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Jul
2017
Wednesday 5th
posted by Morning Star in Arts

21st century poetry with Andy Croft


“If you believe you’re a citizen of the world,” according to Theresa May, “you’re a citizen of nowhere. You don’t understand what the very word ‘citizenship’ means.”

In the context of the Brexit negotiations, the enduring refugee crisis, the Trump presidency, tabloid xenophobia and the alarming rise in racist assaults since the EU Referendum, this kind of political illiteracy cannot be challenged often enough.

Notions of citizenship are too important to be reduced to the colour of your passport or measured by the extent of your ignorance. Those who are forced to cross borders generally know a lot more about what it means to belong to a society than those who have never left home. And emigration is not always a choice.

As the Nobel Prize-winning Chilean poet — and communist — Pablo Neruda (pictured) put it: “the poor/ Chileno, with his only/shoes/crosses into Neuquen, the/forsaken territories of Patagonia,/he hikes the lunary/shorelines of Peru/he sets his hunger down/in Colombia,/migrates as best he can,/ changing stars like shirts.”

This poem is published in Then Come Back: The Lost Neruda Poems (Bloodaxe, £12), a bilingual collection in Spanish and English of 21 previously unpublished poems.

Written in the last 20 years of Neruda’s life, they were recently discovered in notebooks and on scraps of paper. One was written on the back of a menu.

Each one of the poems is marked by Neruda’s rich and easy eloquence, philosophical, warm and conversational.

There are some rhapsodic love poems to his third wife Matilde, a hymn to modesty, a rant about the tyranny of the telephone and a wonderful poem addressed to his younger self (“don’t presume/you’ll be master of the pen... a trapeze artist between high phrases/and the surrounding emptiness,/your obligation/is to coal and fire,/you must/dirty your hands/with burnt oil,/with smoke/ from the cauldron”).

To the Andes is a powerful love poem to the patient heroism of the Latin American working class: “at the snow-covered/pinnacle,/lifting/ his head, his hands,/still holding a shovel,/the Chileno looks up/without fear, without sadness./The snow, the sea, the sand/all of it is his road./ We’ll keep up the fight.”

Best of all is an extraordinary and beautiful poem about the early Soviet cosmonauts, travellers in “pure space” who took “our earth” with them — “the odours of moss and forest,/love, the crisscrossed limbs of men and women,/terrestrial rains over the prairies... it was our spring on earth/blooming for the first time/ that conquered an inanimate heaven.”

Ishaq Imruh Bakari’s Without Passport or Apology (Smokestack, £7.99) is a book about emigration and immigration, racism and resistance, slavery and freedom.

Drawing on 30 years of working as a film-maker in the Caribbean, Europe and Africa, Bakari addresses head-on the experience of African-Caribbean migration, for himself and for the millions who constitute the African diaspora around the world.

It’s a book about places — Haiti, Rwanda, South Africa, Zanzibar, Paris, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Tanzania — and the “juju of maps” imposed upon the world by imperialism: “straight lines drawn/across a blank page... they measured the balls/ of the natives/calibrated the temperature/of their shit/and in the earth/dug graves for the supplicants... all Rhodes lead to the high table/spread with flags of surrender.”

And it’s a book about people, including Marcus Garvey, Aubrey Williams, Stuart Hall, Louis Farrakhan, Martin Carter, Shake Keane and Courtney Pine.

Above all it’s an affirmation of the defiant spirit of the runaway African, the Maroon who moves through the world without passport or apology, never changing, always adapting: “the bags and baggage/hand luggage and gifts/are not always in the same/ place things and thoughts get/rerouted with wrong labels/in the wrong hands sometimes/not handled with care or twisted / into new shapes on inspection.”

Nicholas Murray’s A Dog’s Brexit (Melos Press, £5) is a funny, angry satire written in the Burns or Habbie stanza from the point of view of a dog on the racism and stupidity that continues to inform the debate about terms of Britain’s departure from the EU (“Who’d be a dog in England now?”)

Like any dog, this one has a nose for trouble — “a noxious vapour reaches overseas,/borne on a toxic, xenophobic breeze/of hate.”

Although he may be “barking,” he is trying to assert “a calmer, canine view” against the “yapping rabblement/of loud MPs,” racist tabloids and their fat-cat friends: “Through battles that you fight in solidarity/with others who perceive with equal clarity/the fact/that finding scapegoats, pinning blame/On immigrants whose lives are worth the same/as yours is not the proper game,/can we, together, act.”




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