Crisis Of Confidence

I wrote this poem after watching Mike Mills’ 20th Century Women and hearing an excerpt of Jimmy Carter’s Crisis of Confidence speech in it. The same speech that has so much meaning but was the butcher of Carter’s political career as well, hence a double-edged sword.

It’s films and speeches like this that speak to me, as the UK and America in 2017 look to be going in the same direction that they did in the 1980s under the Thatcher-Reagan Administration.

America has traded one celebrity for another (Reagan for Trump) and doesn’t Mrs May look an awful lot like Maggie Thatcher? Didn’t Maggie pretty much screw everyone who didn’t live in London? Just a little thinking point.

This poem is written from the perspective of Dorothea Fields (Annette Bening), the main character of Mike Mills’ film. And the film is about her raising her son in a world that she doesn’t really know, so she enlists the help of his best friend and their lodger.

The character in my poem may or may not be Dorothea’s ghost watching her son live a life from the other place.


Santa Barbara 1979: the era of Ford galaxies
and 40-year old moms, I got in late huh?
Late to this shindig, a great decision in this
Parisian dream, as I put my finger into his palm

and he squeezed, wheezing for breath with
each sigh lingering and I whispered to him:
life is big and beautiful, bold like a race horse.
There were fantastic beasts, cities, synced sounds

and moving pictures – we call those movies– and he
reeled his own love stories, like his own Casablanca
with passion and meaning, changing fashions that
gleam with hopes and dreams, and he’s living a life –

When Rick (Bogart) meets Ilsa (Bergman): a love story of Old Hollywood
(Casablanca, Warner Bros.)

unlike me, born in the 20s, raised in The Depression,
lived through a war, driving sad cars to sadder
houses with not a dollar to my name, – no phones,
no food or TV – the 50s gave birth to Technicolor

but not before I volunteered to fight at sixteen, with
the skies as my domain . Wondering if I was happy
– you could call that a shortcut to depression,
but the people were real.

The 60s came, and then the Me Decade.
I smoked Salems because they were healthier.
I wore Birkenstocks because they were contemporary
and listened to the best jams, those pretty little sounds.

Can’t music just be pretty? But then we’d have to
admit that society is corrupt. This is my son’s world
and it sucks,  I lucked out here didn’t I? Aw jeeze!

I grew up with The Depression and smogged streets.
He has Reagan, the Berlin Wall and the Black Panthers –
the Mac and intelligence-suppressing drugs that hug the
life out him like The Big Smoke in London, dark times.

Does it take a man to raise a man? History is tough
on men – the expectations are high, and not being
allowed to cry must be exhausting but then we have
problems like Breast Cancer and bloody sheets.

Man or woman; it’s all redundant when age is a
bourgeois construct, obstructing the capacity for
free thought in this common-senseless era.
We’ve lost the way, paying into a system

of greed and self-indulgence. Capitalism,
it’s an unsatisfying quest for meaning that
leans into the 2017 down this yellow brick
road paved with gold, in this crisis of confidence.


Kat

I wrote this poem in the summer of 2016 about my recollection of Hurricane Katrina (I was there), the famous storm that battered: Florida, Louisiana, Alabama and parts of the West Indies and much of eastern North America. It was the apocalypse of storm and one of the worst the world has ever seen.


There I stood in the Sunshine State
seeing Mother’s work.  Her winds
howled like a weasel cat. Trees rag-dolled
from where they stood as rain sped like

bullets into the Triangle of Death.
Were the gods angry at humanity?
You know our lust to kill as the shrill
of a mosquito’s wings approaches.

Death, famine, pestilence but not war.
Three of the horsemen came to paw
at the presence of Lady Kat because
she’s all powerful with no binding contract.

Much destroyed by many rotating jives, as
little Bush Jr said ” now watch this drive”.
Cars carried – trees deforested – when
would this twisting vortex of terror end?

There I sat in the retina – no, the enigmatic eye
where Mother Earth’s hands sent many to die.
I stood there, idle, looking in awe and in fear
whilst she tossed us the rear of a block of flats.

Room

I wrote this poem in March of this year and it’s about how at school they don’t really teach you to think for yourself. But instead, they teach you how to regurgitate information in a way that allows them to allot a letter (or number) to your usefulness as a person.

And at school I felt like I was in a psychological prison that looked a lot like the dystopian setting from Nineteen Eighty-Four. In a way, I had a room of one’s own, a cage. At least at university, you are pushed to challenge and debate.

The poem takes its name from the Emma Donoghue novel Room which has since been adapted (by Donoghue) to film, with Brie Larson picking up an Oscar for her amazing performance.


School never taught me about CVs.
Only Chris Columbus on American seas.
I wasn’t taught about taxes and arrears.
and that’s only one of my many fears.

They didn’t teach us about politics and voting.
Only about Romeo and Juliet’s secret eloping.
At home I learnt about current affairs and media.
At school they taught us about Iago and Ophelia.

We didn’t study the Atlantic Slave Trade,
Post-war immigration or The Cotton Famine.
Instead, we studied Hitler, the Nazi threat and
how we crippled Germany with the Versailles debt.

I was never taught about policing and laws.
I was taught about 1066 and Viking oars.
I was never taught about my human rights
but I was ferried to Belgian bomb sites.

I know about our Roman straight roads
but very little about the Highway Code.
I learned about volcanic eruptions but not
about democracy or political corruption.

I was taught about Vietnam’s Rolling Thunder
but not about the British Empire’s plunder.
I was told to wear a Poppy for the war dead
but not how to sow with needle and thread.

I was taught about Watson & Crick and DNA
strands, but not capitalism or high street brands.
I was taught how to pray with my hands in a steeple
but never how to converse with human people.

Financial advice? Human rights? Forget about it!
I know nothing about the activities of Wall Street
but I know about the Dreadnought and the arms race.
I know about igneous rocks but I can’t fix a lock.

My generation: manipulated by what media airs and ill-
prepared for the outside world, caring more about celebrity
culture than The Panama Leaks or how money works.
Listening to the soundtracks of our lives like watching fireworks.