This poem was inspired by JB Barrington and named for the slang term from theatre – spoiling a piece of acting by laughing or forgetting lines.
buildings are empty
shop fronts boarded in hordes
shells to house the homeless
one would think
but The Man cares more
for what sells
the smell of stocks and shares
what’s the worth of a human heart
the crisis of prices and sacrifices
where council-owned cooked books
stink like the shit in the parks
Northampton’s high streets are in disarray
those tin-can buses always delayed
no space for prams in those brittle frames
a horse-drawn Stagecoach is all that remains
take some of those London pounds
and invest it in the shoe town it’s not rocket science
spend it on transport and arts
stop filling the coffers of the bourgeois
and be gone with those potholes
give pounds not pennies
as that’s not hoarding
that’s affluence for the many.
So I wrote this poem inspired from a song I co-wrote nearly ten years ago (available on request) at Performing Room in Northampton.
Additionally, this is also inspired from the film The Great Dictator, written and directed by Charlie Chaplin and his speech in that film.
in 2016 my country split in two
48% voted stay the rest to leave the EU
in the wake of Brexit and Windrush
when we moan we’re told to hush hush
workers continue to suffer under the bourgeoisie
saving every coin so they can survive this austerity
men, women and children hurt and alone
many don’t have safe places they can call home
in halls of residence students sweat
whack to the knees crippled under government debt
you know these loan sharks in suits
playing judge, jury and hangman ready to drop the noose
these are images on a news reel
this history we’re living in now is sealed
it’ll be written with photo-shopped pictures
as you know that history’s written by the victors
you can see lies written into faces
discussion puts world leaders through their paces
they tell us what they want us to hear
but critiquing their actions fills their minds with fear
politicians thinking what they think is right
turning people against basic human rights
deporting British citizens and funding wars
street slabs acting as veterans’ floorboards
Black or White; Christian or Muslim; Gay or Straight
through othered visions the powers that be discriminate
destroying communities, minds and souls
they’re not yours not for corporations to own and control
Northampton, campus incorporated
degrees and education hyper-monetised…
Town Centre – litter-ridden, takeaways and charity shops
in addition to police on the beat and All Saints’ sighs
fake news, false media, forced slave labour
form systems that change narratives and model behaviour
it causes nothing but anger and distress
look at the world in protest and continuous civil unrest
like Goebbels and Lord Kitchener with propaganda
they use words and pictures to play on our anger
like Darth Vader they use the force to enslave us
using false media and stories to garner our trust
peace exists on Earth with the breathing and the living
not with us murdering those who are giving
don’t pollute the world with plastics and aerosols
pollute it with children who dare to be brave and be bold
humanity has been through so much pain
but those who’ve maimed must take responsibility
if they don’t things will never change
fix up and for once take some accountability
we should guide each other
like Indiana Jones in his quest to discover
one race – one people – one destiny
as we scout in pedigree and human history
Citizens of the World, have your say
we’re not pieces in games chess for them to play
party politics’s been casting us in sin
boxing us based on gender, beliefs, race and melanin
those of you preaching what you think is right
turning people against basic human rights
experiences have given me perspective
it’s made me who I am and taught me to live
live in peace and your lives in tranquillity
live in peace and your lives in tranquillity
live in peace and your lives in tranquillity.
“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”
This poem is inspired by some of the characters of my childhood, in addition to Fire Season by James Galvin and ‘One of the Good Ones’ by A. M. Pressman.
I went to school with children of privilege,
synonymous with the English upper-middle class
and the first time I went to their houses
I stared up at the mounted heads,
bold as brass looking down upon me.
Stags’ heads, boars’ heads,
hollowed out skulls
like the Egyptian from the days
of Tutankhamen, Cleopatra and Nefertiti.
They are the only brown things in the room,
showing me how to be “one of the good ones” –
open-mouthed mounted mammals,
hollow shells shelled with bullets.
I laugh at the homeowners’ jokes
and I can hear the oxymoron in my chest.
I stay silent as they endorse fox hunting.
I stay silent as they insult immigrants.
I stay silent as they recite colonial-era poetry.
I stay silent,
as they tell me how they freed
poor African children last summer,
as if they will try to decolonise me too.
I know they voted Tory, as their ancestors did before them.
How long will it be before I become a head on the wall?
How long until my bones sit in the British Museum?
I wonder if I they already view me as one of their trophies.
I grimace every time they talk about their friends’ servants,
people who come from places like South America and Africa.
They go on to talk about Terry and his manservant.
I wince every time they brag about their friends who boast
about the bleeding brown bodies that keep his household upright.
But sometimes at night, I catch
these people staring into the eyes on the wall,
dark orbs of stone you know?
They know what they did;
they can still feel the blood splatter,
like the indelibly etched ink of tattoos.
They tell them they’re sorry,
promising that they’re
“some of the good ones.”
In the days after Brexit;
I thought about them, the Head Collecters.
The days after Brexit; it was open season.
It was hunting season on British streets.
Bits of bunting flapping in the breeze
like bodies over Mississippi and Georgia,
looked like treason was making a comeback,
more comebacks than Nigel Farage
as history starts to repeats itself.
In my smothering dreams,
I walk into my year-nine class…
there’s a hat on my seat with a promise:
Hunting Means Hunting,
to Make the Woods Great Again,
to put the Great
back in Great Britain.
And it feels like someone
has drawn an X on my chest
with ninety lashes. It’s the same hat
that the children of my youth wear now.
They ask me to meet them halfway,
to reach across the shop aisle,
bypassing sugarcane and soy sauce,
nutmeg and chocolate; tea and coffee;
rice and tobacco; indigo and cotton!
They ask if I care
to walk over corpses
that look like me.
They ask me
to forget the countries
that their ancestors
put on their backs.
They ask me to forget
in order to compromise.
I walk through Northampton
to the sound of history’s cries.
I see my not-so-childhood friends,
they know what their parents did.
They feel guilty; they still feel
my brittle bones in their hands,
skull and crossbones raised at half-mast.
“The blacker the berry the sweeter the juice”
But the Head Collectors said:
“The darker the meat the longer the noose.”
They hold my head in their hands and say
“You’re one of the good ones, but it’s hunting season.”
“Windrush” is a poem inspired from David Lammy’s speech about members of the Windrush Generation being evicted from Britain.
The Windrush are the people who came from the Caribbean between 1948 and the early 1960s to help with Britain’s postwar labour shortages.
Thousands of UK families only exist today because of the Windrush coming here; many fell on hard times when they came in the 1940s and the 1960s.
People like my great-grandparents came in the second wave of immigrants in the early 1960s, my grandmother from Grenada was six years old at that time.
They came for a better life. England was a land that had this myth-status throughout the colonies. It was dubbed a nation that “was paved with gold.”
This poem is inspired by David Lammy’s inspirational speech but it’s also directly influenced by “Directives” by American poet Olivia Gatwood.
The first British ships arrived in the Caribbean in 1623, and despite slavery they came when the “Motherland” went to war against Germany. Twenty-five thousand West Indians fought in the world wars.
When my great-grandparents arrived in this country under the Nationality Act, they came as British citizens. I’ve heard there have already been deportations. My Grenadian grandmother came on her parents’ passports. She has been here since she was six.
Is Grandma at risk too?
If it happens to you and yours, predictably you will ask the question why? You thought this only happened to stowaways, to the people who are caught sneaking in, but not you – who came by invite.
Not you who have been denied your rights after fifty years and more. You’ve worked too hard to be booted through Britain’s backdoor – with your careers as nurses in the NHS, with your careers as mechanics in the car industry, with your careers in housing and social work and recruitment and the media and employment and sports.
Grandparents, it seems your best is no longer good enough. This is not a place to set up shop and you thought you played this game of chess right. Do not be fooled by checkmate. Do not think by “winning” the battle you have won the battle. These institutions love it when you win like this. When you are at their mercy like this. When your pawn is one square from the end of the board like this.
You were told about streets paved with gold. Our ancestors were transported, bought and sold at the market. And now, like slaves, their descendants will go to live in countries they barely know.
And you, your children, (like my parents) and by extension their grandchildren – like my brother and I, this country was built on the backs of our labour. If you have lived here since you were six years old, are you really an immigrant? Raised and moulded in the view of The Crown, you are not a slave… you are of this ground.
When you’re black and British, the struggle is constant – like living inside your own heartbeat. Ripping apart your veins and arteries, convincing yourself that the white man is more worthy of the transplant.
However, Windrush, you are the solution. You have more than paid your way and you’ve earned your place. You are the National Health Service; you are schoolteachers, and politicians and judges and so much more.
When the bulldog doesn’t know how to speak softly, remember he has been taught how to bark and ask questions afterwards. When he uses his body like a battering ram through a steel door, remember he’s been taught to plunder and devastate. When he doesn’t answer your call, how can you blame a rabid beast for its lack of table manners?
How many have been deported? The Home Office should know. How many have been treated like prisoners in their own land, banned from free movement… constantly watched by the white-collar overseer.
This is not a game of chess. Checkmate or stalemate, these are people’s lives – those who arrived after the war and into the 50s and 60s and made roots.
So, Home Secretary, this is where bad decisions are made.
Do not masquerade behind talk, giving it this.
You are not a victim. You are a liability. You politicians are magicians, into smoke when it gets too hard. You are loose boots and loot crates of money for wars, not for pensions. Your uniform has seen better days. Your rope is frayed.
Windrush is marching through France not knowing whether to kill the bulldog or the Nazi. Windrush is saving the NHS from ruin. Windrush is saving the coloniser and becoming the colonised. Windrush is centuries of hard labour.
Windrush is putting out the flames of a hostile environment policy. Windrush is saying no to Enoch Powell’s River of Blood speech. Windrush is leaving paradise for a dystopia in hopes of creating something better for your children.
Windrush is a song in a strange land.
If you lay down with dogs, you get fleas.
Windrush is willing to burn in the apartment so the fleas do not get in.