Category Archives: Poetry

Manly Poems – the death of Gil Scott-Heron/The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

Gil Scott-Heron died today. The poet/musician/author was one of the loudest African-American voices of post-Luther King America. His spoken word performances were famously powerful and his lyrics are captivating to read, even better to listen to. To my generation, he’s probably most easily recognised through his recitation of the poem ‘Who Will Survive In America?’ being used in Kanye West’s recent song ‘Lost In The World‘ (which is worth a listen anyway, beautiful music).

Nonetheless, Scott-Heron’s most famous piece of work was the poem ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’, recorded in 1970. I’ve selected it as part of my list of Manly Poems because Scott-Heron’s rousing rhetoric is a tremendous portrayal of a time of social change, some would say revolution, the likes of which my generation knows nothing. Any man can tell a story, a great man makes you imagine, feel, wish you were there.

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

You will not be able to stay home, brother.
You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out.
You will not be able to lose yourself on skag and skip,
Skip out for beer during commercials,
Because the revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be televised.
The revolution will not be brought to you by Xerox
In 4 parts without commercial interruptions.
The revolution will not show you pictures of Nixon
blowing a bugle and leading a charge by John
Mitchell, General Abrams and Spiro Agnew to eat
hog maws confiscated from a Harlem sanctuary.
The revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be brought to you by the
Schaefer Award Theatre and will not star Natalie
Woods and Steve McQueen or Bullwinkle and Julia.
The revolution will not give your mouth sex appeal.
The revolution will not get rid of the nubs.
The revolution will not make you look five pounds
thinner, because the revolution will not be televised, Brother.

There will be no pictures of you and Willie May
pushing that shopping cart down the block on the dead run,
or trying to slide that color television into a stolen ambulance.
NBC will not be able predict the winner at 8:32
or report from 29 districts.
The revolution will not be televised.

There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down
brothers in the instant replay.
There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down
brothers in the instant replay.
There will be no pictures of Whitney Young being
run out of Harlem on a rail with a brand new process.
There will be no slow motion or still life of Roy
Wilkens strolling through Watts in a Red, Black and
Green liberation jumpsuit that he had been saving
For just the proper occasion.

Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Hooterville
Junction will no longer be so damned relevant, and
women will not care if Dick finally gets down with
Jane on Search for Tomorrow because Black people
will be in the street looking for a brighter day.
The revolution will not be televised.

There will be no highlights on the eleven o’clock
news and no pictures of hairy armed women
liberationists and Jackie Onassis blowing her nose.
The theme song will not be written by Jim Webb,
Francis Scott Key, nor sung by Glen Campbell, Tom
Jones, Johnny Cash, Englebert Humperdink, or the Rare Earth.
The revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be right back after a message
about a white tornado, white lightning, or white people.
You will not have to worry about a dove in your
bedroom, a tiger in your tank, or the giant in your toilet bowl.
The revolution will not go better with Coke.
The revolution will not fight the germs that may cause bad breath.
The revolution will put you in the driver’s seat.

The revolution will not be televised, will not be televised,
will not be televised, will not be televised.
The revolution will be no re-run brothers;
The revolution will be live.

Gil Scott-Heron

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‘Hope’ by Joseph O’Connor

The effects of the financial crisis have been felt more or less everywhere and Ireland in particular, being the first nation in the Eurozone to enter economic recession. Eventually, the Irish government formally requested aid from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

It was around this time, in the weeks leading up to Christmas 2010, that the following poem by Irish author Joseph O’Connor (brother of Sinéad O’Connor) was published in the Irish Times. In the midst of all the doom and gloom surrounding the state of Ireland’s economy at the time, it was a welcome change of tune. It is full of imagery and names that will be familiar to Irish readers, but it can be appreciated by people everywhere. I think it’s an anthem for those with the temerity to hope.

Hope

Perpetual budgets; our spirits are frightened,

Holes in the finances, tension is heightened

By feeling we’re buying a pig in a poke.

But there’s one thing untouchable: the treasure called hope.

Hope is commitment, courageous and tireless.

Hope is a song you might hear on the wireless.

Hope’s an old buddy who says: “Good to see ya!”

It’s Count John McCormack singing Ave Maria.

Hope is a currency opens all doors.

It can’t be downgraded by Standard and Poor’s.

It’s Colm Gooch Cooper; it’s Binchy and Heaney.

It’s Sean Og O hAilpin. It’s the Pogues. It’s Puccini.

It’s Robbie Keane. It’s Colm Toibin.

It’s walking through the frost in Stephen’s Green.

The Who, U2, The Quo, The Queen,

Kiddies dressing up for Halloween.

Hope is a fisherman waiting on a bite;

Hope kicks a ball in the park every night,

Two jumpers for goalposts, no crowd in the stand,

But hope knows it’s destined for Wembley in the end.

Fate has a foot that can kick us where it hurts,

When we’re waterlogged with worries and we’re losing our shirts,

But hope makes a dash from the halfway line

And it smashes in the winner — in extra time.

Hope is a home, it’s a lesson you learn.

Hope belts out a ballad like brave Mary Byrne

Defying all the losers who never even tried.

Hope is a bachelor. Hope is a bride.

Hope is the Sugarloaf. Hope is the sea.

It’s the voice of Van Morrison, soaring and free.

It’s the silence of The Burren, it’s the hills around Tara.

It’s the homes of Donegal and it’s the lakes of Connemara.

Hope is a dancehall, hope is a flirt,

Hope is going on when your feelings got hurt.

Hope is a mother who just had a baby.

The cynic says ‘no’. Hope says ‘maybe’.

It’s Bray’s Katie Taylor and she weaving and ducking

And it’s Crystal Swing from Cork (if you’re into Hucklebucking).

Hope is a homecoming, hope is a groove,

Hope is a mystery. Hope’s a smart move.

Advent is coming. The season of a light

That some say shone on the Bethlehem night,

And maybe it’s a fable, but believing it is free;

Hope says look at the stars, never know what you’ll see.

Hope’s an old soldier and hope is a birth,

It’s 33 miners raised up from the earth.

Hope is a sentence in Anne Frank’s journal.

Hope is the winter; it springs eternal.

It’s Imelda May’s blues, it’s a wild Irish rose,

It’s the feeling you get when the north wind blows

On a winter’s night and you’re safe inside.

It’s living with dignity, passion and pride.

Hope knows the stories of heroes and greats.

We’re the people of Larkin and Davitt and Yeats,

Better than a Taoiseach who causes distress

As he simpers in a cupboard called the tabloid press.

We are more than a balance sheet, a plus or a minus.

Don’t give the mediocrities permission to define us.

Gloom is a tomb

But desire is a door.

Anyone can open it.

That’s what it’s for.

Defeatists try to lock it, they’re afraid we’d be free.

But we’ll slip right through; hope is a key.

Hope is an armour; hope’s an escape,

Hope is a holiday anyone can take.

So powerful it should come with a Government Warning.

Hope could be the clothes

Worth

Putting on

In the morning.

– Joseph O’Connor

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Filed under Ireland, Money, Poetry, Politics

Howl: The poem and the film

I have always wondered whether I should have studied English at university. I read quite a lot and when I’m not reading, I feel guilty. Surely that’s a good start. I’m not particularly well versed in Shakespeare, but my spelling’s acceptable and if I don’t know all that much about a certain topic, I can usually blag (or blog – haw haw haw!) that I know a great deal more than I do.

Nonetheless, I expect people who study it to know more than I do, which is why I was so surprised that a friend of mine, now in her second year of studying English, had not heard of the Beat Generation.

I don’t know much about them, but a friend of mine at school was a huge fan of Kerouac’s On The Road and all associated literature. Thus I deduced that they were a bunch of writers post World War Two, who came to prominence in the 1950s along with a cultural phenomenon which they documented. They were known for their experimentation with drugs, sexuality and Eastern religions as well as a rejection of materialism which ran very much against super-consumerist American culture of the Eisenhower age.

In 1955, Howl and Other Poems by the Beat poet Allen Ginsberg was published by City Lights Books. The poem was a three-part piece plus a footnote which described the world as Ginsberg saw it, beginning with the famous lines:

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,
Angel-headed hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection
to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,

 

When Ginsberg first recited the poem at the Six Gallery in San Francisco, the performance was hailed as the ‘beginning of a new movement’.

Almost immediately after the poem was published, the owner of City Lights Books, Lawrence Ferlinghetti was arrested and charged for ‘disseminating obscene literature’. The trial which followed was won by Ferlinghetti and effectively ended censorship in American literature forever. The trial, along with various recorded interviews with Ginsberg and excerpts from Howl are what form the basis of the eponymous film, starring James Franco, which I went to see last week with my aforementioned friend in order to introduce her to the Beats.

Franco is going to have to win an Oscar some day soon. The man’s performance was outstanding, and the entire film was a celebration of an art form which, although it doesn’t appeal to me all that much, I appreciated all the more having seen the movie.

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Filed under Film, Poetry

Weekend viewing and listening and reading

Yesterday, I spent the day watching Six Nations rugby (which we won) and reading last week’s Sunday Papers, before rounding it all off with a movie with friends. Biutiful is the latest film by Mexican director Alejandro Iñárritu. It tells the story of Uxbal, an underworld wheeler-dealer and devoted father trying to set his affairs in order as his own death draws near. Beautifully shot in the city of Barcelona and starring the gargantuan talent of Javier Bardem, the film is an absolute must-see.

Be warned: the film (nominated for Best Foreign Language Film and Bardem’s third Best Actor Award) is a serious tear-jerker.

Speaking of which – here is a short and sweet story told by Helen Mirren to Graham Norton about her arrival home to Britain having won her Oscar for her role in The Queen.

The shock of dissertation work, essays and class presentations heaped onto us in the first week back to university has forced many of us to look five months ahead to the days of glorious sunshine, Pimm’s and ‘anywherebuthere’. Music tastes are reflecting the zeitgeist, all summery and optimistic. I was out dancing three nights on the trot this week, and aside from all the familiar country dances of traditional Scottish balls, another, more recent tune, has stuck in my head.

It’s by Parisian DJ Martin Solveig featuring Canadian pop group Dragonette. It’s had huge success on mainland Europe, but has only just ‘hit’ the UK. The original video is a bit ‘so what?’ but I found this video on YouTube set to the same music. It’s far more escapist.

Finally, read this sonnet, Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley. Published in 1818, it is probably his most famous short poem. Believed to have been written after Shelley saw the statue of Ozymandias (better known as Pharaoh Rameses) at the British Museum, the main theme of the poem is the inevitable decline of all leaders and the great empires they build no matter how potent they may be in their own time. Hosni Mubarak and Ozymandias have much in common.

Ozymandias

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

– Percy Bysshe Shelley

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Filed under Film, Laughs, Music, Poetry, Rugby

Manly Poems: Timothy Winters

Lawyers, I suppose, were children once.

And the same is true for every man, which is why I’m adding this to my catalogue of manly poems.

The Munro Report on child services in Britain, published yesterday, scorned the amount of bureaucracy in the system which often leads to children’s needs being ignored. Professor Eileen Munro of LSE said: “Too often questions are asked if rules have been met but not whether this has helped children. Everyone in the profession can think of meetings and forms that don’t actually make a child safer. While some regulation is needed, we need to reduce it to a small, manageable size.”

The story reminded me of Timothy Winters, a poem by Charles Causley (the greatest poet laureate Britain never hard) which we read in school.

Timothy Winters

Timothy Winters comes to school
With eyes as wide as a football pool,
Ears like bombs and teeth like splinters:
A blitz of a boy is Timothy Winters.
His belly is white, his neck is dark,
And his hair is an exclamation mark.
His clothes are enough to scare a crow
And through his britches the blue winds blow.
When a teacher talks he won’t hear a word
And he shoots down dead the arithmetic bird,
He licks the patterns off his plate
And he’s not even heard of the Welfare State.
Timothy Winters has bloody feet
And he lives in a house on Suez Street,
He sleeps in a sack on the kitchen floor
And they say there aren’t boys like him any more.
Old man Winters likes his beer
And his missus ran off with a bombardier,
Grandma sits in the grate with a gin
And Timothy’s dosed with an aspirin.
The Welfare Worker lies awake
But the law’s as tricky as a ten-foot snake,
So Timothy Winters drinks his cup
And slowly goes on growing up.
At Morning Prayers the Master helves
For the children less fortunate than ourselves,
And the loudest response in the room is when
Timothy Winters roars “Amen!”
So come one angel, come on ten:
Timothy Winters says “Amen
Amen amen amen amen.”
Timothy Winters, Lord. Amen.

Of the poem, Causley later said: “People always ask me whether this was a real boy. My God, he certainly was. Poor old boy I don’t know where he is now. I was thunderstruck when people though I’d made it up! – he was a real bloke. Poor little devil.”

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Filed under Current Affairs, Manly Poems, Poetry

I wanna be yours – John Cooper Clarke (the man behind the hairstyle)

The first time I heard of John Cooper Clarke was in an interview with Arctic Monkeys when they were still touring for their first album Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not. Alex Turner mentioned him as one of his great influences and that Cooper was his favourite poet in school. When I looked him up, I found one of my favourite poems ever.

Clarke (born 1949, in Salford) is a performance poet who is considered to be a major figure in punk poetry and the punk literature movement. During the heyday of punk music in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Clarke opened for such acts as The Sex Pistols, Joy Division and Siouxsie and The Banshees. Since then he’s continued working solidly. This is I Wanna Be Yours.

I Wanna Be Yours

I wanna be your vacuum cleaner
Breathing in your dust,
I wanna be your Ford Cortina
I will never rust,
If you like your coffee hot
Let me be your coffee pot,
You call the shots,
I wanna be yours.

I wanna be your raincoat
For those frequent rainy days,
I wanna be your dreamboat
When you want to sail away,
Let me be your teddy bear
Take me with you anywhere,
I don’t care
I wanna be yours.

I wanna be your electric meter
I will not run out,
I wanna be the electric heater
You’ll get cold without,
I wanna be your setting lotion
Hold your hair in deep devotion,
Deep as the deep Atlantic ocean
that’s how deep is my devotion.

 

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Filed under Love Poems

I didn’t think I’d need a pair of these until after Christmas…

…but it would seem that it’s already started snowing in Aberdeen. Why oh why did I never do the sensible thing and just apply to go to the University of the Balearic Islands?

Snow by Emily Dickinson

It sifts from Leaden Sieves
It powders all the Wood.
It fills with Alabaster Wool
The Wrinkles of the Road

It makes an Even Face
Of Mountain, and of Plain
Unbroken Forehead from the East
Unto the East again

It reaches to the Fence
It wraps it Rail by Rail
Till it is lost in Fleeces
It deals Celestial Vail

To Stump, and Stack and Stem
A Summer’s empty Room
Acres of Joints, where Harvests were,
Recordless, but for them

It Ruffles Wrists of Posts
As Ankles of a Queen
Then stills its Artisans like Ghosts
Denying they have been

Here’s hoping I don’t end up like this unfortunate:

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Filed under Laughs, Poetry, Scotland