In the first week I shared some of my Beat-inspired pieces, full of internal rhymes and themed around the celebration of life in all its fullness. In many ways the themes of this week’s pieces are the same, but the style is slightly different. I have a few poems that are more overtly political, and some that are less reliant on rhythm.
This is the most straightforwardly political piece I’ve written, a direct response to the government’s Workfare scheme and its impact on those with mental health difficulties.
(This video was recorded at this year’s final of the Hammer and Tongue Poetry Slam in Oxford.)
I’m a mentalist.
I’m a ventriloquist and this fake smile’s my dummy.
Behind the guile I know I’m scum,
I’m hungry, desperate for your crumbs,
I’m broken by the years that no one spoke for me,
I’m choked beneath society’s conceptual thumb.
The thing is, if I’m cheerful
You think I’m well enough to work for free
And if I’m not then you’re unreasonably fearful of me.
The last boss I told I was bipolar said OK, but please don’t stick a knife in me
While I sat there silent, stunned
Thinking you think I’M the violent one
Just because I have an illness
That the media exploits for thrills
Because they haven’t got the skills to see beyond the pills
That someone else’s taxes paid for,
Someone wealthy for no other reason than that they happened to be born healthy.
But their hard work must not be squandered
On dropouts and shirkers,
On the berserkers lurking in the social undergrowth.
So now the government can force us into slavery
Without protection from the rules that gave us dignity
Or made staying alive in the cold and hostile environment a workplace can be
Anything close to a possibility.
With every decency they steal
They feel their backs slapped
By the so-called cash-strapped hacks in suits
Whose stacks are packed so tight
No cracks of light
Can leak out and disturb their sleep
With the sight of the smacked-up jacked-up cracked-up lives
Of those whose dice fell on the wrong side of the tracks
And all this is sold as a triumph of slashed bureaucracy
A victory for democracy,
For a people poisoned
By years of drip-fed filth
And casual hypocrisy,
By myths of laziness and hazy memes of craziness
Dreamed up on whims on days of bliss and Pimms.
And here’s the thing.
People will comply.
People will try.
They will try so much
No matter that it takes an act of heroism just to get out of bed,
No matter that their eyes are red
Because they cried so much
And kept on trying
And held their heads high so much
Their tears were washed away by the saliva from the bile
That people piled on them.
People will die
Their voices will fall silent
The iniquity will not be heard.
Their indignity will have the final word,
But still those who are left will smile in the face of tyrants
Still they will cling with grace to the ideal of non-violence.