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Poems to help make sense of the world around us

A series of poets share works reflecting on 2017 in the hopes of giving us perspective for the year ahead

This might sound obvious but, a lot happened in 2017. From the tragedy of the Grenfell Tower Fire to Trump’s inauguration, there was a powerful stream of protests and marches, a backlash against refugees, and a painful but progressive fight for advancements in how we understand gender and sexuality. All of us, surely, had our own shit to deal with too.

Art – specifically poetry – has always helped put turbulent times into perspective. Which is why New River Press – founded by poets and partners, Greta Bellamacina and Robert Montgomery in London in 2016 – is a welcome addition to bookshelves everywhere. At the tail end of last year, the indie poetry press published the New River Press Poetry Yearbook 2017/18: Year of the Propaganda Corrupted Eclipsea collection of poems, edited by Heathcote Ruthven, which is as meaty as its title suggests. Featuring emerging and established poets tackling an array of themes, we asked the team at New River Press to shine a light on a selection of poets and their accompanying poems that might give you some perspective on the impending year.

GRETA BELLAMACINA 

“Greta Bellamacina is a poet, actress, and filmmaker. Her debut collection Pershing Tame has been widely praised, described as ‘a dazzling mediation on motherhood, female identity, ennui, and love.’ ‘Tomorrow’s Woman’ is a hopeful hymn to a new generation of female consciousness. This poem is an anthem from the perspective of a young mother, addressed to a future version of her young son. It’s taken from Greta’s new book Selected Poems 2015-17, published by New River Press and launching early 2018.”

“TOMORROW’S WOMAN”

Tomorrow’s woman has seen war in heaven

she is the blue of light before rain draws

she has watched the women

she loves turn to crashing stones

and not know how to swim.

above the stars that cannot be filmed

stars that are not known as paradise

known for their isolation

biographers of pain

too full of memory.

Tomorrow’s woman is the colour of night

tomorrow’s woman is your child

tomorrow’s woman is shelter

she is sex

the last shock against death

sex the last peace

sex that forgets black and white

she is the first to hold a bird in her hands

and learn of foreign love

and not melt at the idea of difference.

Tomorrow’s woman is too fat

she bleeds because she knows what it is to feel

a whole generation on her hips

and still be seen as empty

a dog

an ocean of plastic

a war child.

Face on a stand

eyes too close together

mouth like a rental car

feet crossed

the oven is on.

Tomorrow’s woman is your father

and his mother and his mother and his mother

she is undammable,

a renaissance of marching women

we stand together

as strong as morning

as fearless as water

a school in the wind lighting

hands like stolen trees

stuck up in the fog

A library card to Jerusalem

only human in waves

a courtyard of scarlet fire

closed so far down into itself

it’s hard to imagine what kind of God could believe

the dead sea was female

it’s hard to imagine what kind of God could believe

that you could float on your back like this

not drowning.

JAMES MASSIAH

“James Massiah is a poet, DJ, and producer. He has a new album Euthanasia Party / Twenty Seven which you can cop on Bandcamp for ‘name your price’. He hosts a poetry show on NTS, performs regularly in London, and back in 2016 collaborated with Massive Attack on their single ‘Dear Friend’. His poems are shot through with an irreverent and compassionate boyishness which is impossible to not love.”

“FREE AS A...”

Free as a mother-fucker

That’s what I done

One time

One wild time

“Night night little one!

You could sibling my son

If one slips through!”

True? True!

Then how free is me

With that responsibility?

Free as I wanna be

That’s how free, you no see?

LILY CHEIFETZ-FONG 

“Lily Cheifetz-Fong is an 11-year old who writes with a tragic wisdom beyond her years. ‘Too Serious’ is a miniature epic that gives a shocked survey of the state of the world today. With commentaries on war in Syria, the hypocrisy of the media, and the racism of the state. We should all learn it by heart until our hearts explode.”

TOO SERIOUS

White, cold bone,

The colour of the day of the dead masks hanging on the

wall,

Hanging like a visage with nothing behind it,

Nothing to think or to love, like parts of our world,

The masks we buy with gold, shimmering like the only

hope left in a Syrian family’s money box,

To me a mask is a small luxury.

Amaryllis red dripping like serene dew drops onto the

ravaged remains of a life,

Ebbing through the cracks like a trickle of water seeps

hatred,

A mother desperately trying to gather the remains of a

ruined life and put them back together piece by piece.

My fingers clicked on the lettered keys,

Clinking heavy like a ball and chain,

They said I was too serious to beat their high market,

They said that no-one’s fingers would be blackened from

the print of my ‘seriousness’,

Only after they read what they want to read would they

go and gasp, and wash their dirty fingers from the lying

print,

I know they are too scared to face the grim reality; to face

the fact that they are being lied to over and over,

So they lock the room swimming with lies.

My eyes begin to burn,

I know the truth,

I have seen the truth.

I have met the guards who stand like zombies; dead eyes

unblinking, faces emotionless,

And yet the truth prickles all over me,

The truth that Problems are ravenous and feed off fear,

The truth that people like me are promoting the creation

of their food;

That people like me are spreading false fear,

Somewhere at the Earth’s core there lies an invisible

blender mixing all the world’s problems and spitting them

out to the wrong people.

My fingers clank on the gleaming, laptop keys,

The keys that have the power to poison the country,

I can hear the sound of a nervous boy shaking like a new

born deer; the nervous clicking of the gun in time with

the clicking of my keys.

My world is in a silken shell,

A shell where the outside cannot harm me,

Every time I read my lies out loud I can feel the enamel of

the shell splitting,

I see glimpses of another world,

My eyes sting and like a fist I have to clench them closed

once more,

Again I feel my shell healing but deep down I have found

the key to my soul secret,

I know I am trying to block reality and fall back into fantasy.

I have known the invisible tale woman who stalks around

the room,

I have worked in coalition with her churning out lies and

tales,

Her spidery, gnarled fingers have plucked at the keys,

She has leapt inside me and comforted me,

She has persuaded me to not rebel against lies

and reassured me that it is not that bad what I am doing,

That print doesn’t lie,

The spidery, gnarled fingers were once mine a long time

ago,

Now it is time I stabbed her heartless heart of twisted tales

and false print.

“MARMITE CRISIS” is more important than children

dying every day as a result of procrastination and hatred?

The tale woman has distorted people’s minds,

It’s okay for police to be asking a Muslim to take her burkini

or head scarf off but not a nun to take off her habit,

The tale people have spread propaganda from the North

Pole to South America.

Like a print, tale men and women have been duplicated

throughout the globe.

Almost every time a journalist is recruited to work for the

press, a tale man or woman is born,

Therefore, I think there is something I ought to say: I AM

A TALE WOMAN,

Never again are they going to say I’m too truthful to beat

their high market,

Never again are they going to say I need to tell white lies

because you know what,

I RESIGN!

ZIA AHMED

“Zia Ahmed is a softly spoken poet-philosopher from north west London, who has been a London Laureate, Roundhouse Slam Champion, and recipient of the Channel 4 Playwrights Scheme. He is currently writing a play in collaboration with the Paines Plough theatre company. We can’t stop playing his EP SAMA released under the title NIWEMANG (available on Spotify). On it, he softly speaks downtrodden, self-effacing and spaced out monologues over sparse jazzy soundscapes. His romantic stoned dispatches of street life are addictive and peaceful. For the full enjoyment, his poem ‘Home’ is best read out loud.”

“HOME”

i‘m running running like thoughts running from

thoughts rattling from the constant battling broken pieces

floating tokens token gestures token jester open sesame

ali baba forty thieves forty grievances nothing to pledge

allegiance with trapped in a box ballerina chopped off

for bhangra man dance monkey dance to the music of the

snake charmer i am karma i am kama sutra i am ni tu hune

hune hoi mutiyar mundian to bach ke rahin i am your gap

year you said you were lost i hope you found yourself i am

slumdog millionaire downward dog eight headed god i am

shiva al-qaeda i am auditioning for the role of terrorist

one yes i can do that in an arabic accent i am dhalsim i am

bollywood season on channel four at two in the morning

i am ganges i am gandhi i am jinnah i am five pillars i am

sinner i am cinnamon i am cardamom i am not invited to

the houses of parliament i am sharif don’t like it rock the

casbah stop the fatwa allahu akbar allahu akbar la illa ha

illalah i am england no you’re not mate look at your face i

am england shirt made in bangladesh i am brick lane i am

curry house of the year two thousand and five i am rogan

josh i am so damn lost i am so damn lost just looking for a

place that’s home

looking for a shape that’s whole mera joota hai japani

home is where your heart is yeh patloon inglastani nah

home is where your heart lifts sar pe lal topi russi nah

home is where your arse fits phir bhi dil hai nah home is

where you’re ok to stay till you leave in a casket

phir bhi dil hai...

BARBARA POLLA

“Barbara Polla is unstoppable. She cut her teeth as a surgeon, writing hundreds of research papers for medical journals, then was a Liberal MP in her native Switzerland, fighting for abortion rights – and now, she is a curator and owner of the innovative gallery Analix Forever in Geneva. Her mostly short poems are the raw, sexy, surreal, and comic snapshots of a restless imagination. It’s like nothing you’ve ever read. New River Press is proud to be publishing her first book of poems later this year.”

“IN THE RAIN”

I was lying on him

Him naked so was I

And his sperm in a cloud

Was dropping upon us

Like the tears in the rain

I was lying on him

He was like a boat

Floating boat in the fog

His mouth in my neck

Whispers in the rain

I was lying on him

Swimming on his body

Exploring geography

And he was like the sun

Shining in the rain

I was lying on him

I was loving his skin

Listening to his body

Listening to his mind

Singing in the rain

I was lying on him

Him naked so was I

And his sperm in a cloud

Was dropping upon us

Like the tears in the rain

JARAMY DODDS

“Jeramy Dodds is one of the best new poets working in North America today. With a pyrotechnic imagination, he shocks in myth-soaked absurd modern prophetic rants. He’s also a young archeologist and has translated the Poetic Edda from Icelandic to English, which is impressive. Buy his books, they’re addictive.”

“REBECCA”

My dolphin eats glitter for breakfast.

The jeweler’s hammer of her sonar

chirps chunks off the cubic zirconia

of my hard on for her. My dolphin wolfs

glitter off A-list stars at after-after-parties

that bump till second sunrise. My dolphin

and I used to do MDMA together and pass out

our business cards to the weather.

At the Science Centre kids ask

how close we’ve come,

hunting down Atlantis together.

My dolphin clicks into

the hydrophone, If anything,

we’ve come apart. My dolphin eats

glitter to keep her figure but once

ate the forearm off a toddler

who bent in to kiss her.

JEREMY REED

“Jeremy Reed is one of the greatest countercultural poets of the past 50 years. JG Ballard and Björk are among his biggest fans. He’s written countless books, including a poetic biography of Lou Reed (no relation) that Lou regarded as the best thing ever written about him. Also, follow the progress of his musical outfit Ginger Light, whose performances are astounding. Here, he gives a portrait of one of London’s great dandies, Sebastian Horsley.”

“SEBASTIAN”

Self-appointed saint of depravity

on Meard Street’s vampish wet-feet odour,

reluctant millennial survivor

of Soho’s sanitised clean-up

creeped walk-ups - your maverick diatribes

sensationalised dinner parties,

eating your own hand like a cannibal

in a black frock coat and red sequinned vest,

we’s meet at Home House, you the opener,

me the featured glamour poet,

you so coked it was like astral travel,

and under it the abashed alienation

of intimidated bravura,

the ordinary tack of being Sebastian,

the kindness you gave to the vulnerable,

the terrible fear of the impostor

being denuded as fake, the shyness

layered with affect - it don’t come easy

living that way at the point of a gun

kept under the pillow - never forget

a burnt-orange light mellowed on Meard Street,

me passing through you sat on your doorstep,

and your soft-eyed estrangement seeing me,

having you rise, so tall it seemed hours,

embrace me wordlessly and sink back

into icy self-preoccupied distraction.

SIMON WIDDOP

“Simon Widdop is a punk poet from Yorkshire. He writes nightlife poems, kitchen sink poems, love poems, and revolutionary poems. He’s read at pro-Corbyn events and writes poems with titles like ‘AUSTERITY IN THE TIME OF LOVE’. Surely a poet that will make the world a better place.”

“WHEN THE REVOLUTION COMES”

When the revolution comes

will it be bloody and glorious?

the Marxists and the anarchists

shaking off the shackles of oppression to a symphony of

tourettes syndrome gunfire

spewing forth from the mouths of the barricades

When the revolution comes

will it pass peacefully?

the spiritual ones and the pacifists

forming human chain row on row on row stretching motorways

and Lay Lines

from Land’s End to the Isle Of White

When the revolution comes

will it be done through great talk and great debate?

the people united away from keyboard warriors away from

safe spaces away from buzzword insults

united together to heal the wounds of divide and to fight

those that divide us

When the revolution comes

I’ll be ready for the change

so choose your path Brother, choose your path Sister

and I’ll see you there

ROBERT MONTGOMERY 

“Robert Montgomery is a poet and artist from Scotland, known for his billboard poems. ‘Hammersmith Poem’ is a concrete poem originally presented on a giant scale, five metres high on the façade of the Hammersmith Townhall. In it, Montgomery argues that Modernism isn’t a style but a set of civic values – investment in free healthcare and civic education, and a belief in an educated society free from prejudice, which he thinks we urgently need to bring back to life in the age of Trump. His vision is of a Modernism as a ‘Psychic Love Wave’ and wind turbines as a new optimistic symbol of saviour and protection.”

“HAMMERSMITH POEM”

ROSALIND JANA

“Rosalind Jana is one of the original New River Poets. Her debut collection Branch and Vein was released in 2016 with NRP when she was 21 years old. She has a popular blog on where she writes on fashion, literature and feminism, body image and mental health. This is a poem from her upcoming collection, the poetic diary of a young woman’s adventures having newly arrived in London.”

BLOSSOM

Daytime, and you are confetti perfect:

miraculous in your pink and white froth.

You show off, spring bride, ever the midst

of attention as you linger on streets,

drape yourself against church walls.

Each morning you wait, ready for an audience.

Plenty stop - holding out their phones -

but these offerings are not yours to keep.

They take, take, take

and move along.

But I have seen you after dark,

a stranger creature. Especially you,

magnolia, that usual blush –

elegant gradation of colour –

made pale.

To compare you to Havisham would be too neat.

You are not forgotten, nor skeletal.

Instead, you regain yourself in gloom,

only half-seen,

nigh on impossible to capture.

As I pass you, stretching over

the pavement, I know

this is more intimate:

almost trespass.

You do not mind.

In fact, you loose a gust of blossom

smell, fresh and sweet at 10pm,

to send me on my way.

LISA LUXX 

“Lisa Luxx is a British-Syrian writer, performer, and activist. Her poems are sensitive and revolutionary – always kind, always fierce. Her Grenfell poem evokes the warped shock and rage so many of us were overwhelmed by in 2017, as well as the solidarity that emerged from the dust of that bleak tragedy.”

“GRENFELL RISING”

Across the beauty salon

Where I get my eyebrows done

They speak of Grenfell Towers

 

In the pizza bar

Where musicians meet from near and far

They speak of Grenfell Towers

 

Through windows in the car I drive

Paused at traffic lights

I hear speak of Grenfell Towers

 

At the Aldi kiosk in town

Strangers less strange now

Speak of Grenfell Towers

 

They speak in Punjabi, in Patois, in Scottish

They speak in headlines, in hopelessness, in riot

We are engulfed in our own compassion

Suffocating in hate.

 

The lady with the hair dye

Drying high atop her head

Says ‘we all know it could have been our families’

Then goes home to her sister’s

Who, for tonight, will cook dinner

For all their loved ones,

Tomorrow they’ll go to mosque

‘And the door will be open if you’d like to join?’

 

The young girl in the waiting room says

‘When you have nothing,

And you lose everything

It counts for so much more

Than if you’d had plenty

Before the fall.’

 

The pensioner in the tower block

Says she has not slept in a week

For her pigeon hole

On floor 23

Is in a building

That looks just like the one she watches turn to hell on TV

How can she sleep knowing her home is unsafe?

How can she sleep when the images she faces

In the news, are pictures she can place herself into?

How can she sleep when she knows

Night is when it comes for you?

 

The fire will not go out

It spat debris

So far

It landed in the hearts

Of everyone across this nation,

We are all burning inside now

 

Becoming a great ‘we’.

Watching immigrants

Suffocate on smartphone screens,

Bound together by the story

Of those who stumbled through the dark

Over the trip hazard of their grandfathers

Into darker territory,

Yelling

‘The smoke has come for me.’

 

Mohammad Alhajali

(Allah yerhamo)

Came for safety.

Whence most refugees drown in the sea

Our man was 14 floors high in flames;

In what world is that what refuge looks like?

His brother waited on the floor below

The echo of that empty space behind him

Will never go quiet again.

Survivor’s guilt is a life imprisonment.

 

The wind carries the chorus of final words:

‘I won’t make it into work’

‘Grazie, madre, per tutto quello che hai fatto per me’

‘Tell my sons I love them’

‘Ana aasef, ma’el salamah’

 

The fire will not go out.

The arms of our grief

Will never stop reaching again

Like flames chasing smoke

Into thin air above the eye-line

Of us; the littered shrapnel of despair.

 

And, you.

You, who plays the absent parent

While community comes together in siblinghood

Because they must.

You.

You who talks of terror attacks

Did you count the death toll

That you created on your own doorstep?

You.

You who heard screams for help

And sped off in a Benz

To make it clearer who meant less.

 

Your bunkers of safety

Are made from pound coins,

Coat of arms, dollar signs

Behind which you can hide

If you can stack them high enough.

Your barricade is our bodies

Your buried holes have irons doors

But I bet all the quid’s we never had

That you ain’t leaving us outside, under siege, anymore.

 

Across the windows of a council office

Comes the splat of a thousand paired palms!

The boot of a ladies foot!

As voices roar so loud

They become a foghorn

In the dark!

Whatever words they say

It means

‘We are here, now

And we won’t go away.’

 

Our ship has moored up

And the sound

Of our battalion’s foot-steps

Chant ‘we have had e-nough’.

Awake and riled up

Released from our cage

Because you made it that way.

 

The words justice and shame

Are plastered on the placards

That we need not hold,

This is not a demonstration

This is the real thing.

This is a battle cry.

This is what’s been waiting in the wings.

We hold nothing here

But history

And we need our hands free

To push past your undeserving police.

 

You are not our government anymore

We dissolve you!

You are not our government anymore

We dissolve you!

You are not our government anymore

We dissolve you!

You are not our government anymore

We dissolve you!

You are not our government anymore

We dissolve you!

You are not our government anymore

We dissolve you!

You are not our government anymore

We dissolve you!

 

 

 

 

For those who never hit the ground

Who continue to fly through that endless night

Our heads crane to the sky

Forever waiting for you to arrive

Back into our arms.

 

So, across this nation we

Stretch. Holding hands.

Making the net you never had

So whenever you are ready

You may land

Safely, now.

“SEVEN SISTERS” BY GRETA BELLAMACINA & ROBERT MONTGOMERY

You are beside me, winter trees, a comrade to the world, a

home, the TV is playing war, we hope for peaceful sunlight.

A whole heart of blood, resting on a whole heart of

blood.

 

The children are dressed in black, they are throwing petrol

bombs at the embassies, throwing electric flowers into

the graveyards of capitalism.

 

The philosopher is counting the slow candles of the icebergs,

noting how many summers we have left. She is brilliant

in her sunlight hat. Her chest is a pyramid.

 

The president has retreated to the golf club, he rules in

half sentences. Coughing up the 1950s his mind is a puddle

where broken dreams sit on the rooftops of abandoned libraries.

 

New weddings and empty churches, the minarets talk to

the dawn before the sun lights up the city. The priests are

whirling like dervishes in circles, they pinball off the walls,

singing silence.

Diana and the swan ride an open topped red London bus,

the trumpets beside them play rave music, LSD trips to

the sound of brass bands. CCTV diamonds for Oyster

cards.

 

God is bored of us now. She sides with the animals and

the weather and they watch our digital alien rampage, with

cool sad eyes.

Buy New River Press Poetry Yearbook 2017/18: Year of the Propaganda Corrupted Eclipse here

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