The People v. Michigan State

I wrote this poem after after watching Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroita film about the Detroit Riots and what occurred at the Algiers Hotel in July 1967.

The poem’s style is based on Testimony by Seamus Heaney, an Irish poet who gained influence during the second half of the twentieth century, winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995.


The building was silent before the
police arrived.
A Tuesday evening, darkness,
and gutter blood dancing
inside the hotel.
From the next street,
you’d have heard the screaming
and heard it stop and had view of the
military with their guns and tanks
coming down the road.

Lines of them, firearms loosed from their holsters,
ready to pounce on their prey like the big cats
of the African plains.
A line of dominoes facing the wall, petrified
young people, kids, playing the police’s
mind games.
Three dead black men, seven more beaten,
and two white women.

Unarmed, innocent. 25th July 1967.
Not that they knew then how history
would record that day as the victims
took the stand: in a sweat,
skittish, nervous. Families bereft.
Killer cops, not guilty (typically).
They always protect their own, and
Krauss free to roam the streets again
with his eyebrows of Satan.

Good Immigrant

Inspired from Black is the New Black, part of the BBC’s Black and British Black History season in November 2016


Home away from home.
From one island to another.
From the plains of Africa to
slavery to a land paved with gold.
That last one, a story sold on hearsay.

Made in the image of our creator.
Black skin, white masks –
ticking that Black British box –
a task, a struggle to understand
who you really are.

Children of the colonies, whose
parents prospered from their labour.
Strong in our pride, only smelling
the flavour when we came to see
what we had built for our mother.

The story of Black Britain (the story of immigrants in Britain) is the story of Britain, it is not a happy story
(Black And British, bbc.co.uk)

Stately homes, art galleries,
government buildings and so on.
The Barclays Brothers, Lloyds TSB
and JP Morgan all got fat on slavery’s
salaries – black people, slaves –
likened to an exotic menagerie.

Walter Tull! Mary Seacole! Trevor Macdonald!
Mary Prince! And many more since …
Citizen or a visitor? Countryperson or
an interloper? Not just men, women and
children passing through the middle passage.
No more slaves to throw overboard like the Zong.

Now when you stand up against what’s wrong,
your right as a citizen, whiteness cackles
like hyenas into the night – and then they
call you a criminal for protesting for what’s
rightfully yours – a job, decent housing, a wage

If there’s a statue for white figures like Florence Nightingale, there should be a statue for Mary Seacole
(Mary Seacole, bbc.co.uk)

not to throw people in a cage, prison cells
like it’s 1780, then Brixton happened.
1981: rebelling like the free slave state
of Haiti, conveniently three years before
slave trade ceased in the British Empire .

The story of the immigrant in Britain
is the story of Britain, it’s not a happy
story. But it’s all we’ve got.

Walter

I wrote this poem specifically for a performance at Northants Black History Association. Focusing on local history, I decided to write a poem about Walter Tull.

Walter Tull was a footballer who played for Tottenham Hospurs and Northampton Cobblers. He was also a soldier during The First World War, being the first Black British-born man to reach the rank of officer in the British Army.  His father was from Barbados and his mother was a Kentish white woman. Tull’s grandfather was a slave and Walter was killed in 1918.

My poem, Walter, is based on Mulatto by American poet Langston Hughes and on Checking Out Me History by John Agard. Both poets are known for critiquing and discussing racial politics and culture in their work.


I am like you white man, British!

European dusk
in a graveyard nation.

“You’re not British.
Just a yellow bastard!”
Like Hell!

Walter Tull. His grandfather, a slave.
His father, black, his mother, white
footballer turned soldier
in Footballer’s Battalion
and first Black British-born
man to lead white men
to fight in battle. 

White moon over No Man’s Land.
French frosty night,
full of stars,
massive yellow stars.

What’s war but a game?
Bodies of flesh
and bone.
White, blue, brown and black
men blown to bits.

Tull signed at Tottenham in 1909, making him the first black player in English top tier football 
(Walter Tull, edition.cnn.com)

The scent of rotting flesh stings the night air.
“Who are your parents?” a voice asks.
And there Walter lingers in his mixed-race mask.

Another yellow sunrise.
Half of a yellow sun
and his comrades drop one by one.

From Barbados, his father
travelled far and Walter to war.
He volunteered to go,
trading football for France’s
bombs, bullets and bayonets.

The French sky is full of stars.
Massive yellow stars as light as
the dawn, showing these white
men he was no pawn.

To them he was nothing but a toy.
A yellow bastard boy.
He went out into the night, showed
the English how to fight.

The SlaveTrade was a rotten business that even the descendants of slaves today are affected by
(The Triangular Trade, BBC Bitesize)

Walter, forward-thinking
black man of big ambitions
moving boulders over white river
rapids to freedom street.

And when he died in Spring 1918,
stars were seen dancing through the air.

A British night,
a British joy.
I am British white man!
Yes, a man, not a bastard boy.