Sunday 30 September 2018

Leicester 2084 AD: New Poems about the City

Ambrose Musiyiwa has just edited and published a new anthology, Leicester 2084 AD: New Poems about The City. Here, below, is his introduction to the book

Introduction, by Ambrose Musiyiwa

In 2016, poet, book reviewer and literary activist, Emma Lee and I set up the Facebook group, Welcome to Leicester, as part of the process of putting together a poetry anthology exploring Leicester’s past, present and future and what the city means to different people.

The result was Welcome to Leicester: Poems about the City, which Emma and I co-edited and which was released from Dahlia Publishing in the same year.

Leicester 2084 AD: New Poems about the City (CivicLeicester, 2018) picks up from the conversation that started with Welcome to Leicester, the Facebook group and the poetry anthology. The new poems ask readers and writers to imagine what Leicester will be like in the year 2084, how the city will get there, and what it will mean to its citizens, residents and the rest of the world.

In line with the approach that informs Welcome to Leicester, invitations to submit poems and microfiction for possible inclusion in the anthology were sent through word of mouth, social media, emails and letters to individual writers, local and regional writing groups, schools and media outlets. 

Invitations were also sent to the seven towns that are called Leicester, namely: Leicester, Sierra Leone; Leicester, North Carolina; Leicester, Massachusetts; Leicester, Vermont; Leicester, New York; Leicester (village), New York; and Leicester Township, Clay County, Nebraska.

All in all, 73 poems and items of short fiction were received from 42 writers. 40 of the submissions were selected for inclusion in Leicester 2084 AD because of how they responded to the theme, how they came across when read silently and out loud, and how they spoke to other poems and pieces of short fiction in the anthology. 

Some of the writers whose work is featured in the anthology have many publications to their names. For others, Leicester 2084 AD is the first time they have been published. 

I hope the poems in this anthology will encourage you to imagine what Leicester will be like in the future and to think about some of the things that need to be done in order to build that future Leicester.

I hope you will enjoy reading these poems as much as I did.

And I look forward to seeing what, in terms of overtly Leicester-centric poetry anthologies, the next few years will bring. This is because, although there are many poems by writers from the East Midlands and elsewhere that are influenced by or which respond to the city of Leicester, there are very few poetry anthologies that focus exclusively on the city. The ones that I am aware of that do so are: Ned Newitt’s Anthology of Leicester Chartist Song, Poetry and Verse (Leicester Pioneer Press, 2006), Welcome to Leicester (Dahlia Publishing, 2016), and now Leicester 2084 AD.  

Leicester 2084 AD: New Poems about the City is available here

Sunday 23 September 2018

I.M. Steffi Schwarcz-Birnbaum, 1928-2018

By Jonathan Taylor

On Tuesday 18th September 2018, beloved poet, activist and academic Steffi Schwarcz-Birnbaum died after a long illness. A Kindertransport evacuee to England from Nazi Germany, Steffi spent most of her adult life in Israel. I want to pay tribute to her here. 

Steffi was born in 1928, to Jewish parents Georg Mortiz Birnbaum, publisher and diplomat, and Hertha Erna Birnbaum, nee Steinfeld. Steffi and her younger sister Reni spent their early childhood in Berlin, part of a loving and tight-knit family. 

In 1933, the Nazis came to power, and Georg subsequently lost his job. Over the next few years, he developed Parkinson's disease, and eventually died in October 1939. 

In March 1939, Steffi and Reni left Nazi Germany on the Kindertransport, sponsored by Dr. Bernard and Mrs Winifred Schlesinger (parents of the famous film director, John Schlesinger). On arrival in London, Steffi and Reni stayed for some time at a Jewish hostel in Highgate. Eventually, they were evacuated from London to a small village in Hertfordshire. 

There, they were billeted with Albert and Margaret Kelly, who cared for the homesick refugees, and treated them with love and kindness. Like foster parents, they helped the sisters settle into English life and customs, without ever trying to change their beliefs. 

Unfortunately, the sisters did not stay long with the Kellys, but were sent to a boarding school in Cornwall, where the conditions were harsh, and the headmistress attempted to convert all Jewish children. During this time, Steffi was also continuously afraid for the family members she'd left behind in Germany. The fear and uncertainty continued till after the war ended. 

Steffi's mother and grandmother had managed to communicate with their daughters, via Red Cross telegrams from Berlin, until 1942. Then the communications stopped. Hertha had worked in a munitions factory in Berlin until the end of 1942; but in January 1943 she was deported to Auschwitz, where she died. Steffi's grandmother, Jenny Steinfeld, committed suicide just before deportation. Steffi discovered all this following the end of the war. 

In the 1960s, Steffi moved from England to Israel, where she worked for many years at the Hebrew University. She published a book of poetry, Poems, 1989-1993. She had a daughter, Raya, and four grandchildren. She believed passionately in peace and reconciliation, and worked tirelessly for it throughout her life: "Be merciful to the poor, proud to the rich, and act humanely towards everyone."

Steffi telling a joke at our wedding in 2005

As a postscript, I want to add that I am one of Albert and Margaret Kelly's grandchildren, and I grew up thinking of Steffi and Reni as much-loved aunties. Reni is godmother for our twins. In 2002-3, I had the pleasure of setting one of Steffi's poems to music, and the song was performed in concert and on the radio. Here is that poem. 

Ghetto Child

Ragged clothing, terrified eyes
a frame of bone
lacking flesh
haunt us throughout the ages,
black and white photographs
display the despair
the post-war prosperity
makes us stare
   in disbelief!

Hunger, terror
family decimation
burning synagogues - eventual cremation
terror, fear of the day ahead
comprehension of persecution widespread. 

Ghetto child, ghetto child
your bones do not lie in hallowed ground
you did not reach the gate of freedom
your bones are dust, there is no sound. 

Yet where masses of Jewish youth
from all over the globe
tread the Polish earth
when the "March of the Living" takes place each year
to honour the dead - and remember. 
Then, Ghetto child, you can 
rest in peace, for Israel Lives. 

Friday 21 September 2018

Two Poems by Michael W. Thomas

Michael W. Thomas’s most recent novel is Pilgrims at the White Horizon.  His poetry collections include Batman’s Hill, South Staffs (Flipped Eye, 2013) and Come to Pass (Oversteps, 2015).  His work has appeared in The Antioch Review, Critical Survey and the TLS.  In 2015, his novella, ‘Esp,’ was shortlisted for the UK Novella Award.  His latest titles are Early and Late: Poems and Images (with Ted Eames, Cairn Time Press), and The Portswick Imp: Collected Stories, 2001-2016 (Black Pear).  He is currently working on Nowherian, the memoir of a Grenadian traveller. 


And there were times
when he was someone’s someone.
The air then was clean upon the days,
showed faithfully the smoke of whispers.

The pavements were as wide
as a hope on waking,
each evening struck the sun to its reddest
as chimney and tree grew against it.
Later, the moon would raise a brow
as if in surprise at its ancient blessing.

He was someone’s someone,
excess to name and date of birth,
never going lost in the Sunday lands – 
at least for some improvised while.

Over is longer to say than happen.
Each time it came for him
he was back as in a rental
a moment before the expiry of terms,
nothing only a phone on a shelf
by a book of codes for strangers.

Now he is no-one’s,
lives within his own breath
and makes discoveries for one.
No matter.  He has known otherwise,
could still call up a daystar or two
for chase-and-tag behind his gaze.

Instead he looks upon a Monday world
with a middling cast of sky,
sees all the unshaped forms that hurry there – 
shrugs, makes a silence of himself, 
steps in.  

Housemaid on Fire

‘Thank God, he’s still breathing.  Get water!’
The girl works her lips,
repoints her urgency: ‘Now, idiot!’
Her words set the housemaid on fire,
hurl her from the room. In the kitchen
Cook’s jug leaps in a slop at her frontage.

A bad go.  But in time, as always, 
the demons loose the baronet
so, in the far forest of his mind,
he can stumble-slither back through no man’s land,
flop into the trench and live again.

‘I’ve no doubt, my lady,’ says the doctor,
just arrived, ‘that you handled all with eclat.’
She gives him a proper dimple
as he dips about his gladstone bag,
notices the soaked and trembling maid:
‘More water here, girlie – at the double!’ 

Soon the baronet will be right as rain,
will again venture a hand below stairs,
know the worth of a chortle, a horse, 
a discreet consultation in Jermyn Street.

And the housemaid, still damp,
will sit in The Feathers, watch the clock-hands
as they work into the evening nick by nick,

will hope that Gerry won’t be late,
though she knows it depends 
which broken bits of him have charge 
of the light in his eyes,

will write steerage in the table slops
and dream of the day she sees
another fire-maker, sightless and tall                        
on Bedloe’s Island, torch high
over a snake of faces tired to the death,

will pray she won’t herself 
look poor and huddled when they dock, 
having already selected that best blue
of Auntie Vi’s, and Mum’s locket also,

will pray too that Gerry hasn’t told a soul,
as she has not, and is right about the milk train
stopping at the halt tomorrow dawn.

Note: By Act of US Congress, Bedloe’s Island was renamed Liberty Island in 1956.

Thursday 13 September 2018

Invitation to Joint Book Launch

You are cordially invited to a joint book launch on Wednesday 17 October 2018, from 6.30pm at the Exchange Bar in Leicester, LE1 1RD. Everyone is welcome, and the event is free. 

The event will celebrate the launch of two new books, both published this year by Shoestring Press, and both by lecturers at the University of Leicester - Sue Dymoke and Jonathan Taylor

What They Left Behind is Sue Dymoke’s third Shoestring Press collection after Moon at the Park and Ride (2012) and The New Girls – New and Selected Poems (2004). Sue is a Reader in Education at the University of Leicester. 

Jonathan Taylor's Cassandra Complex is a collection of poems, found poems, found translations, mis-translations, prophecies, pseudo-prophecies, apocalyptic visions and moments of retroactive clairvoyance. Jonathan directs the MA in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester.

If you are on Facebook, you can see the Facebook event here. If you would like further details about the event, please email Jonathan at the address shown on the poster above.

Hope to see you there!

Saturday 8 September 2018

Two Poems By Michael Caines

Michael Caines works for the Times Literary Supplement, and is the author of Shakespeare and the Eighteenth Century (Oxford University Press, 2013). Earlier this year he founded a free literary quarterly, called the Brixton Review of Books, that focuses on the work of indie presses.

Noise pollution, 1853

The Carlyles are trying to breakfast at Ramsgate, despite the cacophony:
Female fiddlers; a bagpiping soloist; others, including
A bilious barrel-organ. And at home, back at Chelsea,

A “troop of incarnate devils” ascends to the top of the building,
Tasked with constructing an attic-long refuge – an apex of silence.
Now bricklayers bash up the staircases, laden with bawdry. A ceiling

Caves in when a whistling workman, mistaking his balance,
Decants himself into the essayist’s bedroom. Sagacity suffers
While whitewashers clatter on ladders; and, dismally, Thomas’s science,

His progress through history, Jane’s correspondence and every office
Are set on their heads, like the tables and armchairs, “their legs in the air
As if in convulsions”. (A “lost” book, however, is found to be just where it was.)

At last the great work is accomplished. Carlyle retires to his lair –
And that’s when the learner next door settles down at her pianoforte.

A macaw’s interjections augment a traditional Scottish air ....

A tangerine man, right after struggling his way through Kristen Roupenian’s momentous New Yorker short story “Cat Person”, speaks

Now is the time to virtue-signal. So:
I’ve read “Caught Person”. I just know it’s great.
I really do. I love the way that – wait,
did I just read a story?!?!?!?!? How’d it go,

exactly? HUH??!!?!? I mean, just – let me know?!?!
Because: this guy’s fantastic. Just equate
his getting-what-I-want way with his date
with how I roll. Because – it’s just ... hero-

ic. In my view. At least. (I’m rich. I’m right.)
They’re FAKING IT! They’re – “Rocket Man” – so wrong!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Like Crooked Hillary, OK? What more
could any woman want? It’s just one night!
Romantic! Stormy!!!!!!!!!!! (Weird that, all along,

she doesn’t get why she’s the whore.) The WHORE!

Wednesday 5 September 2018

"Werner Krauss": Extract from Novel by Gareth Watts

Gareth Watts is Head of Creative Arts at Gateway College. He has written for radio, published poetry, written short stories and reviews for Fiction Uncovered. He writes for Leftlion and has a regular football column for Forza Garibaldi. His first novel Werner Krauss (Sussex Academic) was published in 2017.

The novel is a fictional account of the life of German film and theatre actor Werner Krauss,  star of the classic silent film The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari. Upon gaining worldwide recognition in this film, Krauss was co-opted into the Nazi hate campaign of the 1930s and 1940s. He featured in the vicious propaganda film Jud Suss, and he was complicit in giving anti-Semitic performances onstage, most notably as Shylock in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. The novel focuses on three distinct eras in Krauss's life: the struggling, exuberant actor of the 1920s; the philandering pragmatist of the 1930s; and the elderly, neurotic outcast of the 1940s. Despite his honourable intentions, Krauss was all-too-often undermined by his inability to say 'no' to women, alcohol and the egregious Joseph Goebbels. In this fictional re-imagining of his life, Krauss's motives and decisions are explored in an attempt to discover why he collaborated with the Nazis in the way that he did, as well as demonstrating the personal and political consequences of his actions. Krauss's story is part of the wider story of the role of the arts and media in Nazi Germany. Extensively researched, including contemporary news stories, archived film material, critical essays on Krauss and translated passages from his autobiography, Das Schauspiel Meines Lebens, this fictional reconstruction of Krauss's life and career is preceded by a substantive Introduction by the author, setting the novel in the context of the genre of Holocaust fiction, emulating and reminiscent of Christopher Isherwood's Goodbye to Berlin and Thomas Keneally's Schindler's Ark

Extract from the novel, Werner Krauss


But how to communicate with the future?

Lifting the collar of his overcoat, Werner Krauss ducked his head and walked quickly. Each step seemed to mimic the pace of his heart. Why was he doing this? He was a free man, after all.

On waking that morning, he’d ambled into the kitchen of his Stuttgart residence and taken a bottle of Asbach Uralt from the cupboard. Grabbing a dirty wine glass from the draining-board, he poured carelessly, overflowing the stemmed glass. Preparing himself for a shock, he gulped it down. Tears rolled from his eyes, but he resisted the urge to vomit. He took a cigarette from the box which had been to bed with him, and, with an unsteady hand, placed it in his mouth. Sinking to his knees, he lit it using the gas flame of the oven hob, which had been burning all night. He stole an hour of sleep, there on the kitchen floor, with the cigarette butt still in his mouth. Waking with a start, he dressed thoughtlessly, and, realising he was too late to arrange a ride, headed for the court on foot.

For months he had been preparing for this day – memorising anecdotes about a compassionate, sensitive man. But these monologues now seemed to be slipping away, and all he could think of was his sore ankle.

As the State Court building came into view, so too did the sizeable and angry crowd.

‘There he is – traitor, TRAITOR!’

The noise grew, and individual insults rang out.

‘Fascist …’

‘Hitler’s friend, he was Hitler’s friend!’ – a Jew, unmistakably.


That last one echoed in his ear. His cheeks burned. As the crowd got closer, Werner noticed there was no sign of the special security that he had requested. His name obviously didn’t carry the same weight in Stuttgart as it had before. He swallowed hard, and started to run, or rather, limp, at the crowd, head-on. He fought his way through, almost reaching the court door, and relative safety. Then, a placard bearing the words NAZI COWARD crashed down on his forehead. He fell to the ground amid kicks, punches and insults.

Sat now in the corridor outside the courtroom, he gazed at a grey wall for some time, trying to piece together the speech in his mind, and forget the morning’s unexpected nightmare. He reached into his jacket for a notebook and pen. Wanting to commit words to the page, he would remind himself of his humanity:

Somewhere, there is salvation. A place to feel alive even when they line the streets, calling for your death …

Werner knew he was exaggerating, but for a moment at least he enjoyed the melodrama and continued to dwell on the ‘tragedy’ of his situation:

… I am not a murderer and yet they try me like one. They want me dead as an example to all. In the pages of the pauper-press I am demonised for doing my duty, performing my tasks, being true and being artistic. Hath a Jew not eyes?

He smiled as he scrawled that last question mark. For a moment he considered incorporating these notes in his memoirs. ‘It could be included in the prologue,’ he thought.

He tore the page from his notebook and put it into his pocket. He must be careful not to allow his sense of humour to be used against him. Fear started to grip the face of the man who had worn so  many masks. Being nervous was natural though, he decided, and the court must not suspect a performance – they must see a human - a man, not an actor. He should talk only of circumstance, of coincidence. He could talk about Maria. He could talk about his son.

With those thoughts in mind, Werner was led into the courtroom and asked to confirm his name. The presiding officer was a young, slither of a man who hid behind a pair of spectacles. This infuriated Werner. ‘Where were you in the Weimar years?’ he wanted to shout. He fantasised about smashing this man’s spectacles into his face, using a nearby chair. At least then, he thought, he could have a reason for remorse, a reason to be tried. 

Werner let out a quiet, though not inaudible, belch. The brandy was rising from his stomach and he felt sick. But he could not leave the courtroom and attract more attention. He swallowed hard, and tried to concentrate on the question the presiding officer had begun to ask: 'Herr Krauss, how would you define your role in Hitler’s Reich?'