So I wrote this poem inspired by ‘Art Class’ by Rhiannon McGavin, an American poet. This poem also derives my poem Genocide and its inspirations.
Despite society being an abstract noun, I have characterised society as a man. So for the nature of this poem, society is a he.
Society thinks you can’t swear in poetry.
So unto Society I say,
“Raise your hands if you have heard of Auschwitz.”
Instantly, he raises his hands
like mustard gas rising out of a trench.
Okay, hands down.”
Now raise your hands if you have heard
of the Morant Bay Massacre.
Rolling eyes blended with curious stares
a shaking hand ascends
half-raised like a lone soldier
struggling to stand at Passchendaele.
“Are you sure about that?”
“That’s what I thought”
“Society – what’s truth?”
They won’t let you hear it at school
if that person says “fuck.”
Can’t even talk about “fuck”
even though Education’s
been fucking students for years.
You can’t teach a 16-year-old in school
how to swear, how to use language,
how to wear words like body armour
There’s children in London
who carry knives to the library in case they get jumped
and you want to censor language.
“Society – what is history class?”
Your books leave out the Maroons and the Arawaks
Call themselves ‘World History’ and omit
Cecil Rhodes and Zimbabwe, King Leopold,
blood diamond mines and the Congolese Genocide
Fifteen million dead Africans,
call themselves ‘Politics in the Modern World’
and fail to mention Enoch Powell or Apartheid.
Why Black children hide in lighter skin,
dark-skinned girls under the boots of colourism
those with natural hair thrown to sin bin.
Folks thinking Edward Snowden
was a politician educated in Oxbridge.
How can education not include
Julian Assange or Jimmy Carter?
Schools are built in shadows
the grinding teeth of money,
designed under coins and corporations.
They’re sterilising children,
injecting classrooms, drilling
independent thought with silent poison
stifling creativity, making a killing.
Jack hung himself in his bathroom
because he wasn’t smart enough
to meets school standards.
Hannah started bleaching
her daughter’s skin
the day before she started school.
She carves curved lines into her
beautiful brown skin so
she can remember her ancestors.
I wrote this poem inspired by ‘Groan‘ by poet Alex Levene, which in itself is inspired by ‘Howl‘ by American poet Allen Ginsberg.
Alex Levene is a Bedford-based writer and poet who I’ve had the pleasure of sharing the stage with at SFP many times (a serious mega talent!).
I first heard ‘Groan’ at Soul Food Poetry Bedford in April this year and have since been writing a response piece to it.
So for six months I’ve been writing and editing this, detailing my own perceptions of creative writing and who my inspirations are.
I saw the greatest minds of my year group destroyed by sadness – hysterical jaywalkers, burnt brazen, naked, lives laid bare
crawling their way through the social Middle Earths of Twitter and Instagram, looking for a million likes and retweets,
millennial media mongrels lusting for a human connection to the societies of open-air realities and sunlight, through text speak and Urban Dictionary
overdosing on hollow lies still high, sofa-sprawled students smoking in their custom-made sun loungers looking into their Mad Max-esque orange
haze screens, their incandescent tangerine shed-like space, killing each other for cash and capital in a scramble for power like it’s fucking Westeros.
Now begins my song of praise
bless me with your righteous gaze.
I pray you’ll concede that this world’s future
depends on the arts, creativity and poetry.
Poems weren’t always in my peripheral view
but what better way to talk to you
and read in front of all these faces
as poetry transcends colour, creed, sex and races.
I once wanted to be a police officer, a cricketer, you know?
Now I write poems, using rhythm, rhyme, meter and onomatopoeia
striking academia full of fear in their weekend boats
sailing full speed ahead from Lands’ End to John O’Groats.
But I’ll stand tall, like the walls
between poetry and spoken word.
They’re one and the same, haven’t you heard?
Should I compare you to a summer’s day?
The war cry – the poet that slips into words
like Thanos and The Infinity Gauntlet,
the Mad Titan who takes centre stage and flaunts it.
And I write this poem for those who will listen,
who will take heed of my words and their composition,
who will comprehend the poet’s vision.
People hate to hear rhythm and rhyme,
as words can allude, confuse and hypnotise.
Conveyors of myths and magic, incantations
that summon beasts. Tales of Merlin and Mordrid,
the Druids, Arthur, Guinevere, their feasts and fights,
don’t let these poets on the open-mic tonight.
See, there are issues with poetry;
most switch off – it’s lyrical,
the pinnacle of most great songs is poetry.
Way back in the day,
you’d read up on your Greek and Latin
bashing out odes and elegies
on bits of parchment
written with quills and ink.
But poetry has always been
for the people by the people,
a synergy creating a soulful energy,
sometimes read over the kitchen sink.
And the soul of creativity
has always been inside of us, in the heart,
regardless if that’s
poetry, prose, theatre or dancing in the park;
the poet is more than writing poetry,
it’s a mentality, it’s your mind-set,
life choices, your actions and your voices.
If prose is the bellow poetry is the murmur
in the corner people-watching
taking down each detail –
collecting everyone’s emotions and clout,
bottling it up and then raising it to a shout.
A howl, a growl, a snarl,
raging against the societal machine,
lies unclean, torn seams of childhood innocence.
And I will never cease rhythm’s use,
it’s not might fault. Blame Roald Dahl,
Spike Milligan, and Dr Seuss… and
“Augustus Gloop Augustus Gloop
The great big greedy nincompoop
Augustus Gloop, so big and vile
so greedy, foul, and infantile.”
Okay, I took that, but wasn’t it
Picasso who said, “Good artists borrow,
great artists steal?” – I think,
and these writers moulded my youth.
Poetry catches, snatches, captures, enraptures,
not just the town crier on stage proclaiming his love –
not just hope in the form of a holy white dove
but it’s a state of mind, a passion… it’s a want,
a hunger, a message, sometimes
a polemic attack against systems, governments
and institutions that manipulate and fashion.
For me, my Creative Writing degree was not a choice,
it was a chance for me to express myself and use my voice.
Every writer who has put pen to paper,
or finger to keyboard
was saving their sword for you to wield later.
I discuss race, class, politics and mental health,
children’s literature and capitalist wealth,
and the mysteries of my family tree,
stories of slavery and immigration
as I don’t know how I came to be me.
Oliver Cromwell banned Christmas, or tried to,
like how Stalin banned poetry and the Nazis believed
poetry came from the hands of the Jews.
The weapon that kills the fascists is not the gun or the sword,
it’s the lyrics, the bold art of playing with words from a chessboard.
Protest and politics is where it begins
friends and experiences poeticised in the form of a hymn.
From reggae through to science,
The Isaacs (Newton and Gregory),
you can’t lock them up in the speech penitentiary.
Agard, Zephaniah, Sabrina Benaim, Margaret Atwood AM Pressman, Neil Hilborn, Olivia Gatwood,
writers who change our perspectives for common good.
Byron, Shelley, Kerouac, Ken Kesey, Larkin
Sylvia Plath, Blake, Grace Nichols, writing mages
it’s the artists’ job to rattle society’s cages.
I wrote this poem inspired by a post on Instagram by London-based poet, rapper and, well, lyricist, Nate, about the British Museum.
Additionally, ‘The Evidence Room’ is inspired by ‘Custard and Curry’ by Canadian poet Robyn Sidhu.
London’s ‘The British Museum’ is the blackface of British History. Will Britain ever give these items back? Not a chance!
Though, I do recall reading an article saying they’d loan items back to Nigeria and Ethiopia; to this day Britain still acts like it’s 1834.
Our introduction to Erik ‘Killmonger’ Stevens (Michael B. Jordan) in Marvel’s Black Panther just sums all these feelings up so well.
This video was filmed last night (September 26) at Studio 88 on Leicester Square by SFP videographer, Kevyn Ricard (big up yourself!)
One day in January, I was caught in a conversation with a man who thought imperialism was GREAT! That the British Empire was awesome! With the constant questions and statements, it felt like a date so that’s what I’m going to call it.
And so I thought, should I really be here?
I was in fear of his mind, confined to nostalgia –
bits of bunting swaying in the breeze,
like nooses hanging from trees in a Jim Crow South.
I think of The British Museum… should I really be here?
I haven’t quite decided yet. Look, when
I see those artefacts I see quashed rebellions and resistance.
I see livelihoods as blood sports, so I begin to think
of The British Museum and the Victoria & Albert too…
When I tell my White friends this, they are confused.
I tell them “Yes I am British.”
Well, British-West Indian-West African
maybe a bit of Indian and Chinese
there as well I don’t actually know.
They are confused
since my passport says British Citizen,
that makes me British, right?
Or does it make me part-white?
Or was it just when
my grandparents and great-grandparents
sacrificed white beaches for Windrush anthems?
And a few centuries earlier,
my five, six and seven times grandparents
traded the Gold Coast for slavery;
that doesn’t mean I am any more or less British
than John, Jack or James because
I have the pigment of a cocoa bean.
On our date, I sip on my water.
He sips on his coffee, he talks about
how he prefers it without sugar.
I think Demerara.
Just the beans and water you know?
Sugarcane plants from bank to bank,
slaves outflanked by overseer ships.
Nationality in binary terms is messy
because it’s not binary.
He reveals a bacon sandwich
squirts ketchup onto it
and presses the bits of bread together.
Bits of red slipping sliding
oozing abusing the paper bag –
dripping down onto floor
as he lay his heritage before me –
a quarter this, a third that.
I concur that I share this fractured history.
If you dissect my body,
if you cut into my torso and limbs,
you will find rivers of European blood
that swims with the gene pool of colonisers.
I am the red wine gushing
from the wounds of little Ashanti boys.
I am the Caribs of Grenada
jumping to their deaths from Leapers’ Hill
to escape the French slave traders.
I am Jamaica and the Maroons.
Nanny, she was Ashanti you know.
Came over in chains
but she never forgot who she was
despite the British putting them
to work sugarcane fields,
beaten and raped to yield harvest.
The Maroons resisted, Nanny persisted.
Ran for the hills,
fighting off the British for eighty years.
Ran for the Blue Mountains,
put colonisers’ heads on spikes.
No White man was safe
from the Maroons in the moonlight.
Maroon masters of camouflage,
attired in leaves. Still as trees
before they struck in the dark.
The Brits had the tech
but the Maroons had
the will, determination, magic…
this is the birth of Jamaica… real independence.
I am watered down White man,
colonisers who forced their way
onto my family tree
entwined themselves with
each bit of branch, bark and leaf
became part of the canopy –
mixed, meshed and mingled with soil
hijacking stem cells, membranes and nucleus
claiming they created photosynthesis.
I guess the concept of privilege
can be traced to history.
His presence, his words, are warning me
he is here to pillage the uncivilised
to steal a bounty for his wife.
On our date,
I watch his hands grasp his coffee.
I try to imagine them touching me.
I am uncomfortable, unnerved,
he smells like Rwanda being burnt to ash.
The woman that waits on him helps give birth
to his malignant anti-migrant mentality.
I may be immigrant,
grandchild of colonialism,
birthed from chains,
child of slaves and servants,
who worked the fields,
as our last names were
gambled with the ocean.
I may father multiracial children
who will be forced into cold welcomes,
but you are what sullied my pigment,
forced my flesh from
Mother Africa to begin with,
like a C-section
for gold, minerals and artefacts –
from the Ashanti in Ghana
to the Edo People of Benin,
my ancestors that lost their souls
so you could talk about Great Britain.
On this date that’s not a date,
he tells me I look mixed-race.
What does that even mean?
I could be half-white.
Should I take that as a compliment?
Being part-slave part-coloniser,
as if colonised is the new black,
as if being the same colour as the people
who plundered and slaughtered
those they thought lacked civilisation is ideal.
On our date,
he expects me to educate him
on centuries worth of colonial history
after he was previously defending it.
Instead I say:
I am one of the many voices
of the African Diaspora.
Yes, I am European. Yes, I am British.
Yes I am Caribbean. Yes, I am African.
I hear rumours
of Indian and Chinese in my lineage as well.
This is why we shouldn’t talk
about nationality and ethnicity as binary terms.
I tell him I am not the final resting place for his White guilt.
I will not carry his pride and mind in brass pots
like the water my forbears used to carry on their heads.
I am tired of talking to people like him
who seem to think I need validation
from someone who talks
like they grew up on a slave ship.
I can’t settle for this shit any longer,
that giving a big tip
to an Indian waiter isn’t
the first step towards repairing
centuries of racism and degradation.
He pauses, finishes his coffee.
Tries to keep face, tries
to recover his bravado and breathes…
plastic materials from soil to sand
clearly polluting our beaches and land
presidential delusions always constructed
coastal birds, fish and sea-life abducted
by litter trapped in glass sharp shores
public outcry from climate change to war
but we the public must focus
even when the world looks so hopeless
from beaches to politics
bottles breaking faces faking
cans crackling, leaders
packing wars like sardines
in third-world countries stacking refugees
increasing crises on our world’s seas
maybe it’s time for us to impeach
politicians and leaders that leech
throughout this global plastic beach
psychopaths fascinate me
killing plants and trees with legislation
making schools puppets of corporations
propagating opinions as facts
but they’re just bloodsucking fat cats
when the blind lead the blind
it just leads to more plastic streets
as history is that same track on repeat
but trump won’t sign those parisian sheets
mrs may sanctions lawlessness and war
light breaches the red room image exposed
few can see through the emperors new clothes
when she allied with the DUP instead of Labour
she named and knighted racism her saviour
continued to treat Scotland like colonial neighbour
clinging to power to quench her woes
it’s the life her party chose eyes wide shut
laughing and cackling like Jabba the Hut
as social comment is a film from edit to cut
system collapse and still won’t concede
we’re under the boots of the bourgeoisie
they’ll take refuge in God’s House like the old days
the cost to exist rises still, but now it’s easter sunday
leaders continue to spend thousands on an entrée
trump and theresa satirise the living wage and gunplay
don’t promise us rain if you can’t promise flowers
while Tory court jesters laugh in the shadow of grenfell tower
politics and plastic beaches greed is the source
imperialistic agendas motives and thoughts
hearts of darkness polluting the natural world
like Hades plucking bodies for his underworld
class wars got street level folks misunderstood
while instagram culture levels childhoods
destroying the realness of our hearts
sectioning our emotions into pie-charts
sucking out our honesty so our eyes go red
killing us softly repeating the crimes of the dead
The plastic beach is just a metaphor. Yes, litter pollution in our natural world is rife but this poem is more about what else we pollute ourselves with.
What do our own plastic beaches look like? What do we litter our lives with, be it toxic relationships or substance abuse or anything else.