British poetry against government policies

This video from England says about itself:

Coleridge Lectures 2015: Andrew Kelly

17 April 2015

Andrew Kelly: Animals ‘in the Fraternity of universal Nature’

In his utopian community Pantisocracy, Coleridge believed that animals were to be brothers and sisters ‘in the Fraternity of universal Nature’. Animal rights and animal welfare were debated widely amongst the Romantics and remain controversial issues today. Andrew Kelly looks at the views of the Romantics and current campaigns for animals.

Part of Coleridge Lectures 2015: Radical Green. In association with Bristol 2015 European Green Capital and Cabot Institute.

By Jody Porter in Britain:

New Boots and Pantisocracies

Thursday 13th August 2015

Jody Porter talks to ANDY JACKSON and W N HERBERT about the success of their post-election poetry project

THE next few weeks will see a radical web-based poetry project reach its conclusion, with the posting of the final poems out of a planned 100 on the New Boots and Pantisocracies website.

The project is curated by poets W N Herbert and Andy Jackson and takes the theme of “the first 100 days,” which has become something of a post-election meme in recent years.

The website has published poems initially reflecting on the post-election political landscape before moving on to document the state of British society in the last few months since the tumultuous general election. Poets involved include George Szirtes, Helen Mort, Ian McMillan, Roddy Lumsden, Sheenagh Pugh and Sean O’Brien, each one responding to what the curators describe as ”the new unrealpolitik.”

The name of the project brings together the concept of the pantisocracy (where all govern equally) as proposed by 18th-century poets Coleridge and Southey, with the 1977 Ian Dury LP New Boots and Panties, a quintessentially British record, rich in blue collar poetry and musical variation.

This music video from Ireland is called Ian Dury & The Blockheads / Blockheads “Live” in Belfast 03/02/79.

W N Herbert says: “The idea for the blog sprang from an online exchange between myself and my publisher Andy Ching.

The phrase just arose, and the way it bounced Dury’s ripe knowingness off Southey and Coleridge’s early idealism suddenly seemed to make sense of our current bewilderment. It was, we realised, one of those rare spontaneous puns you look again at and think, ‘What can I do with that?’”

Jackson says of the project: “There was a sense of disbelief after the election result came in. A Tory majority without the limited restraints placed on it by its former coalition partners spelt bad news for the arts, education, health, welfare and many other areas traditionally sacrificed to austerity. Poets associated with the project have responded in various ways, looking at the benefits system, human rights legislation, TTIP, Scottish independence and many other topics.”

Co-curator Herbert added: “there’s plenty of anger and bewilderment, but these are lines of poetry rather than unwavering expressions of a party line, and their energy comes from a collision of the verbal with the visceral, a recharging of language even as it is being emptied by our political masters and their envious opposites.”

The initial aim — 100 poems in 100 days — has been a success, and the curators are considering the next steps. Herbert explains: “The plan is to take New Boots into the live arena, organising readings of contributors as we’ve done with previous projects. The other part of the plan is, we can now reveal, to continue past the 100 days as long as the contributors’ political and poetical will is there and until everyone interested in writing something has done so.” Readers can therefore expect an incendiary mix of heads-up poetry in a town near them in the near future.

Jackson concludes: “Poetry has taken a stand in a way that it is rarely afforded the chance to — not just via a few isolated voices on lonely hillsides and street corners, but collectively and loudly. We hope that this project demonstrates that the radical art of the polemic in poetic form still thrives, and that poetry has a place in both reflecting society and politics, and rejecting it where it cannot accept the way things are.”

New Boots and Pantisocracies can be viewed here.

Did William Shakespeare smoke marihuana?

This video from Britain is called Shakespeare’s Mother: The Secret Life of a Tudor Woman. BBC Documentary 2015.

If William Shakespeare did indeed smoke marihuana, then he was lucky not to live in South Carolina in the USA in 2015 …

From daily The Independent in Britain:

Was William Shakespeare high when he penned his plays?

Pipes with cannabis residue were found in the Bard’s garden

Francis Thackeray

Saturday 08 August 2015

State-of-the-art forensic technology from South Africa has been used to try and unravel the mystery of what was smoked in tobacco pipes found in the Stratford-upon-Avon garden of William Shakespeare.

Residue from clay tobacco pipes more than 400 years old from the playwright’s garden were analysed in Pretoria using a sophisticated technique called gas chromatography mass spectrometry.

Chemicals from pipe bowls and stems which had been excavated from Shakespeare‘s garden and adjacent areas were identified and quantified during the forensic study. The artefacts for the study were on loan from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

The gas technique is very sensitive to residues that can be preserved in pipes even if they had been smoked 400 years ago.

What were they smoking?

There were several kinds of tobacco in the 17th century, including the North American Nicotiana (from which we get nicotine), and cocaine (Erythroxylum), which is obtained from Peruvian coca leaves.

It has been claimed that Sir Francis Drake may have brought coca leaves to England after his visit to Peru, just as Sir Walter Raleigh had brought “tobacco leaves” (Nicotiana) from Virginia in North America.

In a recent issue of a Country Life magazine, Mark Griffiths has stimulated great interest in John Gerard’s Herbal, published in 1597 as a botanical book which includes engraved images of several people in the frontispiece. One of them (cited as “The Fourth Man”) is identified by Griffiths as William Shakespeare, but this identification is questionable.

Possibly, the engraving represents Sir Francis Drake, who knew Gerard.

Gerard’s Herbal refers to various kinds of “tobacco” introduced to Europe by Drake and Raleigh in the days of Shakespeare in Elizabethan England.

There certainly is a link between Drake and plants from the New World, notably corn, the potato and “tobacco”. Furthermore, one can associate Raleigh with the introduction of “tobacco” to Europe from North America (notably in the context of the tobacco plant called Nicotiana, from Virginia and elsewhere).

What we found

There was unquestionable evidence for the smoking of coca leaves in early 17th century England, based on chemical evidence from two pipes in the Stratford-upon-Avon area.

Neither of the pipes with cocaine came from Shakepeare’s garden. But four of the pipes with cannabis did.

Results of this study (including 24 pipe fragments) indicated cannabis in eight samples, nicotine in at least one sample, and in two samples definite evidence for Peruvian cocaine from coca leaves.

Shakespeare may have been aware of the deleterious effects of cocaine as a strange compound. Possibly, he preferred cannabis as a weed with mind-stimulating properties.

These suggestions are based on the following literary indications. In Sonnet 76, Shakespeare writes about “invention in a noted weed”. This can be interpreted to mean that Shakespeare was willing to use “weed” (cannabis as a kind of tobacco) for creative writing (“invention”).

In the same sonnet it appears that he would prefer not to be associated with “compounds strange”, which can be interpreted, at least potentially, to mean “strange drugs” (possibly cocaine).

Sonnet 76 may relate to complex wordplay relating in part to drugs (compounds and “weed”), and in part to a style of writing, associated with clothing (“weeds”) and literary compounds (words combined to form one, as in the case of the word “Philsides” from Philip Sidney).

Was Shakespeare high?

Chemical analyses of residues in early 17th-century clay “tobacco pipes” have confirmed that a diversity of plants was smoked in Europe. Literary analyses and chemical science can be mutually beneficial, bringing the arts and the sciences together in an effort to better understand Shakespeare and his contemporaries.

This has also begged the question whether the plays of Shakespeare were performed in Elizabethan England in a smoke-filled haze?

One can well imagine the scenario in which Shakespeare performed his plays in the court of Queen Elizabeth, in the company of Drake, Raleigh and others who smoked clay pipes filled with “tobacco”.


This piece is based on an article published in the South African Journal of Science in July 2015.

Francis Thackeray is Phillip Tobias Chair in Palaeoanthropology, Evolutionary Studies Institute at University of the Witwatersrand.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

United States ultra-conservative judge Scalia, animated cartoon

This video by Mark Fiore from the USA says about itself:

Scalia’s Poetry Slam

8 July 2015

It seems only fitting to use Antonin Scalia’s own words for a poetry slam, since the justice’s snarky dissents are filled with so many poetic gems. The Affordable Care Act victory was followed quickly by the same-sex marriage win, and Scalia’s dissents have become increasingly irate and colorful. You can read more on my site.

British ranting poetry, 1980-2015

This video from Britain says about itself:

Attila The Stockbroker – Airstrip One (Official Video, 1984)

Attila the Stockbroker (born John Baine, 21 October 1957, Southwick, Sussex, England) is a punk poet, and a folk punk musician and songwriter. He performs solo and as the leader of the band Barnstormer. He describes himself as a “sharp tongued, high energy social surrealist poet and songwriter.” He has performed over 2,700 concerts, published six books of poems, and released 30+ recordings (CDs, LPs and singles).

By Roxanne Escobales in Britain:

Ranting poets stand their political ground

Thursday 25th june 2015

Stand Up and Spit: the Main Event
Camden Centre, London WC1

If the only thing you know about ranting poetry in the early 1980s is Rick from the TV show, The Young Ones, it’s time to march yourself out to the yard and shoot yourself.

You remember Rick — he’s the self-proclaimed “People’s Poet” and adorably unlikeable character who wears badges of dissent pinned onto his suitably black jacket and pretends to be an anarchist.

I reckon readers of this fine publication know better than to think the ranters were of the same ilk as the puffed-ego wannabe that was Rick hiding behind his stuck-on badges.

Sure, ranters wore badges. Thing is, they haven’t taken them off. Unlike Rick it was no folly of youth, no lark for them.

They marched the march, arming themselves with the only instrument that was truly theirs — their voice — to protest against the misuse of power as they saw it. To this day they still fight the good fight, over 30 years since the mostly working class, white ranting youths and marginalised young West Indian dub poets found they were more alike than they were different.

Turns out that not much has changed since they were younger and slimmer. The government always gets elected back in. The poems and the poets still pack a punch that one cannot duck. The truths they speak remain true, and the messages have travelled through the years as fresh and as relatable as the first time they were performed — even if the poets themselves have grown distinguishably greyer.

Here’s the scene. A publicly funded civic centre, a stage with a single microphone in the centre, a simple black backdrop.

No fancy projections or banners to distract one’s attention. This was the original DIY generation, sticking together fanzines and starting indpendent record labels.

The audience queued up in front of the venue — old rockers, teenagers, ladies with dreadlocks, pensioners, 20-somethings, black, white, blue, red — every stripe accounted for.

Who else could compere a night like this but Mark Thomas. Witty, dynamic and unapologetically brazen, he warmed the crowd with his charismatic tales of travelling round the country building a manifesto or talking about his 100 acts of dissent, which included imagining the end of the monarchy, and encouraging German tourists in front of Buckingham Palace to do the same (illegal under the Felony Treason Act of 1848, an anachronistic law still on the books).

The line-up could read like a well-worn, hand-written, photocopied flyer. Tim Wells (the man behind Stand Up and Spit), Little Dave (now a healthcare worker), Ginger John (now bald and not so ginger), Janine Booth (trade unionist who still hates the Tories), Attila the Stockbroker (still stockbroking in any squat that needs a bard), John Hegley (with his ukelele and geeky love of facts), Linton Kwesi Johnson (LKJ, the elder statesman of dub poetry), Emily Harrison (not technically a ranter, as she was born in 1992), Joolz (“Ranting poetry was invented in my sitting room in Bradford”), John Cooper Clarke (no comment needed) and Porky the Poet (that’s Phill Jupitus to you).

While the ranting poets are known for their strident voices of political dissent, they didn’t bash the audience over the head with the sledgehammer of ideology, although they did deliver this in measures.

These are poets after all, humans highly attuned to humanity. Humour, tragedy, love, mental health — all made an appearance.

Wells’s I like My Flag I Do, written when he was a teenager, set a youthful tone pointing out the hypocrisy of the British ruling classes. Little Dave, who’s Being Short can be found on the seminal album The Oi! Of Sex, wrote compassionately about the challenges of being a nurse. Ginger John used absurdity to great comical effect while describing the life of someone on the outside looking in and scratching his head in wonder — his poem about making excuses as to why he wasn’t able to sign on on time took one surreal and hilarious turn after another.

Booth, a ranter who took a decades-long break to become a trade unionist and campaigner for disability rights, got the audience chanting along to her Mostly Hating Tories from her new collection of poetry by the same title.

The spirit of the late original ranter, Stephen “Seething” Wells, was kept alive by Attila the Stockbroker who read Wells’s Roger and who also brought the audience to tears with his poem about his step-father.

Seething Wells’s partner in crime Joolz delivered grave and ponderous observations so heavy the words plunked into our ears like rocks into a still lake. Her poem about watching the prostitutes outside her flat get exploited by the male punters delivered a line that could be a slogan for the ranting and dub poetry scenes: “I’m not supposed to talk about this./I’m not supposed to notice.”

Clarke had everyone in stitches and in awe at how he could have such cutting insight into the human condition and make it all rhyme and scan at the same time. His banter between poems is equally entertaining and it’s difficult to separate the two, although Get Off Drugs, You Fat Fuck pretty much sums it up.

Porky the Poet managed to rescue the difficult spot of having to follow Clarke, which he realised, he couldn’t. Like a true pro he played this up by described himself as “like that bloke who had to come after The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show.”

Upcoming talent was represented by Harrison, who writes about her mental health issues with self-effacing grace and humour. “When Your Girlfriend Tells You She’s Bi- But You Soon Find out She Meant Polar” is all you need to know.

If you’re reading this and you didn’t attend, you missed this century’s rarest and most valuable performances by one of the country’s most important living poets.

When LKJ, the definitive voice of British West Indians from the ’70s and ’80s, took the stage — “It was apparent to the black youth of my generation that the police had declared a war on us,” he said as an opener — the audience already knew they would be treated to an unforgettable experience, but they didn’t realise the significance of the venue to him, or to dub poetry.

During his time helping organise the International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books in the Camden Centre, the very hall where this event was taking place, a young Jamaican by the name of Michael Smith read poetry and blew the minds of everyone there at the time.

LKJ understood his audience, a crowd who knew Smith was a commanding Jamaican dub poet in early-’80s Brixton who, at 29, was killed in Kingston, Jamaica, allegedly by political thugs because of his views.

When LKJ began reading Smith’s iconic Mi Cyaan Believe It this was the closest anyone was every going to get to hearing Smith perform himself — LKJ channeled a voice from beyond the grave in the very place where he first heard the poem.

The next Stand Up and Spit event, Crossing Over: The Legacy of Ranting Poetry, a Michael Smith tribute at the Black Cultural Archives in Brixton on Thursday, 25 June. You can find more about the upcoming Stand Up and Spit series of events at: Tim Wells has been documenting the ranting poetry scene and you can read about it at:

See also here.

Poetry International Festival in Rotterdam, the Netherlands

Poetry International Festival in Rotterdam

From the organisers of the Poetry International Festival in Rotterdam, the Netherlands:

From 9 – 13 June, in the Rotterdam Schouwburg, you will be able to encounter poets that embrace the language of the streets, poets that create new languages in the space between existing ones, and poets that call for the end of creative writing altogether. There will be poets that try to keep their words awake, build a new Babel with their sentences, make contracts with clouds, mimic the migration of birds, or deem that Thursday’s child shall be called a liar. With pleasure I invite you to meet them at the opening of the 46th Poetry International Festival Rotterdam.

Reasons to be Cheerful!

Tuesday, 9 June, 8 p.m., in the Rotterdam Schouwburg

With 19 remarkable poets and numerous readings, lectures, master classes and craft talks, two prize ceremonies, the VPRO Academy, translation workshops, garden and roof readings, the Poetry Café, a new language & Art route through Rotterdam’s most noteworthy galleries, and a full film program, the Poetry International Festival Rotterdam celebrates poetry for the 46th time. Under the theme ‘Reasons to be Cheerful,’ the 19 guest poets will open the festival with joy-inspiring work that underscores the power of poetry. Their readings also will be interspersed with music and film that closely complement the poems.

Reserving tickets for ‘Reasons to be Cheerful’ is simple, via the link below. But even if you can’t join us in Rotterdam, you can always experience the Poetry International Festival via our LIVESTREAM. All of the main readings will be livestreamed with subtitles in English, as well as available on-demand on our YouTube channel. Check the online program for more details. We look forward to greeting you on 9 June!

Yours sincerely,

Bas Kwakman,

Poetry International Rotterdam






Islamic poetess against ISIS

23-year-old Sana al-Yemen recites a poem at anti-war conference in London, May 2009 (photo: MEE)

From Middle East Eye:

‘A message written in blood’ – British poet takes on Islamic State

After writing a poem attacking preachers calling on Muslims in Europe to take up arms in the Middle East, Sana al-Yemen found herself at the centre of a media frenzy

Tom Finn

Wednesday 20 May 2015 11:40 BST

Last update: Thursday 21 May 2015 11:58 BST

Hours after Sana al-Yemen posted a video of herself last month reciting a poem about the Islamic State (IS) on YouTube her phone started to ring.

This video says about itself:

This is not my Islam: A message to ISIS and all extremists

3 February 2015

The Muslim Vibe presents ‘This is not my Islam’ by Sanasiino. A spoken word poem speaking out against the hijacking and tarnishing of the name of Islam, by extremist militants such as ISIS and others. (Arabic subtitles available).

The Tom Finn article continues:

A producer at Al-Jazeera news channel who had seen the clip wanted to interview her. Minutes later CNN called, then the BBC. Sana’s poem, a blistering attack on the militant group that has overrun large parts of Syria and Iraq, had gone viral.

“It just exploded. Hundreds of strangers started messaging me saying how much they appreciated the poem… I got a message of support from a soldier in the US army. It’s been crazy,” said Sana.

While the Islamic State has stirred fear – at times hysteria – amongst people in the West and the Middle East, the militant group’s rise to prominence has also prompted a cultural backlash.

Through soap operas, rock musiccartoonssatire and parody Twitter accounts, young Arabs have used art and humour to denounce IS.

Sana, a 23-year-old journalism graduate who was born in Yemen and raised in west London, wrote her first poem about the Islamic State last year after a friend sent her an IS propaganda video showing young British recruits bombing tanks and carrying out drive-by shootings in northern Iraq.

“There are plenty of people my age, from my area in fact, who have left and gone to Syria,” Sana explained on a recent afternoon in a juice bar near London’s Oxford Street.

“People are obsessed with knowing who these men are and what went wrong in their lives. But for me it comes down to who it is they’re listening to. Who are the religious figures giving them that push to leave their lives here in Britain?”

In a video of her poem This is not my Islam: a message to ISIS, Sana appears in a dimly lit room. Dressed in jeans and a purple headscarf, a shadow across her face, she denounces what she calls “layman preachers,” clerics who cite religion to encourage Muslims in Europe to take up arms in the Middle East.

“My crusade is against those who manipulate the message. Split my people in half and misguide the masses,” she recites, staring at the camera as images of young men with beards – IS recruits in Syria – and radical Saudi clerics delivering angry sermons flash across the screen.

Sipping at a banana smoothie, Sana smiles and glances at her phone. She speaks in the same careful way she recites her poetry; pausing for thought, then unleashing words in rapid fire.

“I wanted to get this message across to preachers… to tell them that, despite their religious education, playing with people’s emotions – dashing in a verse from the Quran – it’s manipulative and unethical. It’s not religious guidance, it’s a way of getting what you want politically.”

“I’m wary of religious sheikhs who are involved in politics, because of who they are aligned with. They have relationships with politicians.”

Spreading the message

Sana moved to the UK in 1991 with her father, an architect who worked under the British in occupied south Yemen.

She grew up on a housing estate in West London. Her life, she says, was rooted in “British society but infused with Arab culture”.

As a teenager she was an introvert. She stayed at home on the weekends and wrote poetry in a book she kept under her bed, “mainly about life and friendship… If I got depressed, it was my line of expression,” she said.

She admired American rapper Eminem. “I like how he plays with words and their properties, splitting language into musical bits. He has flow.”

In 2010 Sana started sharing online the poems she’d written about women’s rights, US drone strikes, the Israel/Palestine conflict and the rise of the right in British politics.

In one poem, Mr BNP, she challenges the anti-immigration policies of the far-right British National Party: “I tell you what, I’ll wear my hijab, I’ll risk it, because regardless I’m more British than your tea and biscuit.”

This poetry video is called Sanasino-Mr BNP.

Later she released “My name is not Irak” which laments the destruction inflicted on Iraq after the 2003 US/UK invasion and mocks the American pronunciation “I-rak” (“The difference is one is an American fake, and the other is Arab, genuine and great”).

When uprisings broke out across the Arab world in 2011, Sana and a group of “politically minded young Arabs” began organising rallies outside Arab embassies in London in solidarity with protesters in the Middle East.

“It was a shock… we’d been constricted for so long as a people. Seeing women on the frontlines in Yemen, as a poet it fired me up. I wanted to write more…spread the message,” she said.

In 2012, as many of the Arab uprisings descended into civil war and sectarian strife, Sana’s revolutionary crowd started to splinter.

“It got complicated, suddenly there were all these divisions and difference of opinions between us,” she said.

“Some were pro Egypt’s revolutionary, but anti-Syrian. When the Arab Spring got really complicated people didn’t want to be involved anymore.”

This video says about itself:

10 December 2011

Yemeni poet, activist and journalist Sanasino reciting her poem “Mr BNP” for Revolutionary Rhymes.

The Tom Finn article continues:

‘A ripple effect’

Her poem about Islamic State has not been without criticism. IS sympathisers on Twitter, who Sana refers to as “trolls”, have called her poem misguided.

Others, pointing out that only Sunni and not Shia preachers feature in her video, accused her of being sectarian.

Sheikh Mohamed al-Areifi, a Salafist cleric from Saudi Arabia who has been accused of encouraging young British Muslims to head to Syria and Iraq, appears three times in the clip.

With over 9 million followers, al-Areifi is the most followed individual on Twitter in the Middle East. He has said a huge conflict in Syria “will herald the end of the world”.

“I understand that al-Areifi has respect within the Muslim community around the world but he was one of the most vocal in trying to engage the youth and encouraging them to leave their homes and go to Syria,” said Sana.

“The fact that he was inciting our youth, to go out there to Syria while his own kids were in his home, is something that annoyed me a lot.”

Sana finishes her smoothie. Her thumb pauses above her phone, before flicking downwards as she hunts for a message in her inbox.

“Here it is,” she reads it out. “Thank you. It’s good to see a strong Muslim woman on camera.”

Asked if she feels there are stereotypes about Muslim women in the UK she says: “Definitely, the only thing you hear about is how oppressed we are; I’m definitely not oppressed,” she says laughing. “Neither are my family members. I’m glad I’m breaking the stereotypes.

With the US-led air war against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) now in its 10th month, the Islamist militia continues to make territorial gains in both countries, inflicting serious losses on the military in Iraq as well as both government forces and rival Islamist “rebels” in Syria: here.