If the title or cover of this poetry collection didn’t make it clear, the back cover’s declaration “Anti-racist, anti-fascist, andy-sectarian, anti-Zionist” hammers the home point. Subtle this ain’t.
First off, that title: what is “Antifa”? It’s the shared name for anti-fascist activists across Europe. Now, it’s mythbusting time. Let’s get something straight. Not all skinheads are Nazis, right? Plenty of Antifa have shaved heads, boots & braces. And plenty of great “street punk” and skinhead bands (many of them featured on Louder Than War) refuse to sit on the fence and are avowedly anti-fascist. Hence the picture on the cover of this collection of poetry shows a skin with the famous “Gegen Nazis” (German: Against Nazis) logo on the back of his bomber clutching a St George’s flag.
Reading this, as I am, the day after the killing of a soldier in Woolwich led to an outpouring of general anti-Muslim hatred, it is clear that a collection like this is timely and relevant. Racism is not new in this country, but it seems to be reaching new levels.
As the introduction says “The discrimination that’s happening now towards Muslims is the same discrimination the Jewish people experienced under Hitler’s regime. The approach may be different and the names of the of the targeting groups may have changed, but the desire to stir up hatred and segregate communities remains the same in modern day fascist and racist ideologies”
So, is this just thug rhymes for street fighters? It’s not all about fighting fascism – and the 64 poems generally don’t rhyme so that description can go out the window. These collected words are an outpouring of genuine angst about the state our country has got into, the personal challenges Andy faces (he has health issues, subsequent economic woes and is in a mixed race relationship) and the great irony that fighting fascism is fighting for everyone, including the casual racist numbnuts whose prejudice makes this country an increasingly hostile place. We’re taken through the landscape of health reforms, the monarchy and PPI cold callers but the predominant theme is the far right and the hold they have.
It also questions some commonly held norms in anti-fascist circles which makes this book of interest to anyone confronting fascism (and as if by magic, as I was typing that sentence the Blaggers ITA blast out of my personal stereo). The themes contained within the poems could have easily been distilled into an interesting pamphlet with a title along the lines of “why racism is thriving and multiple strategies anti-fascists can adopt”. Mind you, that would take a lot longer to read. Perhaps the power of poetry is the ability to paint a picture with words and point at the important bit.
Back to the rhyming thing: some people say that poetry doesn’t have to rhyme, but I prefer it when it does. It gives me pace to follow, and I enjoy the interplay of words. That’s the odd thing about poetry: every reader receives it differently, which of course makes it difficult to review objectively. I have to confess that other than Spike Milligan and Benjamin Zephaniah poets don’t make it onto my book shelves – although they pop up in the record collection. E.g. the excellent Andy T.
The central thread of this collection is one of seeking to understand why people being shat on by a capitalist system are shitting on anyone they can find who they can label lower than themselves – this impotence, combined with ignorance and a failure to consider working class people’s concerns, is where racism is born in this country. So, sod the fact it doesn’t rhyme, I like it because it is tackling an issue most of this country is ignoring! Andy also has the guts to go places others won’t for fear of being misinterpreted.
Perhaps knowing that not everyone will have a full grasp of the issues, every now and then a foot note appears to clarify a term or fact used or link to a news item, some of which in themselves are amusing (for example, “Hitler really did only have one ball”) – yes, that’s right, there is humour in these here pages. On occasion I laughed out loud at the general piss-takery, for example, “Tell me, are people that desperate for a coffee, pasty or cheese burger that it is beyond them to walk another hundred yards?” in “Capitalism Gone Barmy”.
I do have a couple of gripes. Some of the poems would have benefitted with a better layout so they stayed on one page rather than straying over. Here and there the use of the word “prejudice” where it should have a “d” on the end. You can still understand the meaning, but I can’t stop my pedantic spell checking eye kicking in.
If political street poetry or anti-fascism is your thing this will interest you. If you enjoy (as I did) amusing titles and poems such as “Fuck Off, PPI (I’m Eating My Cereal)” and “John Terry is a Wanker” then you’ll manage to have a good laugh along the way.
All words by Nathan Brown. You can read more from Nathan on LTW here.