How easily it slips, a physical manifestation of the mask you’ve worn your whole life to cancel the contagion of your true self, and, cornered, I can’t see you bare your teeth anymore. It allows me to see instead your fragility. Your face now a pleading window through which the birds fly. What else will escape?
A Portable Paradise published by Roger Robinson last year is essential reading. If you’re searching for meaning and truth in a world that has lost its mind, this is a good place to begin and to keep coming back to. I love poetry books. Like a good album, you can absorb the whole narrative and then come back and listen to each song more carefully and intently. The title sums up my feelings for all my poetry books, the only books I don’t feel guilty for keeping and hoarding.
This is a sobering and disquieting read and, for me, a privilege to be in the realm of Robinson’s Britain. Not the polite, sterile one that’s packaged and sold by the BBC, but the real, felt one. Beautiful and alienating, frightening and full of promise.
How a government treats the most vulnerable people in society is a good indication of how we will all fare in a crisis like this one. I’m relieved to live in a country where the government is doing something to ease the burden on those who struggle the most. That is how you safeguard society, even if it means fewer spoils for the wealthy. The economy will take a massive hit, but society will be stronger and we will slowly recover.
In the UK and the US you are punished for falling on hard times. The benefit system is punitive, stressful and inadequate as anyone working to implement it will testify. The mental and physical burden of poverty is regarded by those right-wing governments as a just dessert from which there is little respite in healthcare or safe and affordable housing. They treat people trying to make ends meet with contempt and, in recent years, haven’t even tried to hide it. They are dog whistlers who incite fear and hatred and they have overseen the rise of a fascist faction that defends their ideology with violence and intimidation. Ultimately, they are about pushing people off the cliff to safeguard their own wealth.
They’re locked in a headspin because at last their own voters are beginning to understand the reality of that aggressive stance. Their attempt to belittle society, ban collective action and kill any hope that an economy can serve everybody just backfired. Society, collective action and lifting everyone out of poverty are precisely what is needed to help us get through this.
They’ve been exposed and they will be held to account. That reality is slowly dawning on them too.
1997 and a circle of students have learnt The Lady Of Shallot by heart.
In other parts, they are the big brass band and year seven perform a city coming to life.
Synthesized popcorn summons each player, city slicker, tourist, window cleaner, homeless.
Romeo and Juliet stand on desks and chairs to get the levels right. Not today, miss, I’m on my period.
Further away, the markets, wedding dress shops, and Skipton Castle.
An old oak tree fills the small courtyard and Juliet eats hot new potatoes with olive oil and salt out of a paper bag.
I climb a new mountain on the other side of the world and look back at it all through my Claude Glass.
The softness of folded letters
And finding some degree of similarity
Is a paradox
On this estate
Part public, part private
Partings of ways and manners
What was once important
Is smoothed over
On common ground
Where we live
Near Lovers Park
The survivor’s delicatessen
Suspended in air
Two balloons scrape our chimney
Lowry’s empty sky
There isn’t a breath
Of wind to keep us here
We run outside
And help fold the sheets
On promised land.
Is that a word?
Walking with a fragile heart
The big sleep
All our secrets
No black and white photograph
Just two of earth’s own.
Score pacts through red clay
Fingertip wavy ink trails
Gathering the prey.
Blood’s sudden distance
In the need for possession
Your disgust haunts me.
Leaves an absence of colour
Still unfastened day.
Fish, bird, skin held taut
Language, tribe, vast stretch of land
Between you and I.
The suitably informed
Won’t look beyond their first source
That tells them what they knew all along
They’re right and you, of course, are wrong.
I am a mouse.
You are a rock.
My shelter in winter.
You see me and despair.