‘This is a world which remembers
glory as old, tiny actions
lost and forgotten,
strange and mundane.’
From the poem (Right) Time.
I really love hearing poetry and stories read out loud and I also love to read at open mics. I feel it offers something completely different to the written version and brings it to life. I feel poetry is about life and I would like to try and use my writing to bring it alive a bit more and see how to make it relevant to more people. Feeling a little bit terrified, but also trusting this is the way forward, I have begun to record my poems. The first one is here. I think i need to invest a little time in sound editing, but hopefully this will work as a first attempt. Do let me know if you have any tips or suggestions on how to improve from this first attempt.
‘Todo su vida es una novella.
(His whole life is a novel).’
When I asked Cesar where he was now, he said he worked in a potato factory and that he would tell him about the poem when he next saw him.
If you have read the poem in the latest edition of Magma on the theme of Freedom, the character of Don Silvio is a little changed from project driver, to President’s driver and I invented his family situation, because he never talked about that. Over my two years working in that project in Nicaragua I rode so many miles with Don Silvio, down to Managua from the mountains of Esteli, up to the mountains of Esteli from Managua, around Managua’s long motorways and urban sprawl, across to Matagalpa, into Jinotega through the hills, up to Sebaco, to Ocotal, up and down and over and over Nicaragua’s one main road and various bumpy and less bumpy side roads.
Stopping sometimes for rosquilla or tortilla, or on one occasion to buy a live iguana on the side of the road, but mostly just driving that one line of paved caraterra, up and down, the hills dropping to rice fields, the road becoming flatter, the smell of the chicken factory about half an hour from Managua, the coloured houses dotted along the way, the blue statutes of the Virgin Mary, the bright pink posters of the President, the valleys and the untamed mountains. Up and down, there and back, again and again and again.
In each new town,
you have a different mujer,
exotic or plain, gorda or guapa.
She offers you her local ways. Yes.
Don Silvio liked ranchero music, which is often played as we drove. He also liked to talk and loved to eat. Mostly he would chew on some gum or some other snack as we drove. As he did, he would tell me about the advantages of having a different woman in each town you visited, so ‘if one woman does not attend to you well, then you just leave and move onto the next one.’ He would also tell me what to do in different situations, which was not much advice, as a command and if it was not followed, he sulked and became grumpy or difficult.
He was a tall man, a big man, with an enormous belly and commanding presence. In the revolution, he formed part of the Sandinista rebel army which freed the country from the Dictator Somoza in 1979. Sometimes he talked about that, holding a fake gun to his arm, firing. Yes, he and many others, eventually brought down a Dictator. He remembered it all with delight and pride. He continued that fight, which has sadly become more about partisan politics, by arguing violently with anyone who wasn’t a Sandinista, often storming heavily out of the room when they disagreed with him. However, when he saw the current President Ortega, (from the Sandinista party who was also part of that historic revolutionary movement) on television, or on a poster, he would salute, puff out his chest and put on a serious expression as he proclaimed ‘My Commandante!’
If you were asked: what way would you have it?
You would laugh, like it is a game
¿Quién sabe, verdad?
you would say.
Somehow, for me, his presence embodied exactly Nicaragua’s past and present; the country’s nostalgia for what was, their revolution and reality of what is: a place which has seen peace since 1990, but where life for most people remains a sustained poverty, hard work and dreams. It was with all that he drove us up and down those roads. It was like that he became a poem.
Quotes are from the poem ‘The Ex-Revolutionary’. You can read the whole poem and other great poetry in Magma, Issue 60.
Tolouse and his similarly dressed crew, who call themselves the Commandos, are wearing outfits that, “kop to tail” (head to toe), cost up to $1,120 each. In South Africa, groups like this are called skhothanes, an adaptation of a Zulu word meaning “to lick” or “to boast.” The day’s occasion is similar to a dance-off, but the broader subculture it is a part of, known as izikhothane, is specific to the “born free” generation—those born at the end of apartheid—living in the townships of South Africa. Born-frees like Tolouse have no direct memory of a time when nonwhites lived in townships like Soweto by force instead of economic stagnation.
As they skhot (boast) about the names of the high-end Italian brands they’re sporting—Arbiter, Rossi Moda, Sfarzo—they never fail to mention the price tag, too. For young men living in a country where economic development hasn’t translated into what’s needed most—jobs for young people—skhothane culture is not just a way to stand out, but a way for young South Africans to move up in a society that offers them few options. While this social mobility may be more perceived than actual, one township local summed up their motivation nicely: “When they do what they do, absolutely no one can do it better. They feel like kings.”
Despite this evolution, headlines such as “Why Are Poor South African Teens Buying Expensive Clothes and Destroying Them?” still persist. Such stories follow a simple logic: Removed from the struggle of apartheid, these morally bankrupt and entitled youths ostensibly see no problem wasting the money that not long ago their parents would have barely been able to earn. These headlines imply a more loaded question: Why would anyone in Soweto spend their money on anything but getting out of Soweto?
Greg Potterton, managing director of Instant Grass, a Johannesburg-based agency that specializes in studying pockets of youth culture in Africa, says that in a place like Soweto—which is bordered by freeways and was designed during apartheid to be isolated—Tshepo’s local pride is often a product of circumstance. “When a lot of these kids are growing up, they really don’t have much option or aspirations to go anywhere else because they didn’t know about anything else,” Potterton says. “Then, you get reverse innovation happening: In the absence of luxury, creativity is born. Over time, it’s become a cooler place to be.”
From Soweto Style by Rosie J Spinks in Roads and Kingdoms
Men sit near the top of the hill, drinking and selling coca cola. There is a mosque and a church balancing carefully on each side of the summit. Neglected tourist stands cluster below. With reports of kidnapping, few tourists are making the journey here.
It seems more than a mere journey. The long bus from Cairo, the climb up the dusty path. In the mountains I travel away from my comforts, away from my distractions, away from the bustle of Cairo which has jostled me for the past eight months, where I have been fighting to make something of myself. The mountains make the media noise, the opposing opinions, the legal disputes, the urgent demands, the political arguments, the twitter updates, the waving flags, everything about the unrest seem so insignificant.
“They are impermanent questions,” say the mountains.
Do not worry about years, do not worry about days.
The mountains say, “Everything continues. Sit, wait, stay.”
The mountains say, “Look. Moses saw this sky.”
So I stop, and for the first time in a long time. I forget news reports and having an opinion. I forget about what I want. Instead, I look out across the mountain tops. Instead, I listen to silence.
Although, there is the fading moon,
although there are new waves,
there is one man,
who will not watch the sky.
One man who sees the morning
inside his own heart.
Meets the day, travelling.
A fisherman shake free hopes,
a boat motor plays a barrel drum,
hours fall into the bay,
one shard of locusts begins to sing.
Soon there are ribbons of them calling,
ribbons and ribbons of song.
In memory of the great Scottish poet, Edwin Morgan, who died on the 17 August 2010. He was Scots Makar and Glasgow Poet Laureate. His poems made up a considerable proportion of my Secondary School education and his images of Glasgow past and present in particular formed part of my understanding of the identity of the city where I grew up. Yet his work was far more extensive, covering world issues, inter-galactic travel and transcribing the song of the infamous Loch Ness Monster.
This piece was listed as one of the fifty greatest modern love poems and it is the one I immediately thought must be included in such a list. It is light and sweet, like the strawberries, but rich in colour, taste, texture and passion. The last line, so flippant, yet so memorable, seems to say it all.
There were never strawberries
like the ones we had
that sultry afternoon
sitting on the step
of the open french window
facing each other
your knees held in mine
the blue plates in our laps
the strawberries glistening
in the hot sunlight
we dipped them in sugar
looking at each other
not hurrying the feast
for one to come
the empty plates
laid on the stone together
with the two forks crossed
and I bent towards you
sweet in that air
in my arms
abandoned like a child
from your eager mouth
the taste of strawberries
in my memory
lean back again
let me love you
let the sun beat
on our forgetfulness
one hour of all
the heat intense
and summer lightning
on the Kilpatrick hills
let the storm wash the plates