Saturday, 28 November 2015

IT'S THAT TIME OF YEAR AGAIN. HAS ANYTHING CHANGED?

I wrote this a year or so ago, in response to a poem by the Beat Poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti about the way Christmas has become commercialised, devalued and trivialised.  I think it's still relevant.
Guantanamo is nearly, but not quite, empty. The recession isn't over. The people who fled persecution in their own country are not made to feel welcome here. The Government is still trying to take money away from people who have none. But there are people making their voices heard now, more and more. And you never know, maybe someone will listen.


Waiting.  (after Ferlinghetti)

It's nearly Christmas and we are waiting
for an end to war.
We are waiting
for Guantanamo to close its doors.
We are waiting
for an honest politician;
we are waiting
for the meek to inherit the earth, and weep.

We are waiting
for our money to be given back.
We are waiting
for the recession to be over,
We are waiting for our bonuses,
we are waiting for the lottery win,
we are waiting for an X factor.

We are waiting, very quietly, but with great attention
for the rich man to stick in the needle's eye
and petition for our mercy.

We are waiting for our fathers to come home,
we are waiting for our children
to give up their drugs
and for ourselves to grow old.

We are waiting for the feral children
in the fast food outlets
to be given a hot dinner and be sent home to sleep.

We are waiting for God to remember us
and call round. Some wine would be nice.

We are waiting.

And we are waiting
for Mr Right to turn up on our doorstep,
and we are waiting for
the moose-shooting woman
to go back to Alaska,
and we are waiting for the planet to warm up
and we are waiting for the seas to spill over
and we are waiting for another Big Mac
and we are waiting for the dietician
and the optician
and the clinician
and the mortician.

Some of us are waiting for clean water,
some of us are waiting for five grams of rice,
and all of us are waiting for a fair deal
and we are waiting for charity that doesn't begin at home

and we are waiting for death. It's nearly Christmas time
and we are waiting for a Christ-like figure
to lead us, we are waiting for him to come again,
but he would look dark, like an Arab,
like an asylum seeker,
like a gypsy.
We wouldn't treat him well. Why should he come back?
We have to do it without him,
we have to do it by ourselves
starting with each one of us and in the meantime,
we are waiting.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Ripostes

Re-reading Tony Harrison’s poems, especially the ones about the Iraq War, I found myself with many unanswered questions. How do you even start to write a poem about that?

Ripostes are never a complete answer, but they are like verbal cannon-shot across the bows of pomposity and misinformation. Sometimes they sneak under the radar and catch the reader unawares.

Setting myself the challenge of writing a piece that addresses the brutality and pointlessness of war but keeps the humanity of the persons involved in it, I began to think about another civilisation not a million miles from Syria, one that was flourishing more than two thousand years ago on the border of Anatolia in a city called Catalhoyuk. The cities of Palmyra in Syria and Catalhoyuk in Turkey developed at about the same time. Palmyra was lucky to have escaped Alexander’s army. The Greeks and Romans influenced its development instead. Catalhoyuk, a city whose citizens were more intent on agriculture than warfare, developed an egalitarian and, some would argue, a matriarchal society. The roofs of the mud-brick houses were strengthened to allow citizens to exit their homes by means of a ladder through a hole in their ceiling, which also acted as a chimney and ventilator. Once on the roof they would perform all the household tasks communally, rest and chat and thus maintain a vibrant and, one assumes, contented, society. There is no evidence of defensive structures, weaponry, or other evidence of violent deaths from the bones excavated. There are some small votive carvings of female fertility figures, similar to the ones uncovered in Siberia recently and said to be 30, 000 years old, but the excavated dwellings have given archaeologists very little rubbish to explore. These people were domesticated, peace loving citizens it seems. The chances to explore fully the history of Palmyra, on the other hand, are very slender now, since ISIS destroyed much of the city. We don’t know what caused Catalhoyuk to be abandoned. We know exactly why Syrians are fleeing.

I imagined a letter from a citizen of Catalhoyuk to present day dwellers in Syria, especially Palmyra and began my poem. Keeping the horror and fear to one side, I began to focus more on the everyday privations of the inhabitants. It’s not finished, but the bones of it are there.