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 Peterloo Massacre
Wednesday, 26 July 2017 06:00

More than ‘Rise like lions’: Shelley beyond The Mask of Anarchy

Written by
in Poetry

Mike Sanders writes about Shelley 'the Chartist poet' as a catalyst for working class creativity, how he envisioned a communist society, and how the privileged classes refused to hear the revolutionary meanings of his poems.

One of the unexpected features of the recent General Election campaign was the ‘co-opting’ of a long-dead Romantic poet as a speech-writer by Team Corbyn. Many of Jeremy Corbyn’s speeches ended with the recitation of the closing lines from Shelley’s ‘The Mask of Anarchy’:

Rise like lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number,
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you –
Ye are many, they are few.

These lines written almost two hundred years ago in response to the ‘Peterloo Massacre’ have long been part of the Left’s cultural memory – anthologised, repeated and recycled for the best part of two centuries. I first encountered them as a teenage punk rocker in 1980 on the back cover of the Jam’s Sound Affects album and the discovery prompted me to buy a selection of Shelley’s poetry from a local second-hand bookshop. In that dog-eared volume, I discovered a poet who could give better shape and expression to some of my own rather more inchoate ideas about the society I lived in and my hopes for a better future.

Subsequently, I came to understand that previous generations of workers had also found in Shelley’s words, ‘resources for their own journey of hope’ (to adapt Raymond Williams’ wonderful phrase). Working-class appreciation and recognition of Shelley began relatively early. Engels in The Condition of the Working Class in England observes; 

Shelley, the genius, the prophet, Shelley, and Byron, with his glowing sensuality and his bitter satire upon our existing society, find most of their readers in the proletariat; the bourgeoisie owns only castrated editions, family editions, expurgated in accordance with the hypocritical morality of today.

Shelley’s long poem Queen Mab was often described as “the Chartist’s Bible". Indeed, there is a sense in which Shelley is a Chartist poet insofar as many of his more overtly political poems, such as ‘Song to the Men of England’, were first published in 1839. 

The poetry column of the Northern Star, the leading Chartist newspaper, attests to Shelley’s importance as a catalyst for working-class creativity. In particular, Shelley’s ‘Song to the Men of England’ is reworked a number of times by various Chartist poets. I would like to suggest that this poem, which identifies the inverse relationship between production and consumption as moral obscenity as well as economic injustice, is even more important than ‘The Mask of Anarchy’. The poem begins with a series of questions intended to highlight the paradoxical way in which the economy distributes economic rewards:

Men of England, wherefore plough
For the lords who lay ye low?
Wherefore weave with toil and care
The rich robes your tyrants wear?

Wherefore feed and clothe and save
From the cradle to the grave
Those ungrateful drones who would
Drain your sweat—nay, drink your blood?

Replace “lords”, “tyrants” and “drones” with “bankers” and “bosses” and you have a concise summary of our current economic woes. But Shelley does not rest there, he continues by observing that the workers also produce the means of their own political oppression:

Wherefore, Bees of England, forge
Many a weapon, chain, and scourge,
That these stingless drones may spoil
The forced produce of your toil?

Next, Shelley asks his readers if they enjoy the key features of a genuinely human life?

Have ye leisure, comfort, calm,
Shelter, food, love’s gentle balm?
Or what is it ye buy so dear
With your pain and with your fear?

Thus far, the poem consists of a series of questions designed both to defamiliarise and thereby make visible the structural features of the economic order. These questions also invite the reader to think. However, in the second half of the poem statements predominate, as Shelley offers two very different views of the future. The first of which is the maintaining of the current economic and political order:

The seed ye sow, another reaps;
The wealth ye find, another keeps;
The robes ye weave, another wears;
The arms ye forge, another bears.

The second envisages a future in which there is a direct correlation between production and consumption.

Sow seed—but let no tyrant reap:
Find wealth—let no imposter heap:
Weave robes—let not the idle wear:
Forge arms—in your defence to bear.

In the poem’s penultimate verse, Shelley makes clear that social change will require resistance and courage on the part of the oppressed. The “drones” will indeed shed, if not drink, blood to preserve their privileges if necessary:

Shrink to your cellars, holes, and cells—
In hall ye deck another dwells.
Why shake the chains ye wrought? Ye see
The steel ye tempered glance on ye.

In the final stanza, Shelley makes clear that the choice is one between life and death.

With plough and spade and hoe and loom
Trace your grave and build your tomb
And weave your winding-sheet—till fair
England be your Sepulchre.

The clarity with which Shelley both identifies the structures of exploitation and oppression, and identifies two very different visions of England’s future in this poem goes some way to explaining the different assessments of his work in the Nineteenth Century (and beyond). The privileged classes simply refused to hear this Shelley, preferring to construct him as a naïve dreamer – “A beautiful and ineffectual angel” to quote Matthew Arnold.

The Chartists and their successors heard a different Shelley. They heard a Shelley who was in no doubt as to either the necessity or the difficulty of securing political and economic change. The “Rise like lions” passage is inspiring, but if we read it in isolation there is a danger of seeing it as a promise of easy victory. For Shelley, the murdered victims at Peterloo were sufficient testament that there would be no easy victory. And the same is surely true for us today.


Justice 4 Grenfell
Saturday, 22 July 2017 06:00

Justice 4 Grenfell

Written by
in Poetry

Justice 4 Grenfell

by Zita Holbourne

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grenfell 3

Friday, 21 July 2017 18:01


Written by
in Poetry


by Robert Farrell

One hears and moves toward it. One moves, but is
Not in it, what does not
Keep but flowers forth. We aren’t it. It is
What lets the sky appear,
The sunrise rise to site a circle in
Hills whose rocks refuse to
Recognize themselves in us. It’s good they
Let us be. It’s why we’re
Here. And certain there is play and kinship
When children jump, and sheep,
Or bells take wing from ice cream trucks. Here it
Is, in hills that ring the
Ringing rocks and us, in walls that ward, not
As fences that enclose
Parks, but as a windbreak protects the field
Or olive trees the grape-
Filled vine. We’re free to roam. It’s our right to
Amble out beyond the
Gate. Not nature but valor sustains it,
Yet much depends upon
Conditions. Young shoots need water and fruits
Are only proved on tongues.
They flourish then are gone. An everyday
Struggle it is to stand
And breathe and, in the breathing, live. There is
Nothing stranger. We are
Tourists. It is a wandering thing. So
Many pictures that we
Wonder what will nourish us, what it is,
And where we’ll go to find
Our rocks and what to build, how we’ll know
Our arts will yield the strength
We need to harden hearts to fear but not
To love. Benny Rothman
Once touched it in 1932 when
He stood atop Kinder
Scout with four hundred fellow ramblers, Rothman,
The child of immigrants
(Romanian Jews), a boy who left school
Despite the place he’d won
At fourteen (his son would study science
And get a PhD).
The family needed money. He was then
An errand boy. Later
He’d build a bike from parts he scrounged from scrap.
It was on that bike he
Rode from Manchester to Wales, there to hike
Up Snowdon. It was his
First time in the mountains and he tasted
Freedom there, traced a kind
Of Sunday feeling, for on the weekend
A working man could walk.
There were camping clubs and CP outings
Where the poor and jobless
Would converse about the villains who stole
The common from the goose.
But more they’d talk about the Duke who shot
At grouse, the wooden liars,
Or the keepers who warned them off the moors.
A run-in with these thugs
Led some men to plan a trespass on the
Mountain in numbers too
Great to stop. And so they came from Sheffield
And from Manchester, two
Groups, to Kinder Scout, 2080
Odd feet above the sea,
Its summit. But he lost heart, the scheduled
Speaker, was frightened by
The wardens and police on hand. They, too,
Numbered high. It was then
Rothman rose and spoke, the diminutive
Mancunian (he was
Under five feet tall), not in words like these
That praise such deeds, but in
Those that kindle courage. He went to jail
For it and his arrest
Would make it hard to find employment the
Next four years. He fought the
Fascists in that time. Metro-Vicks would hire
Him and he’d stay there. A
Union leader, he strove for access to
The land until his death.
That such things are possible make them not
To be forgotten. Know
This: decisions can be unmade but we
Can hold to beginnings.
What founds us also finds. Above all, life
Is trial. So let us leave
Our monumental selves and go, for when
The sun is up our eyes
Are sharp whereas by night our ears are best.
There’s a conversation
In the landscape once we hear it, once we
Learn to move and be and
Be in it, a question that’s asked again.
Though it repeats it’s not
The same but is as color is in light:
It’s always there. Different,
It’s a common wealth. Such gifts aren’t given
Without gall to those who
Want. The grass stretches to the hills. And
Though the victory is
Small why should we be silent? It’s true. Not
Much has happened and we
Have no harp. Yes, it’s quiet here but not
Private, not remotely,
For look, we’re here together. We’ve set out.
We dance when chance offers
And sleep well knowing the day’s work will be
Hard. The golden cup? That’s
Babylon. And though full of strife this time,
Too, is beautiful. It
Is not bad, just dangerous, but where danger
Is there is also grace.

You Can, by Chumbawumba:

one block of council flats left
K2_PUBLISHED_ON Thursday, 20 July 2017 21:34

one block of council flats left

in Poetry
Written by

 one block of council flats left

by Martin Hayes

just one block of council flats remains in this area
where we work our magic in
allocating out jobs to couriers
so that multinationals and £500-an-hour law firms
and hedge-fund managers who look after billions of pounds
can remain healthy and strong
making more money in one hour
than all the tenants of this last block of council flats left
will make in their lifetimes
put together

just one ugly block of brick and red cladded council flats still stands
amongst all of the million-pound lofts and chrome and smoked-glass luxury flats
that have sprung up in this area over the last 8-years just one
block with 42 flats
where couriers and mechanics and school teachers and bus drivers
and nurses and firemen and waitresses can still safely keep
a roof over their families' heads where they can
still wash and cook and put their children into a bed
and get them up to go into a school this one block of flats left
sat there like a rotten tooth in a row of perfect molars
housing these workers
enabling them to keep their dignity and love as millionaire footballers
move in next door as seven-figure-salaried-bankers buy whole floors
just so they can have somewhere to stay
while in London
as people in media hire cranes
to lift £30,000 pieces of furniture into their lofts as
politicians and councillors plot
how best they can make this last ugly block of council flats left
along with its infections

This poem was written six months before the tragedy at Grenfell Tower. Film by Ataman Kizilirmak.

Bates Pit Night BLUE
K2_PUBLISHED_ON Sunday, 09 July 2017 14:42

The Miner

in Poetry
Written by

The Miner

 by Glenn Bradford 

Still dreams of the pit, does old Derek.
Gripping the duvet in great calloused hands
as if ready to swing at the coalface of the night.

Stripped to the waist. A vivid reprise.
Terry, Taylor and The Bull, headlamps in hand,
anticipating the familiar clatter of a closing cage door.

Yet, before dropping to the bowels of that vast fossil store,
Somebody lets one go, and howls of laughter and mock indignation
Echo down the shaft like Saturdays in the Welfare bar.

Stench sour enough to kill a canary. The usual suspect
quips something about ‘natural gas’; Derek pinches his nose,
drifting outside, looking in, as though at a treasured photograph.

Then silence. Mechanisms groan; the gasp of release.
Steady descent into the rising heat. ‘Like a furnace,’
Derek grumbles, teetering on the cusp of sleep.

The lift jerks, he wakes: panicked, thinking he’s overlaid.
Only realising after a second that it’s thirty years since
any siren called to pick up to tools or brew tea for break.

‘Gets y’like that,’ he tells me, wistfully, over the back fence.
Prods his powerful chest with a proud thumb.
‘In the blood for generations, but …’

He leaves the rest hanging between us like smog,
then, with a shrug, returns to mowing the lawn
he mowed and watered only the day before.

 This is one of the poems sent in for our Bread and Roses Poetry Award, by a member of the Communication Workers Union.

Jeremy Corbyn addresses the huge crowd at the 2017 Durham Miners' Gala
K2_PUBLISHED_ON Sunday, 09 July 2017 06:00

Seeing Red

in Poetry
Written by

Seeing Red

by Jon Tait

If it wasn’t hung from the ceiling in a museum,
we’d paint Jeremy Corbyn’s face
on the red Lodge banner
alongside Keir Hardie and Nye Bevan.

We’re still going Forward with Socialism
and the colours never fade;
still red as the Manchester United shirt
that Bobby Charlton wore,
red as the light glinting through a schooner
of McEwan’s Export in the social club
or the flag that’s waved to a bull.

Red as a banner consigned to the silence
of safe corridors silent as libraries,
with walls adorned in paintings
of the brick colliery rows,
the whippets and pigeon duckets,
the leek shows and allotments,
and the men in flat caps
with bait bags on their shoulders,
the ghosts of a time now gone.

We are the bairns and the grandbairns
of the last of the pitmen
and we never forget.

We’re still seeing red.

Bread and Roses Poetry Award 2017
K2_PUBLISHED_ON Tuesday, 04 July 2017 15:30

Bread and Roses Poetry Award 2017

in Poetry
Written by

The Bread and Roses Poetry Award, sponsored by Unite in partnership with Culture Matters, was instituted this year. The idea is to stimulate the writing of poetry about working class lives and communities, by people who otherwise might not write or enter competitions.

We're very pleased that it has been a tremendous success, although we were almost overwhelmed by the quantity and quality of submissions. Several hundred poems were sent in, of all kinds and from a wide range of writers across Britain and indeed across the world: America, India, Nigeria and Australia, to name just a few. Many entries were accompanied by notes saying how grateful the writers were to Unite and to Culture Matters for opening up what can seem a very exclusive and elitist artistic practice.

Two judges kindly agreed to the difficult task of studying, sifting, and judging the poems. They were Andy Croft, the poet and publisher of Smokestack Books, and Mary Sayer, an official from Unite working in the field of cultural education. In the light of the high quality of so many of the entries, the judges decided to divide the prizes equally between three poems, submitted by Helen Burke, Mair De-Gare Pitt, and John Wright. They will each receive £285.

The judges were extremely impressed by the entries. Here's what Mary Sayer wrote to us afterwards:

What a delight this has been – reading my way through the hundreds of remarkable poems entered into this competition. None of us had any idea there would be so many entries of such a high standard.

All of the poems were very readable and most of them were a real pleasure to read. I felt genuinely humbled having to 'choose' between such passionate and interesting poems. All were political and heartfelt - often funny and deeply moving - inspiring; I had no idea that there were so many articulate politicos out there.

But more than anything, as I read - I began to appreciate what a privilege it was to share the outpourings of so many committed and caring individuals. It was almost impossible to shortlist, and we did so on the understanding that we could highly commend a long list of entries and do justice to the rest by publishing as many as possible, in an anthology.

Thanks to Culture Matters for involving me in this competition and to my union Unite for sponsoring it. As co-ordinator of 'Unite in Schools' programme, this has inspired me to run a similar poetry competition in schools and colleges, around the campaigns and political issues chosen by students in our sessions.

 We will be publishing many of the poems sent to us, both online and in a printed anthology. We are very grateful to Unite for sponsoring the Award; to the judges, for all their hard work; but most of all to the hundreds of poets who sent in such wonderful poems. Please continue to send us poems that you wish to be considered for publication, especially on topical issues.

Here is one of the poems sent in, by Fred Voss. Fred works as a machinist in a metalworking shop in Long Beach, California, and has been published by Bloodaxe Books and by Culture Matters.

Billie Holliday Crooning a Rose Opening

by Fred Voss

All our lives we have known about great men
Teddy Roosevelt
on Mount Rushmore Paul Revere
riding his horse the marble eyes
of Lincoln looking out so wisely from his monument
but can standing at a grinding wheel 10 hours a day until your fingertips are scraped raw
be great
can holding onto a jumping pounding jackhammer
until your spine rattles
be great
in his 3-cornered hat is great Orville Wright gliding
over the sands of Kitty Hawk is great the top
of the Empire State Building and the Rock of Gibraltar
and Lindbergh stepping out of his airplane to ride down Broadway in his tickertape parade
are great but can oil cans
and concrete floors and twisted backs and crane hooks and whoops
of crazy delight from the throats of men who have run machines in the corners of tin buildings
for 40 years be great
can missing the dawn sun
as 2-ton drop hammers explode behind tin walls at 6 am and fists
that never give up closing around monkey wrenches and hammer handles and spirits
of men that can never be broken even after 7
layoffs and a thousand screams
of foremen in their faces
be great
can gnarled hands and ticking time clocks and greasy shop rags hanging out of back pockets
and men
who’ve clawed their way out of prison cells straightjackets
skid row gutters gangs and grabbed
machine handles and smiled again
be great
John Barrymore crossing a stage Caesar in a helmet Shakespeare holding his quill pen the tiger
leaping through jungle moonlight
are great but are the 3 teeth
left in the head of the engine lathe operator who lifts his wrench and laughs like he’s the luckiest
man on earth great is the man
who took the heroin needle out of his arm and learned to dial the razor-sharp edge
of a cutting tool into brass round stock and shave it
to a finish beautiful
as any solo
Miles Davis ever blew out of his trumpet
how can the sun a Joe Louis punch a marlin hanging in the air
above the sea Billie Holiday crooning a rose
opening any man
who ever worked his heart out to feed his child not
be great?


O Trudeau!
Tuesday, 04 July 2017 14:37

O Trudeau!

Written by
in Poetry

O Trudeau!

by Kevin Higgins

Cometh the rubbish haircuts firing tweets and ICBMs;
the people with bad teeth daring to belch their opinions in public.
Cometh also the Warren Beatty of the North,
sans the wrinkles and heavy politics, bearing
to the sisterhood of the stuffed vine leaf
and gourmet sausage
ribbon-wrapped boxes labelled ‘hope’,
‘moderation’, and ‘free trade’;
your tongue’s delicious wiggling
persuading even Lycra clad
husbands to put bikes and running shoes aside
for a moment and join the ravenous pack
of dangerous sensibilists in drizzling a tribute of garlic butter all over
your French speaking torso.
Your hair, a field of wheat that reminds
soon-to-be-ex Prime Ministers
of better times.
Your words, as gorgeously proportional
as the gossip from the ladies’ golf-club,
float off towards the sun.


A worker reads and asks questions
Sunday, 25 June 2017 21:18

A worker reads and asks questions

Written by
in Poetry

The recent election results showed a stunning level of support for Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party’s anti-austerity policies. Working people are clearly starting to ask more questions about who exactly produces the wealth in class-divided societies, including our own. Jenny Farrell’s father made this brilliant translation of one of Brecht’s most famous poems.

A worker reads and asks questions
by Bertolt Brecht
translated by Jack Mitchell

Who built seven-gated Thebes
In the books you’ll find the names of kings.
Was it the kings that lugged those hunks of rock?
And what of Babylon, so often demolished?
Who rebuilt it time and again? In which
Of golden Lima’s houses lived its builders?
On the day the Chinese Wall was finished where
Did the masons go in the evening? Great Rome
Is full of triumphal arches. Who raised them? Over whom
Did the Caesars triumph? Had Byzantium of the songs
Palaces only, for its inhabitants? Even in fabulous Atlantis,
The very night the sea swallowed it,
The drowning still bawled for their slaves.

Young Alexander conquered India.
All alone?
Caesar defeated the Gauls.
Didn’t he have so much as a cook with him?
Phillip of Spain wept when his fleet
Sank. Did no others shed tears?
Frederick the Second won the Seven Year War.
Who else?

A victory on every page.
Who cooked the victory feast?
A great man every ten years.
Who paid the bill?

So many accounts.
So many questions.

Grenfell Engulfed
Friday, 23 June 2017 11:41

Grenfell Engulfed

Written by
in Poetry

Grenfell Engulfed

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

by Alan Morrison

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

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

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

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

Pity The Woman Made of Wood
Thursday, 22 June 2017 19:26

Pity The Woman Made of Wood

Written by
in Poetry

Pity The Woman Made of Wood

by Kevin Higgins

Crowned temporary Empress
of this tragic bit of chipboard floating
off the northernmost coast
of what used to be Europe.

Open please your hearts, empty your heads
and pretend not to notice the predictable few
disfigured old bastards who operate her,
yanking the all too visible wires
that make her jaws clack
awkwardly up and down. Pity please
this woman made of wood
now she’s too well understood
and gets all the kicks and expletives,
when she tries to speak about
anything other than the quarterly accounts.

Her back burdened and bent.
Respect please the enormity
of the pearls she must bear
about her splintering neck.
And don't be behind with the rent
or petition her to save you when you again
characteristically fail to save yourself.

When smoke curls black under your door
you can snore on unperturbed in your narrow little bed,
bought with a pay-day loan obtained - quite legally -
from a bloke reputed to give defaulters
cement flip-flops for Christmas, to take them safely
down one of the larger pipes that joyfully
pour shit into the River Styx.

But the woman made of wood,
must at all costs avoid
unguarded flames for she would go up
like a cheap deckchair that picked the wrong
day to go sunbathing at Hiroshima.

Think of this, please, when bawling
your lucky human screams
as the fire arrives quite matter-of-fact
to oxidise you to a small hill of ashes
around what looks like
a collarbone. No such luck
for the woman made of wood.

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