“Burning words full of life and truth”: review of my poetry in the Morning Star

Quasi gal, quasi Byronic. It’s official — I write like the poetry dudes of old.

I’m delighted and a bit stunned to read a wonderful review of my poetry collection, Reaching for my Gnu, in today’s Morning Star, written by writer and revolutionary teacher Chris Searle.

Chris says of my poetry:

“… a strange rendezvous of language, wit, and the imagination.”

“She fully integrates the movingly personal, the vibrantly social and the diablolically political.”

“Her rhyming is frequently quasi-Byronic, full of surprise and acerbic invention and her images, in their oft-times grotesquerie — as in poems like Orange Tone — carry a similar visual revulsion as those brilliantly caricatured by the Morning Star’s cartoonist Martin Rowson.”

“But the most compelling poem in this collection is Big Society: On A Conversation In The Foundling Museum. ‘We grow poorer and yet/ we birth millionaires like stars in a nebula,’ she declares and her final message shines out for us all: ‘You who are going under, heal/Take back from those who steal./Rise [in]to the light of the sun.’ Burning words, full of life and truth.”

I remember Chris from when I was a kid at the summer school he ran in a former fire station in the East End’s Roman Road (now a Buddhist temple). He was already a legend having inspired the pupils up the road at Sir John Cass and Redcoat School to write poetry which he published in a book, Stepney Words. Shocked by the literary inner landscape of its working class pupils, the school governors sacked him and the kids promptly went out on strike until he was reinstated.

He then cast his net wider across other schools and released more young inner worlds in Fire Words, published by Jonathan Cape. Two of my poems got in. They were juvenilia (and, typical for me, political) but the important thing was that being encouraged to write and then published unleashed something, like a catch being lifted from a door. Feelings poured out with structure, purpose and confidence.

Children from Hackney weren’t supposed to have a view of the world and our own experience in it. But here we were, writing, observing, learning, honing and perfecting.

He was one of two teachers who saw something in me and helped me access it — and that represents about the best you can do with another human being. This was sadly against a background of people — including some teachers and leftists, then as now — who tried to bash it back in. Luckily, the spirit endures and sometimes even flourishes.

So when I hear the word culture, I do now reach for my gnu.

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