wednesday, 09 December 2015 23:09

A Strong and Stiffly Worded Letter Should Do the Trick

Written by
in Poetry

Dear war makers and war takers,

twitchy button pushers and mushroom cloud worshippers,
bomb botherers and gun polishers,
chemical weapon wielders and coup-cooers,
battle cry criers and army gatherers,
bullet loaders and knife sharpeners,
death collators, chief whips and spins and
dear kings and dear lords and dear right honourables.
To all the dear Mr Presidents and dear Mr Prime Ministers –
Thank you for taking some time to read this letter.
I am writing to make a small request –
Go to the park, feed the ducks, read a book.
Take a break and put down your war-stirring spoons.
Quit being so trigger-happy.
Give your eye-for-an-eye campaign a rest.
Just take some time out –
do your laundry, water your plants, visit your mother,
pull a sickie, have a duvet day, watch a whole season of 
but just stop.
 ,

unplug your internet and take a breather.
Stop winding each other up. I don’t care who started this trouble.
You’re all as bad as each other. I want to send you to your rooms
to do your homework –
you all need to read the history books
and refresh your geography.
So here’s the thing:
If you could just stop making bombs. And you, if you could stop
pretending you haven’t sold any bombs. And then if you could stop
pretending you haven’t bought any bombs. And then you, if you could
stop threatening to bomb people that would be brilliant. Yeah. If you
could all stop threatening us with all your bombs that you haven’t built or
simplify things: if you could stop making bombs and you stop selling
bombs and if you could stop bombing people and if you could all stop
threatening us all with bombs all the fucking time that would be brilliant.
One more time, let me put it another way: if you could stop making
bombs and you stop selling bombs to the other side when you are
meant to be on the other side, and if you could stop accusing the
other one of having the bombs, whilst procuring the production
of more bombs, which you know the latter has because you have
the receipts because it was you who fucking ordered them in to 
be great.

 Now go and have a fucking cup of tea and do a crossword.

Do something lovely and ordinary with your time.

Bake a fucking cake or something.
Since you have all this surplus energy and money
for bombs and war planes,
go and build a school or a hospital or save the rainforests
or something useful.
Put all that war chest money into grants towards that cure for cancer.
Save a soldier, save some money, send him home.
There is not one person I know wants to see another
human being killed.
I certainly don’t want anyone shot or blown up, how ludicrous.
And you always end up bombing schools and hospitals and
killing children and women, because your aim is crap.
At least we are all to believe that it’s because your aim is crap.
Seriously, I think I can safely say
It was vibrating with all the chest beating.
Stop with the King Kong method.
What is it with all the killy-killy-bomb talk?
Are you all drunk or something?
Has your summer of *HW/XFN\ gone a bit sour?
Stay up all night to get killy…
Stay up all night to get bomby…
Obama, Cameron, Putin, Bashar, Letta,
whips and spins and government war stirrers,
every one of you in every war bunker,
yes, you and you, all of you,
all of you, go to your rooms.
I think you need to go take a nap.
Start a war? Seriously? You are going to start a war?
Start a war? START A WAR? Bomb people?
Yep. That’s your solution, is it?
You bag of hopeless dicks.


With Kindest Regards,
pretty much everyone.

Sunday, 16 August 2015 21:28

New Boots and Pantisocracies

Written by
in Poetry

Jody Porter talks to ANDY JACKSON and W N HERBERT about the success of their post-election poetry project. This article was first published in the Morning Star

THE next few weeks will see a radical web-based poetry project reach its conclusion, with the posting of the final poems out of a planned 100 on the New Boots and Pantisocracies website.

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