BBC India reports The Universe has summoned Keeley and Kyle From Nottingham To The Great Temple of Om In central India Where they will truly Discover themselves (presumably The Universe thinks this is unlikely to happen in Nottingham) LOCKDOWN ‘Hell on Earth’ Snaps Keeley To our reporter Close to the ground ‘God knows When the tailor Will be able To return my saris And I can’t even tell you When I last sipped a latte And does our government care?’ In the background Of the shot Another elderly Indian Kneels in the dust Sips water from a puddle Kyle (the sleeve of his kaftan frayed by anxious chewing) Whimpers ‘How can Consciousness expand When a dude’s been abandoned? And does our government care?’ (he’s always been a bit of a lingam) Then one or the other bleats ‘All we want Is enlightenment Then to drift down For a few days On the beach’ (nearest beach 837 miles) Just out of shot Oblivious To the stranded throngs A child kneels in the dust Playing solitaire Unaware She can never win the game Because there are Cards missing * Marquee farewell party In Mummy and Daddy’s pile Buckinghamshire Bucks Fizz Outside caterers And so on ‘Long Island in the Bahamas’ Mummy snorts ‘It sounds just like a cocktail’ Tosses back her mane Did Daddy marry his horse? Rose-petal speech ‘We’re off to Paradise But how could we possibly forget you And we’ll always be on Skype Of course’ Cue polite applause Twelve months later CYCLONE Rips the roof off Eden Splinters In the sea ‘Our boss has done nothing Though he’s so big in pineapple London doesn’t care Although we used to pay our taxes How could these peasants Forget To fix the signal For the Internet?’ Maybe this poet Has a chip of ice On each shoulder He’s never shaken Or stirred With the smart set But I hope I’m not the type To pleasure in asking When you moved into A cyclone zone What the fuck Did you expect? Did you think You’d been born To sleep soundly Swaddled in the eye Of every storm? Yes, there’s a plane overhead No, it won’t be landing Be thankful You’re the chosen With a bit of your house Still standing * It would be wrong To add insult Stick the boot in But what on earth Possesses people To splash thousands on a trip Scrimp a hundred on insurance? ACCIDENT A drunken dive A scooter ride Family bereft ‘We might have To sell the house The government Has left us Hospital cares for nothing But who’s going To pay the bills’ I’m truly truly sorry Nothing is so cheap As human life itself Why should they Make sacrifices For a complacent Tourist When every single day Hundreds of Breadwinners Lie down in their shacks Die Of preventable illness? * I don’t wear a halo But I’m touched By midday sun When the attitude Rising to the surface Is that for all We should have learned Countries and their natives Exist purely for our service Please do me a favour Stick to Blackpool Weymouth Shanklin Send me your passport I’ll refund the postage Take care of the recycling
Like any faithful hound I scent dinnertime From a country mile Come bounding Sit up Devour my bowlful Slaveringly Slavishly Eternally grateful For a full five seconds So Why Broccoli Leaves me Dyspeptically full Green Begging to get down Is a mystery Of the cosmos I chew over Endlessly While Tim Glowers Over the rim Of his no dessert School ma’am Glasses Mimics ‘I’m full’ Like a whining Whelp Until I skulk off With the dishes Tail between my legs Sneak a Wistful sniff Of the cheese And crackers Leave seizing For a furtive night time Raid Because What garnishes Wistful and crackers If not Fistful And knackers
A couple of weeks ago marked the 101st birthday of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, poet, still active activist, resident of San Francisco and writer of my all-time favourite poem, ‘Two Scavengers in a Truck, Two Beautiful People in a Mercedes’ (see link below). In the 1950s, Mr. F. was co-founder of City Lights, America’s first ever paperback bookstore and every bit as iconic as the man himself. A champion of those who need champions, Ferlinghetti’s poetry is heartwarmning, honest and, most importantly, accessible. Anyone with a tenner to spend could do a lot worse than invest in his ‘Collected Poems’.
Why is ‘Two Scavengers…’ my favourite poem? It’s an idea of ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’ simplicity used to show very deep and complex issues in a way which engages, rather than preaches. Clever, or what?
Enjoy the poem.
Two Scavengers in a Truck
Two Beautiful People in a Mercedes
At the stoplight waiting for the light
nine a.m. downtown San Francisco
a bright yellow garbage truck
with two garbagemen in red plastic blazers
standing on the back stoop
one on each side hanging on
and looking down into
an elegant open Mercedes
with an elegant couple in it
In a hip three-piece linen suit
with shoulder-length blond hair & sunglasses
The young blond woman so casually coifed
with a short skirt and colored stockings
on the way to his architect’s office
And the two scavengers up since four a.m.
grungy from their route
on the way home
The older of the two with grey iron hair
and hunched back
looking down like some
And the younger of the two
also with sunglasses & long hair
about the same age as the Mercedes driver
And both scavengers gazing down
As from a great distance
At the cool couple
as if they were watching some odourless TV ad
in which everything is always possible
And the very red light for an instant
holding all four close together
as if anything at all were possible
Across that small gulf
in the high seas
of this democracy
At certain points
Of the day
There is no time
Paint, sex, society
A shepherd boy lamb
No puncture marks
The Midday owl
The canvas freshly painted
Crikey. This site’s supposed to be easy to use, but I always struggle. I suppose with computers, there comes a point where you’ve either got it or you haven’t. I’ve been dealt a pretty good hand in life, so I guess I can live with it.
And on the theme of the hand life deals you, I’ve actually sat down to write something about this week’s activities in schools for Refugee Week. Poetry workshops. Eight schools in Birmingham (8 primary, 2 secondary) and around 400 children, all of whom gave it their best shot at imagining being a refugee, or, in the case of quite a few, writing about really being a refugee or migrant.
I’ve long since suspected that pound for pound, children are far more open-minded and tolerant than adults. I’m now sure this is the case. 400 children aged 8-13 worked solidly for 2-3 hours and not once did I hear a word of the tired old racism propounded by the readers of our more ignorant newspapers. Discussions were measured, listening was attentive, and, crucially, those who disagreed with a point of view did so with respect, rather than dismissal. The work which was begun in our sessions (to be completed with the children’s class teachers) also showed a depth of perception which many outside the school system wouldn’t expect.
So, what did we do?
We looked at elephants! To be precise, David Attenborough’s ‘Spy in the Herd’, where a herd moves as they have no food. This necessity to move, making the elephants refugees, rather than migrants. (In all of the schools, the children understood this difference. I wonder what percentage of the adult population would get this right, or even think it important?)
Although it wasn’t the main focus of the project, as an English teacher, I wanted this work to enhance and reinforce literacy, so from the clip, we came up with some WOW words (one of my favourite phrases) to describe the feelings of the baby elephant as it was on the move. We then went on to looking at how the pachyderms’ (WOW word!) was a metaphor for human refugees.
This was followed by some clear and confident reading of a couple of my poems on the subject, and then the children planned their own and began to write them. This gave an opportunity to revise poetic terms learned, and they only needed a few thousand reminders that POEMS DON’T HAVE TO RHYME, AND ARE OFTEN BETTER WHEN THEY DON’T!!!!! And did this stop a few brave/silly souls from doing it anyway? Rhetorical question!
The aim of this work was to raise awareness of what it’s like to be a refugee. To be honest, the schools had done a pretty good job of this anyway (one school has used a classroom to make a mock-up of a refugee camp; another has written postcards of support to give to refugees). As I wanted expression and empathy to be the keynotes, pupils who have a second language were allowed to write in that language if was easier for them, or if it simply suited them better. Some work came out which sounded beautifully soulful, even to those of us who didn’t understand the words.
Once the teachers send me some of the finished work, it’ll be posted with due acknowledgement of authorship.
Hopefully, this will be repeated next year and rolled out to schools elsewhere in the country.
Meanwhile, I give heartfelt thanks to
About 400 children
Numerous teaching and teaching assistant colleagues
Carl Marshall and Razia Butt from Birmingham City Council
Schools of Sanctuary for supporting this project…
… and especially Barbara Forbes from Schools of Sanctuary who enthused about this from the moment I floated the idea, obtained the funding for it to take place, and put me in contact with her contact in the schools. Without Barbara, this really wouldn’t have happened.
Now for the hard part. Can I publish this without deleting it instead?