The beauty and usefulness of poetry: Teeside International Poetry Festival
Thursday, 22 November 2018 10:54

The beauty and usefulness of poetry: Teeside International Poetry Festival

Published in Poetry

Mike Quille praises the 'subversive internationalism' of the 2018 Teeside International Poetry Festival, and presents some of the poems performed there.

250 years ago, Middlesbrough-born James Cook set sail on one of history’s iconic imperialist journeys. It was a voyage which extended scientific, geographical and cultural knowledge of other peoples. It also facilitated the violent economic exploitation of the globe, the political domination of other peoples, and massive worldwide cultural destruction, theft and appropriation by Britain’s ruling class.

fish quay fugues

by Paul Summers

i. doggerland

the old world is dying and the new world struggles to be born: now is the time of monsters.

 - antonio gramsci

 

& the way will be perilous;

black ice & shark-eyed smiles,

several heaps of hogmanay vomit,

a vacant pizza-box draped with hoar,

its palimpsest of feast & greed,

bleak litany of the new & old,

dog-shit & fag-ends & crumbling roads,

the hours’ lash, the pains of labour,

the endless cycle of peddled fact.

& then the sanctuary of frozen sand;

its confluence of salt & wind-whipped crows,

the hymn of a sea cathedral hollow.

kick off your shoes my love & walk;

due east, towards the burgeoning sun.

plough on through the grave mounds

of haddock-frames & listless kelp,

tread slowly on the pebble field,

avoid the triggers of its toad-back traps;

then walk & wade & catch your breath,

beyond the bar where codling lurk,

let swell becalm your troubled blood,

squeeze shut your jaded eyes & dream;

the rapture of tectonic plates entwined

in acts of violence & of love, the red raw

ooze of magma’s birthing, each push,

each jolt, each breathless force exerted

sees citadels emergent from these waves,

a glimpse of doggerland’s trembling plains,

its strongholds of hope re-rendered

now un-drowned, their beacons still charged,

their gates agape, their monsters slain;

each edifice an altar awaiting our faith.

Working women and men in Middlesbrough never benefited very much from Britain’s imperialist project. It is now one of the most economically and socially deprived areas of the UK, and has the most ethnically diverse population in the North East.

The Usefulness of Poetry

by Francis Combes

A young beggar encountered in the metro

had written these words

on a piece of cardboard hung round his neck;

‘As the burning forest

shouts towards the river’s water

I appeal to you:

Please give me

something to eat.’

And it seems

People were giving.

(Which would tend to point to

the usefulness of poetry

in our societies.)

Against this background of deindustrialization, poverty and dispossession, the Teeside International Poetry Festival, which ran in various venues in Middlesbrough at the end of April, showcased a phenomenal variety of examples of artistic, social and political engagement from countries around the world as well as from communities in the North East.

The sheer internationalism of the event was astounding. Poets came to read and perform their poetry from Iraq, Finland, Iceland, Nigeria, Botswana, Poland, Russia, India and elsewhere. The variety of the poetics on offer was astonishing, from Lev Rubinstein’s Russian conceptual poetry, with its roots in the wonderful flowering of conceptual arts in 1920s revolutionary Soviet Union……..

Unnamed events

by Lev Rubinstein

Absolutely impossible.

Not at all possible.

Impossible.

Perhaps, at some point.

Sometime.

Later.

Not yet.

Not now.

And not now.

And not now.

Perhaps, soon.

It could be soon.

Really soon.

Perhaps earlier than expected.

Quite soon.

Just about.

Now.

Pay attention.

Here.

Well, that’s about all.

That’s all.

……….to Peter Adegbie’s and Eric Motswasale’s gloriously entertaining praise-poetry from Nigeria and Botswana, interrogating the rapacious – and ongoing – effects of European colonialism on Africa's languages and peoples:

Esoobay!

by Peter Adegbie

Was a rallying cry!

When your car was stuck... Esoobay!

When friends gave a hand... Esoobay!

When brute strength was needed

all you required was a shout of Esoobay!

We will laugh and sometimes we cried,

but we always got the task done.

Esoobay was a mantra of vigour.

I thought Esoobay was Ibo or Efik

or one of those exotic dialect

of the proud Niger, rich in history and folklore.

O great bright sky, how could I

under your gaze have lived

in blindness for so long?

Apes Obey!

Who could ever imagine

that colonial abuse can become language.

This persona crept into our lives

without guns or machete.

It took on life, defying time

abusing reason until its truth shames me.

It is not the truth that hurts the most

but the emptiness that takes its place.

Esoobay... cherished chant of my youth

now lost forever, stripped like leaves

off the tree of indignity,

sounds of a fractured memory

I long to forget in the winds of history.

 

Africa  

by Keabonye Bareeng

What happened to you Africa?

You were born black and free

Yet you never enjoyed your liberty

Your hands and legs bear the marks of slavery

You were not a buyer in a slave trade market

You were never in enslaved no one

But your children are bound servants

They speak a stranger to a merciless alien chorus

Tailor made to fit his distraction aspiration

AFRICA you were born wealthy

Gold, diamonds, oil, and kinds of minerals

God planted them in the belly of your black land

Raw and indubitable for your enjoyment

Yet you have never tasted their sweetness

They are looted in the name assistance

Finished products of your own minerals

Do not bear your name AFRICA

You cannot afford to purchase them

You are poorest and survived by aids

Aids that you get in the exchange of your soul

Aids that have strings attached to

Aids that drinks the blood of your children

Who has robbed you of your dignity?

The alien enjoys your riches

The interior of your land is blessed and rich

But you are not able to feed your own children

Hunger disease swallow your children

Conflicts rooted elsewhere finds comfort in your huts

Your infants are freezing from the cold of imperialism

 

AFRICA who raped you and broke your virginity?

Your beauty that used to grasp the eyes of strangers

Has been turned into a battle field of endless wars

Who gave you AK47 to massacre your own children?

Why do you allow them to give their war tanks?

You were born peaceful and abhorred conflict

They made weapons to terminate you AFRICA

Their destructive missiles are tested in your head

At the barrel of a gun they looted your land

Why do you let them mislead you?

Who has bewitched you great land?

Stand up and open your eyes AFRICA

Certify your exploiters wrong

You are not what they declare you to be

You can clean your house without their help

Develop your culture without their rescue

You can heal your land without medication

Talk; minister to God without their medication

Breast-feed your children without compassion

Africa you the age and powerful enough to rescue yourself

Do not let them divide you and fight in your land

Do not allow them to despise you

You know their minds they cannot perceive your capability

You have mastered their language they are unable to speak yours

AFRICA you are elegant, preserves yourself that way

There is nobody like you anywhere AFRICA.

Over the course of four days, the festival shaped itself into a living collage of poetics, gradually building a conversational echo-chamber of voices and languages which was as stimulating as it was energising. Diversity was also expressed and celebrated through the wide range of events. As well as readings, cabarets, and workshops, there was a launch of a book of poems by Teeside primary schoolchildren; an Urdu-Punjabi 'mushaira' or poetic gathering; and poetry masterclasses in local colleges.

There were also some excellent discussions about poetry, such as the one at Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art on the relationship between beauty and usefulness in poetry. MIMA, it should be noted, is also moving forward with a responsive, civic agenda - its new mission is to reconnect art with its social function and promote art as a tool for changing the world. Like the poets appearing at the Festival, MIMA wishes to have an influence on society, and play a full part in addressing current issues in politics, economics and culture. Its current and planned programmes of visual art tackle urgent and locally very pressing themes of housing, migration, and inequality, which made it a fitting venue for Festival events.

What, then, binds together this eclectic, multi-stranded poetry festival, as it creatively scatters the peaceful light of global fellowship and community, and imaginatively shatters the violent realities of imperialism, chauvinism, exploitation and oppression?

Its gentle, insistent and necessarily subversive internationalism. Its celebration of poetry as a tool of resistance, of protest, of imagining alternatives. And its subtly suggestive but quietly powerful celebration of poetry as a fundamentally social art which makes common cause between communities worldwide, and which enables a communal imagining of a better world.