Poetry

Adrian Mitchell - 1932-2008

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There is always opposition to the dominant culture - sometimes hidden, sometimes out in the open: a radical cultural tradition that accompanies our struggles for a different society, to give shape and meaning to our desire for another way of hearing, of seeing, of feeling. I got this from many people as I was growing up, and the poet Adrian Mitchell was one of those people.

Everything stopped for a moment when I heard of his death on 21 December. In that instant I remembered all those times he stood before me, the poetry of love and life and anger and outrage filling whatever space he had come to perform in. I stood with him in the middle of Piccadilly on 15 February 2003 - speechless, as we felt 2 million human beings for peace and against war moving around us like a slow, wide river. Adrian was momentarily the rock midstream.

Federico Garcia Lorca: the poet at five in the afternoon

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When fascist thugs murdered the 38 year old poet Federico García Lorca in Granada in August 1936, they pinned a note to his body. It denounced the writer for his politics and for his homosexuality.

But all that they achieved was that Lorca's name would still be known and celebrated two generations later. He would not die like his bullfighter friend Ignacio Sanchez Mejias, at five in the afternoon.

"A boy brought the white sheet
at five in the afternoon.
A frail of lime already prepared
at five in the afternoon.
The rest was death and death alone
at five in the afternoon."

A Long Way from Home

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Richard Bradbury recalls the life and work of the black poet Claude McKay.

If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursed lot.
If we must die, O let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
O kinsmen we must meet the common foe!
Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one deathblow!
What though before us lies the open grave?

Exploding in Anger

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Review of 'The Shadow Knows', Adrian Mitchell, Bloodaxe £9.95

Last month I attended a fantastic cultural event at the European Social Forum in London, an evening of radical poetry - the highlight was a film of Adrian Mitchell performing his famous anti-war poem 'To Whom it May Concern', written for the anti Vietnam War movement and recently revived by Mitchell for a new generation of anti-war activists. Mitchell's latest collection of poetry, The Shadow Knows, is dedicated to all those millions of people who took part on 15 February 2003 in the greatest demonstration against war that the world has ever known.

Benjamin Zephaniah: Rage of Empire

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Hassan Mahamdallie speaks to Benjamin Zephaniah about the poet and author's art and politics.

I was struck by the Guardian article about you turning down the OBE in which you wrote, 'I woke up on the morning of 13 November wondering how the government could be overthrown and what could replace it, and then I noticed a letter from the prime minister's office.'

A Thunderstorm Against the Wind

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Byron struck an image that still enthrals many. Mike Gonzalez traces the sources of his popularity.

Lady Caroline Lamb's spiteful description of her ex-lover Lord Byron--'mad, bad and dangerous to know'--has remained with us in a cascade of society scandals. Now it is the title of a new travelling exhibition, linked to a new biography by Fiona McCarthy. Suddenly Lord George Gordon Byron is everywhere. In an age of tabloid fascination with 'celebrity', it is the flagrant, challenging homosexual, the athletic lover, the dandy with the club foot, the merciless satirist, the man who courted scandal by parading his love for his sister, who is rediscovered.

'Friend of the Unfriended Poor'

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Review of 'Shelley and Revolutionary Ireland', Paul O'Brien, Redwords £11

When Percy Bysshe Shelley set sail for Ireland in 1812 he was only 19 years old. He was full of radical enthusiasm and energy, having recently been expelled from Oxford for making his atheism public. He went to Ireland precisely to put his political ideas into practice: 'I beheld in short that I had duties to perform.'

The misery and oppression he saw in Ireland roused him to fury. He wrote:

Mekin Sense Outta Nansense

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Linton Kwesi Johnson spoke to Yuri Prasad about poetry, music and the fight against racism.

What was it like to be a poet and a black political activist in the 1970s? How did the two come together and what kind of issues did you take up?

I came to poetry via politics. I discovered black literature as a consequence of my involvement in the Black Panther movement. We never came across any black literature or literature about blacks at school. When we did history--we did British history, we never did anything about slavery.

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