Hurricane Hits England

Grace Nichols writes about the experience of living in one country but coming from another.  Her poetry is full of references to a life love elsewhere or to displacement.  Life in Britain is interrupted by memories from another place.  I like this poem.  It refers to a real event in the UK in 1987.

Hurricane Hits England

It took a hurricane, to bring her closer
To the landscape
Half the night she lay awake,
The howling ship of the wind,
Its gathering rage,
Like some dark ancestral spectre,
Fearful and reassuring:

Talk to me Huracan
Talk to me Oya
Talk to me Shango
And Hattie,
My sweeping, back-home cousin.

Tell me why you visit.
An English coast?
What is the meaning
Of old tongues
Reaping havoc
In new places?

The blinding illumination,
Even as you short-
Circuit us
Into further darkness?

What is the meaning of trees
Falling heavy as whales
Their crusted roots
Their cratered graves?

O Why is my heart unchained?

Tropical Oya of the Weather,
I am aligning myself to you,
I am following the movement of your winds,
I am riding the mystery of your storm.

Ah, sweet mystery;
Come to break the frozen lake in me,
Shaking the foundations of the very trees within me,
Come to let me know
That the earth is the earth is the earth.

Grace Nichols

The poetry of Grace Nichols is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

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Matisse at Tate Modern

In London,  to see the Matisse Cut Outs exhibition, reminded me that, although I love visiting galleries and museums I have know since boyhood, the Tate Modern is a place I go only to see exhibitions.  There are no favourite exhibits here to pull me back time after time.  This may be because the gallery was opened in 2000 so doesn’t have the same reach back to my childhood.

In any case, I was delighted by the Matisse exhibition.  Most of the artworks were new to me.  I knew about the ‘Snail’ and ‘The Flight of Icarus’ but most others were discoveries.  I learned that he started cut outs as a way of playing with positions before committing himself to a layout.  In later life, as painting became more difficult for him, the cut outs became a late flowering of his creativity.

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My favourite by far was ‘Two Dancers’.  Up close, you can see the layering of paper as he created the effect he wanted.  This effect is lost. somewhat, in reproductions.  It reminded me that my favourite of his paintings is ‘Dance’ which I saw at The Hermitage in St. Petersburg many years ago.

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Noughts and Crosses

Malorie Blackman, the current Children’s Laureate in Britain, had an inspired idea when she wrote ‘Nought and Crosses’.  In this alternative history, segregation exists but it is white people who are oppressed and black people who have the upper hand.  The crosses are the dark skinned of the world while the noughts are the whites and pale skinned people.

BlogNoughtsCrossesIn this world of segregation and oppression of people based just on skin colour, Blackman introduces a love story across the race divide. Sephy Hadley is a Cross.  She is the daughter of a successful politician.  Her friend from childhood is Callum McGregor, a nought and the son of a servant employed by Sephy’s family.  Their friendship grows into a love affair but has to be kept secret from everyone else.

‘Noughts and Crosses’ is the first in what grew into a series.  Through the whole series the legacy of the love affair is played out as it affected not only Sephy and Callum themselves but both sets of parents, their siblings and their friends.

Malorie Blackman cleverly shows how segregation diminishes all sides. The radical nought activists try to bring down the system but are in danger of losing their humanity as their methods become more extreme.  The cross regime is harsh as it tries to protect the privileges they enjoy only because there is an underclass to serve them.

The novel has a shocking ending and one I thought I could see coming but did not believe the author would carry out.  This makes Blackman a first class writer and the right choice to be an advocate in the role of Children’s Laureate.

The book is marketed as a ‘young adult’ book.  I am sure there are reasons for these labels but powerful books are powerful books and this is one whose readership should not be restricted by a label.

The Royal Shakespeare Company produced a play based on the novel in 2007.  About time for a revival? blogMalorieBlackman

‘Noughts and Crosses’ is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

No Place Like Home

Reading the account of the Greensboro lunch counter sit ins by Miles Wolff sent me back to Gary Younge’s book, ‘No Place Like Home’.  The sub-title says it all, really: ‘A Black Briton’s Journey Through the American South’.  He set himself the task of visiting key landmarks in America’s Deep South to see for himself where the events that shaped the civil rights ear took place.  As a young black Briton living in Stevenage, his knowledge of the civil rights battles came from the history books.

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Throughout the book, first published in 1999, Younge weighs up the struggle in USA with his own experience of racism in Britain.  The figures whose stories he relates are the ones who have formed his hinterland.  As he says himself in the book, he looks local but sounds foreign.  This places him in an interesting position from which to view how much has changed and how much has stayed the same since the events of the 50s and 60s.

The book is sequenced by his journey through southern states rather than by chronology of events so it was easy to turn to the chapter on North Carolina to read his take on the Greensboro place in history.  He quotes the plaque he finds outside the location of the old ‘ Woolworth’s store: “Sometimes taking a stand for what is undeniably right means taking a seat.”

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‘No Place Like Home’ is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

Greensboro Lunch Counter Sit-ins

I was researching significant events in the civil rights struggle in USA recently and came across the book ‘Lunch at the 5 and 10’ by Miles Wolff.  It was written in 1970 as a history of an event that took place ten years earlier.

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My version was updated in 1990 so was able to follow up the story with accounts of post- sit in lives of the four young men who made such a difference.  Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair Jnr and David Richmond walked into the Woolworth’s shop in Greensboro, North Carolina on February 1, 1960 and sat down at the lunch counter.

They were refused service because only white people could be served at the counter.  The simple act of sitting at the counter until the end of the day made all the difference as it started a movement of sit ins that spread across the south.

In his book, Miles Wolff a journalist from Greensboro writes about the effect of this demonstration on the community.  He tells of the effect on the Woolworth manager, the Mayor and the President of the University the young men attended.  There were other civil rights activities taking place and many were organised by groups such as the NAACP.  Yet this action was started by young people.  As Wolff writes, they were young men who wanted to do more than just complain about injustice.  Too many people, including their own parents’ generation, accepted the status quo rather than fighting against it.

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In the background of all this is a surprising figure called Ralph Johns.  He was not black but he saw segregation as anti- Christian and unjust.  He had been trying to start demonstrations against ‘whites only’ counters for a few years, asking the mainly black customers at his shop to hold a sit in.  He was ready with money to bail them out, if arrested.  Yet he knew that the struggle had to be led by the black students and not him so his role remained in the background.

It is a fascinating book.  Wolff concludes that, in the end, it was money that made a difference.  The demonstrations affected profits for all the shops refusing to serve black people and this, above all else, forced companies to change their policies.

‘Lunch at the 5 and 10’ is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

Enoch Powell

This photograph is an interesting document of a time that I sincerely hope is firmly in the past and not to be revisited.  Enoch Powell was a politician that aroused strong feelings.  I heard him speak once and was struck by the clarity of his thoughts and the articulate way he put them across.  Fortunately, he was on a platform with Tony Benn, a politician I admired greatly, so the debate was of a high standard.

Powell remains famous for the speech that has become known as ‘the rivers of blood’.  He made this speech in 1968.  Many people in Britain felt he spoke for them when he raised the fears of a country being overrun by people of a different colour.  What has always interested me about this speech (and the echoes we hear in UKIP rhetoric) is that it was only concerned with colour and race..  I presume non British were welcome as long as they were white.

What is clear in modern Britain is that more is to gained from a diverse country where people contribute to their communities and uphold the values that make living in any country worthwhile.  Weigh that against a country where people feel superior or entitled just because of their skin colour.

imageThis photograph is a reminder that Britain is a more tolerant and better country than it once was.  Also, I love the idea of a young black boy taking a leaflet from Enoch Powell’s wife.  The photo is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

 

Not My Business

This poem by Nigerian poet Niyi Osundare is a powerful reminder of the need for solidarity when regimes abuse their power and when rulers think the people are there to suit their purposes rather than to be served.  All regimes and governments feel threatened at some time or another.  It is a mark of a civilised country how it acts at these times.

The poem reminds me of the saying attributed to Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”.

Not My Business

They picked Akanni up one morning
Beat him soft like clay
And stuffed him down the belly
Of a waiting jeep.

What business of mine is it
So long they don’t take the yam
From my savouring mouth?

They came one night
Booted the whole house awake
And dragged Danladi out,
Then off to a lengthy absence.

What business of mine is it
So long they don’t take the yam
From my savouring mouth?

Chinwe went to work one day
Only to find her job was gone:
No query, no warning, no probe –
Just one neat sack for a stainless record.

What business of mine is it
So long they don’t take the yam
From my savouring mouth?

And then one evening
As I sat down to eat my yam
A knock on the door froze my hungry hand.

The jeep was waiting on my bewildered lawn
Waiting, waiting in its usual silence.

Niyi Osundare

This poem is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

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