Change: A series of poetry in the age of austerity
A collection for our times
In these hyperactively political times it is refreshing to have this collection to remind us of the genuine morality for which we should struggle, something too often lost in the unpleasant, mud-slinging world of hysterical fakery and scaremongering which seems to have infected our culture.
Be it the education system and its role in the whitewashing of history, the unwillingness of some to empathise with what they consider ‘foreign’, the outright hypocrisy of racist sentiment, the persisting demonisation of the needy, the unaddressed scandal of homelessness, or the role our ruling class has played in betraying the sacrifices made by our ancestors to build a post-war Britain in which all should live in dignity – this collection exposes the accumulation of injustice and the historical cycle of repression implicit in such issues.
An early treat in this collection, Gove’s Lasting Legacy, is a take-down of our erstwhile education secretary and his cheap elitist view of what an education should resemble: bombardment, rote-learning, and tests, the memorialising the of kings and their glorious wars, an imperialist rose with its thorns kept from sight, accumulating inevitably into a debt trap from which even the most purely minded of graduates can best hope to escape by capitulating to a system of subjugation and capital they are likely to abhor. It is a pithy remark on the state of what passes for education in Britain.
The casual hatred and dismissal of Muslims, so prevalent in Britain today, is dealt with several times in this collection. In Who Cares For A Life, the hypocrisy of the choices about whose deaths are mourned is exposed. Blaming a religion, the entire Muslim Ummah, from a position of ignorance when perpetrators of violence can be labelled as ‘foreign’ or ‘terrorist’, is one of the more horrific aspects of the terror-wars into which Britain so blindly bounced itself. The poem appeals to solidarity between human beings over the reckless hatred propounded by our media on a daily basis. It is easy to blame those ‘Muslim demons’ when our culture has so willingly plunged itself into ignorance about Islam, its nuances and moral pillars. The backward values by which we judge our lives to be worth more than ‘foreigners’ in whose suffering we are directly complicit is a sad fact of our times, and one which is examined directly.
In The Vagrancy Act 1824, the author explores the historical roots of an ongoing discrimination against the victims of homelessness. Lives which are criminalised through their descent into misfortune, people blamed for the ills which society has wrought on them, austerity measures and the rise in homelessness which naturally follow their implementation, and a ruling class which has wilfully blinded itself to these facts; this poem, charming and effective in its construction, is one from which even the most hardened reader will sense clearly the injustices we have accepted as a given. It is a poem which will serve to remind us that the faces which are so often ignored in our streets are as human as ourselves. Just as human, perhaps, as the ministers and governors who have abandoned them for centuries to their fate? Time does not heal all wounds, as this poem so bluntly points out.
Perhaps the most personal and robust of the poems in this collection is The Suffering of a Survivor, a dissection of the double-standards which still cling most horribly to the subject of rape and sexual exploitation. Notable also is #MentalHealthAwareness, a poem about mental health and social media reactions to it which demonstrates how our ego will often eclipse the issues we profess to care about when posting onto the internet. It skewers the hypocritical short-termism of a ‘hash-tag generation’ who will likely forget in a day what they have ‘shared’.
As one reads through the poems, an illustration of the double standards which apply across our rather stratified society will construct itself in the minds’ eye; leading not to merely to sadness or despair, but to a renewed sense that we must fight harder and more vehemently to right such wrongs. We should not turn the other cheek to racists. We should not ignore the vast inequalities we are told are inevitable. We should not swallow the lies in our media. We should call out, fight back, and examine what is put before us. We should value the truth, justice, and solidarity between all people. It is too easy to forget. This collection and its moral message will help keep the flame burning inside us.
All in all this collection is incredibly worthwhile. There are humorous poems, melancholy poems, uplifting poems, poems which make you seethe, and many more besides. The contemporary setting, coupled also with a historic sense of justice, make for an instantly relatable read.