The Sicilian Defence

This is one of those response pieces I was telling you about. However, this is in response to one I heard on a BBC advert and it’s All the World’s a Stage by William Shakespeare.

All the World’s a Stage is  a poem I first came into contact with when I was around twelve years old and I saw it again a few years ago when Benedict Cumberbatch read it for the BBC.

The title for my piece derives from a famous chess opening and it’s essentially a monologue that analogises life to a chess match. I was inspired to use this after reading Sam Beckett’s Endgame, in which his title is also used as a chess metaphor.


Life’s a game of chess, and
we’re vying for checkmate;
we have our openers, childbirth –
pawn to E4. Rook, bishop
knight, queen and in our fight, we
play parts. Babies shook and carried
by teams of sweaty fingers

wailing like sirens– luring victims to
their deaths. Pinned. Young children
– innocent, and naïve in their youth,
creeping like crabs. Pawn to C5,
and then they fall in love, opening
Pandora’s Box, a violent can of worms.

Heart squirms once in a term
of years. False promises – a bed of
thorns, a bed of lies, bloodshot eyes.
Abrupt, fast to fight assertive sighs.
Knight to G3. Forty years old and in
crisis – wife, kids, a dog and arthritis.

Wind the crank. Cut the hedges.
Trim the fat. And we play our parts.
Pawn to D6. The match is afoot,
the board is set – sixteen apiece.
Now into the next wave: pot-bellied,
double-glazed lenses, crimson teeth.

Our finite time, spent – full circle, round
it goes, voices talking from yesterday’s
childishness. Check! Jaded – Exhausted.
Tired – Fatigued – Alone – Desolate.
Deserted – Dead, and that’s mate.

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.

Cloud City

I wrote this poem after I came back from India in July 2016. I went out there to meet a friend I made on Facebook (four years in the making). Some would call that reckless (perhaps) but I took a leap of faith.

Meeting author S.M.Y Rafi or as I know him, Rafi Syed was great. He longed to know what I thought of his novel The Traversers’ Memoirs. 

Seeing Hyderabad from the roof of his flat’s building showed me that it’s a city that towers. From there I saw a sort of shroud before I even saw the stray dogs and cats or even the vehicles.

Under that “vapourish” canopy, the cars and taxis and bikes played their own version of Mario Kart and that’s why I called this poem Cloud City. Not coincidentally after the place from George Lucas’ Star Wars.


Vehicles speed down the highway, as stray cats
and dogs sprawl in the streets, gasping for
breath on moistureless heat, entrapped by the
canopy of the forest. High-rise

Hyderabad is polluted from the some twelve
million souls. Streets full of dips and holes due
to the need for speed like they’re racing down
Rainbow Road trying not to fall off (living dangerously).

Poverty and homelessness are abundant,
preventive efforts are redundant, to no avail as
many spill onto the railway tracks, widening the
cracks of famine and squalor: it’s a shame, because

India holds many backward ideologies but
not all left by the English anthologies.
Market Day: customers boisterously barter
and on tourists, they set a course to charter.

Pockets rustle: their eyes wide like a cavern’s
mouth – busy, dry and loud with
infinte crowds of salespeople hustling
for money – and that’s the capitalist way.


Rafi Syed, Epidrae and The Traverser’s Memoirs

Kindle Edition 

Hard Copy 

Epidrae

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.

Foreign Policy

I wrote this poem not long after watching Gurinder Chadha’s Viceroy’s House, a film about the partition of India in 1947 and the creation of Pakistan. However, in this poem, I talk about many other colonies of the British Empire (not just India).

Other influences include Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander and Sons of Liberty. This first is a series based on the books by Diana Gabaldon about a woman who has fallen through time from 1945 to 1743 in Jacobite Scotland.

The second America’s War of Independence and the antics of Sam Adams, Ben Franklin and the rebels who freed White America from the British Empire (there were still slaves in 1776!)

The poem Suicide in the Trenches by Siegfried Sassoon was also a big help but its usage here isn’t part of my response poetry thread. John Agard’s Flag also came into play when I wrote Foreign Policy. 


Scotland’s dislike for the sassenach goes
way back in time when blood-breasted
soldiers marched with rhythm and rhyme.
Committing all numbers of war crimes,

they blitzed Bonnie Prince Charlie and
his men in the Forty-Five – lead teeth tore
through their brains – nobody spoke
of them again.

Then there was Ireland’s Easter – freedom
fighters, rogue rebels – 1916, soldiers depleted
at the Somme, and then the Crown frowned,
as towns were levelled. History repeated.

The English bought properties forcing
the Irish from their homes, leaving
them to roam through grassland glades,
further dividing the nation.

She was more than a battle of beliefs
– a book of revelations – they made the
Irish think themselves inferior, whilst
England stood tall, rich and superior.

India 1919: the Amritsar Massacre –
bullets whistled like an icy wind, Gandhi
led civil marches and protests, stressed
at imperial ideologies.

Churchill had a plan – he said: “let’s
cut a hole in India and call it Pakistan,
it’ll be like carving a cake.” Many Muslims
bled travelling to a destination

they may never make – the streets inflated
with violence – fires and fights – dimmed
Diwali lights and now political choirs with
torn tongues like seasoned liars.

Previously known as the Minutemen –
Lone rogues who rebelled, labelled
as tyrannical hooligans who belong in cells
They were The Sons of Liberty,

patriots who fought for their land, while
the English soldiers bloodied their sand.
After much blood has been spilled, America
wins, but both sides must repent their sins.

General George is worshipped like a saint
but he used slaves without complaint – I do
wish slavery was a dream but this is how harsh
humanity is, standing with esteem.

England’s borders spanned the entire world
and around the globe its borders curled. To
Australia, they sent prison inmates on the
backs of ships, in cages like primates.

Britain committed eternal damnations, whilst
slaves worked sugar plantations – whipped for
freethinking and mutiny at the brunt of scrutiny
and abused for being alive.

Contrived – the English simply can’t be trusted.
Their personalities are just plain busted. They
play a façade. They mean one thing and then
they say “On Guard!”