PoliticsStaff Picks

Poems For Every Stage In Life (And More): In Response To The Guardian

It is National Poetry Day! A day where across the country we celebrate poets and all things poetry. Chris Riddell (The Guardian) posted a list of poems for every stage in life but it was pointed out that all the poets on the list are men, all white men (and one white woman). 

The history of poetry in the UK is far from just white men. So I have created a list to counter that. This is a list of poems for every stage in life, and more. And this diverse list of poets and poems even contains a white man (for diversity purposes). We need to move away from the idea that poetry is only for white men. 

on love

Love Poem by Lemn Sissay
You remind me 
define me 
incline me.
If you died I’d

Lemn Sissay

I take by Imtiaz Dharker
I take
your body where love takes place
I take
your mouth where my life takes shape
I take
your breath which makes my space
I take
you as you are, for good
I take
you with open arms, to have
I take
you to have
and to hold but not to hold
too hard
I take
you for farther for closer
for sooner for later
death tries to get us
and we laugh and we stall
and we tell it to call us some other
fine day because we are busy today
taking our tea with buttered
hope and
I take
I take

on marriage

Ghazal: I Thee Wedby Mimi Khalvati

Bride: Though the Barbary lion is extinct
and beside it love is a feeble thing,
I thee wed.

Groom: Though the cry violet has cried its last
and the first flush of youth has had its fling,
I thee wed.

Bride: Though the skylark neither soars nor sings
of a joy whose race is just beginning, 
I thee wed.

Groom: Though the baobab’s shade has grown so thin
and the elephant thirsts, remembering,
I thee wed.

Both: In the name of beast, flower and bird, 
tree of life and song of love, with this ring,
I thee wed.

for parents

martyrdom by Andrew McMillan
tonight      I started walking back to you father
it was meant to be a stroll but then I started
walking faster      father      I started chanting all
the names of all the men I ever went to bed
with      father      my thighs were burning and my feet
were heavy with blood but I kept the pace and chants
of names up      father      listed them to fence posts
and the trees and didn’t stop and started getting
younger      father      and walked all night till I was home
just a spark in your groin again and told you not
to bring me back to life      told you I repented
every name and had freed them of me      father

in case of brexit

The British by Benjamin Zephaniah

Take some Picts, Celts and Silures
And let them settle,
Then overrun them with Roman conquerors.

 Remove the Romans after approximately 400 years
Add lots of Norman French to some
Angles, Saxons, Jutes and Vikings, then stir vigorously.

Mix some hot Chileans, cool Jamaicans, Dominicans,
Trinidadians and Bajans with some Ethiopians, Chinese,
Vietnamese and Sudanese.

Then take a blend of Somalians, Sri Lankans, Nigerians
And Pakistanis, 
Combine with some Guyanese
And turn up the heat.

Sprinkle some fresh Indians, Malaysians, Bosnians,
Iraqis and Bangladeshis together with some
Afghans, Spanish, Turkish, Kurdish, Japanese
And Palestinians 
Then add to the melting pot.

Leave the ingredients to simmer.

As they mix and blend allow their languages to flourish
Binding them together with English.

Allow time to be cool.

Add some unity, understanding, and respect for the future,
Serve with justice
And enjoy.

Note: All the ingredients are equally important. Treating one ingredient better than another will leave a bitter unpleasant taste.

Warning: An unequal spread of justice will damage the people and cause pain. Give justice and equality to all.

Benjamin Zephaniah

for religion

Prayer by Imtiaz Dharker

The place is full of worshippers.
You can tell by the sandals
piled outside, the owners’ prints
worn into leather, rubber, plastic,
a picture clearer than their faces
put together, with some originality,
brows and eyes, the slant
of cheek to chin.

What prayer are they whispering?
Each one has left a mark,
the perfect pattern of a need,
sole and heel and toe
in dark, curved patches,
heels worn down,
thongs ragged, mended many times.

So many shuffling hopes,
pounded into print,
as clear as the pages of holy books,
illuminated with the glint
of gold around the lettering.

What are they whispering?
Outside, in the sun,
such a quiet crowd
of shoes, thrown together
like a thousand prayers
washing against the walls of God.

Imtiaz Dharker

on police violence

Di Great Insohreckshan by Linton Kwesi Johnson

it woz in april nineteen eighty wan
doun inna di ghetto af Brixtan
dat di babylan dem cause such a frickshan
dat it bring about a great insohreckshan
an it spread all owevah di naeshan
it woz truly an histarical occayshan

it woz event af di year
an I wish I ad been dere
wen ri run riat all owevah Brixtan
wen wi mash-up plenty police van
wen wi mash-up di wicked wan plan
wen wi mash-up di Swamp Eighty Wan
fi wha?
fi mek di rulah dem andastan
dat win aw tek noh more a dem oppreshan

an wen mi check out di ghetto grape vine
fi fine out all I coulda fine
evry rebel jusa revel in dem story
dem a taak bout di powah an di glory
dem a taak bout di burnin an di lootin
dem a taak bout di smashin an di grabin
dem a tell mi bout di vanquish an di victri

dem seh babylan dem went too far
soh wha
soh wi ad woz fi bun two cyar
an wan an two innocent get mar
but wha
noh soh it goh sometime inna war ein star
noh soh it goh sometime inna war?

dem seh wi bun dung di George
wi couda bun di lanlaad
wi bun dung di George
wi nevah bun di lanlaad
wen wi run riat all owevah Brixtan
wen wi mash-up plent police van
wen wi mash-up di wicked wan plan
we wi mash-up di Swamp Eighty Wan

dem seh wi commandeer cyar
an wi ghadah ammunishan
wi brill wi barricade
an di wicked ketch afraid
wi sen out wi scout
fog oh fine dem whereabout
den wi faam-up wi passi
an wi mek wi raid

well now dem run gaan goh plan countah-ackshan
but di plastic bullit an di waatah cannan
will bring a blam-blam
will bring a blam-blam
nevah mind Scarman
will bring a blam-blam

Swamp 81: code name for Brixton police stop-and-search operation in 1981.
Scarman: Lord Scarman headed the public enquiry into the 1981 Brixton riots.

on coming out

Fruit by Adam Lowe 

You call me a fruit,
and I agree,

a fruit is ripe,
promising seeds,
bursting with juice.

You call me a fruit,
as though a vegetable
and I list a litany
of fresh attributes:

a fruit is rich,
remembers its roots,
nourishes, quenches,
makes a display of any table.

I say,
I am the apple
that announces the gravity
of a given situation;
I am the pomegranate
that teaches of possession;
I am the fig
our ancestors couldn’t resist.

You call me a fruit
and I agree:
soft, round and sweet.
I dare you to peel back my layers,
take a look at my pips.
Full as a watermelon,
sharp as a lime,
come over here
and bite me.

A Gay Poem by Keith Jarrett

They asked me if I had a gay poem
So I said “Straight up, no!
“My poems don’t meander between straight lines
My poems don’t mince their words
Or bend
Or make queer little observations”

They asked me if I had a gay poem 
So I answered honestly 
That, no, I didn’t have any gay poetry
And even if, unthinkably, I did
What would it say about me?

I mean, even presenting the question 
Puts me in a precarious position
And how would I even begin to broach the subject 
With my own creation?

Like… “Excuse me, poem, are you gay?
Have you grown up contrarily to what I wanted you to say?
I most certainly didn’t write you that way
Was it something I said, something I did that turned you?
Maybe I should have peppered your verses 
With sport, girls and beer
Maybe as your author I deserted you…
Or did another writer turn you queer?”

Ok, let’s say, hypothetically, that this poem is gay
Maybe it’s just a confused poem that needs straightening out
Maybe I could insert verses from Leviticus
Speak over it in tongues
Douse it in holy water
Recite it the Qu’ran
Give it a beat, beat, beat
Boom box blasting out in the street
“Batty poem fi dead, batty poem fi dead
Rip up chi chi poem inna shred”

They asked me if I had a gay poem 
And I answered “No”
But the truth is I didn’t know
Until one of my very own poems stepped up
And tapped me on the shoulder
It said, “Look here Dad/Author
I’m now that much bolder
And I’m not confused 
And not alternative
And even though the words I choose to marry with
Make me different
It don’t make me any less eloquent

“I don’t need to be overly elegant
So maybe that’s why I stepped under your gaydar
But why are you so afraid to embrace it?
Face it! It’s just another part of me
You can’t erase it

“The more you try to label me with your twisted synonyms
The more you say you hate the sinner
And despise the sin
The more you try to clip my words 
And stifle my expression
The more I know it’s you, not me, 
Whose morality should be called into question”

They asked me to read out a poem
They said, “Choose one of your strongest
One of your best
Choose a poem that don’t stand for any foolishness”
And they asked me if I had a gay poem…
So I said

on seeking refuge

Home by Warsan Shire

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten

no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough

go home blacks
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off

or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
your legs
or the insults are easier
to swallow
than rubble
than bone
than your child body
in pieces.
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
be hunger
forget pride
your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here

Warsan Shire

on food

Over Eating and Over Hearing by Shamshad Khan

you listen to music in the same way you eat food 
with reverent ecstasy

tasting each cadence in sound
separating layers of rhythm
savouring slithers of melting melody whilst
hearing salt grind
in the unexpected sweet refrain
held at the back of your throat
the deepest base 
touches the tip of your tongue
so sourness sings 
its sharp twist
to curdle drums

you peel a piano concentrating on keeping the spiral 
flavour spins the radio dial 
blur of colliding in your headphones

in the wet street a woman and a man argue about 
who should have rung who

on rainy days I’m told 
everything tastes like music.

Website | + posts

Afshan D'souza-Lodhi is a scriptwriter and poet based in Manchester. As well as her own writing Afshan is keen to develop other younger and emerging artists. You can find her fighting against police brutality and injustice alongside the Northern Police Monitoring Project.

Afshan D'souza-Lodhi
Afshan D'souza-Lodhi is a scriptwriter and poet based in Manchester. As well as her own writing Afshan is keen to develop other younger and emerging artists. You can find her fighting against police brutality and injustice alongside the Northern Police Monitoring Project.

You may also like

More in Politics