Watershed (After Allen Ginsberg)

This is a poem that I wrote in my head in November and only articulated it onto paper two weeks ago.

I came into contact with “Howl” years ago but I only recently engaged with it personally last January, not long after starting university.

Allen Ginsberg is one of the figures of The Beat Generation, along with Jack Kerouac (On The Road) and Ken Kesey (One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest).

In short, “Howl” is a declaration of personal experiences with religion, sex, drugs and society’s absurdities. Part I is about individual cases.

Part II talks about the  Moloch of society, which represses feelings and forces the victim to declare themselves mad if they do not suppress the said emotions.

Part III is a proclamation of sympathy with Carl Solomon (he’s in an asylum). In that last part, Ginserg is standing in solidarity with his imprisoned friend, extending his hand in friendship. This is an act of emotion in the poem, an idea that society seems to be subjugate.

In this act of rebellion, Ginsberg is embodying an anti-establishment attitude, thus sticking it to The Man, to put it bluntly.

“Watershed” was written as a stark contrast to “Ode to the Millennial Generation” and a modern rewrite of parts one and two of “Howl”. The title comes from that time after 9pm on television when all the darker / morally-ambiguous shows arrive on air.


I

I saw the greatest people of my youth destroyed by society – pure, naked, rancour; hauling themselves through the streets in the midsummer looking for something to do,

music-headed millennials listening to the sounds of Paul Weller and Bob Marley looking for a connection to their parents’ generation,

the people who plodded through poverty and sat up smoking seeing the supernatural silhouettes of spectres floating across canopies of towns and cities in an existential crisis.

Photographer: Stas Svechnikov

These are the millennials who bared their knuckles to Snapchat and Twitter, hash-tagging their way through Wikileaks and Edward Snowden,

who passed through university swimming from the loan shark – dead eyes hallucinating like seeing giant chickens on the streets of Amsterdam,

those who cowered in cubicles making memes with nooses to hide their depression –

today’s kids who advertise their beards and long hair like Gandalf posing on the cover of Vogue.

They’re confused, like fish seeing land for the very first time, along with dreams, drugs and disillusionment. Walking nightmares, alcohol and one night stands that turn into functional relationships

on the blind avenues of a sporadic cloud and thunder in the landscapes of Bangkok and Melbourne, illuminating the rude awakening of real life.

Photographer: SHTTEFAN

Rookie soldiers of the twenty-ones to thirty-fours, responsibility and family life dawns while wine drunkenness catches their eye –

joyriding and jaywalking with no care, sun and moon and nature’s touch in the season of orange in Central Park, as poets and actors preach in the streets,

as feminists protest like Civil Rights activists marching from Selma to Montgomery under the threat of dog’s teeth and tear gas and police chants and horses and riot shields and batons and the legacy of Jim Crow,

and the millennials would yawp and whisper war stories about when they’d been arrested and on which march – the shocks of A & E, jail and combat – whole minds deteriorating in a seven-day layover with prison food, like vomit from concentrate,

those who disappeared into the cracks of Birmingham. Broad Street and New Street, leaving a trail of blood to the Rep Theatre,

watching poverty run riot by the riverside restaurants, as the homeless wander asking for change so they can live another day.

Photographer: Spenser H

The millennials who jump in taxis to go two minutes down a road, those who lay hungry and broke in cafés talking about literature,

and those conversations disappeared into the tattooed trees on the table and into the local narratives and told tales of Northampton, Bedford and Cambridge,

and further still – into the West Country of Devon, Dorset and Somerset, places that investigate newcomers and make you forget city life and its liquid lunches,

inflicting scorch marks on the anticlimactic nature of capitalism in The West – places where police create more black stars than Hollywood,

millennials who broke down in jail cells and wailed like sirens when they just happened to be wearing a hoody in a white neighbourhood –

who were raped by those who preyed on low self-esteem, taken advantage of like the slaves who worked the plantations in Mississippi and Morant Bay.

Photographer: Maciej Ostrowski

But the millennials went on partying through Manchester and Liverpool – a juxtaposition to the legacy of slavery. Myriads of slaves at auctions who stood all day with bloody feet.

My generation who watch Black Mirror and Westworld as Theresa May perfects the art of crashing the NHS,

the young people who read romance novels in Costa whilst plugged into bad music, who sit depressed under their own storm cloud,

who had suicidal thoughts in school and were told to get over it – like depression and anxiety were no different to burning your hand on the grill.

The generation that murmur all night, scribbling incantations on how to be happy in blank verse, who watched The Perks of Being a Wallflower like it was the story of their lives,

who cut their wrists at breakfast, lunch and dinner and were forced to open nostalgia shops when they failed, who hanged themselves in their bedrooms and were forgotten.

Photographer: Jens Thekkeveettil

The people who sang  in Warsaw and retired to their beds… forever to tend their war wounds like it was 1st October 1939 all over again,

who were given daggers for their “ums” and spears for their “likes” and electroshock therapy to cure their anxiety of the tomorrow.

Camden Town and Oxford arguing on how to talk and how to live, tongues wagging from midday to midnight,

and those who dreamt up stories on the bus in long sentences, trapping the metaphors and similes with semicolons and subordinate clauses,

who boobie-trapped the verbs and nouns with dashes and commas in long sentences like Oscar Wilde.

And in the spirit of jazz in New Orleans, saxophone’s cry across the water with the tears of a thousand years of blissful adolescence, and are good to grow one thousand years more.

Photographer: Jens Thekkeveettil

II

What foul creature carved out their souls and imagination?

Society – isolation – independent loneliness and inflation. Young people screaming in their homes. Children caressed by Hollywood divinities.

Poverty sleeping in the parks. Society! Society! The nightmare of society. Loveless in its mutilated Marxism, the brutal judger of broken people.

Society, the unimaginable jail. Society, the black dog walking through the graveyard. Society with its logos of judgement and stunned governments,

whose minds are machinery; whose blood is money; whose fingers are on the nuclear codes; whose torso is a bonfire of the youth; whose souls are stocks and shares.

Society where people sit alone, scared of their own faces. Society with its containment culture and cookie-cutter flats and invisible poverty lines and fake wars –

visions, symbols and miracles down the Thames. Dreams and aspirations gone with a whole truckload of toxic political correctness and fragile masculinity.

A storm. Epiphanies, politics and religions gone as the boat flips. Despair! Years of suicides and crazy crucifixions into a haze of holy yells.

India, 2016: A Retrospective Afterthought

I wrote this poem based on my time in India in the summer of 2016. Olivia Gatwood’s ‘The Only Thing I Brought Home From America’ from her book New American Best Friend is one of the poems that inspired it.

Olivia Gatwood is one of the most recognisable young poets in the United States. In her book she deconstructs traditional stereotypes in topic areas such as: childhood, sexuality and gender to name a few.

Furthermore, she writes about things that society tells us we should be ashamed of, through odes to the body and strong women to name a couple. I must say that seeing them performed is more satisfying than reading them.

New American Best Friend is one of the must-reads for the young people of today (millennials), truly. Whether you’re a poet, prose writer or our everyday Joe Bloggs, read this book.


The only things I brought from Britain
were a box of PG Tips
and an Assassin’s Creed T-shirt for Rafi.
On the dry days,
we power slide on bikes,
like we’re in Mario Kart –
Rainbow Road, not Desert Hills.

The locals are shocked that I am black
and not African, but British and not white or rich.
This subverts their stereotype, changing
everything they’ve learned in the
former-church of Victoria, where they
were taught that life was better with a master.

But now they rule themselves –
with bureaucracy, like the British before them.
Curry and corruption is the underbelly,
but Hyderabad lay hungry in the
setting sun. The West ate their bellies full,
with the Industrial Revolution
stacking states like long multiplication.

Photo by: Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

“Darkies aren’t good” a light-skinned man
says… in 1948 and 1988 and 2016.
But this doesn’t apply to me, surely
because I’m British, right?
Always guarding my wicket,
ready to hit off-break and seam
down the ground.

In India I was among friends too –
where caste and creed were an afterthought.
Though, Real Madrid was their anthem
as the wicket was mine, or was the anthem
the 4am calls to break the Ramadan fast?

When I tell the family of my atheism
the penny drops –
I’m not female; I don’t wear a hijab,
but I high jabbed the establishment.
(Like saying no to David Bowie in Britain)
Oh no, the sacred texts!

Photo by: Loubna Benamer on Unsplash

We sit for dinner, the whole family,
much alike my own. I sit there,
pretending to be British,
with my RP accent but I think about my
immigrant grandparents. Grenadian-born –
French surname – Ventour –

and I think about my other grandparents,
Jamaican-born – Welsh surname – Griffiths.
But I know, no matter how many times
I speak of the UK, my home,
I think of Fanon’s Black Skin White Masks
like having a British passport makes you British.

Rafi says “I am lucky” and I am,
but I think he is lucky –
to live in a country that still values family dinners
and the art of conversation (somewhat).
The young ones speak in English
and their grandparents speak in Urdu or Hindi.
The millennials respect the elders.
They call them aunt and uncle, even the strangers.

Photo by: Annie Spratt on Unsplash

The young people love football.
Cricket, not so much. They call it boring,
and I know this is the wrong answer.
Cricket is the game of my ancestors.
I am West Indian and British and rich
and poor and a slave and a colonist…

and when it comes down to it,
we’re remnants of our ancestors –
who went from place to place,
men and women who didn’t all wear crowns.
But were more simply –
working people, slaves and peasants.

The Stranger From The Sea

Recently, I’ve been writing about things that everyday people can relate to and I been neglecting my love for history. So, I decided to write this one. 

I wrote this poem after seeing a post by actress Rosario Dawson (Daredevil) on Twitter. She’s someone I respect very much as an artist, but also as a human being in her online presence (I do not know her myself!). 

And it’s holidays like this that truly show that history is written by the victors. People like Christopher Columbus are celebrated because they happen to be on the right side of history.

To most in America, Thanksgiving means family time and something positive. To the Native Americans, it means something else entirely.

Aside from the subject matter at hand, this poem is based on Widow by Sylvia Plath. She was an American poet, novelist and short storyteller and was married to former-poet laureate Ted Hughes. She only ever wrote one novel, The Bell Jar.

My poem gets its title from the eighth Poldark novel by English author, the late Winston Graham.


In fourteen hundred and ninety-two
Chris Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
The world’s first terrorist.
The name sends shivers…

Christopher. The glorified pirate –
his praises printed in books of history.
A horrible history. Where many stories
lie, not just the blueprints of Empire.

He was the first Final Solution.
Native America’s Auschwitz.
Turkey and white pilgrims.
Genocide – Sadness – Funeral.

Thanksgiving. A bitter spider crawls
down the long table.
Feasting on death and delights.
Lies and deception are its clothes.

Columbus: “this big, vacant land”.
The voice of a coloniser, full of ice.
Where the Natives lived, as did the
Caribs and Arawaks. He didn’t think twice.

I read. The tattooed trees bend in – the
trunk of patriotism. The fluttering leaves.
Strong and sturdy like the crag of Rushmore
or even the stone-chaired Republican in D.C.

Four faces on mountain peak looking at
a free, white, middle-upper spoke.
Not the slaves. Not the Natives. Not the poor.
A graveyard nation, evasive as smoke.

Blind to all, but the bones under the
land, as these united states celebrate.

Grandma’s House

I wrote this poem based off John Agard’s Half-Caste but it’s inspired from the many trips to my grandparents’ house. They (mom’s parents) are from Grenada in the West Indies.

As a child, I lived with my parents but I grew up at my grandparents’ which also means I grew up around the West Indian culture. They passed on that culture to their children: my mom, Auntie Luisa and Uncle Dean.

Both my grandparents are still alive. However, amongst the family, it’s known colloquially as “Grandma’s” despite Granddad living there too.

I grew up at Grandma’s House.

Explain what you mean
when you say
“growing up at Grandma’s House”.

You mean finding that meandering
mix of goat meat and rice & peas
in a Flora butter container?

Or is it the washing machine
that sounds like a Boeing 747
leaving the tarmac?

Or having a specific cabinet
of glasses that aren’t
meant to be used? Just admired,

and a grandmother who buys all
things supersize. In XXL, standing
tall like that high-rise Heinz ketchup.

It’s saltfish fritters as I bite
down, and the Scotch Bonnet
burns away my will to live –

It’s Sparrow’s dodgy lyrics and
Bob Marley’s polemic poetry, and
being shown NWA at thirteen

and the red, gold and green
blemishes of history: Marcus,
Malcolm and Morant Bay, those

stories – the gritty ghettos of
Trenchtown given life by Bob
on flawless twelve-inch vinyl.

At Grandma’s House,
it’s the fun and the glum, and
the echoes of steel drums,

and watching West Indian
men slapping dominoes
like swatting mosquitoes.

It’s stories of my uncle getting the
belt for being naughty (in the 80s)
Now, they’d call that abuse as

Great-Grandma Toile would
loose a slipper from her hand
like a tomahawk cocktail

hitting little Luisa right in the arse.
Lu was all smiles, always sporting
new fashions and hairstyles.

It’s watching The Olds turn into
Socrates and Plato after White
Wray and Morgan have been opened

and after a few more, it wouldn’t be
long before politics and history are on
the table, along with mac ‘n’ cheese and

oxtail, and cow foot and the sweet smell of
crisp ‘n’ dry and Granddad Sarge spiritedly
cussing the Caribbean cricket team and

Uncle Dean saying what’s your game?
Like when I nearly destroyed the fireplace
Somebody call somebody to help us!

Grandma’s face was priceless, like lived
photographs. Memories that live again.
every time you see that one picture

and that’s what Grandma’s House is.
– a house in black and white, and a
garden in digital and Technicolor.

Orientalism

I wrote this poem based off one of the poems from Nationwide. Their poem is called Labels but my poem gets its title from the book Orientalism (1978) by Edward Said (pronounced sy-eed). Said was a writer, intellectual and the founder of the part of academia known as postcolonial studies.

Edward Said coined orientalism. At the time it basically meant a representation of Asia in a stereotyped manner that is regarded as epitomising a colonialist ideology (White Power). The colonial attitude is in a sense a form of white supremacy and that looks past the group of “attacking former-colonies”.

So, any person who derives from a non-western nation could in fact be stereotyped in the way. However, Ireland (former-British colony) were under the same scrutiny as the West Indies was in the 70s and 80s. “No Irish – No Blacks – No Dogs”. So this opens up another line of questioning doesn’t it?

In a nutshell, orientalism is how the West looks at people of colour or what we define as “foreign” (past and present). Whether we’re looking at people today or the lives of our ancestors, orientalism is here to stay. And it’s been perpetuated through popular culture (the greatest propaganda tool there is), the media and day-to-day events.

You only need look at any James Bond film made before the turn of the millennium or films made in the Golden Age of Hollywood like The Jazz Singer (1927), The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Gone with the Wind (1939), Giant (1956) or The Imitation of Life (1934 / 1959). That’s just a few.

Many of these are cornerstones of cinema (and great films) but when applied to Said’s theory, eyebrows are raised for sure. Don’t even talk to me about those westerns with John Wayne.


Brands are for corporations to
market a label. Put stamps on
them and you still wouldn’t be

able to know anything more than
what cable news gave you – which
brings me to the West’s race problem.

Humanity fights diversity as society
seamlessly sanctions laws in its name
(sometimes). Brexit means

Brexit – what does that even mean?
We shouldn’t make guesses based
on Lawrence’s dreams of the Orient

Despite being a fun Bond film, this one and others always gives me trouble (are racist)
(Live and Let Die, MGM)

or Bond films’ views of the Black.
Tactless in their clueless cracks
at cultures across the world.

Don’t split us into ‘us or them’, let
them in based on character, not
the hue of their melanin.

No hurdles, no walls, just fairness
and equal rights. Don’t put them
on a pedestal or bind them in

“Oh my” says Mr Sulu “is that Alec Guinness in face paint trying to “look” Muslim?” 
(Lawrence of Arabia, Columbia Pictures)

rainbow-tinted lies. Concede to
their existence and give them the
same opportunities as us.

And when you see this different
fellow, don’t turn up your nose.
Shake their hand and say hello.