Semiotics: Observations Exposed

Semiotics is the study of signs and I wrote this poem inspired from ‘Motives and Thoughts’ by Lauryn Hill.

The severe lack grammar and punctuation is to show that thoughts and signs are not scripted. They just exist.

This is one continuous ramble with no structure. How we think is not always linear from point A to point B.


mumbling rappers confusion of sound
negative messages holding us down
time and capitalism socially constructed
human consciousness motives corrupted
impulsive reactions brexit and war
from slavery to windrush injustice galore

western media tools for
synthetic mythologies modern folklore
global newsreaders creating misdirection
claiming munitions are for our protection
wicked news anchors killing our brains
misleading us with newspeak again
war is economics designed for profit and gain

mr trump glows in the dark motives exposed
we can all see through his baggy clothes
this klansman confines kids to cages and woes
with human rights disposed written into code
Tory government party of jokers court jester logic
always answering questions with statements off topic

uncivilised people with colonialist knowledge
system decline and still wont concede
using religion as a saviour analysing behaviour
eton MPs kings and queens of corruption and greed
impulsive politicians on prescription meds
wishing brexit negotiations were all in their heads

ethical standards pride is the source
born with silver spoons on the back of a horse
imperial leaders led by whitewashed history
churchill and nelson racists it’s no mystery

Cackling Theresa May GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

global economy in for number one
banks hiring mercenaries and guns
war designed to kill fathers and sons
to the sound of cannons and drums
as number ten paints beautiful pictures
from myths into theology and scriptures

both west and east are after diamonds and pearls
as lies and deception take over the world
blind with hate deep in our hearts
neo-colonialism is a poison dart
deceive your neighbours so well get ahead
modern day deceit is what we’re being fed

Privilege

I wrote this poem inspired from my schooldays and my reflections on that now as an adult, and its related connotations.

Also, this poem talks about how discrimination can happen between privately-educated / state-educated people of the same ethnicity.

This poem was deeply-inspired by ‘Privilege’ by Lacey Roop. She’s a slam poet and author poetry collection And Then Came the Flood


At fourteen, I was educated with the children of the rich and entitled.

At lunch I sat with them – children who lived in big houses.

Honestly, I disliked most of them. I didn’t want to be one of them.

My mom was a teacher, my father worked in IT.

The parents of these children were lawyers and businesspeople.

In other words, they sold lies for a living; however, like my colleagues, I never knew the meaning of without or hungry.

Some of the friends I made at school were people who had never encountered people of colour before – other than those they saw on television.

I grew up around people who had names like Seonai and Winston and Darius and Precious and Paris and Isaiah.

And they grew up with people who had names like Mary-Kate, Anna-Grace, Elizabeth-Anne, Tom-Harry and John-Paul.

Photographer: Matt Lamers

By today’s standards, they’d be known as progressive white folks who had more money than they knew what to do with.

They were the offspring of people who felt uncomfortable around someone like me, a child – whose last name wasn’t Jones or Smith, whose skin tone was a shade too dark, too dug up earth for their white picket fence.

One time, I was invited to a party. Drugs and underage girls littered it like confetti. The houses of lawyers and CEOs and surgeons, people who had inherited everything they owned.

When other Black people here how I talk, they question who I am. They question my ethnicity and identity.

Just because when I spill the heart contents of my chest, they ask if I am really Black. Because I talk too well for this colour.

As if my blood is not infested with the same slave plantation mud as theirs. I do not hate my skin but I’m often ashamed of those who share the same melanin as me.

Judging me on my RP and how I was raised, not what I say or how I behave. I hear people say, “If you know better than do better.”

This is why I can’t gawk from the side lines when I see Black people putting each other down. When I see colourism dividing us by our different shades of brown.

Black Privilege is feeling the bitterness of other people who look like me. This private school childhood is being the token Black.

It’s knowing my mouth is more bulletproof than Charlottesville which is why I use this mouth loud, even in the face of that bitterness.

To keep certain ears attuned to “You know better so be better.” For my eyes to be whitewashed and imperialised. Black privilege is a fiction, a fantasy.

It’s the assumptions people make because they hear my softly-spoken syntax – this relaxed tone of voice. This privilege-sounding tongue-tied man subverting stereotypes.

It’s the judgements we take without thinking. I was stop and searched by police for simply blinking… wrong place wrong time.

Having privilege is never having to think or talk about it. I’m always thinking and talking about it.

And if we all have voices to use, why on Earth should we stay silent?

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!

An Open Letter To ‘Moana’

I wrote this narrative poem inspired from the film Moana (2016), in my opinion one of the best Disney animated films since Lion King (1994).


The first time I watch Moana, I am in awe. It’s a spectacle to see that Disney actually made a film about a princess who’s not subjected to the Male Gaze and she’s of colour!

Warrior, battle-born, adventurer, explorer with all the fight, like Lagertha and Merida, as I hear the palpitations in my chest.

I smirk when she explores the concept of origins through song and dance. ‘Where You Are’ through customs and cultures of Motunui,

I stay quiet when they talk about old traditions;
I stay quiet when they talk about village mentality;
I stay quiet when they talk about safety and seclusion;
I stay quiet when they talk about coconuts and trees;
those vexations, confusion, frustrations, illusions –

as if my own family didn’t have versions of these conversations before they left the sunlit Caribbean for England’s wind, rain and cold.

She dreams like I do, travelling far away as the ocean calls her name. The world is wide and exploration pulls young minds and souls.

I wince when something bad happens to her, dragging a brown body storming down Middle Passage – a rain dance gasping under swash.

At night, I catch her looking into the the sky – thinking, wandering… wondering what will happen if she fails to the sound of splish splosh.

(Moana, Walt Disney Animation Studios)

But Maui promises that he is one of the good ones. In her dreams, she walks though her village promising to make the woods great again.

And if she fails, it’s byebye Motunui; it’s an X on Maui. The same X on her parents. She asks him to meet her halfway, to reach across oceans,

bending continents in half… from sheer determination, to not walk over future generations of dead Polynesian bodies in order to compromise.

You know at night, I remember the first time I watched that film – the song and dance thumb bites to the Male Gaze and patriarchy,

plus representation in front and behind the camera. It’s a safety net, that Moana is one of the good ones.

That she’s strong, that she will get back to the paradise she calls home having restored the Heart of Te Fiti, 

And

It. Will. Be. So. Fucking. Worth. It.

Hunting Season

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.

Photographer: Ray Hennessy

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,

it says.

Photographer: Jerry Charlton

They promise
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
dead languages
in order to compromise.

At dawn,
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.

Photographer: Rebekah Howell

People say:
“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.”