Guyanese poet Jan Carew, new book


This video series is called JAN CAREW – Black Seminoles, and The Columbian Era.

By Andy Croft in Britain:

Walking the streets of eternity with a Guyanese great

Wednesday 24th February 2016

The poems of Jan Carew which have just been published are testimony to a passionate engagement with the struggle for human liberation which transcends his life and times, says ANDY CROFT

IN THE early 1960s, the new university in Georgetown, Guyana, asked the Guyanese writer Jan Carew (1920-2012), then living in London, to help them stock their library.

With a cheque for £16,000 to spend but with no idea where to start, Carew contacted comrades in the Communist Party who helped him select the books and ship them out to Guyana.

It’s a tantalising story, told almost as an aside in Carew’s posthumously published Episodes From My Life (Peepal Tree, £19.99).

Following his earlier memoir Potaro Dreams, it’s an account of Carew’s wanderings from Guyana to Europe and in Africa and the US.

An extraordinary book about an extraordinary life, it’s moving, funny and vividly written and full of fascinating pen portraits of people like Malcolm X, Andrew Salkey, Jomo Kenyatta, Claudia Jones, Paul Robeson and Cheddi Jagan.

Born in a village in Guyana, Carew was educated in the US, then at Charles University in Prague and the Sorbonne in Paris. A prolific author of fiction, history, essays, children’s books, plays and poetry, his books include Black Midas and The Wild Coast, Rape of Paradise, Ghosts in our Blood, The Guyanese Wanderer and Grenada: The Hour Will Strike Again. In the 1950s, he was a regular broadcaster on the BBC’s Caribbean Voices series and in the 1960s edited The Magnet, London’s first Black newspaper.

He acted with Laurence Olivier and with Wole Soyinka, visited Moscow as a guest of the Union of Soviet Writers and was active in the campaign to free Paul Robeson. Sammy Davis Jr appeared in one of his television plays. Carew reported from inside Cuba for the Observer during the Cuban missile crisis, was working in Ghana at the time of the 1966 coup and lived in revolutionary Grenada.

He was the personal adviser to several heads of government, including Cheddi Jagan, Kwame Nkrumah and Michael Manley. Later he pioneered the teaching of Black studies in US higher education.

When the Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchov visited Harlem to meet Fidel Castro, Carew was there: “I remember a BBC team trying in vain to find someone in the huge crowd who would make an anti-Cuban statement. “One nameless brother in the crowd had been asked in front of the cameras, ‘Did you know that Fidel Castro nationalised one hundred million dollars of American property?’ “‘That don’t bother me none,’ the nameless man replied. ‘I don’t own no property… If them Cuban Cats took a hundred million from The Man, that don’t bother me none. The Man done ripped-off ten thousand times more than that from my folks…’”

In 1950 in Georgetown, Carew published his only book of poems, Streets of Eternity. But he was a prolific poet. Return to Streets of Eternity (Smokestack, £9.50), edited by Chris Searle and Carew’s widow Joy Gleason Carew, brings together for the first time poems written during a lifetime of passionate engagement in anti-colonial, civil rights, black power and liberation movements.

It’s a wonderful book, the record of half a century of revolutionary struggle in the “third world” seen through the eyes of a writer who shared the triumphs and the defeats of his time in Cuba, Guyana, Angola, Ghana, Sharpeville, Soweto and Grenada: “They say that Soufriere’s sleeping now/And Bishop’s lying in a nameless grave/But can volcanic fires die?/You can betray the revolution/for a moment/But you can never extinguish its fire.”

The book includes many previously unpublished tributes to 20th-century revolutionary leaders like Agostinho Neto, Patrice Lumumba, Che Guevara, Kwame Nkrumah, Malcolm X, Maurice Bishop and Claudia Jones and to radical writers like Martin Carter, Walter Rodney, Dennis Brutus, Andrew Salkey, Alejo Carpentier and Mumia Abu-Jamal.

The book’s editors have reproduced some of Carew’s news reports from Cuba (What the Cuban Revolution Means to Me), Ghana (Coup in Ghana: Season of Violent Change, and from the West Indian Gazette (What is a West Indian?) But, above all, it’s a book about Africa and the African diaspora, about exile and home and about liberation and imperialism:

“Wanted Dead or alive for a murder and a multitude of crimes A creature, armed, desperate, dangerous a creature wearing a humanoid disguise Usually carries a calling card touting freedom, democracy, free enterprise… Two thousand million are dying in twilight vales of starvation Where its surrogates Princes, Prelates, Pimp-Presidents, Buccaneers of profit are looting labour and life. Wanted Dead or alive for Murder, Ethnocide, Mayhem, Racism and the rape of continents, islands skies and seas Imperialism a creature armed, desperate, dangerous.”

African American author Maya Angelou, new film


This video from the USA says about itself:

Pt. 1: “Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise“: Film on Writer & Activist Chronicles Extraordinary Life

16 February 2016

In a Black History Month special, we remember the life and legacy of the legendary poet, playwright and civil rights activist Maya Angelou. For the first time, a documentary has chronicled her remarkable life. She was raped as a child and refused to speak for five years. She went on to become an accomplished singer and actress, then worked with Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.

After King’s assassination, with encouragement by the author James Baldwin, Angelou penned “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” her first of seven autobiographies. In 1993 she recited her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at Bill Clinton’s first inauguration. She was the first poet to make an inaugural recitation since Robert Frost at John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961. We air highlights of Angelou’s work and speak to the co-producers and directors of the film, “Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise,” Rita Coburn Whack and Bob Hercules, as well as Angelou’s grandson, Colin Johnson.

These two videos are the sequels.

British pro-refugee poetry


This 27 December 2015 video series from England is called Over Land, Over Sea: Poems for those seeking refuge.

By Ross Bradshaw in Britain:

Solidarity which sings

Thursday 14th January 2016

ROSS BRADSHAW of Five Leaves Publications reports on a poetic response to the refugee crisis

TOWARDS the end of summer, a group of East Midlands writers started discussing the refugee crisis. The outcome is the book Over Land, Over Sea: Poems for Those Seeking Refuge, with 80 writers contributing material for the collection.

All donated their work free, as did the editors, typesetter and designer, with production costs raised by crowd-funding.

Five Leaves’s involvement started when staff member Pippa Hennessy offered to design the book in her own time, suggesting that maybe we could offer to take on the whole publishing side.

The book, with an introduction by scientist Martyn Poliakoff, has just come out. It includes over 100 poems and the proceeds will be split between Nottingham Refugee Forum, Leicester City of Sanctuary and Medecins Sans Frontieres.

Demand has been high. Over Land, Over Sea was reprinted within two weeks of publication, with organised readings — including “pop up” initiatives — taking place around the East Midlands. The project will raise several thousand pounds for refugee charities and, equally importantly, give political and moral support to those seeking refuge.

Some of the contributors are well-known or are at the start of their career. Some are refugees or from other migrant families, others have campaigned or raised funds for refugees in the past.

But what is remarkable is that the idea — first mooted by Zimbabwean activist Ambrose Musiyiwa — gathered support immediately. From the initial idea to the final copy took only weeks. Work poured in from around the world, some new material, some from poets’ backlists. Press pictures of drowned migrants in the Mediterranean gave an urgency to the project.

Siobhan Logan, one of the editors, says: “Like other people, I felt distraught about the scale of the unfolding refugee crisis and especially the media representation of migrants crossing Europe as a ‘swarm’ or ‘flood.’

“The impetus for the anthology came out of an established community of writers sharing their thoughts on social media. As writers we’re very alert to the power of naming and labels and wanted to shift that discourse to a more humane one.

“We didn’t control TV channels or national newspapers. But we had our own words and shared them. When Ambrose posted up the suggestion of an anthology, there followed a flurry of suggestions and volunteers.

“I was blown away by the poetry submissions that came in — well over 200 thoughtful, complex, diverse poems — deeply felt but also beautifully crafted. It was a considerable challenge to whittle this down to about 100 poems that spoke to each other thematically. We wanted an array of voices, including those of refugees themselves.

“The book has been raising funds but it has also taken that conversation that started on Facebook out into the wider community. It turns out we could do something after all. And coming together made that solidarity not only practical but also made it sing.”

Musiyiwa had worked with what became the editorial and publishing team on a number of projects in Leicester but was still astonished at the immediate and powerful reaction to his idea.

Like Logan, what concerned him was the way labels had been attached to people crossing the Mediterranean as well as those in camps in the north of France.

“The anthology challenges the ‘othering’ and dehumanisation that has been prevalent,” he says. “It presents this challenge without preaching. It strips the labels to their bones and reminds everyone that the people who are seeking refuge are people and not numbers, insects or environmental phenomena.

“And it enriches because it does what people do, it reaches out and reaffirms the humanity of people who are in a difficult situation.”

Other exiled writers involved in the project include Malka al-Haddad, an Iraqi living in Leicester, and the refugee writing group at the Arimathea Trust in Nottingham. Established refugee writers, including Ziba Karbassi and Jasmine Heydari, have material in the book and there are a number of Jewish, Black and Asian writers from an earlier generation of migrants.

But the material has been chosen solely on quality, relevance and the way the poems in the collection relate to each other. The editors wanted the book to mirror the crises that caused refugees to flee, report on their journey, reflect on the welcome and often the small kindnesses they have received which strengthen peoples’ ability to overcome their traumatic recent past.

In introducing the Leicester launch of the book Emma Lee, who took on much of the role of chairing a complex Facebook and email debate on how to take the whole idea forward, remarked on how more home-grown writers were conscious of their relatively privileged position.

This is echoed in Poliakoff’s introduction. “We are willing to welcome new families into our country so that they too can contribute to our communities as soon as they have overcome their dreadful experiences. Until then, we need to help them,” he writes.

Lee is one of several contributors who have not only staged “proper” launches but ensured that many relevant poetry, literature and film events have some guerilla readings while others have taken copies to Quaker meetings, Green Party branches, conferences on refugees, and in the case of one poet, to his choir practice.

Another editor, Kathleen Bell, is convinced that poetry has a role to play because of Musiyiwa’s poem The Man Who Ran Through the Tunnel, very necessary given the language used in the media.

“While poets may not be able to solve big problems they do have a role to play in terms of language and narrative, enabling readers to see situations differently,” she says.

“I was aware of WH Auden’s Refugee Blues as a precedent. It seemed that a poetry anthology could do two things simultaneously — tell more varied, nuanced and complex stories and raise money for charities helping refugees.”

There was agreement that the focus would not be just on poems about the current situation but would create parallels with past experiences of refugees and exiles. The crowd-funder launch coincided with the pictures of the death of the child Aylan Kurdi washed ashore on a Mediterranean beach and a big change in the public mood.

A large number of poems relating to the photos in the press were received, she says. “But we decided that we didn’t want too big a focus on one instance but to tell a wide range of stories and offer a variety of approaches.

Influential as Aylan’s story was, we knew there were many other stories which had not received so much attention. This meant turning down some strong poems, some of which have since appeared elsewhere and rightly so.”

And so this will continue. Further events are planned, including in London and possibly in Scotland. The group’s Facebook site, Poets in Solidarity with Refugees, lists other poetry initiatives in support of refugees, while in London the long-established Exiled Writers plugs away at this issue month after month. Poetry can make things happen.

Over Land, Over Sea: Poems for Those Seeking Refuge is available at £9.99 from Five Leaves Bookshop in Nottingham, bookshop@fiveleaves.co.uk, telephone (0115) 837-3097 and at Housmans bookshop in London.

British poet Attila the Stockbroker’s 2015 in review


This poetry video says about itself:

The Corbyn Supporters From HellAttila The Stockbroker, 15th Oct 2015 at The Blue Boar Hotel, Maldon, Essex, UK.

By Attila the Stockbroker from Britain:

Thursday 24th December 2015

2015 has been a momentous year for me, personally, poetically and politically.

On September 12, I was just driving out of my adopted 1980s home town of Harlow, having done a storming gig there the night before celebrating the recent publication of my autobiography. The news came through that Jeremy Corbyn had been elected leader of the Labour Party by a landslide. I had to stop the car as I listened to his victory speech. Tears of happiness filled my eyes and I punched the air. But I forgot I was still in the car and I punched the roof.

That is true, funny and it hurt but I didn’t care. It was the culmination of a very happy few weeks for me. I’d recently been given the all-clear after an operation for suspected bladder cancer, was about to become a step-grandad for the first time, and the Seagulls had just soared to the top of the Championship.

Corbyn’s amazing, inspirational victory was the absolute icing on the cake. In fact, it was two layers of icing with a great big bar of chocolate on top of those, a chocolate seagull with a red star made of strawberries on its head perched on that and the whole thing topped off with a load of clotted cream and six pints of Dark Star Six Hop Ale. Magic.

Twelve years before, in my song Guy Fawkes’ Table, written as the Labour government voted to join Bush in his illegal invasion of Iraq, I had despairingly written off new Labour — “Aneurin Bevan, your party is dead” — and declared that: “We need a new radical party, but not the Judean People’s Front/Not another small sect but a movement, with the power to change and confront.”

This music video says about itself:

Punk poet Attila the Stockbroker‘s ‘homage’ to New LabourGuy Fawkes’ Table – live onstage at Belper Queen’s Head, Derbyshire, England, on Thursday, 21st May 2010 with backing vocals from David Rovics.

The article continues:

Against all the odds, sneers, put-downs and scare stories from the national media, many of whose so-called journalists’ tongues are a deep shade of brown from constantly ensuring that the rectal cavities of the likes of Rupert Murdoch are as clean as a Singaporean airport lounge, we got it.

And our “new radical party” is the one it always should have been — the Labour Party.

I did 37 gigs between September and December on my autobiography tour, all over England and Wales, and the vibrant new hope I have encountered everywhere has been a joy to behold.

As we know, local Constituency Labour Parties have had a huge influx of members — including yours truly — and a huge grassroots movement is growing. Even in constituencies like my local one, where literally a dead duck could get elected wearing a Tory rosette, the recruits are flooding in.

Of course, the power of the opposition is daunting, not least because some of it is from within the Labour Party itself. But the sneers and jibes of the Tory press are testament to how frightened the tiny, unrepresentative elite which controls it are that their power could one day be taken away and legislation passed to bring true media democracy to this country.

That day certainly can’t come fast enough for me.

I certainly fully intend to spend 2016 as I have 2015, travelling the country and further afield as Comrade Corbyn’s unofficial — indeed unsolicited — social surrealist Minister of Propaganda. With a few reservations, not to be mentioned here — you can’t agree with someone about EVERYTHING, that’s being sycophantic. I’ll be spreading ideas, drinking beer and having fun. Fun’s important, you know! Beery Clashmas and a Hoppy New Year to you all.

Poetess Tineke Vroman, RIP


Leo and Tineke Vroman

Translated from NOS TV in the Netherlands today:

In her hometown of Fort Worth in the USA at the age of 94 Georgine Sanders has died. She was better known as Tineke Vroman, the muse of the poet Leo Vroman, who died last year.

Tineke Vroman-Sanders was a medical anthropologist and started to write at a later age. She debuted in 1990 under her maiden name with the poetry collection Het onvoltooid bestaan [The unfinished existence]. Her latest publication was the poetry book Een huis om in te slapen (2007). She also wrote a number of books together with her husband, who besides being a poet also was a biologist.

The two became engaged in 1938. Shortly after the German invasion Leo went to England and then to the Dutch East Indies. There he was arrested after the invasion of the Japanese. He was in various Japanese camps and did not see Tineke again until after the war. They married in 1947, had two daughters and were virtually inseparable.

Play about poet Leo Vroman


This video is the trailer of the Dutch theatre play Hoe mooi alles (How beautiful everything).

On 16 December 2015, Hoe mooi alles was in the Leiden theatre in the Netherlands. It is about the life of famous Dutch poet Leo Vroman (April 10, 1915 – February 22, 2014) and Tineke, his wife.

There are two roles in the play: Kees Hulst as Leo Vroman, and Esther Scheldwacht as Tineke.

Hoe mooi alles, book coverThe play is based on the novel, also called Hoe mooi alles, by Mirjam van Hengel, written in close collaboration with Leo and Tineke. The book was supposed to come out on Vroman’s 99th birthday, but he died just before that.

The play is set at shortly before Vroman died at 98 years of age. The couple reminisces, especially about 1938-1947: the time between when they met and became engaged, and when they finally married. Tineke was of partly Dutch, partly Indonesian ancestry, and had recently come to the Netherlands to study at the same Utrecht university as Leo. 1938-1947 was the time of the second world war.

Before that war, Vroman, being Jewish, sometimes experienced anti-Semitism. After the war, in New York City, a doctor advised Vroman to have an operation to make his nose look smaller: ‘With such a Jewish nose, no employer will give you a job’.

On 10 May 1940, nazi Germany invaded the Netherlands. The Vroman family suffered terribly from the fascists’ persecution. Leo fled the Netherlands on 14 May. Against all odds, he managed to reach England on a sailing boat. Tineke decided not to join Leo on that journey, for a complex of reasons, including expecting then it might be even more dangerous than the nazi occupation.

Soon, Leo Vroman decided to leave England for Indonesia, where he could finish his biology studies. Then, imperial Japan invaded Indonesia. That meant three years of Japanese prison camps for Vroman. Often, he came close to dying. Thinking about Tineke kept him alive. Along with small things, like a little mudskipper fish.

After the defeat of Japan, the Dutch government demanded that Leo Vroman should fight in another war: colonial war to stop Indonesian independence.

However, Vroman refused that. He wrote a famous pro-peace poem (also quoted in the play). He went to New York City. Eventually, he became a famous biologist in the USA.

In 1947, Tineke also came to New York City. It was illegal for her to go to the USA to marry. So, officially she came as a student. When she saw Leo after landing, she admonished him not to welcome her too enthusiastically, as authorities might see them.

One theme in the play is mutual feelings of guilt of the couple. Tineke felt guilty about not having joined Leo in fleeing the Netherlands in May 1940. Leo felt guilty about being away from Tineke for so long, and not returning to her immediately in 1945.

Nevertheless, this is a play about two people loving each other for many decades.

A review of the play is here.