Friday 31 January 2014

Happy Chinese New Year of the Horse: and a poem about panda sex

Last night I won the annual Farrago Poetry Zoo Award for Best Performance by a London Poet for 2013. Held at the RADA Café in Malet Street, the Farrago poetry events are supportive and inclusive, not to mention exciting, showcases for some very hot new talent. Thank you to everyone who voted for me. What a great way to see in the Chinese New Year of the Horse.

I read my new poem, "Chi Chi's Glorious Swansong" about panda sex (video below), and "Credit Crunch Suicide", a short poem about the bankers, that I'd debuted the night before, at the Oxford and Cambridge Club for Chinese New Year.

Charles Shaar Murray won Best Fiction Reading for his first novel The Hellhound Sample, from which he read an extract at the Farrago Fiction Slam and workshop at the Poetry Café in Covent Garden.

Congratulations to everyone who performed last night — what an awesome bunch of talent. Jason Pilley is an outstandingly original presence who deservedly won Best Overall Performance; Anna Khan has really nailed her performance with the most beautiful jazz voice in service to her poetry; and Sean Wai Keung won Best Debut Performance with his drily witty yet touching personal voice.

Thanks to John Paul O'Neill for putting on a great event that's so inclusive. Over 60 poets were nominated for last night's awards.

My first collection of poetry, Reaching for my Gnu, is still available as an e-book and a paperback.

Here's a poem wot I just wrote:

The Year of the Horse

May you never find pony in your boloney.
May you only find ham in your spam.
We could all afford steak, if only
The government gave half a damn.

Kung hei fat choi!

Wednesday 29 January 2014

SWP splinter in new sex storm: never mind social and economic relations, here comes mighty whitey with the horn

I'm sure the first thing we all thought when we saw the photo of Dasha Zhukova Abramovich and the bondage chair was: ooh, hot BDSM.

My own race play consists of me as Kato doing a kung fu leap on Loved One as Inspector Clouseau, and then yelling at him in some guttural language that may be cod Chinese or just cod landed in Newfoundland.

Sometimes we reverse roles but I am not very good at being a clowning buffoon. There are some things men do better — I'm sorry, gurls, but let's just face the ugly truth on that one.

At other times I pretend I am the leader of the vanguard party addressing the millions (played by Loved One) and shout at him in long words that he can't understand or some such egregious polysyllabic sesquipedalian bumsuckery sublimating my drive for white supremacy that I must codify to render invisible the underlying hierarchy or it will make my friends' heads go pop.

Then there are the times we play Wendi and Rupe. He complains because we have to roll around on Monopoly money and old pesetas from holidays we can no longer afford.

I'm thinking of bringing the Opium Wars into our race play, and do opium while he sails a gunboat up my Yangtze. (Will poppy-seed cake do?)

Never mind the social and economic relations — here comes mighty whitey and he's got the horn.

Friday 3 January 2014

The forced repatriation of Chinese seaman from post-war Liverpool: my column for the South China Morning Post

Photo: Pak Hung Chan

In 2007 I made a ten-part series for BBC Radio 4 called Chinese In Britain. Along with my wonderful producer Mukti Jain Campion at Culture Wise, we covered hitherto largely unknown issues and events such as the forced repatriation by the Attlee government of Chinese seamen who'd risked their lives keeping Britain's merchant navy running in World War II.

Last year, Moira Kenny at Soundagents helped organise a commemorative plaque on the site of the Blue Funnel offices in Liverpool. My South China Morning Post column on the subject:

"Keep my funnels tall and blue and look after my China men". So reads the quote from Victorian magnate Alfred Holt on the newly erected plaque outside the former Blue Funnel shipping office (now the New Capital Chinese restaurant) on Nelson Street, in Liverpool's Chinatown. 
It has taken more than 60 years but at last the thousands of Chinese mariners who worked for the company are being remembered. The plaque's blue denotes a historical marker and Holt's "China men" wrote their own chapter in Britain's seafaring tradition - only to be shamefully cast away in the aftermath of its "finest hour". 
For too long their experience constituted an episode the British authorities seemed to want to forget. Thousands of men sailed from Shanghai and Canton to Britain in the years following the Blue Funnel Line's establishment, in 1866. For decades it was Britain's main trading conduit with China - and by the second world war, some 15,000 to 20,000 Chinese sailors had made Liverpool their home. ...


Also, read Don Flynn at Migrants' Rights

Chinese coolies on the Western Front in World War I.

Prayer Before Birth by Louis Macneice: a guiding light in a mad world

The world is going insane, the Tory narrative has set like concrete, the far left has lost its marbles along with its principles and judgement.

Never mind the empty left rhetoric, here's my favourite poem that's been a guiding light since my teens.

Prayer Before Birth

I am not yet born; O hear me.
Let not the bloodsucking bat or the rat or the stoat or the
club-footed ghoul come near me.

I am not yet born, console me.
I fear that the human race may with tall walls wall me,
with strong drugs dope me, with wise lies lure me,
on black racks rack me, in blood-baths roll me.

I am not yet born; provide me
With water to dandle me, grass to grow for me, trees to talk
to me, sky to sing to me, birds and a white light
in the back of my mind to guide me.

I am not yet born; forgive me
For the sins that in me the world shall commit, my words
when they speak me, my thoughts when they think me,
my treason engendered by traitors beyond me,
my life when they murder by means of my
hands, my death when they live me.

I am not yet born; rehearse me
In the parts I must play and the cues I must take when
old men lecture me, bureaucrats hector me, mountains
frown at me, lovers laugh at me, the white
waves call me to folly and the desert calls
me to doom and the beggar refuses
my gift and my children curse me.

I am not yet born; O hear me,
Let not the man who is beast or who thinks he is God
come near me.

I am not yet born; O fill me
With strength against those who would freeze my
humanity, would dragoon me into a lethal automaton,
would make me a cog in a machine, a thing with
one face, a thing, and against all those
who would dissipate my entirety, would
blow me like thistledown hither and
thither or hither and thither
like water held in the
hands would spill me.

Let them not make me a stone and let them not spill me.
Otherwise kill me.

Louis Macneice

Thursday 2 January 2014

Blood money: the new £2 coin celebrates Kitchener and World War 1

The new £2 coin — such an ugly thing in so many ways. This government glorifies something recognised as a catastrophe, an unprecedented horror where millions of men (lions led by donkeys) died at the Front. World War I wasn't the war to end all wars (otherwise it would just be "the World War") but led to World War II where tens of millions more died.

Lord Herbert Kitchener — whose visage graces the new coin — was an Empire administrator, overseeing the crushing of nations for Britain's wealth, and was in charge while the first concentration camps were used against Boer civilians in southern Africa. (Jamie at Blood & Treasure says second, the first being in Cuba.)

From Wiki:
Court martial of Breaker Morant
In the Breaker Morant case several soldiers from Australia were arrested and court-martialled for summarily executing Boer prisoners, and also for the murder of a German missionary believed to be a Boer sympathiser, all allegedly under unwritten orders approved by Kitchener. The celebrated horseman and bush poet Lt. Harry "Breaker" Morant and Lt. Peter Handcock were found guilty, sentenced to death, and shot by firing squad at Pietersburg on 27 February 1902. Their death warrants were personally signed by Kitchener. He reprieved a third soldier, Lt. George Witton, who served 28 months before being released.

Lovely man. Yes, let's have this hero on our cash. Sort of fitting, really.

"Legalised mass murder", said Harry Patch, the last surviving British soldier from WWI. A savage imperial bloodbath, says Seumas Milne:
But it does no service to the memory of the victims to prettify the horrific reality. The war was a vast depraved undertaking of unprecedented savagery, in which the ruling classes of Europe dispatched their people to a senseless slaughter in the struggle for imperial supremacy. As Lenin summed it up to the Romanian poet Valeriu Marcu in early 1917: "One slaveowner, Germany, is fighting another slaveowner, England, for a fairer distribution of the slaves".

Dulce Et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.

GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!-- An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.--
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Wilfred Owen.

Let Blackadder have the last word.

The Red Dagger by Heathcote Williams: what the power elite do when the poor play up

Part 1 of The Red Dagger, a fascinating history of the poor from Heathcote Williams. When the power elite clamped down on the masses, Wat Tyler led a challenge and was martyred for it. I'm not saying we're heading back to feudal times, but …

Narration and montage by Alan Cox.