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Poetry & Prose

Norwich Reclaim the Night 2017 Poetry & March for Safer Streets

Norwich Reclaim the Night 2017

The night began with poetry and speeches from a dozen poets, the NUS Women’s officer – Hareem Ghani, Helen Burrows of Leeway Domestic Violence and Abuse Services, the Lord Mayor of Norwich – Marion Maxwell, and Blur’s drummer, Dave Rowntree. Organised by UEA student union officers Jo Swo and Abbie Mulcairn, and compered by Maëlle Kaboré the event was attended by around a 100 people. UEA Union has established its own anti-sexual harassment campaign,
Never OK.

Reclaim the Night March through Norwich, photo by Katy Jon Went
Reclaim the Night March through Norwich, photo by Katy Jon Went

The march to make the streets of Norwich safe for all sought to raise funds for Leeway, end harassment, slut-shaming and victim-blaming in sexual assault. In addition, it was campaigning to Light Up Norwich – a petition to end the austerity cuts to public lighting and thereby public safety.

Prince of Wales Road, Norfolk’s most dangerous street

Norfolk is one of the safest counties in England, yet also contains one of its most dangerous streets, sometimes ranked as high as 23rd worst (2010) with over 50 violent or anti-social behaviour crimes in a single month (Dec, 2010). On a Friday night, thousands pour into its nightclub district around Riverside and Prince of Wales Road, requiring dozens if not on occasion, hundreds of police officers to be on duty, along with the SOS bus. It also ranked 4th out of 50 cities for harm to self and other after excessive alcohol-related drinking injuries resulting in hospital admissions.

“statistics show that since 2005, when pubs and clubs were allowed to open longer, there has been a 210pc increase in violent crime in Norwich between 3am and 6am and an increase in police hours of 12,000 per year.” – EDP, 2013

It’s a street that has been highlighted and visited by TV’s Jeremy Kyle and then, too, by Police and Crime Commissioner, Lorne Green. Two nights after the march and Police around Prince of Wales Road had a busy night with 21 detentions and arrests

CK from Norfolk, writing in Vagenda magazine, 2013, described the differences between sexual harassment in Norwich and London, thus:

Prince of Wales Road, Reclaim the Night
Prince of Wales Road, Norwich, Reclaim the Night 2017

“…lascivious comments are infrequent, especially if you avoid the many delightful establishments on Norwich’s Prince of Wales Road, known as one of the country’s ‘most dangerous streets’. What I was not prepared for was the sheer volume of street harassment that has become a near daily feature of my glamourous London life…

The tone here is different too. Men call out at all times of the day, not just when they’re drunk on a Friday evening and don’t realise that their ‘inside voice’ has become their ‘outside voice’. And for better or for worse in Norwich, you would often have the opportunity to interact with the gentleman clucking at you…

In Norwich’s Mischief pub, I once hit someone with my handbag after they decided that my arse was the ideal hand-rest, their wrist presumably tired from a strenuous day of wanking. I don’t condone violence, but I was tired and wanted a gin and for fuck’s sake, touching is verboten unless I specifically say otherwise.”

“Fuck Harassment” Public Order Offence

Reclaim the Night March Fuck Harassment
Reclaim the Night March photo by Katy Jon Went

Apparently, “Fuck Harassment” on a handmade sign is a public order offence but “Fuck the Patriarchy” wasn’t.  One female student was told by a police officer monitoring the march to put her sigh away or her details would be taken and a possible offence logged. As the sign was anti-harassment, I fail to see how it could be harassing!

Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 says than an offence comprises two elements:
 
A person must (a) use threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or (b) display any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting; and
 
The words or behaviour, or writing, sign of other visible representation must be within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby.
 
Norwich Reclaim the Night Fuck Harassment
Norwich Reclaim the Night Fuck Harassment

Yet, no evidence of distress or intention to cause alarm is required to merit an offence.

The irony – that saying “FUCK harassment”, is anti-harassment by street harassers seems to have been lost on the police who made sexual assault victims into aggressors by their PC actions.

Poetry on the night

The poems, some old, some new, some about dangerous grannies with Uzis, contained raw, personal and often political (isn’t the personal, political?) stories of assault, violence, homelessness, gender dysphoria, rape and suicide, and not a few mentions of Donald Trump.
 
Katy Jon Went her reading poetry
Reading my first poem in decades, wearing ironic pink!

I hadn’t written a poem, successfully at least, since I was 15, when I think I got a ‘C’. I’m happier with political speeches, social commentary, or stand-up comedy, so when asked to write a poem, it was quite a challenge. The text of my poem can be read here.

Among the many great performances, perhaps standout were Ella Dorman-Gajic and Elley Tourtoulon, as well as punk poet & activist, Josh Chapman. Other poets and speakers included Charlotte Earney, Sophie Robinson, Jan McLachlan, Eli Lambe, Joe Collier, Nicholl Hardwick, Alison Graham,  Alicia Rodriguez.
 
Elley Tourtoulton poetry at Reclaim the Night, Norwich
Elley Tourtoulton poetry at Reclaim the Night, Norwich, photo by Katy Jon Went
 
Although, to be honest, the diversity and equality of quality of the poetry, speaks to the inclusivity of the event, particularly with two trans poets, and considering other Reclaim the Nights have witnessed trans-exclusive behaviours from some radical feminists.
 
The Reclaim the Night evening in Norwich, like the city itself, was inclusive and friendly, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be made safer and more welcoming to all people, irrespective of gender, sexuality, faith, or attire, whether by day and/or especially at night.
 
Norwich Reclaim the Night outside Flaunt
Norwich Reclaim the Night outside Flaunt bar & club, photo by Katy Jon Went
 
 
 
 
Poetry & Prose

So Long, Leonard Cohen, Poet, Novelist, Singer-Songwriter, RIP 1934-2016

Leonard Cohen, d.2016 – a year of losses

Over the last year, Brexit, Trump and the Right have been winners, the liberal Left losers this year. Leonard Cohen’s “Democracy is coming to the USA” is darkly ironic. Apart from Cohen, the arts world has also lost Alexis Arquette, David Bowie, Prince, Lou Reed, Alan Rickman, Gene Wilder and many more including too many comedians, just yesterday, Napoleon Solo – Robert Vaughn. Cohen died aged 82, the day before the American Presidential Election. At least, he now joins 1960s partner Marianne, to whom he wrote shortly before her death a few months back:

“Well Marianne, it’s come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine…. Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road.”

So Long, Marianne, 1967

Cohen met Marianne Jensen on the Greek island of Hydra in 1960, whilst seeking some healthy sun, as recommended by his dentist! A woman of wisdom and beauty, she captivated him and had recently been left by her Norwegian novelist husband, and so began a love affair that lasted the 60s.

Spanish love affair

Cohen sang that before he fell for Marianne he “used to think [he] was some kind of Gypsy boy”. He was inspired by the Spanish poet Lorca, assassinated, aged just 38 during the Spanish Civil War.

At an awards ceremony in Spain, he said that in search of a voice, “It was only when I read, even in translation, the works of Lorca that I understood that there was a voice.”

“It is not that I copied his voice; I would not dare. But he gave me permission to find a voice, to locate a voice, that is to locate a self, a self that is not fixed, a self that struggles for its own existence. As I grew older, I understood that instructions came with this voice. What were these instructions? The instructions were never to lament casually. And if one is to express the great inevitable defeat that awaits us all, it must be done within the strict confines of dignity and beauty.” Leonard Cohen’s acceptance speech at award of Prince of Asturias literature prize, 2011 (Other awards)

Musically, Cohen also learned just five or six Flamenco chords from a Spanish guitar teacher who killed himself before his fourth lesson.

“Journalists, especially English journalists, were very cruel to me. They said I only knew three chords when I knew five!”

Nonetheless, they became the musical basis of his mournful music – that, and the gravitas of his gravelly “golden voice”.

Despair

It was, however, the combination of his sounds with the poetry of his own soul searching that leant it real depth, despair, darkness and désolé.

Your letters they all say that you’re beside me now.
Then why do I feel alone?
I’m standing on a ledge and your fine spider web
is fastening my ankle to a stone.
Now so long, Marianne, it’s time that we began …
For now I need your hidden love.
I’m cold as a new razor blade. (So Long, Marianne)

(So Long, Marianne)

Cohen once joked that his record company should package razor blades with his records. His sometimes subversive humour amidst the angst and anxiety, strangely softened the pervasively painful lyrics.

“Any startling piece of work has a subversive element in it, a delicious element often.”

He sought in his own way “to be free” (‘Like a bird on the wire‘) and his writing in all forms drew you in if you were among the “inner-directed adolescents, lovers in all degrees of anguish, disappointed Platonists, pornography-peepers, hair-handed monks and Popists.”, as he wrote to his publisher.

More positively, he said and sung:

“There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”

(Anthem)

Bob Dylan

Recent Nobel Literature Laureate, Bob Dylan, would probably acknowledge that he could have shared the prize with Cohen. The pair were discovered by the same music scout in the early 1960s, and whilst many – including himself, regarded Dylan as the number one, (Dylan joked he was number zero to Cohen’s one) Cohen was a strong contender for the number two spot as greatest songwriter for a generation.

“Second only to Bob Dylan (and perhaps Paul Simon), he commands the attention of critics and younger musicians more firmly than any other musical figure from the 1960s who is [was] still working at the outset of the 21st century.” – Bruce Eder

Hallelujah

Annoyingly, for Cohen at least, he worked hard at what came more easily to Dylan. What took Cohen five years to write Dylan could knock out in hours or less. Most famously, ‘Hallelujah’ took 5 years to write, probably down to the near-infinite number of verses, and almost a generation to rise to its modern reputation and dubious honour of being on the Shrek soundtrack.

Faith and Drugs

Cohen came from a Canadian-Lithuanian-Polish line of successful and literate Jews, Talmudic scholars, businessmen, and synagogue founders. He practised his Judaism, but that didn’t interfere with his spiritual exploration of other beliefs from Scientology to Buddhism in the 1970s, leading to his ordination as a Zen Buddhist monk in the 90s. Of Jesus of Nazareth he said:

“I’m very fond of Jesus Christ. He may be the most beautiful guy who walked the face of this earth. Any guy who says ‘Blessed are the poor. Blessed are the meek’ has got to be a figure of unparalleled generosity and insight and madness…A man who declared himself to stand among the thieves, the prostitutes and the homeless. His position cannot be comprehended. It is an inhuman generosity. A generosity that would overthrow the world if it was embraced because nothing would weather that compassion. I’m not trying to alter the Jewish view of Jesus Christ. But to me, in spite of what I know about the history of legal Christianity, the figure of the man has touched me.” Leonard Cohen: In His Own Words (1998)

Perhaps he was a depressed Spock-lookalike figure, at times, but he also pursued life in all its fullness. From drugs to drink to women and wisdom, he ploughed life’s lows in search of its highs. In the end, he was neither a pure Buddhist nor a “really good junkie” but somehow the former, even as a drug in some way itself, held off the latter.

As he turned 65, he finally felt at peace with himself and the world, to some degree at least. He described it as acceptance and learning to ignore rather than solve himself.

Kurt Cobain wrote in Nirvana’s ‘Pennyroyal Tea’ (1993)

“Give me a Leonard Cohen afterworld
  So I can sigh eternally.”

After his suicide, Cohen wished he’s been able to speak to Cobain:

“I’m sorry I couldn’t have spoken to the young man. I see a lot of people at the Zen Centre, who have gone through drugs and found a way out that is not just Sunday school. There are always alternatives, and I might have been able to lay something on him.”

Democracy and Darkness

He leaves behind, millions of devotees, missing the mournfulness and aged adolescent agonising of his search for meaning. Even now, his songs remain poignant, if somewhat ironic, like ‘Democracy‘, and it still feels like ‘You want it Darker’ (2016) lies ahead, but perhaps too, we’ll also find the peace, that he found and now rests in.

“I’ve seen the nations rise and fall,
I’ve heard their stories, heard them all.
But love’s the only engine of survival.”

“Sail on, sail on
O mighty ship of State
To the shores of need
Past the reefs of greed
Through the squalls of hate
Sail on, sail on, sail on, sail on”

(Democracy)

Poetry & Prose

Human Rights & Writes on World Poetry Day; And Still I Rise, Maya Angelou

World Poetry Day and Human Rights

A day of beauty and soul, World Poetry Day, falls on the same day as the South Africa’s Human Rights Day, which remembers the fight against Apartheid and particularly the 1960 Sharpeville massacre of 69 black South African demonstrators and further killing of another 21 on the 25th anniversary of that day in 1985. It also became the UN International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in 1966 and today still says, “We need to fight racism everywhere, every day”. It is fitting that we celebrate human writes and rights together. Whether it’s the campaigning of organisations like the United Nations and Amnesty International, or the placards of activists, or poems of voices of discontent and history, we cannot be silent to ongoing racism, its history, and its continued scourge.

Yes we need action more than just words, but 15 years ago, at a World Conference Against Racism in South Africa, the Durban Declaration sought to combine words with action:

“People of African descent have for centuries been victims of racism, racial discrimination and enslavement and of the denial by history of many of their rights… they should be treated with fairness and respect for their dignity and should not suffer discrimination of any kind.”Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, 2001

Sadly, in 2016, we are little further forward according to several human rights experts:

“Fifteen years after the Durban Conference very little progress has been made in tackling racism, afrophobia, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.”

Maya Angelou – be part of “the possible”

Maya AngelouMaya Angelou died in 2014 but 45 years before that, in a decade of American civil rights activism, she wrote the first of her autobiographical books, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969). The book describes her early years including racism, and a rape which led to a traumatised silence for 6 years, it goes on to document her rise from child victim to young woman, mother and adult voice.

“The caged bird sings with a fearful trill
Of things unknown but longed for still
And his tune is heard on the distant hill
For the caged bird sings of freedom”

She has become renowned as a woman full of inspiration, and love not hate, reminding us how to be better humans through her best-loved poems which she would write from a motel with, nearby, “a dictionary, a Bible, a deck of cards and a bottle of sherry in the room”.

Watch Maya Angelou read her poem A Brave and Startling Truth which she wrote for the United Nations 50th anniversary in 1995, here is a section of it:

We, this people on this mote of matter
In whose mouths abide cankerous words
Which challenge our very existence
Yet out of those same mouths
Come songs of such exquisite sweetness
That the heart falters in its labor
And the body is quieted into awe

We, this people, on this small and drifting planet
Whose hands can strike with such abandon
That in a twinkling, life is sapped from the living
Yet those same hands can touch with such healing, irresistible tenderness …

… We must confess that we are the possible
We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world

It would be great if we, “the possible, the miraculous, the true wonder of this world”, would stop hating and discriminating.

Maya Angelou – Still I Rise

In Maya Angelou’s poem, “Still I Rise”, are the words: “Out of the huts of history’s shame”. She’s said before, the truth is that:

“A person who does not have a clue to his or her history stands a very poor chance of mapping out a future.” – Maya Angelou interview (1m40s)

She was not one to be cowed or subjugated, instead, she found her voice and gave hope to others.

The full text of her poem, “Still I Rise”:

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise

Maya Angelou 1974
Maya Angelou, 1974

Be amazing, A rainbow in someone else’s cloud

Maya Angelou also said, echoing a similar sentiment of Albert Camus:

“If you are always trying to be normal you will never know how amazing you can be.”

Perhaps, we could also paraphrase that, if you are always following the crowd, buying into cheap national and racial stereotypes you will never discover not only how amazing you could be but also how amazing others are, irrespective of the colour of their skin or some other characteristic of difference. “Human beings are more alike than unalike”, she has said.

“The thing to do, it seems to me, is to
prepare yourself so you can be a
rainbow in somebody else’s cloud.
Somebody who may not look like you.
May not call God the same name you
call God – if they call God at all. I may
not dance your dances or speak your
language. But be a blessing to somebody.”
– Maya Angelou

She wasn’t all “turn the other cheek” love, she also saw humour as a defence, and since “life’s a bitch”, the need to “go out and kick ass”.

Poetry & Prose

National Poetry Day – “First Light”

National Poetry Day – “Light”

The theme of National Poetry Day this year is “light”, and so, living in a wood, where dawn creeps up through the trees until it bursts forth through my windows, I attempted a poem – I am not a poet!

I could sit and improve its scanning – which like my musical and non-musical timekeeping may be distinctly lacking, dig deep into my befuddled brain for more graceful and curious words, use less lustful alliteration, or just enjoy the creative process. And so, it will suffice. Writing as a process, especially the cathartic and therapeutic, is often best enjoyed imperfect and half-constructed like just being present and watching, rather than trying to capture, a sunrise before it is gone. I enjoyed writing it, that’s the important point.

Fear of Poetry

More than that, it helped restore a fear of poetry had since school. I know I can write, non-fiction that is, I even have a sketched out dystopian fiction I’d like to write – but don’t yet trust my ability. But, poetry – that was killed off in school. I’ve written only one other in 30+ years.

It sounds best – as all poetry should, read aloud – with a dictionary on hand afterwards to look up the stygian definitions of Cimmerians, caliginous and crepuscular if they are new to you!

I was inspired listening to a BBC Radio 4 recitation in Middle English by Kaiti Soultana from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Just beautiful.

I now want to spend the day listening to Dylan Thomas. Poetry, like rugby, seems to be best played by the Welsh!

First Light

Night’s obsidian obscurity
Draped in its sable cloak
As a necromancer’s nefarious
Theft of yesterday’s sun

The dark Cimmerian conspiracy
Inconsistently lunar lit
Stolen illustrious illumination
Swift to flight, slow to return

Just as Stygian stealth enveloped
Sun’s setting the night before
Swirling caliginous clouds obfuscate
And bury its subdued disc

Sleep inconveniently intervenes
Sending all to slumber
Except the stars that puncture
Night’s indistinct ink

Yet dawn’s crepuscular creep
First blush of orange and pink
Painting pastel perimeters
Drawing forth pre-dawn

Light leaks, dispels darkness
Night’s mourning veil withdraws
Dawn declares its intent
A new canvas is prepared

Twilight tweets its birth
Nature’s nests peep forth
Panes of windows warm
Rivulets of moisture drip

Aurora invokes sleepy sunrise
Calls to creation’s creatures
Awake, shake off the night
Day’s divine design awaits

Sunrise during Paint Out Wells, Norfolk
Sunrise during Paint Out Wells, Norfolk

The photos were taken by me at dawn during the Paint Out Wells sunrise ‘paint out’ at Wells-next-the-Sea Norfolk. I’m better at photography than poetry!

Poetry & Prose

RNIB launch CatNav Guide Cats for the Blind

Guide Cats for the Blind

Today, the RNIB announced a trial program of seeing-eye “mobility” cats, “Guide Cats for the Blind“, or CatNav, for the blind, partially sighted, and visually impaired, alongside their Guide Dogs for the Blind training.

From Cat’s Eyes to CatNav

Sleeping cat pile, CatNap
Sleeping cat pile, more CatNap than CanNav!

After all, we have cats’ eyes in the road to guide car drivers at night, why not by day as well? Cat’s eyes were introduced as far back as 1933 in Yorkshire, in the UK, and are now used the world over. Whilst the cat’s eyes in our roads never sleep, any attempt at CatNav is liable to be more prone to falling asleep for 22 hours a day, CatNap! As recent TV documentaries using GPS trackers have also shown, cats tend to go round in circles hunting, retracing, guarding and marking their territory.

Cats are Easily Distracted

The cats are being rigorously disciplined to avoid distractions such as mice, birds and shiny lights, like Puss in Boots was prone to in the Shrek movies franchise.

These are not to be confused with the original poem, “Guide Cats for the Blind”, by Les Barker, and the five subsequent “Guide Cats” albums of songs, poems and humour: “Guide Cats for the Blind”, “Missing Persians File”, “Top Cat, White Tie and Tails”, “Cat Nav”, and “Herding Cats”. Listen to the audio reading of Les Barker’s poem below:

Les Barker described any attempt to harness the intelligence of cats as Guide Cats for the Blind, as futile. “The best place for a blind man isn’t half-way up a curtain” or on the roof at 4am! “Only a fool would follow … Guide cats for the blind“.

The full text of Guide Cats for the Blind, by Les Barker:

The word futile springs to mind, mission impossible, yes, that’s the attempt
to harness for mankind, the intelligence of cats.
You’ve made a basic error, now let me expound.
This master/servant thing’s o.k. but not that way around
We don’t do the ‘faithful’ subject, we don’t do the daily grind
You should never have attempted this
Guide cats for the blind

Tabby Cat
Tabby Cat mesmerising humans

Give kitty so much trust, and we’ll abuse the privilege
You think you’re going out, you’re opening the fridge
You think I’m trying to help you, I’m not serving man but mammon
You think you’ve gained a faithful friend, you’ve lost a plate of salmon
I might lead you down the high street, I’ll be back when I have dined
We get very very hungry being
Guide cats for the blind

It can’t be very pleasant, of this I’ve little doubt
With your head stuck in a cat flap, whether facing in or out
You could be here a day or two, half out in the rain
I’ve got to go, I’ve things to do, maybe I’ll pass this way again
A dog would go for help, but cats are not that way inclined
Cats have better things to do than being
Guide cats for the blind

Of some matters I am ignorant, but this I know for certain
The best place for a blind man isn’t half way up a curtain
Why do they have to be up on a roof at 4am
It’s a perfect place for me, but what’s in it for them?
It was where I had to go, and he just tagged along behind
I don’t know why, only a fool would follow
Guide cats for the blind

I once met a man called Pavlov, from time to time he rang a bell
Simple things make humans happy, but I have to say that well,
I found it a disturbance and poor chap I think he knew it
And soon he only rang his bell when I wanted him to do it
Did you ask for our assistance, if you did then we declined
Here we are, an oxymoron
Guide cats for the blind