Genocide

So I wrote this poem in response to when I was scouting for venues for Soul Food Poetry Northampton; certain places got edgy when I explained that some of the acts that we get read poetry about things like current affairs, politics, war, mental health and so on.

You can’t censor poetry, I don’t think we should censor people’s topics to make it more comfortable. However, we do ask for acts to be creative in how they omit swear words (as there’s sometimes children in the audience).

Art comes in different forms: poetry, prose, theatre, film, photography etc. When an artist’s work isn’t designed to offend, to censor it because certain people disagree with it / feel uncomfortable with it is wrong (to me).

Me performing at Soul Food Poetry Amsterdam
Photographer: Jadzia Kurzak

Surely, if they can commemorate bloody, messy conflicts, poets can talk about politics, war, mental health and other such things in their performances?

These are the same places where come November 11, are decorated with bits of bunting donning the Union Jack flag celebrating the end of World War One, as well as remembering those who have died in other conflicts too (harsh topics indeed).

You can’t have different rules for different people. My poem ‘Genocide’ is inspired from ‘What’s Genocide?’ by Carlos Andrés Gómez.


The pub managers told me we couldn’t perform poetry with profanity,
they said poetry has to be nice, digestible and pleasant,
they said you can’t read poetry that dealt with difficult subjects.

So I ask them:

“Raise your hands if you have heard of The Armistice?”

In congruence, they raised their hands
like mustard gas climbing out of a trench,
like raised bayonets at the Somme or Passchendaele.

“Okay, hands down. Now raise your hand
if you have heard of the Armenian Genocide.”

Vacant expressions blended with a curious ignorance,
like the quivering quiet at Gallipoli,
like throats coloured rotten with gangrene,
voices halfway murmuring,
like lone soldiers whispering from behind barbed wire.
Took place between 1914 and 1917,
massacred at the hands of The Ottoman Empire.

So, what is genocide?

 

They wouldn’t let me perform again
if I read these pieces,
poems that tell stories
of The Other during the World Wars,
works that raise bayonet
against Churchill and Kitchener.
Pieces of a real world war,
not just Europe as I was taught
in the hollow corridors of my schooldays.

I can’t teach grown-ass people
in the audience that the history we know
is part of a wider story
and that it’s okay to admit
the history we learn as children
is very one-sided,
that the nostalgic pride for
Britain’s past is often misguided.

How many glorified films
have we had about Winston Churchill?
A lot, yet he was instrumental
with Dunkirk and the Battle for Britain,
as he stands in Trafalgar Square staring
from the £5-note; though he
advocated for chemical weapons on
Iraqi tribes and called Africans “savages,”
talking about black and brown people
in the language of eugenics and averages.

So, what is genocide?

 

Your statues talk about Nelson’s victories,
but don’t talk about his endorsement of slavery.

World History books omit Medgar Evers and Emmett Till.
They don’t even mention King Leopold and the Congo,
titling it “Politics in the 20th Century”
calling them immigrants-settlers,
rather than land-grabbers and colonisers.

Like Cecil Rhodes, those De Beers
blood diamond mines; imperialists
and their measuring tapes
stealing tribes’ ancestral lands
in Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia
laying the foundations for Apartheid
in the southern nations of Africa.

You wonder why Black and Asian children want
to hide in lighter skin with blue and green contact lenses,
history books made them ashamed of their melanin,
forced to build walls, barriers and concrete defences.

So what is genocide?

 

Genocide is Morant Bay, Jamaica.
When the children of slaves
rose up in anger against the British…
A courthouse destroyed. Places were looted,
some were executed; it was a riot
in a place that no longer mattered
in the eyes of the empire.

But it’s what happened next:

the reason every Jamaican has heard of Morant Bay –
the reason why it makes the locals so vex,
the reason why that history is so fresh,
the militia swarmed in like wasps,
hundreds killed in this brutal act of vengeance.
A penance to show the Jamaicans who was boss.

Chantelle gave her daughter
skin-lightening cream
the day before she starts school.

She exists at the end of a gun,
at the end of neo-colonial rules,
European beauty standards raised at half mast

of a bayonet blade cutting fine lines
into her beautiful brown thighs,
killing the sanctity of childhood innocence…

being told “She’s pretty for a dark-skin girl”
in Africa, in America, in England
this place that place around the world.

So, what is genocide?

 

You really

want to

know what

genocide is?

This,

right here,

is genocide!

AKA For The Love Of Jessica Jones

I wrote this poem from the point of view of Jessica and an unnamed narrator on the character Jessica Jones in the Marvel-Netflix series Jessica Jones.

Jessica Jones is a kick-ass personal investigator who dwells in Hell’s Kitchen, New York City, within the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

Having recently finished Season 2, I felt compelled to write something, as I think this series is one of the best character studies of mental health ever put to screen.

I wrote this poem inspired from “Anxiety: A New England Folk Tale” which was inspired by “Anxiety: A Ghost Story” by American poet Brenna Twohy.


We have to talk about the kick-ass PI in Hell’s Kitchen.
When you’re a vigilante, you don’t live life
by the same rules as everybody else.
When your agency is called Alias Investigations,
that’s code for “own your shit and protect yourself.”

And when you’re connected to a number of murders,
or if there are regular explosions outside your apartment,
shrugging it off and buying a big whisky,
or heading to Kilgrave Castle is not the best idea.

If you’re taking pictures of shadiness and then shady stuff
starts happening, like murder and torture, then maybe
it wouldn’t hurt to take a short break. If you killed the bad guy,
but he’s still in your head, a man that nobody else can see,
don’t just go to the public house cemetery –
in your neighbourhood, in your front yard, and in your bedroom.

When I tell you about the ghosts that live inside Jessica Jones,
when I tell you about the cemetery in her childhood home,
at Alias Investigations and everywhere she goes –
when I tell you trauma is a steep slide with no visible destination,
that the life of Jessica Jones is a photograph that shows
everyone she loves as a garden of bones.

That her panic for her loved ones comes from memoir,
that anxiety is the Grim Reaper and his scythe,
that depression is the bottom of the whisky bottle,
this is the part when most people run for their lives.

To love Jessica Jones is to love an alias,
fun to have for a little while but you will be tired before long.
Sounds like Kilgrave cherry door knocking her muscle memory.
Like the family she once had. Like the new sibling
who tries to love her, even be like her. You are not stupid or brave,
you are jealous and have never seen a haunting before.

This love will not cure me, and it won’t
scrape the glass from the floorboards, but it will turn the lights on
and give me focus. It’s the kind of love that sends chills.

When you tell the ghosts, “If you’re staying, then you better make room,” they start to fidget. We work the case. We turn the music up.

Trish ‘Patsy’ Walker (Rachel Taylor) is the sister that tries to love Jessica
(Jessica Jones, Netflix)

And you say “My God, this office, how whole it feels,
even in the days that nobody comes in or out of it, progress.”

The way that I love Jessica Jones,

like a gentle hand reaching out of the past.


“There are worse things than death. Once you’re worm food, it’s over. Painless. Quiet. While the rest of us are stuck digging holes, picking up the pieces and remembering.”

Jessica Jones

Blind Faith

I wrote this poem purely adapted from my own relationship with faith and belief. It’s inspired by the aftermath of Auntie Luisa’s death in regards to me and my family.

Also, it’s inspired by the poem “Agnostic” (which I related to) by poet Roscoe Burems on the WAN (Writre About Now) Poetry channel on YouTube.


Auntie Luisa had a heart full of batteries. A morning of activities would leave her drained. You know, breathless. She’d be plugged into her flat throughout most of the afternoon and replenishing that energy back would take all evening.

In her last days, she had a renewed faith in God – like my mother and grandmother had their whole lives. They owe their lives to their faith and I’d often go to Church with them. Not like I had a choice.

And as Auntie Luisa lie in that closed casket, my grandmother remembers all the times she (my grandmother) has died. Good Friday laying its hands on her body like a defibrillator.

My grandmother thanks God that for the ten years more we got with Auntie Luisa. She wasn’t supposed to survive six months. She thanks her faith not the doctors. And the Luisa we had in 2016 was not the same we had in 2006.

Photographer: DJ Paine

How anatomies and personalities undergo transformation. I observe a lot – even in her spirit, despite her best efforts, I saw a different Luisa. There were a lot of changes between this modern edition and her earlier rendition. Much alike the Bible I suppose.

Healthy, smiling, joking. Not saying she didn’t smile, because she was larger than life (even in death). I grew up with her sickness and the older I got, the worse she got… at hiding it.

I think in her heart, Grandma thought her daughter would be with us forever. They were like two peas in a pod, like Christianity and Paganism. No parent should have to bury their child.

Before 2016, I was an atheist. Now I’m agnostic. I can’t choose to believe in nothing. I’ve just stop dancing outside the pigeon holes of religion.

I don’t believe in God but I believe there’s something and those higher powers are beings too big for a chapter book.

I don’t pray, I meditate. I don’t just speak, I listen. I don’t just read, I write.

I read a bunch of stuff – on history, on the history of Christianity, things I will not talk to my mother and grandmother about. They’d likely not talk to me for a long time if we entered that debate. Sometimes peace is better than winning the argument.

My grandmother says she’s praying for me. Never actually says what she’s praying for. She thinks I’m a non-believer and when I see her with the holy book I smile.

I came to think there were a million and one differences between me and Luisa. When the doctor told us she’d gone, I responded with poetry. That’s my religion. That’s my meditation. That’s my mantra.

And when I found my chi, I saw the similarities between me and her were uncanny. It was right after hearing my uncle cry about her coma and her cardiac arrest, split chest like Moses in the Red Sea, watching Scleroderma be the nail in our family.

Experiencing stuff like this made me doubt religion. Seeing my family fall from grace. But watching their two-year ascension gave me hope on this ball in vast expanse of space.

And maybe they’re blind. Maybe I’m blind. Or maybe belief is about being blind. Blind faith you know. Trusting your feelings rather than your eyes. Trusting the spirit rather than your head. Definitely not following your nose!

In Star Wars, they call it The Force. In the East, they call it chi. In Church they call it God but I call it poetry. My family found it in a book and I found it in them.

Look, I’ve learned too much about religion to follow it without question. But they have endured too much not to. My mother has my great-grandmother’s bible by her bed.

Religion is the reason why my mother and grandmother are still alive. Still with me to guide me, raise me and educate me.

Photographer: Peter Hershey

One day, I will read that thing all the way through and add a chapter about them.

What I’m trying to say is I’m not an atheist. I’m agnostic. There’s times where I think I’ve seen too much suffering in the world to believe in God but I’ve watched my mothers be God too much to not believe in them.

Corpracide

I wrote this poem inspired from the recent strikes on Syria from the US, France and the UK; it’s also inspired by the song “He Got Game” by Pubic Enemy.

The title for this poem comes from a chapter in a book by Russell Brand called Revolution, a book that struck a chord with me when I was seventeen.

Aside from the strike on Syria, this poem is also about how easily we push buttons (physical and metaphorical) and how easily nations go to war.

Shouldn’t war and conflict be the last resort? Seems like it’s the first thing on leaders’ minds before anything else (all they see are dollar and pound-signs)


If May is Mother, than Trump is Father. Why’s this poem coming six times edited like conflicts are something to be welcomed not discredited. I’ve never freestyled but MP calls me Gas Mark 6, and I write them like sunshine. I wake up to news of a Syrian strike; May’s issued it like the Third Reich, free from democracy –

more like bureaucracy in this New Imperial Age. It’s all the rage; on this laptop screen, what does this all mean, this mess I’m seeing? Syrian civilians screaming vocal javelins, certainly signs of immorality, the human psyche unravelling. So where’s God in this crisis, as world leaders play chess games like this? Look at the papers, follow the wire and you’ll see why all they do is lie.

More than our eyes can see and ears can listen, year by year politicians fall foul to capitalist dispositions. Receiving invoices from terrorists for chemical munitions. Foolishness continues to run riot through world neighbourhoods in the view of us, every war is a preview of what they do.

Thieving like cuckoos, flexing their arms making and breaking umpteen numbers of laws. Bear witness to the heartlessness of the USA, France and the UK. Trump tweets, Tony Blair chants. Clickity clack, choosing to forget about the result of the Chilcot Enquiry and fifteen years in Iraq.

Hell, was it something I said? All these leaders care about is zooming in on money and oil, not the welfare of the countries they spoil; it’s almost cartoonish. The news readers recite from a script, like they’re Gods blessed with knowledge from an encyclopaedia. And this time, yes, this time – thank God for the invention of the internet, Facebook and social media.

Thought of a freethinking public got the government tripping over themselves. But what happens when you destroy chemical factories? Sounds like more harmful chemicals rooted into the earth’s battery. How much are Syrian communities worth as authorities get away with murder, smiling with bile and impunity?

Seems nothing to lose, everything’s approved. And when refugees come knocking, we close our borders, blocking them and leaving them to dock in No Man’s Waters. White execs in suits don’t even have to work, press a few buttons and quit the next day receiving a fat pay out with the clout to proclaim being a victim #WhitePrivilege.

The system will take care of Trump and May, whilst the media will blame Syrian civilians for Syria’s problems, like when the housing markets crashed, we blamed the homeless and immigrants, not the fat cats. None of us, not one, own ourselves, as we pay rent to the one per cent and corporate presidents.

The top one per cent own more than half the world’s wealth. You know, your Murdochs and Rockerfellers who are some of the leaders in these acts of brutality. The politics of war and whips. I’m really sick of corporate media blaming poor people for these bourgeois-funded conflicts – Vietnam, Syria, Iraq. Scams, as politicians grow rich and wealthy in the haze of napalm.

Media telling me I have to beware. Of who? The terrorists in suits or the ones we create, arming them with weapons, sending them to war every few years. Cheering in front of pieces of cloth, The question is, can we start a revolution that is written into the walls of every region and city – from Delhi to New York to London to the West Indies?

Photographer: Neil Thomas

Since Trump seems to think it’s mission accomplished, since Mrs May thinks democracy is beneath her, since they affectionately push buttons with ease –

unto them I affectionately say,  bitches please.

Unremembering

This poem is inspired from grief, and a depression that grief can bring; I say “a” rather than “the” because it’s different for everyone and not definitive.

Furthermore, this poem is semi-inspired from “How to Fold a Memory” by Sabrina Benaim, in her book Depression & Other Magic Tricks. 


I remember the feeling of pain,
like the crater in my leg after climbing that fence
on that holiday at my grandparents’ Alicante apartment –
whether it be: physical, mental or emotional.
I remember it in hope of avoiding it tomorrow.

Let’s begin there,
I remember the imprint my hand made in yours.
Like a paper prayer, you can always start over.
I remember when Uncle Morten gave you the Evenstar,
and I recall the smell of homemade lasagne.
I can’t eat that anymore without getting hungry
for your sorrow smile and slow resolve of your soliloquies.

I remember your exaggerated anecdotes
at Grandma’s House. I remember how you
hummed Cameo’s Candy in flawless harmony.
I wish I could forget you existed.
I remember you carrying this child as a little one.
We marched, my hand in yours on the streets of London
and there was no map. We just walked.

Let’s go to the last stop –
Camden Town in the warm bohemian breeze
unfolding into silence. In the quiet, it’s hard
to tell what others think without entering their eyes
like Lucy Pevensie with her doorways to Narnia.

With every journey back into my past,
it becomes harder to find my way back again.

Since I have been practicing unremembering,
I’ve pondered living more times than not.
I take in the smoke of yesterday in attempt to pacify
the synapse between you and the scent of lasagne .
I drink beer as if I am trying to save the world from inebriation,
to get my childhood so pissed that the narrative changes.
But the trauma of daydreaming, the ache of muscle memory;
my body will always remember.

Like a goldfish, six-second slate wiped blank,
grief-stricken with an etch-a-sketch mind,
gumming the water I think is air.
The octaves of my voice box forget the long sounds
of the name my grandfather gave you.
How do I teach my ears to listen to song lyrics
free from your ghost inside of them?

I don’t know which way is up in these incandescent thoughts,
if the present tense is the present tense.
Or if the imperfections are slipping into past transgressions,
still my mind heeds your advice like proverbs.
I lose teeth like I lose days but you’re the wisdom tooth.

Photographer: Jian Xhin

We cannot control what we see 
but we can control how we see it.

I eat lasagne easily, without thinking of you.
I say your name over and over, and I am content.
I fold my depression like an origami plane,
crafting those paper wings into a pleasant amnesia,
a collateral beauty in this newfound adolescence.

Goodbye, Auntie Luisa.

Signed, Tré Ventour.