Archive for Culture

Charles Saatchi and the language of deflection

Note: This post was inspired by “Silence and Violence”, a TEDx talk by Jackson Katz, Ph. D, in which he drew attention to a compelling feminist analysis of how society often uses language to diminish the importance of men’s violence against women.  Very helpfully shared on Twitter by @RoughEstateDate, it is excellent viewing, and well worth nineteen minutes of your time.    

 

Charles Saatchi has accepted a caution for his conduct in a London restaurant, where a photographer took pictures of him holding his wife Nigella Lawson by the throat.  His acceptance of caution was an admission that he had committed assault.  He also issued a statement which, though brief, I found of particular interest.  It read as follows:

“Although Nigella made no complaint, I volunteered to go to Charing Cross station and take a police caution after a discussion with my lawyer because I thought it was better than the alternative of this hanging over all of us for months.”

Though a short piece of text, I think that it contains a great deal of interesting detail, and I will swiftly take its two elements in turn.

  1. “Although Nigella made no complaint” – The implication here is that the incident was not of sufficient seriousness for his own wife to register it formally with police.  However, his own acceptance of a caution contradicts that implication.  By coming forward in this way, he has tacitly acknowledged the grave nature of his actions.
  2. “I volunteered to go to Charing Cross station and take a police caution…because I thought it was better than the alternative of this hanging over all of us for months.” – This is framed as if an act of altruism, and not limitation of damage to his own reputation.  The language here – “hanging over us [my italics] – ” is of note.  He could just as easily be talking about an accusation levelled against his family as a whole.  However, there is nothing hanging over him and his wife: it is his act which led to the caution, and she is not complicit in it.  There is nothing hanging over her except public sympathy; on the other hand, what hangs over him is the finger of guilt and reproach.  In using this language, he seems to be trying to sidle out of an uncomfortable spotlight.

Nowhere in this statement is there an expression of regret.  Perhaps this is something that he feels that he should express in private, and is not a subject for public discussion.  In any event, his words give the impression of someone who is not wholly contrite, but who rather is trying to deflect attention from the very serious nature of what he did.

Rod Liddle, “black savages”, and Louise Mensch

So I need to write this quickly, for two reasons. The first is that my blood is up, and the second is that I am swiftly moving beyond a deadline for an article that is currently lying open and sorrowfully untended elsewhere on my laptop. But back to the first reason. My blood is up.

My blood is up because of an article recently published by Louise Mensch, in which she stated that people should not rise to Rod Liddle’s Spectator comment, since redacted, about the “black savages” who killed Lee Rigby at Woolwich. Her thoughts were that we should not “feed the trolls”.

In her article Mensch recommends practical action to dismantle these structural prejudices that people face, as opposed to getting wound up by the deliberately provocative pronouncements – or “race-baiting”, as she correctly calls it – by columnists such as Rod Liddle. I see her point, but – with the greatest respect – I disagree. I am stating the staggeringly obvious here, but it is possible both to challenge phrases immediately such as “black savages” and to do the hard, long-term work of changing perceptions that she recommends in her article.

For what it’s worth, I used to believe, like Louise Mensch, that we should “not feed the trolls”. Thing is, though, that these trolls aren’t hiding under some digital bridge on Twitter with an egg avatar and only a handful of followers. They are being published regularly by some of our country’s most influential media outlets. That’s a pretty big megaphone.

When bile such as “black savages” is sent unchecked into the atmosphere, it poisons the air. In this context, after all, “black savages” suggests that beneath the thin veneer of the apparently civilised Western-born black male lurks an irredeemably violent thug, and that all it takes is the right triggers to unleash him. That is precisely the same thinking upon which imperial attitudes were, and indeed still are, proudly based.

Rod Liddle is absolutely entitled to such views. What I find more interesting, as I tweeted the other day, is the platforms from which he is continually commissioned to project them. He once edited BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. He came very close to editing The Independent. These are two of the most prestigious jobs in journalism. His success is worrying evidence that it is possible to retain proudly the prejudice that he espouses and still reach the very peaks of his profession.

Now I’ve calmed down and I fear, for the second time in a few paragraphs, that I am stating the staggeringly obvious. So I’ll try to wrap this up soon. It’s like this: a young man gets hacked to death in Woolwich. Rod Liddle then uses this utterly horrific event to peddle appalling racial stereotypes. That’s not a good look in any shape or form. In fact, it actually makes the work of people like Louise Mensch harder, because it reinforces the same attitudes that, in her article, she is committed to challenge.

That’s it, really. I need to get back to this other article, which is sitting there in a neglected window and looking even more despondent than before. I don’t think that we are “feeding the trolls” by replying to them and making them acknowledge the wilful ignorance – and, in some cases, overt racism – of their critiques. After all, judging by the prestigious positions that they hold in the media, they are pretty well fed already.

“Zooming In, Zooming Out”: a conversation with Shannon Hardwick, poet

humming

Shannon Hardwick is a fantastic poet whose acquaintance I was lucky to make several years ago. Hailing from Texas, drawing her influences from science, music and a keen study of the world around her, her work exudes a rare grace and optimism. On the eve of the publication by Mouthfeel Press of Hummingbird Mind, her second chapbook, I caught up with her for a conversation about poetry, the prairie, Tchaikovsky and more.

Shannon, how have your experiences influenced you as a writer?

I grew up in an interesting household. My parents were not happily married. I grew up with four siblings…but I was the second oldest, so even though I grew up in a big family I always felt like kind of a loner. I rode horses, and so I spent most of my time away from the home and at the barn.
I remember this one memory when my parents had just separated and my mom was busy, she couldn’t take me to the barn. And I felt trapped in my home, so I called my father, which was kind of a desperate measure because I didn’t usually call him; and I asked him if he could take me to the barn. And he couldn’t do that, and he said, ‘why can’t your mom take you? Why do you have to go at this hour?’ I think it was probably eight o’clock in the evening. And I just said, ‘I want to see my best friend.’ ”
So horses were a really big deal to me – I spent a long time with her, not around other people – and so writing was a way of communicating my thoughts and feelings at a time that was very confusing. Every major event of my life I remember always running to pen and paper, to figure out how I was feeling. A lot of times I wrote to God. Maybe I felt like that was my friend in the sky as a child.

You still write to the sky, don’t you, if that makes sense?

Yeah, I know, to the bigger picture, the bigger thing out there, the Universe…yes, I still very much write to that.

I’ve been reading your work for a few years now, and each time you manage to marry imagery and narrative better and better . What I really liked about Manaquest [Shannon’s first chapbook] is that you sank completely into a different world. It reminded me of the old Coyote stories, the Tricksters and so on. I’ve always seen a bit of the prairie or the wilderness in your work, if that’s fair.

That makes sense. As I’ve gotten older, people point that out to me a lot. I grew up in West Texas in the middle of nowhere, where we were five hours from the biggest town. So it’s just plains and prairies and tumbleweeds and cows. Flatland. So yes, I think that influences my work a lot.

It’s funny reading work influenced by the geography; you read work by, say, Cormac McCarthy, and the prose feels very windswept. And reading your stuff as well, you can sense the geography which it has inspired. That’s a great strength of yours. There’s a lot of space in your work; there’s a lot of air, even in the way you use the punctuation. The words definitely breathe. Without that the imagery would be quite dense and, I think, overwhelming…But despite that space, there’s also a sense of optimism. Do you think that’s a fair comment?

Yes, I think that’s fair…I think that might come from some sort of spirituality in my work. Maybe, I don’t know. [Laughs]

The Hummingbird Mind – why the title?

I wrote most of [those poems] when I was a student at Sarah Lawrence College [a liberal arts college in New York]. Some of those I wrote when I visited home in Texas, but I think I was a little overwhelmed in New York and it was definitely a new landscape.

Maybe it was the disconnect of living in New York, I’m not sure, but one day I was at the library at Sarah Lawrence and I was researching schizophrenia, thought disorders, and I came across this woman’s blog. And she mentioned this disconnection of thought, and she called it ‘Hummingbird Mind’. And I loved that. So that’s how I came up with the title: of thoughts jumping from here to there.

It’s a beautiful image. And it’s funny because although it seems a particularly singular condition, I think it’s actually one that we’re living in now. In this era of urbanisation, a lot of us have ‘hummingbird minds’. Even looking out the window, we’re all dashing about. And there’s a sense of speed for the sake of speed sometimes, and not thinking where it’s taking us.

Oh, definitely. And just today’s culture of being connected to the Internet. If you go out anywhere and look at young people, they’re not even connecting with their surroundings, they’re just looking at their phones, which in itself is a whole other world. We’re just looking at the Internet and living these weird double lives, or triple lives.

It’s very weird having to define yourself with reference to the Internet. Now, for many people, being online is almost the default option.

Right.

But your work is a real departure from the world of the Internet, which is why I like it. It’s very contemplative and reflective. There was one poem of yours I was reading, where I loved this line: “There are nights when I discover universes packed in a suitcase”. What inspired that particular image?

I do a lot of work with memory learning. With the image of a suitcase, you’re travelling physically, but also back in your mind.

I had the vision there of Men In Black, where they have universes inside marbles.

Right! [Laughs]

There was also your Tchaikovsky poem earlier, which seemed to be about having to proceed despite what was overwhelming. What did that piece mean to you?

Well, right before I moved to New York I started getting into classical music and studying composers’ lives. And what really moved me was that Tchaikovsky didn’t even start writing or composing music until he was, I think, forty? His mother had died, and he was probably unhealthily connected to his mother. And she died, and he became an alcoholic. And at one point he even threw himself down the stairs, in a suicidal attempt, and that moment [in reading about that] I felt this overwhelming sadness, that everything in your whole world was out of control. And yet out of that, as a way to maybe contain or control that emotion, he created beautiful music. And not until he was 40. And I just thought that was fascinating, and that’s where that poem came from.

It’s a beautiful piece; and there are lessons there for all of us more broadly, I think, that it is never too late to create. So much of life, as that shows, is just hanging in there; because Tchaikovsky now, even for a casual listener to classical music like me, is such a frame of reference. There’s a powerful sense of resilience.

Right.

Let’s go into other themes in your poetry, beyond that surface level of optimism. What are the key things that you think characterise, that drive your work?

Zooming in, and zooming out. Quantum mechanics; the very large, and the very small. The self, but also getting out of the self, and connecting with the Universe. How to explain this?…Well, one time I was kind of a troublemaker as a teen and I got sent away to this programme – I think in the UK they had a show about it, it’s called ‘Brat Camp’? [laughs]

Yes, hahaha!

I went to that same Brat Camp – I think, the one in Utah – and I was out there and every night before we went to bed I would lay down on my sleeping bag, and basically you would see shooting stars, you would see thousands of them before you went to sleep. And I got this feeling of feeling so connected to something so large, yet at the same time feeling so small. So at once feeling insignificant, and at the same time feeling connected to all that is significant. And I like to explore our feeling of disconnect – of feeling small and insignificant and yet feeling connected to everything and everyone, of that largeness and that smallness.

You can pre-order a copy of Hummingbird Mind for $8.00 here. You can read more of Shannon’s poetry and thoughts on her blog, which you can find by clicking on this link.

On being black: “Black Is”

I don’t write about race all that often; I rarely write about anything when I feel that I have nothing new or different to add.  I wrote this piece a while back, and then a good friend, Bridget Minamore, got in touch to say that she really liked it and that I should bring it out again.  I have only performed it twice but I’m looking to change that.  In the meantime, I’ve provided the text along with a free download below.  Here, then, are my short thoughts on media portrayals of being “black”, whatever that means.

 

“Black Is”

What is black?

 

Black is rap;

Black is jazz,

Tap;

Black is Hackney as a habitat;

Black is

“No backchat to your mum, she’s a battleaxe”…

Barack is the new black;

The old black,

Back when they sold black,

Was trapped in the shadow of the gallows…

Black is a straitjacket;

Black is a lower-than-average paypacket;

Black is not gay!

No!

Black is Man!

Black is a brag, a swagger;

Black is baggy jeans, an urban teen with a dagger;

Black is –

Twice as long a wait getting through Customs;

Black is “I don’t know what it is about those boys on the corner, but I don’t think I trust them”;

Black is millions of Billie Jeans –

Single mums with sons whose dads were gone before their delivery;

Black is laughter and anger,

Richard Pryor and gangland pistol fire,

Black is hardcore, Darfur –

Black is a victim…

Black is a street-corner yelling evangelical Christian;

Black is a true story more compelling than fiction –

 

Black is black-and-white, always the extremes, it seems;

Either President or menacing,

Either thief or first-class degree in medicine…

But my black is grey –

Most, if not all warts on display;

My black doesn’t worship God, but his friends are saints;

My black is not on the Pele, Othello, Mandela level of melanin;

But every day, it’s a little more genuine.

 

The Golden Age of contact – communication is the new wealth

A few weeks ago, when I was having lunch with some friends, one of them expressed a sentiment that stayed with me.  “Writers are working-class now”, he said, or words to that effect.  What he meant was the widespread slashing of journalists’ rates meant that a career which once promised a comfortable middle-class lifestyle was now about as remunerative as any number of low-paid office jobs.

Several writers, particularly novelists, will have read the above paragraph with a shrug.  They may have little sympathy with journalists who are feeling the pinch, for they will never have known a time when they had excess income to be squeezed.  In any case, perhaps this period of a few decades, where many writers have lived very well off their scribblings, is an anomalous one.

A couple of days after that lunch, I picked up a copy of Marx and Engel’s Communist Manifesto, which I have been slowly working my way through, and found the following section. “The low strata of the middle class”, I read, “all these sink gradually into the proletariat…partly because their specialized skill is rendered worthless by new methods of production.” (My italics.)

Marx and Engels wrote this in 1848, but it is just as relevant for writers (and, indeed, musicians) now: the Internet, that revolutionary new method of production, has with its rampant piracy apparently rendered worthless many hours of artistic toil.  However, the Internet has done a curious thing.  At the same time as it has vastly diminished financial returns, it has given writers a different kind of wealth: the wealth of reach.

I happen to love communication in all its forms – be it writing, speaking, performing or public relations – and I happen to be alive at a time when the tools of communication have never been more powerful.  For that, I count myself wholly fortunate: if successful use of these tools represents “the new wealth”, then I have more of it every day.   With the emergence in recent years of social media, it could be said that we are in “the Golden Age of contact”, where it is increasingly possible to get in touch with anyone anywhere who has an internet connection.  (I wonder whether that Golden Age will turn out to be so golden after all, but that is a subject for another day.)

For now, though, I am still in the phase of marvelling that a piece of writing that I type at my desk and then publish on my blog can soar out around the world in seconds.  This is a mundane miracle of which countless writers in the times before ours would have been envious, at the very least.  I find myself responding to this miracle in feverish fashion, endlessly producing new work, as it has always been my dream to do nothing more than create more and better ways of expressing what I feel to be right and wrong in the world around us.  I am delighted with this new wealth, and in it I greedily revel.

Mo Farah and the two faces of Olympic legacy

Wow.  Well, well, well.  A truly euphoric day spent in the Olympic Park, on the last day of the Games’ athletics programme.  And now, the next morning, I’m sitting with my laptop propped on my duvet, trying to write before the pleasure of the previous twenty-four hours inevitably fades.  It feels like the final day of one of the best vacations I have ever taken.

These two weeks have been an impossible high that will soon subside.  And that’s fine.  No feeling of ecstasy can truly endure.  After all, even the greatest love affairs can’t maintain their initial breathlessness.  There are those first two weeks of almost every golden relationship when you can’t keep your eyes or your hands away from the other person.  However, after that glorious fortnight, your senses need to return to the world around you, much as you may still be loved-up. Hey, there are bills to pay and jobs to do.

But, like all great loves, the memory of this moment must endure.  Yesterday, I saw a version of Britain that I rarely see in the media.  And it was thrilling.  I saw volunteers, regularly working 14-15 hour days, powered by little more than pride in this city and their country and the warmth of their new community of peers.  I saw architecture as inspiring as anything I have seen in and around New York’s Central Park.  I saw people united in their love of competitors who actually seemed to become more humble the more that they achieved.

I also saw an Olympic Park that too few people were able to experience.  I had friends frantically contacting me at the last minute, asking me to help them sell wildly overpriced tickets that they had bought in haste.  I heard of local children who had worked on this project for three years prior to the arrival of the Games, but who were not granted the chance to step into the Park to see the extraordinary culmination of their efforts.

I saw fervent commerce: a monolithic McDonalds in the shadow of the Olympic Stadium, a steady diet on whose fast food would be one sure way to deny admission as an athlete.  By contrast, I heard of Leyton market-traders sold expensive licences on the promise of Olympic business that never emerged.

All this, both good and bad, was the legacy of the Games.  The story of a truly astonishing spectacle made by countless hands; and the story of those who were swept aside as it was created.

Last night I watched Mo Farah win the men’s 5,000 metres final on a screen the size of a shopping mall, surrounded by thousands of similarly elated Brits.  For only the second time in my life – the first being the election of President Barack Obama, given the symbolism of that occasion – I was moved by a public spectacle to tears of joy.  That joy is fleeting, even though it still simmers in me as I write now.  It has lasted long enough, though, to remind me that there is a Britain out there which celebrates the good achievements of people regardless of where their parents came from; that there is a Britain out there, far from the sneering mouths of many, which lauds its often-lambasted youth for their wonderful work ethic.  It is a reminder that I needed, as it is a Britain that I do not see nearly enough of in public discourse.  For now, the memory of Mo will have to do.

“British”, a poem about Team GB and national pride at London 2012

I wrote and performed this poem for the BBC World Service Weekend programme, and it was broadcast on the last Saturday of the Olympic Games.  I thought I would post the text here.
———-
“British”

This is
What it means to be British –
To take part in a race,
Hoping to win –
But expecting a last-place finish.
Yes, this is British –
To make it all the way to a tie-break
And then brick it.
We are the world’s biggest optimists
Hidden inside the most hostile of cynics.
The glass in our crystal balls
Is overcast.

But maybe this has changed.
Maybe British now means –
Winning!
British is

Bradley Wiggins!
Hoy, Rutherford and Farah –
Jones, Murray, Ennis, Adams!
Maybe British is beating anyone – everyone –
Federer,
Et cetera!…
Maybe –
We should calm down.
With the exception of these two weeks,
It’s not every day that we’ll win a world crown.
But I hope that this next image will always be British –
We throw that house party that anyone can visit,
With guests from far and wide
Bringing any number of different dishes:
And when we’ve eaten, we stand awkwardly against the wall,
Until our guests tug us, smiling, into the middle of the floor.

Jessica, Mo, Greg, and snatching our flag back

Yesterday was one of the greatest days in the history of British sport, and I didn’t watch a single second of it.  Great Britain won six gold medals, and meanwhile I was spending six hours on a round-trip via coach to Birmingham, where I was performing at a poetry festival.  What’s more, at about half-six that evening, I was offered a ticket to the Olympic boxing: which would have been fine, but for the fact that I was over a hundred miles away at the time.  Timing, eh.

It was a tiring day of travel, and so I fell asleep on the crowded bus home, my novel untouched in the bag beside me.  I woke to the news on my Twitter feed that, in the space of one glorious evening, Jessica Ennis, Mo Farah and Greg Rutherford had won gold for Great Britain.  Somewhat saddened that I had not seen these victories in real time, I walked into Victoria train station, where I saw dozens of Union flags hanging from the ceiling of the concourse.  And then the funniest thing happened.  I broke into the widest possible smile.

This was a big thing for me.  Maybe even huge.  To be diplomatic, I have an awkward relationship with the Union flag.  It’s all those years in my teens when I saw it draped outside pubs as a warning for my sort to steer clear.  It’s all those times I saw it emblazoned across flyers for the British National Party, which every now and then found their way through my letterbox.  But there I was, grinning at those fluttering flags like a friend I’d not seen in years.

The Union flag had been kidnapped some time ago by the BNP.  But last night, Jessica Ennis, Mo Farah and Greg Rutherford snatched it back.  For me, Britishness – if it means anything – has always meant a sense of belonging to a greater whole, despite our disparate backgrounds.  In a society that is still so riven by class division and economic inequality, this is perhaps an aspiration rather than a reality, but that night in Victoria station it felt gloriously possible.  I have our wonderful gold medallists to thank for that.  And now, I think, it is time to go and watch their highlights.

Racism in Football: Buffy, McCammon, Ferdinand and Terry

An edited version of this piece appeared in the Guardian’s Comment Is Free section, on 31 July 2012.  The link is here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jul/31/racism-kicked-out-of-football-not?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter

————————————————————-

The issue of racism in football is alive and well.  Mark McCammon, a professional footballer, has just successfully brought a case for racial victimisation against Gillingham, his former football club.  McCammon, who is black, was found by an employment tribunal to have been unfairly dismissed due to his race: this finding in his favour is the first of its type in English law.

Elsewhere, the issue of racism in football – in the form of the Ferdinand-Terry saga – is alive and dull.  Sometimes it feels like what this episode really needs is a vampire slayer: that it badly needs Buffy.  But she has retired, and so this stubbornly undead affair trundles on, with two of its own protagonists perhaps most weary of this drama.  The FA has charged Chelsea’s John Terry with the alleged use of abusive and/or insulting words and/or behaviour towards Queens Park Rangers’ Anton Ferdinand, contrary to FA rules.  This comes, of course, after Terry was found not guilty of racially abusing Anton Ferdinand in a criminal trial.  More recently, the FA has also charged Rio Ferdinand, Anton’s brother, with acting “in a way which was improper and/or bought the game into disrepute by making comments which included a reference to ethnic origin and/or colour and/or race”.  This latter charge came after Ferdinand, the Manchester United defender, retweeted and laughed at a comment referring to Ashley Cole, the Chelsea and England defender, as a “choc ice”.

Some might say that this is minor compared to what McCammon suffered at Gillingham, who are due to appeal the finding of the tribunal.  “Now that’s real racial victimisation”, they might say.   What emerged from the Terry-Ferdinand trial was that, during that match between QPR and Chelsea on October 23rd, two grown men had traded insults in a childish spat, the likes of which you might find in a primary school playground at break-time.  Ashley Cole, when called to give evidence, was clearly exasperated. “We shouldn’t be sitting here”, he told the court, and many, having followed the trial closely, would be minded to agree with him.  At this point, in the manner of a popular chat-show, we can step back from the fray and ask – in an appropriately pompous tone – What We Have All Learned.

There is nothing much new that has been learned about Anton Ferdinand, save his somewhat unimaginative choice of abuse.  There is nothing new that we have learned about John Terry.  Those with good or bad feelings towards him prior to this latest round of charges will feel much the same about him now.  The same goes for Rio Ferdinand, although it is a minor mystery that a renowned authoritarian such as Sir Alex Ferguson allows one of his players to be so prolific and so vociferous on Twitter.  But I think that a great deal more has been learned about the FA, and its attitude to racism in football.

To use a well-worn analogy, that of Charles Dickens’ “The Tale of Two Cities”, this affair has shown the FA in the best of lights, and in the worst of lights.  This affair has shown the FA in the best of lights, in their decision to charge Rio Ferdinand for his conduct on Twitter.  If they had done otherwise, they would have opened themselves to the accusation that the only type of racially offensive slur that they found acceptable was that made by a white person about a black person’s skin colour.  While this charge may to some appear trivial, I believe that it is consistent, and therefore fitting.  It shows that the FA is determined to be exhaustive in its efforts to address any form of racial discrimination in football.

In one key respect, this affair has shown the FA in the worst of lights.  Though John Terry was well within his rights to seek a postponement of the trial until after the Euro 2012, I believe that the FA should have made him unavailable for selection during that time.  This would not have foreshadowed his guilt: of course, in any criminal trial the defendant is innocent until proven guilty.  Instead, the FA would have shown everyone that the disciplinary process takes priority over everything, including football: which, after all, is just another form of employment, if more glamorous than most.  However, the FA did not have the bravery to take this opportunity.

There will presumably be several players out there who have suffered racial discrimination in football, and who will anxiously be watching how the FA handles the final stages of this issue. They will be hoping that the FA plods scrupulously and rather more bravely through every stage of the process.

 

 

 

 

A poem for London 2012: “Heavyweight”

Since the Olympic Games have come to London, here’s “Heavyweight”, a poem I wrote, set to the music of DJ Sid Mercutio, about London taking on Muhammad Ali in his prime.  You can listen to the track by clicking here.

You can also read it below. Hope you like it, if so please share; and thanks for visiting this page.

“HEAVYWEIGHT”

Here’s a question.  Who’s the greatest

Fighter of all time?  The latest

Theory is that it’s that man

Who didn’t fight in Vietnam

Since blacks had been done no evil

By those he called yellow people:

That same man who, far from humble,

Fought that Rumble in that Jungle;

Who said he danced like butterfly,

Whose health has now been scuppered by

The harsh onset of that disease

That makes him shake like trees in breeze…

Some say Ali is the finest:

Some say his appeal is timeless –

But, if you ask my opinion

Then The Greatest is in England.

Who’s that, you might ask? Wait, listen:

This fighter treats opposition

With indifference, disdain.

Well, who’s this fighter? What’s his name?

You’ll ask again. I’ll say: Calm down.

This fighter’s no man. It’s a town.

A town? you say, somewhat intrigued.

Please. How is a town in the league

Of the great Muhammad Ali,

That man who defied his Army,

Who, filled with pride, blessed with special

Skills told black folk not to settle

For the third best, or the second.

What.s this town? What do you reckon?

Take a guess. If your assumption

Is that I refer to London

Then you’re right. This town’s a fighter:

It’s faced foes cunning as vipers,

It’s faced sly and swift invasion,

Embraced hasty immigration.

And it has retained its status

As The Greatest. See, this city’s

Fought them all: it’s fought the sniffy,

Snobbish, and obsessive souls

Each one of whom, nightly, patrols

The King’s Road in a Merc or Rolls –

The fruits of their financial goals:

It’s fought the rudeboys on that bus

Through Brixton, fought their every cuss,

It’s fought punks and Goths in Camden,

Skinheads chanting national anthem:

And the reason that it’s fought them

Is that London will support them

All. It will support the Muslim

And those who would wish to push him

Down: it will support the Jew,

The Christian; in short, all of you

But London will defend its sense

Of self at anyone’s expense.

Veteran of thousand summers

This town’s ground down all newcomers…

See the victories it’s scored

See all the hits that it’s absorbed:

It’s seen off the Blitz, the Romans,

Irish terrorists’ explosions:

And, more recently, it’s seen off

Bombers who blew their heads clean off:

Sure, they rattled it a little,

But to fell it like a skittle

Takes a little more than violence:

To intimidate this island’s

Capital takes something greater

Than those who might smite skyscrapers:

Takes more than that thick, unhealthy

Smog in slow flow over Chelsea:

Takes more than that endless cycle

Of commuters: snarling, spiteful,

Stuck on the M25

To tear apart London’s insides…

It’s a complex city, London,

With more layers than an onion,

Layers made of blacks, Jews, Turks,

White bankers high off City’s perks

Who snorted coke and swapped high fives;

Top football players and their wives;

Stars of the big screen with their chic

Apartments; here and there, a Greek,

A Russian, strolling through its parks,

Who with his fellow oligarchs

Has date-raped his state and escaped…

But this city still can’t be shaped

By those who’d see it gentrified,

Who’d love it if it gently died…

It’s a fearsome adversary

That, for years, has had to carry

All this weight: though millions

Have fought it, its resilience

Somehow remains. If that strength stems

From calm and cold blood of the River Thames

I just don’t know. I just know this:

That London will one day dismiss

Us as it has dismissed all those

Who’ve tried to dress it in their clothes.

That.s why, if you staged a fight

Between Muhammad Ali, right

At top of his game, in his prime,

And London, this home town of mine

I’d bet a few dimes he could blast it,

Outclass it;

But not outlast it.