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

The Heels of Can-Can Dancers Kicking Towards the Stars
Wednesday, 22 February 2017 10:31

The Heels of Can-Can Dancers Kicking Towards the Stars

Written by
in Poetry

The Heels of Can-Can Dancers Kicking Towards the Stars

by Fred Voss

A poem is a reason to get up in the morning
the crowns
of 100 Sequoia redwood trees soaking in the sun
together a cup
of ice water in the middle of the Sahara desert a poem
bounces across a midnight alley like the eyes
of the black cat travels
around the globe like the song of the whale at the bottom
of the sea
no king
will ever rule as completely as the laws of gravity true
as poems a poem
is the kiss of a beautiful woman on the lips of a man who has just finished doing 20 years
in San Quentin the hooting
of the owl during a total eclipse
of the sun a poem
runs down an Olympic track like Jesse Owens’s black feet proving Hitler’s white master race
a lie breaks
open the Bastille because no human being can ever be kept down
forever takes
off his hat to no man as he strides like Walt Whitman
down his open road
a poem
is the heels of can-can dancers kicking
toward the stars Hamlet
saying words that will last longer
than all the empires a poem
is a strawberry ice cream cone licked
under fireworks
a man
on a bridge over a river pressing a trumpet to his lips playing notes so beautiful he will never
          jump
into the water below a poem
hits harder than any hammer a poem is a girder
in a skyscraper the spine of a saber-toothed tiger the horn
of a midnight train crossing a bridge over the Mississippi River
as Huck Finn paddles escaped slave Jim down its deep waters
toward freedom old
as a poem.

Matt Abbott
Sunday, 19 February 2017 19:09

Pick up a pen and speak out

Written by
in Poetry

It was a couple of weeks after my 18th birthday, and I was on the coach back from a political rally in London. It was either anti-cuts or anti-war, I’m not entirely sure, but safe to say it attracted those of us on the left of the political spectrum.

On the way home, I started chatting to a local activist who was heavily involved in organising politically focused events. It turned out that he was organising a Love Music Hate Racism gig in Wakefield in a couple of weeks’ time, with Jerry Dammers of The Specials doing a DJ set. I’d very recently written an anti-racism poem called ‘Nazis on the Doorstep’ and asked if I could perform it at the event. I saw his face drop, and he mumbled an excuse as to why it might not be feasible.

Regardless of his obvious reluctance, I turned up at the event, eager for the opportunity. Again, he was attempting to palm me off, but a couple of acts in, I slyly arranged to introduce the next band and took to the mic. There were around 500 people in – by far the largest audience I’d ever had at this stage – and I remember my hand shaking as it grasped the sweaty SM58.

I performed my poem, leaning heavily on the machine-gun style of a certain John Cooper Clarke, and much to the surprise of both myself and the event organiser, it went down an absolute storm. I still to this day remember the rapturous applause, and after six months of writing poems and then uploading them to MySpace, I knew that I was genuinely onto something.

At this stage I was approaching the end of my A-Levels, and Government & Politics was one of my subjects, so coupled with my textbooks and a Bill Hicks DVD, I felt well positioned to lead a global revolution. Of the six months that I’d been writing poems, I’d been sporadically performing for four, and every one of these performances was at a music gig. But after the Love Music Hate Racism event, a new chapter was born – and since then my political activism has been inextricably linked to my spoken word career.

Fast forward ten years, and I’ve just finished touring the country in support of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. This has involved sharing a stage with names including Paul Weller, Ken Loach, Sara Pascoe, Jeremy Hardy, Francesca Martinez, Mark Steel and more. In late October I supported Sleaford Mods, having appeared in their socio-political documentary ‘Invisible Britain’. In a couple of months, I’m gigging at a trade union annual conference with Corbyn himself and UB40. So, it’s safe to say that I certainly haven’t held back when it comes to fusing poetry and politics. In fact, to be blatantly honest, I can’t imagine what my career would be like if it wasn’t for the political activism.

Choctaw Village by Francois Bernard, 1869
Tuesday, 14 February 2017 20:29

Pictures of Unfamiliars

Written by
in Poetry

Pictures of Unfamiliars
after Carolyn Forché

by Kevin Higgins

Beamed into one’s living room via satellite,
or framed in syndicated photographs
on the quality papers’ foreign pages, even
their black or missing front teeth
have a strange beauty.

The shanty town dwellers of La Paz,
in their hand-woven red and green ponchos,
carry themselves in a fashion
which puts to shame the post office queue
scraggy mother of two, with change
in her slovenly wallet for lottery tickets,
but not shampoo.

Nothing against the locals.
But the skeletal Colosseum cats have a grace
which the one I ran over on my way
to this morning’s Amnesty
International meeting absolutely lacked,
even before my brand new
Goodyear Assurance tires ironed flat
its entirely unremarkable pelvis.

The ongoing pain of the Yazidi women
and the entire Choctaw nation (every generation)
is best struggled with over a Fairtrade salad
in one of the more radical tea shops
on Sandymount Strand.

In comparison, one admits,
our local Others – with their dole
day drunkenness, and lack of imagination
which has seen them prosaically wander the roads
these past thousand years – just
don’t cut the whole grain mustard.

When they start mouthing Civil Rights
and municipal water cannon, or
police batons get over enthusiastic
on their irresponsibly positioned skulls,
people like me will feel forced to pass by
on the other side, checking our messages
for pictures of unfamiliars being
deliciously maltreated
anywhere else.

Note: Poet Carolyn Forché wrote a poem titled ‘Against Forgetting’. She also co-edited the excellent anthology Poetry of Witness but forgot to include any poems by Native American poets because there were, apparently, no poetic witnesses to the genocide of the Native American people to be found in the United States of America, the country in which Carolyn Forché lives.

March
K2_PUBLISHED_ON Thursday, 09 February 2017 22:10

March

in Poetry
Written by

March

21/1/17

by Ness Owen

 

They wanted us broken

stranded away from our-

selves and each other rifts

deepening between us

drip fed fear, anger, hate

It’s always someone else’s fault

they wanted silence no-one

to question why difference is

a problem, a worry, a threat

silence won't shape our future

end hate-driven discontent

watch us gathering, hear

the tread of our feet like

others before us marching

for what we know is right

our voices not alone but

amplified louder than

the ballot-box, join us

march where you’re standing

they can’t ignore us all.

Cool Britannia
K2_PUBLISHED_ON Saturday, 28 January 2017 17:52

To the Former Times

in Poetry
Written by

To The Former Times
Golden ages never last…So enjoy it while it lasts. Because it won’t.
- Charles Krauthammer.

Let it be always 1997;
magic Diana from her tomb
and down the red carpet in
something devastating –having deftly
reassembled her skull –to deliver
a Champagne stained rendition
of Candle In The Wind,
accompanied on grand piano
by an equally undead
Gianni Versace.

Centrosensibilism was the dance
crazing the nightclubs. By decade’s end
we were all doing it,
especially me. Years when ‘progressive’ meant
stamping on potential
beggars who’d long inflicted their
antisocial mind-sets on residents
of marginal constituencies, such as Milton Keynes.

Give us back those sacred hours
when one’s colorectal area could be safely
sold off to a public-private partnership,
who’d also bought up most of
the railways in Eastern England;
and everything kept moving
in the usual way, or appeared to,
with just a little less bureaucracy
than in the days of British Rail.

The last coalminer had been liberated
to answer phones
that would eventually be relocated to India.
The future had revealed itself,
and it was this. Peace
breaking out everywhere,
except there, there,
and there. Oh former times!

We so enjoyed the taste of you
we’d make political love to anyone,
who by adjusting the set
slightly, would make this boo boo better.

1997blair victory

 

I belong
K2_PUBLISHED_ON Saturday, 21 January 2017 16:32

I belong

in Poetry
Written by

white privileges

upon a turquoise threshold
I hold on to you tighter
sensing shifts

I stroke these moments
of damaged velvet with
desperate need

hearing you breathe
no longer I and you
no longer black and white

I wish I could see
with your eyes
walk with your privileges

I swallow my words
like glass become tangled
in sheets of doubts

at the closed door
wondering the direction
the sun's rays will fall

I want a feeling of light
I want to be turned
on that pedestal

sheree mack poem

 

I belong. I have forgotten myself. I have forsaken myself; my voice, my love, my soul.

I have looked upon myself and found me wanting. I allowed those fears and doubts inside to marry up with those controlling critical voices outside. Together they solidified into a giant insurmountable wall around me; my voice, my truth, my soul.

And each day I added a brick into the wall. With each job and gig and publication I received based on some manufactured voice, l made the charade harder to let go. This voice, I became an expert in, as this voice fitted in, this voice was good enough for them.

This false voice was based on fear. Watered down and weak and accepted, keep-them-laughing-in-their-seats kind of voice.
But I'm here today, right now, telling you; all those fearful, doubting, critical, 'I'm not enough kind of voices', both internal amd external, to fuck right off.

I mean it. Fuck off. All you've done is silenced me, muzzled me, white-washed me. Turned me into a house nigger. Yes I'll be real good. I'll not speak or step out of line. Or be different.

I'll be good real good. I'll not do or say anything to make you feel uncomfortable. Do anything you want to me. Beat me. Humiliate me. Shame me. I'll just keep on smiling, good. Look at my teeth.

I've played my part so well that you don't have to police me any more. I've internalised all this hate that I police myself.

You can't curse nobody. Look at you. You black, you pore, you ugly, you a woman. Goddam, he say, you nothing at all.

- The Color Purple, Alice Walker.

Fuck 'em. You are not me. I am not my fears. I am not small and silent. I am not compliant. I am complicit no more.
I am a black woman from a rich ancestral lineage. I come from a people who fought and suffered and died so I could live. Deal with it.

I don't need your raggedy-arse fears and criticism and dirty looks. You said those things to keep me in my place. To keep me from fulling my full potential. My true potential.

It's over. You and all your cronies. The power you had over me is gone. I have seen the light. And I'd rather live my life my way. True to me.

I'm unique. There ain't ever gonna be anyone like me on this here earth again. So it's my birthright to live my life right by me. The real, authentic me. The whole me you've been trying desperately to keep in a box. The wild me you've tried to shame and silence.

You ain't gonna do that any more. I am my own queen, I have sovereignty. I have the power. Walk away now. Go on, fuck off.

You're not welcome around here anymore. You don't belong.

I belong.

The Thing from Planet Gove
K2_PUBLISHED_ON Thursday, 19 January 2017 08:46

The Thing from Planet Gove

in Poetry
Written by

The Thing from Planet Gove

by Kevin Higgins

Its handshake is that of a slightly disreputable funeral director.
Its eyes those of an opinionated alligator
that sometimes reviews opera in the London Times.
Its mind is a free trade slaughterhouse, busy
making mincemeat, as cleanly as possible,
of other people’s children, bony old parents
and the occasional small business person
who was just wrong place, wrong century.

But its regular appearances on TV impress
the sort of people who have sexual relations
with their cars. Or their neighbours
cars. The female it dreams of is
Rupert Murdoch’s more withered sister
who lets it stand on its tippy-toes in a tutu
inherited from a former grandmother
who was briefly a dowager Duchess
until the unfortunate headlines
made her true position undeniable.

And it is written in Scripture
that at a time such as this
a thing such as this
would ascend to Earth and give us –
leaving god aside for the minute –
proof of Satan’s existence.

Maple Leaf
Wednesday, 18 January 2017 09:39

A Coverlet of Green: In Memoriam John Berger

Written by
in Poetry

A COVERLET
OF GREEN

by David Betteridge

The bare and barren tree
can be made green again...
- Antonio Gramsci

¶ A boy cried.
His bedside cup,
brimful with milk
before he slept, was empty
now, at morning-time.
Not one drop he'd drunk.
How, then, no milk?

The culprit mouse,
her creamy lips a give-away,
felt sorry for the boy.
And still he cried.

She thought:
I'll get the cattle
to make good his loss.

But no: Today our milk's
dried up.

Field, asked the mouse,
have you some juicy grass
to give?

Sorry, the field explained,
I'm parched.
Will you fetch water
from the well?

Brokenly, the well demurred.
My rim's caved in;
I need repaired.

¶ Mason, will you take the job?

Apologetically,
I'm short of stone,
the mason said.

¶ Next, to a bleak hill.
I've granite here
enough to build a town,
but not a single sett will go
to humankind.
Aggrieved, the hill refused
the mouse's plea.

Imagine -
mouse to hill -
imagine that you feel
the balm of maple trees
where you are bare.
If you give the mason stone,
the boy whose milk I took
will come to you a man -
you have my word -
and he will work for you
this remedy I plan.

¶ The hill relented;

the mason fixed the well;

water by the bucketful
      was raised;

the pasture greened;

the cattle's udders
    swelled, and cups
         and bellies
             soon were filled.

Strong as a bull,
     the boy grew,
          a farmer-forester.

The mouse, her children,
    and theirs as well,
        in turn, each year
            reminded him:
a promise had been made.

¶ Hectare on hectare now,

gladdening the hill,

a coverlet of green extends

its shade, a living tribute

to the mouse’s will.

A note on its sources, which are a Sardinian folk-tale, Antonio Gramsci, Hamish Henderson, Gordon Brown, and John Berger.

“A Coverlet of Green” is derived from a folk-tale from Sardinia. This folk-tale was written down in the mid-1930s by the Marxist philosopher and political activist, Antonio Gramsci, in a letter to his son. The letter was smuggled out of one of Mussolini’s gaols, where Gramsci had been imprisoned, “to stop his brain from functioning”. (In fact, his brain functioned all the more powerfully.)

Later, during the Second World War, Hamish Henderson, the Scottish poet, singer, folklorist, teacher, and lots of other things, came across Gramsci’s writings, including his prison letters. Henderson was at that time an intelligence officer in the British Army, and one of his duties was to make contact with Italian partisans opposed to Mussolini. One such group called itself the Antonio Gramsci Brigade. It was they who acted as the link between the philosopher’s ideas and the soldier. Henderson’s translation of Gramsci’s letters were published two decades later by a students’ printing press at Edinburgh University, edited by a radical (even revolutionary) student leader who went on to pursue a noteworthy career in politics, although rather less radical, one Gordon Brown.

Later still, John Berger discovered Hamish Henderson’s translation of Gramsci’s re-telling of the Sardinain folk-tale. He so liked it that he re-told it himself in an essay about Gramsci called “How to Live with Stones”, published in an essay-collection The Shape of a Pocket. He also re-told the tale in a radio interview on BBC Radio 3. It was this broadcast version that sparked my own attempt at a re-telling, in “A Coverlet of Green”.

John Berger’s death on 2nd January, just two months after his 90th birthday, leaves a great gap in literature and cultural politics. My poem, with Bob Starrett’s lovely green evocation of new growth - maple leaves lit by sunshine - was intended for publication as a birthday greeting, but it missed that deadline. Now it can serve as an In Memoriam.

Like Mother
Monday, 16 January 2017 16:17

Like Mother

Written by
in Poetry

Like Mother

by Nadia Drews

Settle down, bottom set, poor concentration, what do you expect?
Failed tests, predictable results, staying behind
red lines
Life viewed through windows in the sticks ,drizzling with tears of spilling piss
Clinging like dribble to chins of grizzling kids, you didn’t do what the other girls did
Tossed like crossings out on screwed up scraps
The Battersbys and the Bickerstaffes

The flimsy, thin, sterling silver skin stinging slaps
The back of the class chatting up robbing from the stock cupboard smothered laughs
Julie, longing lashes, soft, leather wrapped in Frank
Debbie, bitty little. Biting lippy, outside the chippy
Gob full of fizz bomber jacketed hands jammed in high
Up in arms, sticking out like chicken wings, flapping
Clucking fuck this and fuck that
Flicking V’s, not free to fly
Leanne, lanky, shrieking streak of ‘Miss!’
Witty, eyeing, disguised lined rims hidden behind
Sharp as a knife flicked fringe
Shading every shame filled cringe

All subjects of so much rigid invigilation
Tiddy-tipped, spit slippy, wetly dreamt of detentions
Gripped like slurped chipped china mugs gulped and spilled
Held in belched petrol smells, cider swilled with fry –ups
Eyeing up, weighing out, measured in points for their pleasure
Stiff inches of shifting skin counting you on scribbling fingers
Summing you up, in and out scratching walls
Hurtful mis spelt spurting words
Running out and leaving
Stale-tasting tell-tale stained pockets of cock-eyed explanations

After all those years of teaching you lessons
Never reading your need to know
NO …..NO…..NO
Minus one of them speccy gets noticed you go
Woe betide you’d ever forget it uniformly checked
Stubby short to skinny strip
Hanging from the tide marked neck
Now noosed round a reflection in a dressing table mirror
A face painted with disgrace
With no-one waiting till you washed it off
To bare your face then confiscate that birthday gift from your mum

Full term came and went for some
An unmarked summer break becoming an endless spiral-bound roundabout
A mid-afternoon, windblown, swinging groan
With no bell ringing time to go home
Down the dole to drum on doors hard
Then a card and a ticking clock
On the Verdigris, smocked copper bonnet factory top
Making dull days, patinaed with wages
Catalogued to pay for life in reasonable instalments
24 or 36 weeks
Outfits in drips to disguise your defeat down the pub

Atmosphere thickly stinking mist of chart hits
Spewing what was supped in the gutter
Thrust against throbbing, glugging, tugging
Filling up belly-aching gaps, swallowing laughs, tapping off happiness
Getting ribbed, getting bent coins banged in avoiding trouble
Chasing, knocking back, seeing double

Others would try to get in the club
The price was too high for you to pay
And you were too old to run away again
All your mates had to stay in evenings
Facing days framed by pram handles
And pacing familiar avenues
Dangling struggling little girls
Heavy with giggles from the hip
Where you all used to stand about strangling laughs
Yanking tangles, swapping bangles
Mixed up ten pence teeth sticking sweet dreams
Twisted in bags ripped from string
Escaping tear away paper thin lips
Skinned suckling pale pink dissolving flying saucers
Sore ochre cracked areolas with sleeping smiles inside
That mithered mothers now bribe their daughters with
Outside Clare’s shop beyond the school gates when you were meant to stop

You paid your debts to Great Universal
Ticking the box to say you would no longer like to be a representative
And walked out in a patent leather patiently anticipated excellent value for you shoe
Through the front door this time
With your mum’s packed away sadness and matching set of unused suitcases for all occasions
Full of qualifications to be somewhere else
And you slipped into the empty space on the empty bus
Like a pear drop from Betty’s shop
popped in
a shared quarter passed between mother and daughter sat on the sofa staring at the blaring telly
Yelling jokes at soaps her stroking your hair and hoping

How long till Spring? Letter to Randall Swingler IV
Friday, 13 January 2017 17:34

How long till Spring? Letter to Randall Swingler IV

Written by
in Poetry

Andy Croft offers the latest - and last - instalment in his long-term project of memorialising the neglected life and poetry of Randall Swingler.

Although these days the poet Randall Swingler (1909-1967) is a largely forgotten figure, he was one of the most prolific and public British writers of his generation. Few English writers worked so hard to mobilise public opinion in the name of Peace, or fought so bravely to prosecute the War when it could no longer be avoided. He was responsible for some of the most imaginative interventions of the Popular Front years, and he wrote some of the greatest poetry of the Second World War. A playwright, novelist, critic, editor and poet, his verse was set to music by many of the most distinguished composers of his generation.

In the 1930s he contributed several plays for Unity Theatre, including the Mass Declamation Spain, the Munich-play Crisis and the revues Sandbag Follies and Get Cracking. He wrote a new version of Peer Gynt for Rupert Doone’s Group Theatre (where he was assistant editor of the Group Theatre Magazine). He founded a radical paperback publishing company, Fore Publications, selling half a million books in twelve months, and edited the best-selling Left Review, where he published and helped edit Nancy Cunard’s famous Authors Take Sides on the Spanish War.

MI5 opened a twenty-year long file on him because they disapproved of a song which he and Alan Bush wrote for a concert to mark the arrival of the Hunger March into London in 1934. The two men wrote Peace and Prosperity for the London Choral Union, a radically re-written production of Handel’s Belshazzar for the London Co-operative Movement and edited The Left Song Book for the Left Book Club. When Bush’s first Piano Concerto was premiered on the BBC in 1938, Adrian Boult was so uncomfortable with the politics of Swingler’s text in the choral finale that he led the orchestra and choir straight into the national anthem in an attempt to ‘balance’ the effect of the text on its listeners.

 Original film of the return of the International Brigade British Battalion, 7 December 1938

Swingler and Auden wrote the libretto of Britten’s Ballad of Heroes, written to mark the return of the International Brigades to London, and were the only English poets included (with Alberti, Aragon, Guillen, Hughes, Lorca, Neruda and Tzara) in Les Poetes du Monde Defend le Peuple Espagnol. In 1938 he took over the editorship of the magazine Poetry and the People, re-launching it as the best-selling Our Time. In 1939 Swingler filled the Albert Hall with a historical verse-pageant starring Paul Robeson. He was also the literary editor of the Daily Worker; later becoming a staff reporter, reporting on the Blitz until the paper was banned in 1941.

During the Second World War Swingler served with the 56th Divisional Signals with the Eighth Army in North Africa and Italy. He took part in heavy fighting on the Volturno and Garigliano rivers, at Monte Camino (where he was buried alive for several hours), and on the Salerno and Anzio beach-heads. For his part in the battle of Lake Comacchio, Swingler was awarded the Military Medal for bravery. His collections The Years of Anger (1946) and The God in the Cave (1950) contain arguably some of the greatest poems of the Italian campaign.

After the War, Swingler was blacklisted by the BBC. Orwell attacked him in Polemic and included him in the list of names he offered the security services in 1949. Stephen Spender attacked him in The God that Failed.

In other words, Swingler’s work was clearly central to his times, and his life and writings should be central to any history of the period that is not disfigured by either carelessness or dishonesty. Twenty-five years ago, believing Swingler’s life and work to be undeservedly neglected, I began writing a biography, eventually published by Manchester University Press as Comrade Heart: A Life of Randall Swingler (2003).

Provoked by my difficulties in finding a publisher to even look at the manuscript, and then by the critical silence into which the book fell after it was published, I found myself writing longish verse-letters of apology to Swingler. The first of these was published by John Lucas at Shoestring Press in 1999 as Letter to Randall Swingler and reprinted in Just as Blue (Flambard, 2001). Letter II was first published in Comrade Laughter (Flambard, 2004).

Somehow the habit of occasional correspondence stuck. When, a few years ago, MI5 released some of their (heavily redacted) files on Swingler I realised that I was not, after all, the only person interested in his life and writings. I felt I ought to let him know what these people had been saying about him; Letter III was published in Sticky (Flambard, 2009). A fourth letter, which has not previously been published, was written towards the end of 2016, after the EU Referendum and the US presidential elections. All four letters are being published later this year by Shoestring as Letters to Randall Swingler.

Over the years Swingler has proved to be a congenial (if somewhat silent) correspondent, one who has generously allowed me space and time to reflect on some of the developments in poetry and politics since his death. The events of the last two decades have certainly given us both a lot to think about.

Letter IV

in memory of Edward

We woke today to find the world had changed:
An unexpected snowfall in the night
Has clarified the skyline, rearranged
The sharpened shadows in a harsh new light,
And what we thought familiar bright and strange,
Disguised in simple terms of black and white.
The phones are down, and all the roads are blocked.
We dig in for the night. The doors are locked.

How suddenly and quickly change appears.
And what a poor exchange for what it takes;
The sand falls slowly through the glass for years,
And then we fall asleep, the weather breaks,
The sky falls in, and Winter’s cold frontiers
Confront us now. The sleeping earth awakes
Beneath the sky’s restrained and muffled violence.
The dumbstruck world is suffering in silence.

Not every duckling comes back as a swan;
A test result, a scan, a sudden frost;
One minute friends are here, and then they’re gone,
And now it feels as if we too have crossed
The woeful waters of the Acheron,
And change is just another word for lost.
We wonder how we could have missed the clues,
The zombies howling on this morning’s news.

No-one can say we couldn’t see this coming,
Or that we’re not familiar with defeat;
By now we ought to recognise the numbing
Pretence that every rout’s a planned retreat;
Somehow we did not understand the drumming
Of hatreds boiling over on the street
Against all those who do not talk the same;
And did not know to call it by its name.

We crawl out of the womb toward the grave
And warm ourselves at night by hungry fires
Inside the strange and amniotic cave
Of sleep and paint our primitive desires
Upon its walls; by morning we are brave
Enough to understand what day requires.
But then, beyond the cave-mouth, what we know
Is silenced by a sudden fall of snow.

In case you’re not sure where this letter’s going,
Or if you think I’ve woken you once more
Because I want to tell you that it’s snowing,
I guess it’s time to drop this metaphor
(Which has already s-s-started slowing
My t-t-typing fingers) and restore
The circulation to my freezing brain
While there’s still time. I think I’d best explain.

The problem is, I don’t know how to put it,
There are some things much better left unsaid,
And every writer should know when to shut it,
Especially when they’re talking to the dead,
But more than this, whichever way you cut it,
Of all the stanza forms I’ve ever read
This damned ottava rima’s not much cop
For channelling low-level agitprop.

To nail this form a Byron’s skills are needed
(His nibs could churn this stuff out by the yard),
In every form he handled he succeeded
(And how his panting readers oohed and aahed);
If I but had the stamina that he did
Perhaps this stanza wouldn’t seem so hard;
But then his lordship never had to worry
About the bills (nor, thanks to him, did Murray).

Pentameter’s at least a foot too long
To reproduce the beat of modern speech,
Two sets of rhyming triplets are too strong
(It always sounds as if you’re trying to preach)
And quite unsuited to the English tongue
Where half the rhymes you need are out of reach;
And if this final couplet lacks a joke
Your chances of a prize go up – oh fuck it.

These days I much prefer a fourteen-liner –
Onyeginskaya strafa to be precise.
It may be bonkers, but its faults are minor
Compared to this Procrustean device:
More leg-room, fewer murders, less angina,
And words you only have to rhyme with twice.
Instead I’m forced to march beneath the banner
Of what you might call Byron’s donnish manner.

A handy form, perhaps if you are flyting,
Though not, it’s fair to say, quite á la mode;
No-one would ever call a form exciting
Which trudges in the steps where Byron strode,
Or take delight in any kind of writing
That even Auden drop-kicked down the road,
And chose instead a form much used by Chaucer,
Less difficult to write, if somewhat coarser.

You must forgive me taking this excursion
Regarding stanza-forms; it’s apropos
Of what I’m trying to say about the version
Of demagogic violence now on show:
When reason’s threatened daily with coercion
It’s not enough to say with Cicero
Tempora mala sunt, and shake one’s head,
The issue’s how to say what must be said.

This question would be easier, no doubt,
If years ago we had not sold the pass,
Pretending to have nowt to write about
So long as there’s some well-heeled Maecenas
With barrowfuls of prizes to hand out.
But now the sand is slipping through the glass,
And poetry is more than just a selfie
And art’s not just a tax-dodge for the wealfy.

I don’t know if you’re following the story,
Or if you get much news in Death’s abyss;
For all I know, today’s red-top furore
Before you get to hear of it in Dis
Is wrapping chips on Proxima Centauri.
So though I’d rather give this stuff a miss
To understand this note you’re going to need
A bit of help to bring you up to speed.

So much has happened since my previous letter
I’m not sure how or where I should begin;
What started as a comic operetta
About the ins and outs of Out and In
Has turned into a poisonous vendetta
Which only the most venomous can win.
I cannot be the only one who’s weary
Of trying to conjugate the verb brexire.

Brexeo, brexis, brexit may sound cheerful,
But seems to be derived from britimere
Which means to be both British-born and fearful,
Or else brodire – hating those who vary
From low-browed Brits, who thus deserve an earful
Of tabloid-Latin cockney-scarecrow scary –
Or else the evil liberal élite.
(Bramo, bramas, bramat is obsolete.)

It really isn’t hard to get the hang
Of what you might call basic Ukipese:
A kind of ugly patois bar-stool slang
That’s eloquent with hate for refugees,
Resentful and self-pitying harangue
Part Mr Toad and one part Thersites,
Afraid and full of hate! Who gives a toss?
And who dare say, brerubescamus nos?

This bitter lingua franca is now spoken
By foaming, feral packs of the Undead
Surprised in violent dreams from which they’re woken
By slavering dog-whistles in their heads,
To smash the world and then complain it’s broken;
The old palingenetic virus spreads,
A plague of raw stupidity and malice
From Washington to the Élyseé Palace.

The monsters that your generation fought
And left for dead have recently escaped
From unseen Hades’ dim and dismal court;
Now suitably repackaged and reshaped,
They’re cultivating popular support
And so far seem to think they’ve got it taped
Appealing to the meanest and the basest –
Though nobody’s allowed to call them racist.

Perhaps there’s other ways we should describe
This atavistic fear of those in need,
The hatred of all those outside the tribe
That looks uncommonly like common greed:
But since good manners means we can’t ascribe
To them such terms, perhaps we might proceed
By calling them (I hardly think they’ll mind!)
Ungenerous, ungracious and unkind.

Arise ye starvelings, eat your fill of hate,
The age of cant and superstition’s here,
The empty promises that fill your plate
With others’ crumbs will quickly disappear;
Unreason in revolt must always wait
In servile chains of hatred, greed and fear
Until the day the human race has sussed
We need not spurn the prize to win the dust.

In case you think I overstate the threat,
I’m writing this from Richard Desmond’s Britain,
In which The People’s Will’s a household pet
(A cross between a Pit Bull and a kitten)
That wants to do its worst, videlicet,
Let off the leash when someone must be bitten;
A dog who doesn’t know his master’s tricked him,
A bully who believes that he’s the victim.

From Golden Dawn and Jobbik to Svoboda,
Alternative für Deutschland, all the way
To Dacre’s acres there’s a noisome odour
Of something dead, the perfume of decay
And atrophy, a repetitious coda
Of ancient music that won’t go away,
But lingers like the primitive refrain
Of fear and hatred pumping round the brain.

These days the Walking Dead are all the rage,
(And rage, of course, is crucial to their style),
From Wilders to Farage they’ve fouled the age
With ignorance and bigotry and bile,
And yet there’s something of the panto-stage
About the neo-fascist reptile smile:
Pure Captain Hook, but with a generous sprinkle
Of Davros, Vader, Mekon, Ming and Hynkel.

Stage villains such as these, of course, provide
Material for the best of our lampoonists,
And broad-sheet leader-writers may deride
These cynical and clever opportunists,
But nothing seems to stroke their oafish pride
So much as when they’re skewered by cartoonists;
Their critics are the mirror on the wall
That tells them they’re the smartest of them all.

The Donald may be madder than a hatter
(This man would make Caligula look sane)
But mocking Donald only seems to flatter
The fragile self-love of the Donald’s brain.
In other words, it ain’t no laughing matter
(It’s hard to ridicule the King of Spain)
And nobody dare say if, how, or when
The pen will prove as mighty as Le Pen.

This toxic mix of violence and vanity
That marches to the beat of threats and lies
Delirious with fear of all humanity,
The rhetoric of hate that glorifies
The stirrings of a popular insanity
Is one, alas, I think you’ll recognise,
Who understood what you were fighting for
At Anzio in 1944.

This is the reason why I am pretending
To write to you again. It makes no sense,
I know; you’re dead, and not, I think, intending
To join this correspondence; my defence
Is simply that, now Fascism is trending
It’s time that we abandoned the pretence
That what you thought the struggle of the age is
The property of History’s unread pages.

Although I know I’m talking to myself
(So no change there then) this device allows
At least a semblance of my mental health
To be preserved, while you and I can browse
The annals of our broken commonwealth
And try to understand how History ploughs
Boustrophedon, from left to right, once more,
And what’s left of your anti-Fascist war.

When you came limping home from Anzio
And felt that you had come back from the dead,
Though there were still so many miles to go
Through months of mud and blood, the road ahead
Was clear, from there to Lake Comacchio,
And as the tyrant monster, wounded, fled
It knew in every mile of its retreat,
The certainty of Fascism’s defeat.

I’m older now than you were when you died –
Which is a somewhat bleak and chilling notion.
I was still in my thirties when I tried
To excavate your tomb. With what devotion
I dug among your ruins! With the pride
Of Cortez glimpsing his Pacific Ocean
I pulled you out from underneath the rubble.
I could have saved myself a lot of trouble.

It’s fifty years next Summer since you copped it,
That’s fifty years of spiralling dismay;
What’s left of what was left has been co-opted
To manage change (and increase bankers’ pay)
So now the cause of change has been adopted
By those who wear the mask of Castlereagh.
In short, the world your victory helped construct –
As people say these days – is proper fucked.

Although our culture’s still obsessed with wars,
Your war’s routinely gutted of its fury,
An episode that merely underscores
The insular and sentimental story
About this blessed island and the cause
Of Britishness (a synonym for Tory)
Against the rest – viz anyone wot does
Not seem to be prepared to talk like us.

I’m sending this from Y2K16,
A UK of know-nothing and poor taste,
An infantile and brain-dead zombie scene,
Of greed and famine, glut and pointless waste,
In which the flags of ’45 have been
Forgot for so long that they’ve been replaced
By shiny baubles, trinkets, tinsel, trash,
The world’s one hope reduced to dust and ash.

On which depressing note I’ll say good day;
I’m tired of this ridiculous endeavour,
I’ve other things to do, and anyway
You’ve put up with this long enough. Whatever.
Some day the freezing snows must melt away,
And Winter’s darkness cannot last forever.
But how long till the morning that will bring
The lenitive, warm promises of Spring?

On the Departure From Office of Barack Obama
Tuesday, 03 January 2017 21:32

On the Departure From Office of Barack Obama

Written by
in Poetry

On The Departure From Office Of Barack Obama

You are the bed we’d happily have slept in,
if only we’d managed to assemble you
but there was always a bit missing.
So you forced us to spend the night
admiring the pictures in the brochure.

The exquisite wrapping
on a box with zilch in it
except a mildly amusing joke
you had written for you
but delivered with such charisma
it set people whispering
that you’re the political wing
of Earth, Wind, and Fire
without the heavy ideology.

The skinny kid
with the funny name who dared
hope in the face of adversity
and on your watch
Wall Street got the biggest
hard-on in its history
and you kept feeding it
interest free Viagra.

For the rest of us
you’re the medicine
that tasted excellent
until we woke up almost dead.

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