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The Mask of Sanity
As I Stayed Safe in lockdown Wales
While drought and sun gave way to gales,
The unprecedented times
Begged an echo in my rhymes.
I met Privilege en route
To his weekly photoshoot,
Disguised as a Prime Minister –
And then things got more sinister.
His adviser, Laughing Boy,
Who treated strict rules like a toy,
Kept his job, though everyone
Said he should go for what he’d done.
Pictures from across the sea
Showed a neck under a knee.
George Floyd said I can’t breathe and died.
Protests erupted nationwide.
In Britain, France, and Germany
They marched in solidarity,
People black and brown and white
Gave their governments a fright.
You mustn’t gather, said the Clown
Who had told us that lockdown
Still applied to everyone
But Laughing Boy – now let’s move on!
Home Secretary Priti Patel
Thought she had the right to tell
Other BAMES to hold their tongue –
She’d been abused when she was young,
She said, and still had a career
In P R, lobbying for beer
And the tobacco industry –
Why can’t you all succeed like me?
But folk ignored the government,
Fed up with seeing the rules bent,
And living with a public statue
Black people felt was sneering at you.
They hauled the image of the slaver
Down and threw it in the river.
They started to consider Nelson,
An imperialist with bells on,
And Churchill, who was yet another.
Every slave is like my brother
Or sister, so they said, arise
We must, there is no prize
For putting up a moment longer
With the Powers That may Be stronger
At the moment, but will not
Remain so, now they’ve lost the plot.
Out came the English Nationalists
Some of them leading with their fists,
Getting into scraps till one
Got hurt, and had nowhere to run,
But Patrick Hutchinson carried him
Over his shoulder, looking grim,
To safety where riot police
Made sure he stayed still in one piece.
The photograph of this event –
Black man rescues right-wing gent –
Went viral, and began to offer
Hope at last, to those who suffer,
Might heal the wounds of every nation.
Yet still the government was awful
And made starving children lawful,
Ignoring a broad-based campaign
Requesting that they think again,
Till a footballer told the story
Of his unlikely path to glory.
His mum had done all that she could,
But without that free school food
Marcus Rashford never would
Have been a star, or half so good.
The government did another U-turn
Which caused Laughing Boy to gurn –
But as that was his usual face
The fact escaped the human race.
Then Greta Thunberg said, we’ve seen,
Reacting to Covid 19,
The world act when it knows it must,
And feeling that their cause is just
People are discovering
Their mass movements can do something.
Now let’s rise up for action,
Not for any group or faction
But world-wide justice, and the planet.
A spark is lit, it’s time to fan it!
There’s no time to hesitate.
It’s nearly – but not quite – too late.
Then she quoted lines she’d learned
By heart in the days she yearned
For a sense of urgency
In the likes of you and me
Faced with this emergency:
“And these words shall then become
Like oppression’s thundered doom
Ringing through each heart and brain
Heard again – again – again –
Rise like lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number –
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you –
Ye are many, they are few.”
John Freeman 30th June 2020
i.m. Jay Ramsay
Always a mystic and dreamer.
Did you know that he had died?
If you have ever wondered
what it would be like to be
bereft and in mourning, now
is your chance to find out.
First it was a missing toolbox,
then Sister Wendy left us,
with Collings fuming about art.
Today Maria told me that Jay
has gone away for good.
Use the simple search function
to find your future and then
demolish thought. The tears
will not come, even though
neither Jane or Sarah knew,
despite a userfriendly interface.
To delete a comment just log in.
I know a little something
about dissent, have heard
stories about fracture, about how
a great silence filled all heaven.
Those of you who were there
will remember the plenary talk
and may have several volumes
on your shelf. There are words
for states of being that have no
equivalent outside poetic language.
If you are looking for information
look no further: time is also place,
we are just passing by. Fear is also
love, connections can be made
without agreeing with the thesis.
In his alien architecture I found
hope and occasional rays of light
to illuminate a midnight heaven.
© Rupert M Loydell
Nelson Mandela began his inaugural Presidential address to Parliament on 24 May 1994, speaking about the poet, Ingrid Jonker (1933-1965), as someone who ‘gave us the right to assert with pride that we are South Africans, that we are Africans and that we are citizens of the world.’ He continued in his measured voice and manner that ‘In the midst of despair, she celebrated hope. Confronted with death, she asserted the beauty of life. In the dark days when all seemed hopeless in our country, when many refused to hear her resonant voice, she took her own life. To her and others like her, we owe a debt to life itself. To her and others like her, we owe a commitment to the poor, the oppressed, the wretched and the despised.’ This extraordinary recognition of an Afrikaner poet was followed by a recitation of her poem ‘The child who was shot dead by soldiers in Nyanga’, written in the aftermath of the massacre at the anti-pass demonstration in Sharpeville on 21 March 1960. Violence erupted throughout South Africa. When a black baby was shot dead in her mother’s arms by police in the black township of Nyanga, Cape Town, Jonker was outraged and went to the Philippi police station to see the body. Mandela’s reading, which differs from the 1968 Jack Cope and William Plomer and 2007 André Brink and Antjie Krog translations, manages to get to the poem’s core without embellishment. I have to say that I prefer his version. It is starker and to the point. I suspect that he memorised the poem and deeply felt its impact throughout his legal struggles and subsequent imprisonment.
The child is not dead…
the child lifts his fists against his mother
The child is not dead
Not at Langa nor at Nyanga
nor at Orlando nor at
nor at the police post at Philippi
where he lies with a bullet
through his brain…
The André Brink and Antijie Krog version in Black Butterflies: Selected Poems (Human & Rousseau) is quite different, far more flowery and wordy. The lack of firmness in their version is in stark contrast to Mandela’s more direct and blunt account. Jonker’s audio recordings of this and other poems display a cadenced and musical voice, which Mandela’s English recitation captures more closely in simpler language. It is in the final stanzas that Mandela’s radically different translation hits home hardest. Whereas Brink & Krog translate the original:
Die kind is die skaduwee van die soldate
op wag met gewere sarasene en knuppels
die kind is teenwoordig by alle vergaderings en wetgewings
die kind loer deur die vensters van huise en in die harte van moeders
die kind wat net wou speel in die son by Nyanga is orals
‘The child is the shadow of the soldiers / On guard with guns Saracens and batons / the child is present at all meeting and legislations / the child peeps through the windows of houses and into the / hearts of mothers / the child who just wanted to play in the sun at Nyanga is / everywhere’
the child is present at all assemblies and law-giving
the child peers
through the windows of houses
and into the hearts of mothers
who only wanted to play in the sun at Nyanga
I am happy with Mandela’s omission of a whole line. His version, much closer to Cope and Plomer, cuts to the core and uses the word ‘assemblies’ in terms of both protest and parliamentary gatherings. The poem ends powerfully with the child not needing a pass to be a South African, and it is this that aligned her with the banned Africa National Congress and Pan-Africanist Congress.
Ingrid Jonker, a central figure in the Sestigers group of bohemian poets and writers, petitioned the National Party government in 1963 protesting against its increasing censorship defying her father who was the chief censor. When her volume of poetry, Rook en Oker (Smoke and Ochre) was published in October 1963, Jonker offered to visit her father and bring him a signed copy. He told her to post it, adding that he had no wish to be seen with her in public. Her poem, ‘The child was shot dead by soldiers in Nyanga’, had an immediate galvanising impact. She was indefatigable in her opposition to censorship, the pass laws of apartheid, and decision not to change a word of her poem. She never compromised her thinking.
David Caddy 14th December 2014