Poems for Grenfell Tower brings together poets whose voices are joined together in elegy.
Published by The Onslaught Press, it includes some well-known poets, and others who have links with the Grenfell community, such as the former head of the local nursery school, an Ethiopian exile who lost many of his neighbours in the disaster, a Big Issue seller who plays in the local steelband, and a firefighter who attended the inferno of 14 June 2017. A few poems do not deal directly with the disaster, but seek to understand some of the conditions and mindsets that made it possible.
At the suggestion of Grenfell United, all royalties will go to the Grenfell Foundation – that’s roughly half the cover price of £10. A number of Grenfell poetry fundraising initiatives are also being held across Britain (click here for more details).
This poem, ‘Community’, seeks to illuminate the values and forces that brought the tragedy about. It dates back to 1982, so it brings in the onset of Thatcherism and reflects Steve Griffiths’ experience as a community worker.
But it’s about positive values, too. The epigraph from Wordsworth is considered the first affirmation in verse, 200 years ago, of the optimistic vision of a population sensing ‘the unity of man’. To reflect this, the title has been changed from ‘Partitions’ to ‘Community’ – but still, Steve suggests, it’s a bit more complicated than Wordsworth could have dreamed.
Among the multitudes
Of that great City, oftentimes was seen
Affectingly set forth, more than elsewhere
Is possible, the unity of man,
One spirit over ignorance and vice
Predominant, in good and evil hearts;
One sense for moral judgments, as one eye
For the sun’s light.
Wordsworth, The Prelude, Book Eighth, ll823-830
My nose angles the air,
a little missile edged into the sunset,
little receiver, the indigenous one
who doesn’t belong,
sensing an odour of fascism
round a lack of generosity
like the swelling round an inoculation
Newspapermen prowl the dusk
ribbing out their flesh
which hangs in colours on the line
to warn of habitation and strict ways.
In the ensuing dark, queues form
But this old basement laundry fought for,
the washing-slabs gone
with grandmother’s solid arms;
then control of it,
a community centre
bandaged with posters,
playgroups fought for -
and why not, for every child,
a possibility and an open door?
Photo still: Nur Hannah Wan
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