Here + There (The Waste Land)
2022 is the centenary of the first publication of T S Eliot’s The Waste Land. One of the most influential poems of the twentieth century, it – alongside other great works of art and literature from that year – ushered in a new age of modernism.
Aké Festival, Bristol Ideas and Toronto International Festival of Authors has commissioned 12 poets – four each from the UK, Nigeria and Canada – to write new poetry in response to The Waste Land. These will be performed in Autumn 2022 as part of the Here + There project.
Love Letter to a Burning World
Mid-June, and forty-eight Celsius in New Delhi.
“We’re urban islands of infrared radiation,”
says the atmospheric scientist with a Zoom palm.
“Restoration,” explains the ecologist, “starts with
a cutting, a transplant, a plant.” But now it’s a box
-breathing method, ventilation from evolving strains.
Economies of scope are often confused for scale.
Five-star hotels next to slums, thirty-dollar cocktails
while children starve. “Maya. Everything is illusion,”
insists the visiting novelist as we pull off
masks to drink from the same pitcher, the same aquifer.
Bombay Sapphire running below feet, Guelph limestone.
Mid-July, over forty in England. What won’t be
the last colonial sentiment enters the hive
mind of locally available monarch memory.
Her Royal Highness is but hope spreading up the Bill
Gates, while fourteen boxes of T.S. Eliot’s love
letters to one “My Dear Lady” are unsealed. New growth
each year, but we now add discounting parameters
to graves, await grain ships of invasion, send blackbirds
to blackboards, wave heat through windows, seek painkilling scents.
What we’ve been calling jasmine all summer isn’t real.
What Ma called raath ki raani, queen-of-the-night, isn’t.
Honeysuckle, Lonicera, Adam Lonicer.
T. S. Eliot was born to a Boston Brahmin
and we to the warrior caste. Om. Shanti. Shanti.
Shanti. Om. A palindrome of foreign poppies draped
across the left shoulder. Dreams approach and retreat like
a white moth to a bedside lamp, but not simile:
the honest-to-goodness lifespans of white silk saris.
The moth is not here for light or silk but for that plant
-pollinator relationship they can’t help sowing
with their intentions gagged. There is no shame in saying
that song travels faster when temperature rises.
Point six metres per second for every degree. By
2030 affections may finally be heard.
Madhur Anand’s debut book of prose, This Red Line Goes Straight to Your Heart (2020), won the Governor General’s Literary Award for Nonfiction. Her debut collection of poems, A New Index for Predicting Catastrophes (2015), was a finalist for the Trillium Book Award for Poetry and named one of ten all-time ‘trailblazing’ poetry collections by the CBC. Her second collection of poems, Parasitic Oscillations (2022), was published to international acclaim. She is a professor of ecology and sustainability at the University of Guelph, where she was appointed the inaugural Director of the Guelph Institute for Environmental Research.
Billy Ray Belcourt
Someone lied to us — the body
isn’t not a figure of speech.
Like Dionne Brand, I don’t want
no fucking country. I want a brief
hour of rain between hookups,
a short life that doesn’t end.
I’m happiest when I’m alone
but nothing excites me like the possibility
of transcending history. Somehow,
there are still so many kinds of light.
It is a summer afternoon and the sun
is in love with me. All my friends
text me bad news. We can’t escape the past,
we survive, we talk about the wars —
the one against natives, the one overseas.
None of us are sick. My mom keeps
booking appointments with a psychic.
The psychic discusses my love life:
I see a baby, a happy marriage.
Alas! Death’s kingdoms, etcetera.
The present is an empty room.
I’m not immortal, all my sentences
end in semi-colons. Even death
is a beginning. What is the point
of my sadness? How do I live in the world
if I don’t love it? Many days I’m hysterical.
I remember the wind and what the wind
rustles through. A man speaks
in a human voice. I try to admire
what’s left of the future, which flickers.
Billy-Ray Belcourt is a writer and academic from the Driftpile Cree Nation. He is an Assistant Professor in the School of Writing at the University of British Columbia. He is the author of four books: This Wound is a World, NDN Coping Mechanisms: Notes from the Field, A History of My Brief Body and A Minor Chorus.
in this only year
in this only year. broken. by river. blind.
through waiting. beating oars. I come burning.
wet bank. damp gust. look! I’m glass. and pearls.
drip drop drop drip drop drowned. I sail, and down.
in empty rooms, I lurk houses. count mountains.
and tall the silence. tall as you. sweet you. I glad beside you.
I once was breasts. exploring hands. under camisoles.
her hair wet, I last was rain. drip drop drop falling.
dry grass singing. I shall something. la la la burning.
turning. wide, to folly. she sun beats, to wings.
we ships, thank you. shore eyes. and fear. in careful.
flushed and tired. we suffered. under ceiling.
my nerves. your shakings. drip drop drop noise.
upon the garden. this stony rubbish. will it bloom?
I do not nothing. I could not silence.
chatter fool, I speak not loud. I sailor, too.
and home from sea. swallow swallow.
these fragments. cracked hours.
but O O the moon. she turn in moonlight.
a moment so elegant. she turning.
and I singing drip drop.
and if gliding. wind crossing.
bright. under bone.
JR Carpenter is an artist, writer, and researcher working across performance, print, and digital media. Her digital poem The Gathering Cloud won the New Media Writing Prize 2016. Her print collection, An Ocean of Static, was highly commended by the Forward Prizes 2018. Her recent collection, This is a Picture of Wind, was one of the Guardian’s best poetry books of 2020. She is a fellow of the Eccles Centre at the British Library and the Moore Institute at NUI Galway.
—for you and for me and the entire human race*
You did it, made the world a bitter place.
Taste your life, milk from a mother’s deathbed.
More than loss, you mourn the profit unmade
—dream not of gods but fat oozing pockets.
The mother lived her youth in deathless blue
light, fed you wisdoms without invective.
Now, supper’s no dream, your Earth suppurates.
Now, drones sky-high in timeless perspective
blast bombs bright as an insult from heaven.
Oh, to tell the truth’s far worse than language
—poor machinations, sightless points of view,
the fruit of all you’ve produced and consumed.
Language is a sick refuge. Poetry,
identity, work—they eat your best hours.
Today, you cry, consumption led us here
from life. But little planetesimals
in space were, over time, eaten by spheres.
Unmourned, they form your planet. Whose profit
is a night sky lit up with fighter jets?
You’ve made Earth a bitter place. You killed it.
*the dedication/epigraph is a lyric from Michael Jackson’s “Heal the World”
Logan February is a poet, songwriter, MFA candidate in creative writing at Purdue University and Managing Editor at Sycamore Review. Raised in Ibadan, Nigeria, their literary advocacy is mainly focused on neurodivergence and LGBTQ rights in Africa.Their work has appeared in Berlin Quarterly, The Poetry Project and The Rumpus, among other publications. They are the author of In the Nude (Ouida Poetry, 2019) and three poetry chapbooks. They received The Future Awards Africa Prize for Literature in 2020.
Maryam Bukar Hassan
How do I tell u about the heavy heart of a mother,
Whose children are death bringers!
It’s a ring of fire!
Yet she gives!
Wearing the mixed colors of survival
Holding on to nothing but smoke!
Wrapped in oblivion that perhaps we will win this race against time till she!
Earth tastes herself!
But the train has left the station…
And living is community
Holding in place the strands of our common humanity textured in possibilities,
The possibilities of balancing the delicate act of meeting our needs and guarding the environment,
with shared affection; each working for the other
Because we are all hero’s walking around with no cape,
Agents of change or destruction,
choosing a side depends on our actions,
Earth is like a ship on the sea we are its drivers,
our actions are the icebergs, the turbulence and the waves,
when we come together to save our planet we save ourselves from sinking,
because when it goes down so do we!
Maryam Bukar Hassan (Alhaníslam) is a renowned poet and an exponent of the spoken word, and has performed at major festivals around the world. She is the author of Many a Rhyme and Reason and In the Heart of Silence. She is an instructor on the Sapphital Learning Platform, where she runs courses on spoken word and poetry for children. She was an ambassador for the Islamic Ummah Relief International Foundation and was a resident artist of the Five Cowries Initiative. She is currently an ambassador for GHEII (Global Harmony Envoy International Initiative).
Who Cares if the Sky
Who cares how history rates me…
You sat there suffering of the world. Who cares?
Ice mountains, governments, tribes, icons and the glow
around icons and brains
cracked off, slid into the sea, drifted apart, dissolved
and your joints snapped, an arm and an eye separated,
your face dwindled in the rain to a muddy trace
and in your chair you sat and wanted hope.
Bring them back, put them together: you would
enjoy that. Anguish
with the healing of anguish. A sating. Relief. A hope
for the world in the coming wars.
You needed some pleasure in the despair. Who cares?
Some place inside you where things come
or once came
to enjoyment, a boy wandering lush fields, stopping at the fence,
a young horse, its head over the rail. An elderberry clump:
what a universe, the bush, the blood-purple berries shining
in their green and shadow, their spray
of stems the beautiful gravity from which they hung!
That moment had to be for you, that world
within the crumbling world—who cares?
You cried. Is there anyone that cares
if you enjoy your hope? Do you?
No. Not even you. Even you don’t care
if you’re happy. You can go on this way till you die.
If God exists, who cares?
If later we’ll burn for this forever
or if God does not exist
but the mortal burning of the one who was
covered with gasoline and set on fire—
a moment like the moment of the sage’s merger with flower or stone—
world-instant of agony like the world-instant of nameless joy—
is total, eternal, who cares?
If they all pass along not noticing, die without crisis,
who cares? If the earth ends a moment after
our deaths and our children’s agony and boredom is
walled off from us in the oblivion that comforts us,
if ants who are all only one
die each alone,
Once I entered
death’s other kingdom, life’s true kingdom,
furnace of the purple center
of the morning glory flower. Who cares?
Now I was gone—alive and dead.
Now only I was here,
now only this place was a world, who cares?—
now I am here, always, the adventure
of sparkling water rippling into leaf shadow over pure rocks…
Let it all
vanish, it will.
A F Moritz has written more than twenty books of poetry, and has received the Guggenheim Fellowship, the Award in Literature of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and the Ingram Merrill Fellowship. The Sentinel won the 2009 Griffin Poetry Prize, was a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award, and was a Globe and Mail Top 100 of the Year. His most recent collections are The Sparrow (2018) and As Far As You Know (2020). He is Toronto’s sixth Poet Laureate.
A STORY WITHOUT WATER
no such thing as death by water
all pangea all close enough
friction full impossible for anybody to have been captured
entering the water
a bullshit song a quick dip a fallacy here
is no water no enemy
no attempt at rescue it was summer so the family
went for a chill stroll at the bottom of the pool the grass was actually brown
no one had died on the six pm a baby in a basket of reeds floats nowhere
the glass is completely empty the glass is redundant what could it hold
no wine because duh nothing to turn into wine there has never been a party
a baptism a wake nobody celebrates everybody is born in sin and stays there
because no here no there none undone instead of dying just decide not to
no reason to explain there is none there is none there is nothing that grows
Gboyega Odubanjo was born and raised in East London. He is an editor of Bath Magg and the author of two poetry pamphlets, While I Yet Live (Bad Betty Press, 2019) and Aunty Uncle Poems (Smith|Doorstop Books, 2021).
ONCE UPON A PLANET
The sky above our head is
A ragged umbrella in need of a needle
The rain which leaks through the rupture
Is a cocktail of contending toxins
The cloud up there is a wet blanket
Dripping like a dirge upon a feverish earth
The birds fled several season ago
Without leaving a forwarding address
Prodigal saws have felled the joy
Of flourishing forests
There is a twilight stanza
In the song of the wind
Several seasons ago we sowed the Wind
The Whirlwind is ripe for our heedless reaping
The Earth we used to know
CLIMATE OF FEAR
The rains come
too late these days
and leave before their time
withering fields foretell
the coming of furious famines
Spring swallows summer
summer stumbles into a sweltering fall
while winter joins the fray
with snowy deluge and blinding ice
Unstoppable fires consume the skies
from Kangaroo Island* to Paradise**
A melting Arctic chokes the oceans
which claim the coasts and bury the cities
just one whittling whistle from the catacombs
of coral reefs bleached and buffeted
by a plague of acid and plastic debris
proliferate into ten-in-a-year
while countless typhoons pummel the peace
of once Pacific regions
Birds are falling from the sky
lizards roasting on their rocky perch
Out of balance, out of breath
our Planet gasps and groans
as murky moons wobble their way
across the wilderness of a broken sky . . . .
The earth we used to know
*An island in South Australia famous for its beauty and abundant nature reserves. It was one of the causalities of the Australia fires of 2019/2020.
**A town in California, destroyed by wild fires in 2018.
CORPSES THAT NEVER COUNT
We are people of the after-hours
Sundown shadows of the Empire that kindness forgot
Denizens of drought-denuded doldrums
We measure our days in bushels of dust
The forest, once gallant buffers
Between teeming towns and savage winds,
Now lie, neatly logged, waiting
For the one-way voyage to Liverpool
Seasons of suffocating aridity trade
Places with months of murderous deluge
Then came the floods
That washed our worth away
Poverty, Death’s faithful envoy, enthralls
The land, obscene like a colonial sore
Used, then dumped like spent tickets,
Our corpses clutter the lanes
Like hordes of wingless termites
The day after a tropical rain
The obscene painscape of the refugee camp
Its tattered tents, its pestilential scourge
Air heavy with rancid breaths
Garments garnished with authentic lice
Diarrhea dialogues and malaria motions
Death comes at ten for one penny
Birthcries pierce the silence of morbid nights
Beside dumpsites where germs breed in reckless millions
Ears tuned to the music of breaking waters
Emergency midwives ease the labour of panting moments
Red Cross trades mercy missions with Red Crescent
Their ears primed to the beat of desperate hearts
Shifting shapes, dislocated affinities
From the marble mansion of yesterlife
To the common dust of prefabricated slumhood.
Disaster, Destiny’s daughter, staggers into the fray,
Wild, veiled, and many-tongued,
Spawning doubts and mortal fears.
A widowed woman gazes at the shifting sky:
“Are you still there, God of Infinite Mercy”?
Niyi Osundare is a poet, dramatist and literary critic. He is the author of more than 18 books of poetry and has been published in over 70 journals and magazines worldwide. He has received many prizes and awards, including The Noma Award and the Tchicaya U Tam’si Award for African Poetry. In 2014, he was the recipient of the Nigerian National Order of Merit. He is currently Emeritus Distinguished Professor of English at the University of New Orleans and Visiting Professor at the University of Ibadan.
The heatwave brought an early end to spring.
What is the shape of warm air
as it sinks?
Beneath a dome of coinciding extraordinary events
we walk through the rememory of lilacs.
We imagine their not-yet-wilting deep
greens and simple margins.
A heap of broken images overwhelms the sky.
All of our systems are slick with the rising sea, its pyramidic
melt and coppery geometries.
Too many cloud-burst incidents lead to extreme rainfall.
The cumulonimbus clouds reshape and redefine
our living spaces.
They are commonly known as thunderclouds,
commonly known to bring high-velocity, seasonal
winds and uproot clustering trees.
They were once uncommon during
the drenching summer rains of monsoon season.
What are the politics of
There is no doubt that the skies are closing in.
But we hold in-common,
the universal right to breathe.
It is difficult to articulate the intimacy
of destruction under a colonial framework.
All day, there is pain.
These ecologies weave together a pattern of history.
The land and sea connect
past and present and future.
This land is a seed that grows with the consciousness
of everything ever touched
or loved or held in kindness by an ancestor’s hand.
The land has its own memory, its own rememory
of purple flowers sprouting before the flood.
At the violet hour, a depression in the Arabian Sea brings heavy rain to coastal provinces.
HURRY UP PLEASE IT’S TIME.
At the violet hour, a depression in the Arabian Sea brings heavy water water water water.
HURRY UP PLEASE IT’S TIME.
At the violet hour, a depression in the water water water water water water water water.
HURRY UP PLEASE IT’S TIME.
At the violet hour, water water water water water water water water water water water water.
HURRY UP PLEASE IT’S TIME.
HURRY UP PLEASE IT’S TIME.
HURRY UP PLEASE IT’S TIME––
* italicsed section is from Achille Mbembe’s ‘The Universal Right to Breathe’
Alycia Pirmohamed is the author of Another Way to Split Water, as well as the pamphlets Hinge and Faces that Fled the Wind, and the collaborative essay ‘Second Memory’, which was co-authored with Pratyusha.She is the co-founder of the Scottish BPOC Writers Network and a co-organiser of the Ledbury Poetry Critics Program. She is the recipient of several awards, including the 2019 CBC Poetry Prize and the 2020 Edwin Morgan Poetry Award.
In a borrowed apartment on the Downtown Eastside in a heatwave, a man climbs up my fire escape & comes headfirst through the window – You’re only a dream you’re only
a dream is my weird battle cry, which if not true might at least confuse him. He doesn’t disappear for the longest time, while I
shit my carapace in two, which is anyway
a worthwhile thing to do. It is time, half past the dome of heat which passeth understanding
& this just the preheat. O brains blanching
in their skulls unreeling with the steaming sea Carboniferous kings nursing a hangover from 1970
still out a-fishing in the old green heat. I saw
the blue light of intellect shine under the door
I felt my brains steam gently open in the sun
my balls loose & cool on the sea – and here
reflect on the paradox of the balls of patriarchy:
the all-hang-out design courts injury yet
on their indestructability empire bobs along
aboard primordial dissonance, soft & sensy
and the pathology required just to pay the rent
Coextinction with wounded men – or what?
Hand me my scabbard, my fermentation tank
of visions, the key to my inefficiency cloak
The nymphs have not departed & to where
The moon is a rock that acts on water
The neighbour who drives a Rubicon
w/ winch and shovel, and no idea how to
parallel park it tries to slot into a space twice
his length, but his imagined largesse just won’t
fit. Sir if I might read your cards on the matte
black hood? Here is the lady who rides fear
as transportation. And here the sworded lady
who weighs hearts & mine so retentive
the sweating helps. Everything that lives lives
because of what? A junkie on the bus in a sequin
hat casts splendour from a stray ray of the sun
upon us & commodification of all life can’t touch
him or anyone, even as it rots his teeth & everything
else this system flips & turns to lack to buy or be
broken by. Writing & writhing come from this
same need, to move freely in asymmetries
I saw a man folded & flipping on the sidewalk
I saw the petrostate’s tail-tip in his eyes. I was
looking for my cousin who lives down here
in a hotel, the sweetness that are his eyes
in all the eyes I pass through, road closures
for The Symphony of Fire I mean The Honda
Celebration of Light, same-same new name
I haven’t seen this many people since before
the plague. Then spoke the City of Vancouver HONDA
emblazoned on a barge in the bay, a ballet of police
boats orbit the sponsor of civic explosives HONDA
In the violent hour, at this very late hour let come
what’s begun to sprout in the dump from dead
imagination leached into land where even so
& even still, everything connects to everything
Erin Robinsong is a poet and interdisciplinary artist working with ecological imagination. Her debut collection of poetry, Rag Cosmology, won the 2017 A M Klein Prize for Poetry, and she is the author of Liquidity (2020) and Wet Dream (2022). A PhD student at Concordia University, her research-creation work focuses on transcorporeal poetics. Collaborative performance works with Andréa de Keijzer and Hanna Sybille Müller include This ritual is not an accident; Facing away from that which is coming; revolutions and Polymorphic Microbe Bodies.
And what would you want me to say? That I saw both of them walking towards the ticket barrier? I did. The one in front, holding a maroon briefcase that complimented the stripes in his navy-blue suit and shoes. He looked important. The one behind, dishevelled and fidgety. His trousers slumping a little at the back. I also saw him, and while close enough to the man in front, he held a distance.
I heard the man in front. We all heard him, Were you trying to sneek in behind me? This routine wasn’t new for the guy behind. Barriers take up to three seconds to close. Your average commuter is through in one unless there’s a problem. Today, there was a problem.
Boss, I don’t want trouble,
I just don’t have money. So I thought…
Boss? You thought what?
That I was your fast track
to a free ride?
What would you want me to say? That regardless of other commuters telling the guy in front to relax, asking that he considers the man’s desperation, knowing Monday mornings in winter
especially after the two years we have all been through are never easy. Should he show empathy? For that to happen, we would have to question empathy.
Question the courts when the mothers plead to keep their child alive. Question the dictators when civilians are woken up at night to the sound of missiles raining down like hailstones. Question the government, celebrating while others are fined for wanting to lay their loved ones to rest. What would you want me to say?
That I was surprised the man in front punched the man behind in his face? Like all this anger in our bodies hasn’t been looking for a way out, since it was locked in? The man behind now having to bear the brunt. Am I surprised that one felt more superior to the other? No. Do I think this speaks to the world I’m living in, now? Yes. Was I surprised when other commuters came to the injured man’s aid? A little. I’ve witnessed many an outcry from people globally go unheard. Scroungers, the lot of you! And that’s the thing about suits, they tend to hide your demons well.
I almost saw the care. The galvanising for one, and all it took was one to make his decision to ruin it all. Later, when the police arrived, it wasn’t the suit they stopped first. The story goes, the man in front worked hard to ensure he had enough money to travel, not for others to freeload so… the man in front felt a way. Scroungers, the lot of you! words spat out in defence. The man behind, his face now swollen never meant to offend. The story goes, he lost his travel money and was desperate to see his child. What more would you want me to say? That I stood back and watched, thinking of the world right now? I did. I knew how this would unfold. The lack of understanding and disorder. Living in these times, you don’t need a superpower to predict the future, you just need steristrips for the wounds heading your way. So, what was it you asked about empathy?
Yomi Ṣode is an award-winning Nigerian British writer. He is a recipient of the 2019 Jerwood Compton Poetry Fellowship and was shortlisted for The Brunel International African Poetry Prize 2021. He has been published in magazines such as The Poetry Review, Rialto Magazine, Bath Magg and Magma. He is a performer, facilitator, a member of Malika’s Poetry Kitchen and a Complete Works alumnus. His debut collection, Manorism, will be published by Penguin Press in 2022.
ARE YOU DEAD YET?
Another day on twitter
Nestled between bants on migration and motivational quotes
Is an attack on the Kaduna train
Chinelo tweets “I’m in the train. I have been shot. Please pray for me”
Twelve words and three sentences are all her fingers can muster
The response that followed says, “Are you dead yet”
The news said that since the rain has refused to fall
The land is parched
The farmers have nothing to sell
They cannot feed their families
So their children become recruits
Since the clouds have denied us rain
They squeeze blood through terror and flood the land in crimson
Nobody told them that the blood of women and children can neither fertilize parched land nor quench thirst
On the other side of the coast the waters are warming
The fish stock is shrinking
So the pirates cast their nests and catch their people for ransom
Every day, we exchange money for people instead of fish
Nowhere is safe for us
Not the air, the sea, or the land
As Chinelo bleeds to her death
The news said she was due to leave the country the next Friday
For a future safer than the one that killed her
Wana Udobang is a writer, poet, performer and storyteller. She has released three spoken word albums: Dirty Laundry, In Memory of Forgetting and Transcendence. She has a background in journalism and for over six years worked as a radio host in Lagos, broadcasting to over five million listeners daily. Her work in film includes the documentaries Sensitive Skin, Warriors and Nylon. She runs The Comfort Food poetry workshop, which uses memories around food as a conduit to create new poems, and curates Culture Diaries, an archival project which uses multi-platform storytelling to document African artists.