CW: sexism, war
Who knew there was an arms fair happening in London? Well, it was news to me before I went to Art The Arms Fair for an event of protest poetry – just one night in a series of events aiming to raise awareness about this issue. All profits from events go to CAAT (Campaign Against the Arms Trade), with original artwork and prints for sale. Work has been donated from all over the world, including both established artists and emerging. It was rumoured that Banksy had a piece there too, which was later confirmed, raising £205,000 for Reprieve and Campaign Against Arms Trade.
You can find out more about the arms fair, from the website for the DSEI (Defence and Security Equipment International), or you can opt to find out the facts behind the glossy front, which is satirised on the Stop The Arms Fair website, including a history of the DSEI; the fact that it started on September 11th 2001 – the same day as the Twin Towers were attacked – is chilling in itself. But, in 2017, it is still happening under most people’s radar.
Each poem was filled with emotion, and a profoundness even in its simplicity, ending on a minute’s silence to remember why we were there.
The spoken word event, hosted by poet Hannah Chutzpah, began with poetry from Hanan Al-Faiadh, who was born in Iraq but left due to political exile. She experienced the terrors of war in both Lebanon and Yemen as a child, and travelled from Spain to be part of the event, and a vital part at that. Her collection, ‘Heart’ donates all royalties to children of war and refugee children. Her words were full of soft rhymes, gently placed, with a voice strong as the lion Al-Faiadh spoke of in her first poem ‘Belonging’. Each poem was filled with emotion, and a profoundness even in its simplicity, ending on a minute’s silence to remember why we were there.
The next poet, Carl Heap, delivered one poem based on the nursery rhyme ‘This Is the House That Jack Built’, cleverly chaining together events of war to show different stages of responsibility. Madi Madwell-Libby veered onto protests of a different sort. She won the crowd over quickly with her talk of lady-gardens and porn, and the first eruptions of laughter were heard. However, her stand-out piece was ‘Kids, Coins, Cuts’, inspired by her work with Kids’ Company, the work of which has been slandered in the media, yet the good work that was done has been forgotten, along with the young people it aimed to help.
The last poet of the first half was Attila The Stockbroker, who was the first of two headline acts. A seasoned ranting poet, he beguiled the audience with stories from his life as prefaces to poems, but also directly from his autobiography. By the end, I was itching to read the book, along with the many other poetry books he read from, and energised us with – the kind of words you need to keep fighting against the powers that be. The material ranged from satirical to serious, from political to personal, with a quick wit and quick rhyme to boot. Whilst there was a disappointing outpouring of sexist language in a rightfully angry poem about an ignorant aunt who read the Daily Express (cow, hag, bitch, etc.), it did seem this was simply a misguided move, as within the same set Attila expressed his strong view with regard to Madwell-Libby’s poems; that women should be able to grow their lady-gardens if they want without so much public opinion. Coming up to sixty, and having survived various relapses of cancer, Attila The Stockbroker was able to inspire with his energy and punchy endings, before exiting the stage, fist in the air.
After the break was Anna Kahn, who told us of her Iraqi and Jewish heritage, and powerfully placed raw emotion beside laugh-out-loud lines. She explores the language of her mother, questioning:, ‘You wouldn’t love me if I didn’t pass you the milk?’. To listen to Kahn often feels as if you are sharing stories on a sofa, as she allows you into her world, allows you see her personality, and – finally – allows you to hear the story behind the poem to which she lost the second half. Next, The Story Beast changed the tone once again, and delivered a unique mix of modern and archaic language, in between stealing gulps of beer from audience members and sputtering them out. Although unusual, there were funny lines such as ‘Nobody puts Beowulf in the corner’, and a great response when he questions what dimension we were living in. Someone answers ‘The bad one’, to which he questions ‘Did you do a Brexit-Trump?’ On the surface, the song about directions seemed silly, until he caught us out by getting us to point at a man, turning us all into fascists.
It is easy to see why he is so popular amongst poets and those in the know; he is open and honest from the onset, talking about perfection and imperfection…
The last headline act was Dizraeli, who I had seen many years ago and followed updates about his band over the years. It is easy to see why he is so popular amongst poets and those in the know; he is open and honest from the onset, talking about perfection and imperfection, while turning his speaking into poems and songs. He shares songs for his dad and his mum, and a highlight is when he speaks of being bisexual and in his distinctive spoken word repeats ‘boy with a’. He defies the boundaries of gender and sexuality in a way that is both slick and intricate. He touches on issues of drugs, death, and homelessness, and lifts the audience up with getting us to chant in his ironic rebel song. He takes us to a muddy festival scene, and ends on meaningful words about caring. At times, when so far removed from the realities of war and the suffering others face, life itself can seem futile, but Dizraeli was able to remind us why events like this are so important. His set was truly empowering, and filled the room with energy to fight for our beliefs.
It can sometimes feel that we are powerless to change things in the face of large government organisations and corporations. Yet, each small act has a purpose and there can be strength in numbers. As more awareness is spread about the DSEI arms fair, the more people are able to stand together against it.
Featured image © Amy Corcoran, ‘Life and Death’, Watercolours, provided by Art The Arms Fair
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