Category Archives: Poetry

Write On, Comrade!

Poetry Can F*ck Off!
An evening of Words, at Leicester’s Upstairs at The Western theatre.

“Poetry can seriously f*ck off authority figures. It gets under the skin of those whose brains have been made rigid by power.”

I’ve been hoping to find something tempting at the Western since it opened, being one of the few pub-based theatres in the country, but this is the first show that really grabbed my attention. I wasn’t sure quite what to expect. The posters featured little more than the NSFW title, and a quick search revealed the show to be about Rebellion, Subversion and Defiance.

Jonny Fluffypunk, designated poet of the Bristol squat scene

Jonny Fluffypunk, designated poet of the Bristol squat scene

As we were seated in the warm, cramped space (every ticket sold!), a gent sporting a fine beard and steel guitar (Mike Dr Blue), alongside a man with a keyboard on shoulder-strap (this would be Roy Hutchins, narrator), tinkled out some tunes. This was to form the background (and sometime foreground) music for the show.

Once the show started in earnest, we were thrown in at the deep end, as Mr Hutchins launched into a tirade of how poetry has changed the world, forming rebellions, toppling dictators and freeing the oppressed. The three other figures on stage were Jonny Fluffypunk, Sameena Zehra (a veteran of the Delhi AIDS awareness campaigns) and Selina Nwulu (daughter of Nigerian refugees who fled their civil war). They counterpointed Hutchins’ speech with numerous diverse quotes, including Maya Angelou, Martin Luther King, William Blake and Gill Scott Heron, to name but a few, echoing them in triplicate, giving weight to the words.

Shelly’s Masque of Anarchy, as recited by Ghandi while he stood peacefully against the the British troops, rang out through the small space to remind us of what all dictators and oppressors fear: our numbers!

“Rise, like lions after slumber
In un-vanquishable number!
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you:
Ye are many—they are few!
Ye are many—they are few!
YA ARE MANY! – THEY ARE FEW!

It ran on in this vein, building a picture of the power of poetry, and how it has been used since time immemorial to embrace the suffering of the dispossessed, clarifying their feelings, expressing them eloquently, and as a clarion-call to action.

Another world is not only possible, She is on her way. On a quiet day,I can hear her breathing. Arundhati Roy

The interval came as no small relief! The heady atmosphere of rebellion was building up, and my chest was tight with emotions. The plight of those who had gone before us had been highlighted; the suffering and subjugation dating back even to Sumerian times. But also, as Jonny’s voice echoed the inscription on Ozymandias‘s statue, that no power can last. Even the King of Kings can be brought low.

We filed back in after the intermission, wary, yet hopeful, of what was to follow.

We were not to be disappointed! With the lights still low, a  local choir stood and performed a very heartfelt “Bread and Roses”. The cool evening breeze, so recently to refresh us, suddenly seemed so far away, as we were transported back to the Massachusetts textile strike, 1912, and the lines of women marching (to avoid a recent No Loitering law!) by the factory gates, demanding not only decent wages (bread), but respect, and dignified conditions (roses).

And more was to come!

The first time I heard it, I didn’t really get “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”. How could I? A naive young white boy full of hope and ambition, stretching out on my own, but with a secure safety net in place. Now, many years later, to  hear it recited by The Poetry Army, I felt I finally understood something about what it was about.

I still don’t ‘get’ “Still I Rise”, but I can see some of what it means, and to hear it in choral form set my  heart racing.

From the Peasant’s Revolt (1381), through to Occupy Wall Street (ongoing), featuring Women’s Liberation, American slavery (Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” was particularly harrowing), Vietnam (we had a good sing-a-long to Country Joe McDonald), General Pinochet’s brutal regime, and many more, we were taken through a history of Words overcoming Oppressors.

So if you, like Roddy Doyle, think that “Poetry was School. All poetry could fuck off”, why not take a moment to think on where poetry was not School, and firmly refused to fuck off, even the the face of the worst violence and oppression. Poetry that changed the world. Undermined dictators, unified protesters and brought the spotlight of the world onto injustices.

“Poetry can seriously f*ck off authority figures. It gets under the skin of those whose brains have been made rigid by power.”

Poetry Can Fuck Off!