Mother Ireland (After “The Troubles”)

I’ve written this poem (preemptively) for International Women’s Day on March 8 for which I’m going to be reading at an event next week.  I realised I don’t have many gender-related poetry so I put this one together.

It’s inspired from a very good nonfiction book called Only the Rivers Run Free: Northern Ireland – The Women’s War (1984) by Eileen Fairweather, Roisin McDonough and Melanie McFadyean.

It’s a book about a period in Irish history called “The Troubles”, also known as the “Northern Ireland Conflict.” Only the Rivers Run Free is written from the point of view of the women on the street-level.

Every wondered what it would be like to see the Vietnam War from the point of view of the civilians? This book takes the reader and puts you in the shoes of those who lived it.

I’m not a historian. The following poem is simply many thoughts and feelings I had when reading the book. Interpret it as you will.


I want to write a poem for
the women of Northern Ireland
who had their houses broken into by the English
before taking their kids to school –
who hacked and cursed,
and Shannon from Belfast who has
strong opinions about colonial rule,
says “it’s us or them”
ready to condemn those
from across the sea.

And her mother remembers
The Easter Risings.
Her grandmother’s mother
remembers the Potato Famine.
Shannon remembers The Troubles.
She breathes through her nose
and out through the mouth.
Thinking about this history,
she lights a cigarette
and calls her friend Siobhan
and they talk.

About:
The Suffragettes,
The Freedom Riders,
Angela Davis and second-wave feminism,
and Betty Friedan and The Feminine Mystique,
Sylvia Plath and The Bell Jar
They talk about their
ancestors who sailed to the New World.

Photographer: Leon Bliss

But Shannon’s world was the Women’s War
in the streets of Belfast where
the rivers ran free with blood and bone.
Where homes were pillaged,
where families were broken,
where the workhouse had made a comeback.

Years later, the two women run into each other
on the streets of Belfast.
They ask one another how they’re doing.
Siobhan drops her shoulder. Shuffles away,
her gaze dazed by this awkward silence.
She knows her friend hasn’t changed.
Siobhan calls Shannon reckless.

If she was to ask her what she’d done all these years,
Shannon would have talked about her history degree.
She would talk about her pro-human rights activities.
She would have talked about the marches she’d been on
against the counter-productive, sex-shaming
methods of organised religion.

Photographer: Nathan Dumlao

I want to write a poem
for the women of Northern Ireland,
whose words stretch like elastic bands –
who fought like the Amazons,
who survived a red scare from
those who had a dystopia for a heart,
who sold their souls to the Queen and Empire.
An ode to the cloth – chaotic, broken,
the international anecdote of Victoria and Elizabeth.

And read it out loud through this land –
statues, stately homes and street names.
Flags like body bags. Great Britain.
What a metaphor for colonialism.
The women are a stitched seam.
Split-tongued like the Caribbean,
like India and Indonesia,
and Benin and Ghana and Scotland.

They had to watch their sons though,
because they couldn’t put it past the boys
to not do something stupid for glory.
Even their own kin who have their
fathers’ hands, sweat and blood
and last week when a boy was murdered,
that was a mother’s son, a sister’s brother.

Photographer: Christopher Campbell

The boys were simply jail bait,
primed for the guillotine. I want to write
a poem for the women of Northern Ireland,
who did the real work. I show them a gun
and they tell me it’s not a big enough.
They were waitresses and mechanics
and social workers and housewives
and so much more than our
hypermasculine history books suggest.

But life comes fast you know.
One minute you’re fighting the red coats
and next you’re in the midst
of fourth-wave feminism in your new job
at a university. And then it’s almost over,
life I mean. You fought your way through it
and I can tell by the way your daughters
talk that there’s power in oppression.

And when they call you terrorists,
say thank you. Thank you very much.

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.

Room

I wrote this poem in March of this year and it’s about how at school they don’t really teach you to think for yourself. But instead, they teach you how to regurgitate information in a way that allows them to allot a letter (or number) to your usefulness as a person.

And at school I felt like I was in a psychological prison that looked a lot like the dystopian setting from Nineteen Eighty-Four. In a way, I had a room of one’s own, a cage. At least at university, you are pushed to challenge and debate.

The poem takes its name from the Emma Donoghue novel Room which has since been adapted (by Donoghue) to film, with Brie Larson picking up an Oscar for her amazing performance.


School never taught me about CVs.
Only Chris Columbus on American seas.
I wasn’t taught about taxes and arrears.
and that’s only one of my many fears.

They didn’t teach us about politics and voting.
Only about Romeo and Juliet’s secret eloping.
At home I learnt about current affairs and media.
At school they taught us about Iago and Ophelia.

We didn’t study the Atlantic Slave Trade,
Post-war immigration or The Cotton Famine.
Instead, we studied Hitler, the Nazi threat and
how we crippled Germany with the Versailles debt.

I was never taught about policing and laws.
I was taught about 1066 and Viking oars.
I was never taught about my human rights
but I was ferried to Belgian bomb sites.

I know about our Roman straight roads
but very little about the Highway Code.
I learned about volcanic eruptions but not
about democracy or political corruption.

I was taught about Vietnam’s Rolling Thunder
but not about the British Empire’s plunder.
I was told to wear a Poppy for the war dead
but not how to sow with needle and thread.

I was taught about Watson & Crick and DNA
strands, but not capitalism or high street brands.
I was taught how to pray with my hands in a steeple
but never how to converse with human people.

Financial advice? Human rights? Forget about it!
I know nothing about the activities of Wall Street
but I know about the Dreadnought and the arms race.
I know about igneous rocks but I can’t fix a lock.

My generation: manipulated by what media airs and ill-
prepared for the outside world, caring more about celebrity
culture than The Panama Leaks or how money works.
Listening to the soundtracks of our lives like watching fireworks.