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POTENT WHISPER is a Brixton-based rapper and political grime artist. His first book The Rhyming Guide to Grenfell Britain (Dog Section Press, £7) includes his Rhyming Guide to NHS Privatisation, a spoken-word video which has received over 170,000 views since it was released by Momentum.
For the writer (pictured), the Grenfell Tower fire was not an accident. “The deaths at Grenfell were forewarned, preventable and, he argues, deliberate, which makes each death “an emblematic embodiment” of all that is wrong with Britain:
“What happened at Grenfell, that was an act of war/The murder of innocent people who died because they’re poor/Hundreds of deaths and you can bet that there’s be more/So if you think that you survived it, I wouldn’t be so sure...”
Written in loose rhyming couplets, sometimes conversational, sometimes hectoring, the book takes issue with the brazen dishonesty of so much contemporary political “common sense,” including austerity (“How can people work so hard and still not be surviving?”), nuclear-deterrence (“Try and invest money into lives instead of Trident/Try jobs, try housing, try education/Try welfare, not warfare... Put Trident on trial and try choosing a future.”)
He declares: ”The more I see the more it seems we need a revolution” In The Rhyming Guide to Voting:
“I always said that, I wouldn’t vote if they paid me/That’s what I said before Corbyn said he’d pay me/£10 per hour, when I’m at work. Minimum.../Many on the left would say that he’s the best we’ve had/That he’s the best we’ve got now, that he’s the best we’ll have/He murked the game and worked his way further than ever expected/And now he’s an inch from getting elected...’
Although Gerda Stevenson is a hugely distinguished actor, director, musician and playwright, her poetry is less well-known. Her second collection Quines: Poems in Tribute to Women of Scotland (Luath, £9.99) will surely change that.
It’s a book of huge ambition and radical purpose, a kind of history of Scotland told through the lives of almost 70 women, from the Gaelic warrior princess Sgathach to Tessa Ransford, the founder of the Scottish Poetry Library in the 21st century.
It’s a collection of snapshots and historical vignettes, scenes from great lives — some famous, some forgotten — and all are extraordinary. Artists, doctors, missionaries, politicians, writers and scientists, as well as the team that beat England in 1881 in the first recorded women’s international football match (“The wind was against us — but wasn’t it ever?”), all speak to us in their own voices.
Among them are Jennie Lee, Moira Shearer, the Duchess of Atholl, novelist Nan Shepherd, the first woman to appear on a Scottish banknote, film-maker Margaret Tait, Williamina Fleming, who discovered the Horsehead Nebula, and Jane Haining, the only Scot to be honoured for giving her life for Jews during the Holocaust.
And there is a long sequence about Helen Crawfurd, suffragette, pacifist and foundation member of the Communist Party.
“The toil of oil and soot-black shipbuilders,/traipsing home at dusk to bow-legged bairns ... the whole world is theirs by right ... Here in the Second City of the Empire,/where a fanfared judge steps from his carriage/at the High Court, our ranks are ready for his bailiffs ...’
And this is Helen Macfarlane, who first translated The Communist Manifesto into English.
“I’ve always seen Red ... Red raw my sisters’ eyes — how they cried/when the mills went down ... Red the robin’s breast on a winter branch ... And red, red my thoughts that flow with His tidings,/onto page after page: how can we leave a single soul to die/by inches in squalid lanes and gutters, making slop shirts/at tuppence apiece, while another is swathed in silk?”
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