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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I mentioned in my bio that popular culture plays an important role in my life. However, it’s found its way into my poetry too, as some of my poems are inspired from films and television shows. This poem is inspired from I, Daniel Blake, a film about the working class living under the welfare state and how bad things can happen to good people.
I named this poem Maggie: A Girl of the Streets after the Crane novella of the same name. I enjoyed reading that during my American Literature module last year and it holds similar themes to I, Daniel Blake.
In 2014, to commemorate a century since the beginning of World War I, Channel 4 hired British actors to read a number of British war poems. This included Christopher Eccleston who read Testimony (Seamus Heaney) which I posted on The People v. Michigan State.
During the summer of 2017, I tasked myself to write a response poem to each of the war poems on Channel 4’s line up. Maggie: A Girl of the Streets is in response to The Arms and the Boy by Wilfred Owen and it’s read by Gemma Arterton.
Wilfred Owen was an English poet and soldier during The First World War. Whilst in a hospital in Scotland in 1917, he met one of his literary heroes Siegfried Sassoon (I’ll talk about him later) who provided him with the help and the encouragement to write his war stories through poetry.
Owen was awarded The Military Cross in acknowledgement of his bravery but he was killed on November 4 1918 during the battle to cross Sambre-Oise canal at Ors.
Let Mr Rich dart down Maggie’s trench to see
what reality is, and pursue with hunger for loose
change. Eyes rancid with purpose like a dog salivating
at the mouth – thickly dripping like a leaking car battery.
Allow him to caress the blind, broke people under the line
who long to work to feed their families – or give the street
sleepers some food to warm their bellies and a bed for the
night– not left to die and claw for the white light.
For Rich’s life seems to be laughing around the needy.
Conscienceless in his neck’s snake, glittering gold.
Whilst politicians make speeches on human rights,
livelihoods sold – pavements crack and the alleys hiss.