Listening to a Pogrom on the Radio

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Michael Rosen’s latest collection of poetry for adults is wide ranging but at its heart displays a profound anti-racism and a fury at ruling class hypocrisy. In “Migration” he writes, “Our banks migrate billions/ but they don’t call that migration./ We say no to blaming migrants”.

For socialists who enjoy poetry this collection is an essential read for now, dealing as it does with some of our key political priorities including anti-racism, solidarity with refugees, Corbyn, privatisation and the attacks on education and the NHS.

There is much to enjoy and reflect on in these poems and Rosen takes aim at his targets with varied techniques including humour, imagined news broadcasts, interviews with politicians, suggested press releases for Jeremy Hunt and even a satirical reimagining of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in “Alice under the Floorboards”, always with an informed anger and deep compassion.

One of my favourite poems in the collection is “Poetry is for Everyone”. Alongside exploring the nature of poetry he also considers the political potential in it: “Poetry can stick up for the weak. Poetry can mock the mighty” and remarks, “‘Dulce et Decorum est’ by Wilfred Owen must be a perfect poem/ because no Prime Minister so far has recited it at a war/ memorial. So far”.

He is concerned with the accessibility of writing. In “Children Writing” he demands “We have to stop indicating to children they have nothing to/ say and don’t know how to say it” and pleads in “The ‘Expected Level’ according to the National Curriculum” for a different sort of education: “if you can write and make people want to read more and more/ and more/ remember, it’s not enough”.

In “Corbyn Wins the Leadership Vote” he thanks the media analysts who tell us “we can’t have socialism through action/ outside of parliament/ because parliament is the will of the people;/ and we can’t have socialism/ through parliament/ because no one in parliament wants socialism./ Sorted.”

Throughout the book he writes about his family, both memories from his childhood and his own children. He makes links between the experiences of asylum and migration in his family’s history to his anti-racism today.

From “The Migrants in Me” he writes “so, don’t think you can take the migrants out of me;/ criss-crossing Europe/ who at one moment, were as safe as houses,/ who fled armies, officials, police,” and ends reflecting on those who today “climb into rubber dinghies/ as if they were as safe as houses”. His position as to how Britain should react to the refugee crisis is clearly spelt out as in “People Run”; “People run away from war./ Sometimes we get away./ Sometimes we don’t./ Sometimes we’re helped./ Sometimes we aren’t.”

He wants his readers to ask questions and consider the world differently. From “Marxist Horoscope” is the realisation, “A newspaper reminds you that the dominant ideas are ideas/ that suit those who own and control nearly everything”.

This is a fine poetry collection and a stirring call to action against a system based on profit not need.