Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Lucy Chau Lai-Tuen poetry review: Ungrateful — A Paper Daughter


Review of Lucy Chau Lai-Tuen's poetry collection: glimpses of perpetual marginalisation


A moving, fairly disturbing, collection of poetry from Hong-Kong-born writer and actor Lucy Chau Lai-Tuen, Ungrateful — A Paper Daughter, takes you deep inside the experience of perpetual marginalisation. All the small everyday unthinking acts of callousness that grind you down are laid bare on paper. It begs the question: why do we do this to each other?

There's lot of pain in each of these short poems powered by a strong voice and a clarity of vision that blasts away extraneous matter to reveal the hard, white glittering diamond at the centre.

Each poem grants a glimpse of what it was like to be a Chinese adoptee in Britain in the 1960s onwards, taken on as a baby by a well-meaning but hopelessly out-of-their-depth white family. How must it have felt never having your inner workings seen or responded to with warmth, and an almost entire absence of the most basic human connection: love. A weaker character might have been driven debilitatingly mad but instead, Lucy uses it to fuel her art, to make us see and experience what this existence is like for the person at the heart of it. Together they roll up into a massive punch.

It's not an unrelenting wave of misery, more a series of vignettes, a shutter opening and closing, giving us snapshots of a unique life. In "China Is Not a Good Place to Be a Bird" she finds herself a murmuration of starlings when she longs to be free, "screeching across the air Like the Feral Cockatoos of Hong Kong".

Even in mid life Lucy is still finding out about tradition and habits that might have been second nature had she not been uprooted at birth. She asks, "Why Do Old Chinese People Hoard So Badly?" and sees fear of poverty or worse in:
" ... a jar of fermented baby mouse wine
Empty jars, a precious commodity
Washed out with care
Ready to receive Chinese herbs
For soup
Deer tails
Dried seahorse broth
Empty chocolate tins
Empty tubs ..."

all waiting to be filled with good things, a bit like the poet herself. Is she perpetually balanced on a fulcrum of unease, of displacement, in the moment before toppling into victory or chaos?

The writing is restrained, allowing us to feel the emotion. You don't need hyperbole when the events speak for themselves, the cumulative effect of a thousand cuts bleeding into a massive whole.

Do Chinese count? Lucy has counted and placed politics to the fore in "Chinese Numbers", a chilling page that takes us through cataclysmic events from the Dover 58, the Chinese migrant workers found dead in a lorry, to the estimated 400,000 Chinese killed by Japanese fascists in wartime experiments.

All those colonialist turn-of-the-20th-century yellow peril slanders are still with us, mutated, morphed into manifestations that are deemed acceptable, often hiding in plain sight. Lucy's poems provoke a deep engagement with the questions with which she's grappling. This marginalising dynamic is real and whipping away like a snake and too much of our energy is wasted trying to work around it. Every once in a while it snaps hold and injects its poison. If the author can wake us up to stare it in the eye and call it what it is, then she has done us all a favour.

Ungrateful — A Paper Daughter by Lucy Chau Lai Tuen is available on Amazon

Friday, 24 February 2017

Heathcote Williams' American Porn poetry collection: balancing passion and disgust on a razor's edge — review


Five stars for Heathcote Williams' American Porn poetry collection: balancing passion and disgust on a razor's edge


Seems like we are all stuck in a science-fiction writer's coma dream, so deeply weird have been events of the past year. The culmination was the installation by electoral college (as opposed to popular vote) of our Orange Overlord, Toddler Trump. Or is it Eric Cartman and his Asian Cartman counterpart, Kim Wrong-un?

How would Western culture respond?

Fast off the block was Heathcote Williams with his collection of poetry, American Porn. So far, only Williams, South Park's astonishingly good Series 20 with its toxic Memberberries, and gallows-humourist Frankie Boyle have delivered the satirical goods — with the US Saturday Night Live TV series scoring the odd home run with Alec Baldwin's chumping of Trump and Melissa McCarthy's epic savaging of Sean "Squealer" Spicer.

Heathcote is lighter on laughs but more intense on historical background, which anyone familiar with his stunning Royal Babylon will know. There's real substance in his writing, balancing passion and disgust on a razor's edge lest he stare into the abyss for too long. Like all great poets, he connects seemingly disparate events, building a fully three-dimensional picture of how we got here. This requires delving deeply into the alt-fact mire and fishing out shape and sense without puking — a heroic endeavour.

In the opening poem, The United States of Porn, Heathcote takes us from Ancient Rome to Amerigo Vespucci, pornographer to the mafia Medicis; from Chatsworth, California, which he nails as the "HQ of America's Pornocracy" industry, to the Nazis and tyrants who have always used sex to cement their power — modern America is little different.
"Goebbels believed pornography worked as an anaesthetic -
His enemies, ironically, could be softened by being stiffened "
Given the choice between food and orgasms, sex-mad lab rats will starve, and humans are diverted from existential threat.

His poem Happy Thanksgiving (as opposed to a Happy Ending) disdains the usual amnesiac festive platitudes for the horror of those first meetings between indigenous Native Americans and European immigrants. If only the natives had had the means to build a wall. "But this nation was created by Zombie cannibals". Williams then gives us gruesome vignettes of barbarism and treachery, not on the part of the natives, but of the pious, bible-bashing interlopers and their God-bovvering hypocrisy. "The Pilgrim Fathers belong not to history, But to a quasi-religious ideal," which is still running things, especially with the ascension of Trump.

In American Porn, Heathcote Williams maps out the background: all the roads leading to this sorry point. Trump is less cause than symptom: a fully-ripe buboe fully charged to explode all over the world.

American Porn by Heathcote Williams is available from Amazon

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Copper Comes A Cropper: a poem featuring Cressida Dick


It's hard to believe that Cressida Dick, the woman at the head of the London Metropolitan Police operation that killed Jean Charles de Menezes, an innocent electrician, on the London tube in 2005 and terrified a whole lot of bystanders, is now running the police force.

Whatever happened to holding power to account? The shooting of Menezes must rank with Hillsborough as a marker of how low the elite and their servants regard the rest of us. Being thick, bungling and unimaginative can be just as deadly as deliberate malice.

Dick features in this poem which is about the unholy alliance between the police and the tabloid press, some of which was revealed in the Leveson investigation. Who can forget Sir Paul Stephenson's stunningly inept performance? If you have, here's a reminder.

Copper Comes A Cropper

A little bit of sympathy at the back, there,
Puh-leaze. Let's be 'avin’ yew.
At the Leveson inquiry
The cruellest moment is when
Sir Paul Stephenson,
The poor put-upon former chief Bill,
Hobbles in on crutches and drops a pill,
Cutting such a pathetic sight
Under the assembled legal might.
So small for a tall man,
Bespectacled nerd,
Pinched lips, he can barely cope.
Only a thug like a lawyer
Would punch well-honed words
At a man on the ropes.

He says:
I may be public watchdog eyes and ears
but I wasn't there, never heard a thing,
Couldn't see, except for what the reptiles did to Lord Ian Blair,
Stripped bare in the glare of the Sun
And that wasn't going to happen to me.

A loose-lipped minority gossiped
In a distracting dialogue of disharmony,
Dysfunctional, too close for my liking,
But I couldn't do a thing, not a thing.

Ever so humbly, I suggest you are
Crediting me with a level of analysis I don't have,
I didn't give it any particular thought,
No conclusions can be wrought,
It was just something that happened,
Like the Sun coming up in the morning,
Shedding light on the scum we turned over.
I am not fawning but we don't investigate someone
We know socially and with whom we are friends.
Except when we did the police officers.
A big boy done it and ran away
And stopped us realising there was anything wrong
When he told us there was no new hack sore.
We adopted a defensive mindset instead of a challenging stance,
I can see that now.
It was a cursory glance,
Not wide, not deep,
We were asleep.
If only we had the wisdom of hindsight and weren't caught out
It would all be all right.

I'm not throwing my colleague out of the back of the sleigh and
I can't answer for him but
It would have been wiser presentationally
For him to have done it different.
However, he is away in Bahrain and you aren't getting him back in Old Blighty
Until the heat is off,
Until you call off the dogs,
Until the trail has chilled like the champagne we quaffed as we doffed.
Defending and not challenging,
That was the error of our ways.
We are brave and did not back off, guv,
Just because it was News International.

We were logical and needed the polaroids
'Cause the tapes and diaries in Glenn's black bags were not enough.
It was the Bahrain runaway who did not reopen the enquiry.
He failed, it is regrettable. That's tough.
Fear of taking on a powerful enterprise is not the case.
I did not put the frighteners on the Guardian editor,
Or spray him with Mace,
Or rough him up too much.
Politics over substance,
I merely turned up to understand.
But there was no meeting of minds,
My pulse did not race,
You could not get off your face with him
Unlike the real press, proper gents we could have a laugh with
Over drinks and a nice dinner.
Call it folly but Mr Wallis was generous with the Bolly
And Yates of the Yard was fond of his jollies.
I just did not get it and wasn't keeping tally,
The Met caught Chamy Media off Wallis by getting too pally
But we gave him Cressida Dick.

A lack of evidence beyond the lone rogue reporter
Meant rationed resources and an underfunded force
Would not be put on the job as a matter of course.
Please give us more dosh if you wish us to wield the cosh.
I was overworked with anti-terrorism,
The Olympics,
Not my decision,
A junior did it and is sunning himself in sandy climes.
I am an ill man, I need a week in a spa.
Can you recommend one?

And so they adjourn for another time.
But spare a thought for the thin blue line.
Poor Raisa, disappeared, turned to glue,
Currently starring in a pet-food can near you
To stop her singing like a canary,
Squealing like a pig at an inquiry.
Take the porkers she carried;
She knew Cameron's arse inside and out,
Blue heart and stout,
Fullsome about Coulson,
He put it about,
Withdrew when the thin blue sphincter tightened,
Purged the toad and found his load lightened.
Raisa rode bravely into the student throngs they harried,
Righting a wrong for the right,
Got the stomach for a fight when protesters say neigh
And you weigh as much as ten of them
With a bobby on your back.
Truncheoned before luncheon
Unfree by tea,
Scuppered before supper.
A hack for the hacks,
The sack for the lax
When they find out
Her hooves are all over this
and her head is in some mogul's bed.

Anna Chen, Monday 5th March 2012

Note: Raisa was the retired police horse loaned to Rebekah Brooks by the Met.

Copper Comes A Cropper was published in Anna Chen's poetry collection, Reaching For My Gnu, pub Aaaargh! Press.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Poetry on One Day Without Us: Yellowface #1DayWithoutUs

In support of today's One Day Without Us day of action in the UK, I'm posting my poetry on the subject throughout the day.



With Charles Shaar Murray and Buffalo Bill Smith, St Ives festival 2009

Yellowface

I’m Yellowface
Gonna eat your soul
I’m Yellowface
I’m Yellowface
Gonna swallow you whole
I’m Yellowface
Make you scrabble like a mole in a hole
For every little part, any little role
Make you thank me for the things I stole
I’m Yellowface

Endless night no hope in sight
You're crazy for a chink of light
Keep you polite, out of the damn fight
Creature of the night
No sense of right
You know what else?
Youy’re lacking in height
No sight of your own might
Trite, no bite.

I’m Yellowface
Gonna keep you small
I’m Yellowface
I’m Yellowface
Don’t see you at all
I’m Yellowface
I’m the devil with a shovel
I’ll bury you good
Deep in the woods
Right where you stood
‘Cause you so slow and you knew I could
I’m Yellowface

Teeny little folk so cute, can I feed you?
I think I need an electron miscroscope to see you
Maybe a Hubble telescope to even get near you
Wanna hug you, wanna hold you, ain't never gonna fear you

I’m Yellowface
I don’t wanna see you
I’m Yellowface
I just wanna be you
Five minutes that’s all it takes
To empty you out, hey, them’s the breaks
Scoop you out hollow
Like a ricy husk
Chain you up, let you out at dusk
Or maybe a week, that’s enough
'Cause you’re so meek and I’m very tough
I’m Yellowface
Gonna eat your soul,
I’m Yellowface
Gonna swallow you whole
I’m the devil with a shovel
I’ll bury you good
Deep in the woods
Right where you stood
Coz you so slow and you knew I could
I’m Yellowface
Yellowface
I'm Yellowface

by Anna Chen, June 2009

READ MORE about the One Day Without Us day of action here

TWITTER: #1DayWithoutUs

Poetry on One Day Without Us: I Am Rich and You Are Poor #1DayWithoutUs

I Am Rich and You Are Poor: lines on dead Chinese workers and their rich benefactors by Anna Chen


In support of today's One Day Without Us day of action in the UK, I'm posting my poetry on the subject throughout the day.



I Am Rich and You Are Poor
Lines on dead Chinese workers and their rich benefactors

I am rich and you are poor
I travel, you seek a foreign shore
You have needs but I have more
Hey, let’s all give to charidee.

The world’s an oyster, a wondrous thing
Find the pearl, make an angel sing
To swinish herds it’s all just bling
Hey, let’s all give to charidee.

I’ve news for you, I’ll beg, implore,
You aren’t walking through that door
You figure what frontiers are for
Hey, let’s all give to charidee.

I am rich and you are skint
You slave for pennies, I made a mint
This world loves those who’re carved from flint
Hey, let’s all give to charidee.

I weep for you, I sympathise
Look, tears are welling in my eyes
You’re coming here to seek the prize
But tales of gold are pretty lies
You want to be where you’re despised?
You’ll be lucky if you’re serving fries.
Yes, me, well I have cash to buy
Whatever I want, I get to fly

Not hide in a truck, rolling in muck
Relying on luck to make a buck
Stuck in a rut with the doors all shut
Banging on gates and the ladder pulled up.

Sucked down in the sands
You ebb with the tides
White under the moon
You shine in the sea

I am rich and you are poor
Bottom of the barrel while I’m top drawer
I will help you stay where you are
Hey, let’s all give to charidee.

I am rich, you’re stony broke
I am special, you’re an anonymous bloke
We’ll only love, respect, honour, support, hold you, care for your loved ones, when you croak
Hey, let’s all give to charidee.

Anna Chen February 2009

READ MORE about the One Day Without Us day of action here


TWITTER: #1DayWithoutUs

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Chinese British support UK One Day Without Us day of action

The cast of the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of Snow In Midsummer in rehearsal holding One Day Without Us placards. From left to right: Katie Leung, Andrew Koji, Lucy Sheen, Wendy Kweh, Andrew Leung, Jonathan Ragget, Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig, Daniel York, director Justin Audibert, Richard Rees, Kevin Shen. At the front in the red jacket is Jaqueline Chan and (kneeling) Sarah Lam.

Chinese British support UK One Day Without Us National Day of Action in defence of migrant workers, Monday 20 February


Monday is Britain's turn to host a National Day of Action as part of an international protest in defence of migrant workers who have been used and abused for too long. Even now, they are being treated as a political football by this squalid government. We are declaring our support and solidarity with a vital strand of workers who have kept this country going.

If you stripped out our migrant workers, Britain would fall apart. One Day Without Us should give us a taster of what life would be like without immigrants.

There are 15,000 fewer teachers in further education than we had in 2009. Science teachers are in such short supply that they will have to be recruited from abroad. This year we're expected to experience an exodus of EU migrant workers from the UK. And we'll all have to work harder for longer because we won't have the replacement workers to pay for pensions.

As is the rest of the developed world, the UK is suffering a shrinking workforce as baby boomers start to retire. We simply don't have enough workers to replace them.

It is clearly bad for the UK to exclude the people who pick our veg, build our infrastructure, run our buses, cook and serve our food in the lovely Chinese and Indian restaurants and takeaways we use all the time, look after us in the NHS or in care homes, or study and teach in our universities. Did you know that there are tens of thousands of Chinese students paying fees to study in our higher education system right now? In total, more than 150,000 overseas students contribute more than £2.3 billion per year to the exchequer, £8 billion to the British economy.

It's particularly relevant to Chinese in Britain as restaurant workers have been targeted by the Border Patrol in fishing raids.


A banker, a worker and an immigrant walk into a bar. On a table there are ten pies. The banker eats nine of the pies and says to the worker: watch out for him. He's after your pie. That's what the government and the Brexit movement are saying. And the government and Brexit are joined by Lexit — leftists for Brexit who dangerously accommodate 'alternative facts' about migrants taking 'our' jobs.

Remember: it was the bankers who crashed the economy in 2008. And it was China who was able to take up some of the slack and give us time to get the system back on track. Unfortunately, instead of steadying the system in everyone's interest, the West bailed out the bankers with public money and set us on course for disaster yet again. US markets are all a-quiver as hugely over-priced stocks seem to defy the laws of physics — the next crash may be as bad as the 1920s. It's like playing pass-the-parcel with a live grenade and everyone's waiting for the music to stop.

In the meantime, the poorest paid the bill through George Osborne's vicious and thoroughly discredited austerity measures, targeting those least able to afford it. What was the point of a bedroom tax that cost as much to administer as it collected? What did the cruelty of PIP cuts achieve except to cause pain, misery and even death for the disabled? Which migrants stopped much needed housing being built?

The billionaire class would like us all at each others throats — it takes our attention away from "Sir" Philip Green's third mega-yacht or "Sir" Richard Branson's private Caribbean island and his publicly subsidised rail service. The top percentage quadrupled their wealth since 2000, and tripled it since the 2008 crash while general incomes haven't even made it back to pre-2008 levels — we are far from all in it together.

The usual suspects have been rounded up: the disabled, those on benefits, ethnic minorities, pensioners, women, and people who come here to work (remember: immigrants yield a net benefit to the nation's coffers). But none of them chose to stop building homes (and handily keep property prices elevated), or to slow investment in education, or to run the NHS into the ground for privatisers to pillage.

The EU referendum has boiled down to a bogus debate about immigration that is dependent on the lie that migrants take 'our' jobs. Employers, who do the actual employing and the paying, are rendered invisible. No-one criticises – say – Dyson for closing its UK factory and pursuing cheap labour in Malaysia. If any Lexiteer tells you it's the migrants' fault, they are – to put it mildly – misinformed. Or misinforming.

Brexit means getting Trump. We're being delivered out of the EU frying-pan and into the Trump fire by both the government and the Labour opposition. The NHS is on offer for predatory US business — how does this mean 'taking back control'? Labour and the rest of the left should be holding the line, rather than capitulating to the specious immigration debate that's been whipped up by the mainstream media.

On Monday, the Ensuring We Remember campaign, set up in memory of the more than 140,000 in the Chinese Labour Corps who served in the Allied forces in Europe in World War I doing the dirtiest, most dangerous jobs, will be tweeting support using the hashtag #1DayWithoutUs.

Anyone in London who would like to take part should get to Parliament Square at 12:30pm and join the FLAG MOB with your national flags in time for the 1pm linking of arms in symbolic solidarity with migrants.

Please join us across the country on Monday 20th February and stand by your fellow working-class human being. You have more in common with them than Farage, Boris Johnson or any of the purported (c)leftists who are failing to stand firm on basic principles and folding like origami. Which, like shampoo, pyjamas, paper, mathematics and science, has its origins in that there "Abroad".


A banker, a worker and an immigrant walk into a bar … TED Talk by Anna Chen

#1daywithoutus #1DWU

Snow in Midsummer at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford on Avon

What happens to a minority when the government needs a scapegoat: the 2001 Foot and Mouth Disease Outbreak

One Day Without Us — London

One Day Without Us

Migration Collective
Migration stories at
Upstairs at the Ritzy
Brixton Oval, SW2 1JG London, United Kingdom
https://www.facebook.com/events/643903709104562/
https://www.timeout.com/london/things-to-do/migration-stories

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