Air Too Pure For Slaves (After Mossman)

I wrote ” Air Too Pure For Slaves” in response to a poem called “Make a Desert” by Milton Keynes poet Mossman. You’ll find it below.


Make a desert and call it peace.
Wipe out the people and call it an empty land.

Making; by your empires, a bigger better world.

Explore with your weapons and your diseases.
Justifying actions through an empty God.

Photographer: Foad Manghouly

Making; by your empires, a richer poorer world.

Seeking a free, but not a fairer trade.
Shipping home the spoils from lands despoiled.
Oppressing the foes you made.

Then in your decline,
In your victorious inaction and withdrawal,

Let the others sort the mess of their own making.
Whilst you bank the cash of sugar, slaves, munitions and oil.

Photographer: Clem Onojeghuo

Put up the statues to the glorious heroes
And their guilty municipal munificence.

Pull up the drawbridges now against free movement of those others,
Fleeing your manmade deserts
Across cruel seas, hoping only for safe haven.

The lucky finding only the torment of camps and barbs,
Freedom and life the only losers.

#mossman2016


I wrote “Air Too Pure For Slaves” inspired from Mossman’s poem. The title for mine comes from a chapter from a book called Black and British: A Forgotten History by British-Nigerian historian David Olusoga.

“Air Too Pure Slaves” is a poem in which I draw reference from Europe’s colonial past and show how the immigrants of the past helped make the continent into what it is today.

Immigration is not a new thing, it’s naive to pretend otherwise. Despite being a mass importation of illegal workers, The Transatlantic Slave Trade is a good example. People have been moving from place to place as long as people have been alive.


Build a country and exclude the labourers.
Chain the workers and bask in the profits.

Put them in a box, and send them to Sierra Leone.

Explore with your guns and man-made diseases,
justifying your actions through law and order,

making a nation of millionaires, a poorer richer land.

Photographer: NeONBRAND

Mother seeking the help of unfair trade,
the grains of Demerara, the threads of Virginia –
Cotton is king; there’s mercy in a massacre.

In Berlin, you agree to raid the The Savage Lands,
or so you named them. We are a Coloured Empire,
children slaving with bloody hands.

Then in your decline,
when you couldn’t maintain your greed,

you left the natives in a swamp of your making.
Whilst you mined money –
the spoils of sugar, munitions and oil.

Erect the statues to colonial knaves,
like Winston and Victoria.

Photographer: Trisha Downing

London streets, air too pure for slaves,
dwelling in your man-made deserts.
Now closing the door on their descendants –

leaving the vast expanse between
The Bulldog, the Dark Continent and Jim Crow.

The lucky find peace, abandoning
ship. Chains cackling with the
notion that death is better than bondage.

John Doe (After Mossman)

I wrote “John Doe” in response to “Underpass Girl” by a Milton Keynes poet called Mossman. His poem is about homelessness in Milton Keynes in England.

Anyone who has been there will know that it’s rampant. Outside the train station has its own homeless population and that’s just for starters.


Underpass Girl

An underpass girl in an overpass world
Under road dry tented
Lost, cold, just growing old
Still discontented.

All my Fridays black
With no hot offers free,
Whilst the overpass world is bought and sold
No-one to buy two and give one to me.

Who is it that judged?
I’ve not been good enough
To join the Christmas sack race
And that I should hide my face.

Photographer: Clem Onojeghuo

First on my list is to;
Pass under into
A warm bed space
Sit at a table’s saving grace.

Not on my list; is sleeping rough
Hoping for another pass-me-down pasty
Sipping all day
On my one suspended coffee.

Waiting for night’s chill
On this cold eve as you pass over
Spare some change Sir,
For those under still.

#mossmanpoet 2017


This next poem is mine. Whilst Mossman’s is about Milton Keynes homelessness, mine is about homelessness in my local area, Northampton.

In recent years, Northampton Town Centre has grown, not only with people coming in from the outside but poverty and homelessness as well.


John Doe

He perches near TSB,
under shop shelter dry tented.
Hungry, tired – plodding through
each day, still discontented.

Mr Doe walks from the long
long street,to the one with
all the cafés, as we all drift by
on repeat every day.

Who are they to judge me?
My house is a rolled sleeping bag.
Just the snakes of this Jerusalem
where morality is bought and sold.

Photographer: Matt Collamer

It’s 9am. First thing to do today
is to find a spot for tonight
where can sleep in peace,
without the threat of the police.

Not on my agenda is death.
acquire handouts,
of: pasties and hot drinks
but I can feel myself sinking.

I’m John Doe, a mask:
an overpass man in an
underpass land falling
through the cracks,

but I don’t believe them.

Demerara

I wrote this poem inspired by the many times my mother and grandmother have sent me to the supermarket on trivial errands.

Moreover, it’s also inspired by a documentary series called Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners by British-Nigerian historian David Olusoga.

However, it’s the seemingly trivialities that one sees on a supermarket run that turn out to be not so trivial. Everything has story, especially brands, and we often take things like this for granted.

My poem takes its name from the region Demerera , previously a Dutch colony in what became British Guyana, and then simply Guyana. But what most people know it for is the famous brand of sugar that comes from there.


When I came across Demerara,
my journey was cut short.

I weighed the packet in my palm
and thought about the blood of the yesteryear –

juice reserved for the Guyanese.
The shoppers around me minded their own,

one foot in the river of cane,
the other in the bank of Barclays and Lloyds –

a nationwide story. Rumour was, the pickers
had one and a half legs… like Kunte Kinte I suppose

just another a day at Tesco.

Photographer: Peter Bond

We take so much for granted
I said, watching the flag kill the wind.

The Brits said God Save the Queen,
taking a minute’s silence for the dead.

I declare war on their allegiance.
The Armistice forgets the colonised

and I’ll be damned if I keep this to myself.
So I put it in a poem, as you do.

I find Liz and Vic guilty of forgetting
their progeny’s childhood –

granules in their tennis shoes,
blood on their shirt…

a lazer to history, branding the pages
with a  poker like Samuel Johnson.

Photographer: Jack Finnigan

The man standing next to me puts
a Granny Smith in his trolley,

along with a box of PG Tips,
did they steal that too?

I see whips in the grains,
a tale in nine parts.

Demerara looks at me,
staring me down like a cat.

I look up to see bunting,
in rows and rows like plantations,

a loud arrogance to
those who know where to look,

like reciting the poem “Mandalay”
on the beaches of Burma.

Each time I look up, the flags stand taller,
floating into a Technicolor sunrise.

Photographer: Krishnam Moosaddee

I hold Demerara
in the cathedral of her youth,

where they belt God Save The Queen,
where they sing Britain! Britain!

They were calling her name.

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.

An Ode To The Millennial Generation

I wrote this poem yesterday afternoon for our first ‘One Night Stanza’ event of the academic year. There were some great acts and it was a good turnout.

Born in 1995, I am a millennial (aged 21-34) and I think society gives us a bad name. We’re stereotyped just as much as every other group.

I wrote this poem inspired from Olivia Gatwood’s Ode to the Women on Long Island. Her poem is worth watching since it’s freeverse, and I think it’s better seen read aloud or on stage than read in print.

When I was writing the poem, a film was going through my head. There’s an unforgettable character in Marvel’s Ant-Man called Luis (Michael Peña) and his conclusion at the end of the film is what inspired the conversational and nonstop chatter-like-style of this poem.


I want to write a poem for the young people of
today who will tap text their way into arthritis,
as they silently socialise in Starbucks, ready to
key in the next emoji. #PumpkinSpice.

The protest generation: the 50s called them the Beat –
Howl, On The Road, McMurphy and the Merry Pranksters.
Kerouac, Kesey, and Ginsberg – a surge of counterculture
critics who showed that you don’t have to roll over.

Every generation has their Beat – more than just art.
The Sex Pistols, The Black Panthers, #NotMyPresident.
Black Lives Matter #Anonymous. The Teenies… featuring
Ed Snowden, Red Jeremy and JK’s tweets (mischief managed).

The young people. Millennials: aged twenty-one to thirty-four,
a progressive population. Not lazy – as the proud elders would
have you believe – not like the 50s’ and 60s’ society before, who
allowed “No Irish and No Blacks” plaques all over Britain.

Smitten with racism. “Burn the gays too”.
That’s what they said. A class of colonists with a love for
cigarettes, curry and corruption – fools love a fool.
Hate breeds hate. A digital nation: black, white, gay, straight…

Get with the programme. “Young people these days,”
my parents said. My grandparents too –
“You don’t know about young people, not like you use to”.
That’s what I wish I said, but I like my head where it is.

Social spiders: Snapchat and Instagram.
To be a millennial is not a crime. Raised with technology,
and my parents tell me about when they had Spam for dinner.
That’s when they knew their parents were broke this weekend.

I want to write a poem for the Millennials
who march like the Suffragettes –
those who sit like the Freedom Riders
and protest alone like the Little Rock Nine.

The young people who protest Trump.
The twenty-somethings who say “no” to the Alt-Right.
My generation who say “yes” to reproductive rights
and “no” to the oppressive methods of corporations.

I want to write a poem for the Millennial Generation
whose static slang and vocal tics twist and curl like snake’s coil.
This is the Protest Generation –
from London to New York to Mumbai to Paris to Berlin.

The people who work hard. Who create. Who throw parties
in their homes until four in the morning –
and then go to nine AM lectures the same day looking like
death warmed up because they mixed weed with alcohol.

And security at student halls won’t put it past
anybody because students can’t be trusted.
BA, MA, HND, PhD – it doesn’t matter, as all
he can smell is the pungent odour of bleach.

Today’s kids are young and old and angry and furious
but they’ll make you a martyr with Pot Noodle
if you hand in an assignment before the due date
or win a game of Ring of Fire or Beer Pong.

I want to write a poem for the Protest Generation,
who, when I make a cool meme,
reply “yes, old but gold”.
And it’s good enough for the wars to come.

One minute you’re at war
with a troll on Twitter.
And in the next, you’re debating with
your friends if Batfleck is better than Bale.

So when someone calls me lazy,
I look at them, and I say
“thank you, thank you very much”.