Pat Arrowsmith – Freedom

From the 1969 Corgi anthology Doves For the 70s. Written by the imprisoned Pat Arrowsmith, she was an active socialist and peace campaigner.

(Holloway, Spring 1969)

Here at least, I thought,
I shall find freedom.
Here in prison all encumbrances
will be removed.
I shall be left without the burden of
possessions, responsibilities, relationships.
Alone and naked I shall feel
a fresh wind over my entire uncluttered body
blow each pore clear,
cooling and cleaning every crevice.

At last I shall know the relief of
simply obeying orders,
owning nothing,
caring for no-one,
being uncared for.

I shall sit content for hours on end
in a bare cell,
glad to be cut off from
things, people, commitments and the
confusing world outside.

But I was wrong.
There is no freedom here –
prison is the world in microcosm.

In my locker is a cache of valuables:
needle, cotton, nail-file, pencil.
My wages buy me fruit and biscuits which
I hoard and hide,
fearing they’ll get stolen.

Meticuously I arrange the flowers that
outside friends send in:
carefully decorate my cell with cut out pictures;
get flustered if I lose my mug or bucket.

I am no hermit from the outside world,
but strain through busy days to read
each item in the newspapers.
International problems follow me inside;
a prisoner is picked on – she is coloured.

Every evening I am forced to choose
between a range of recreations:
I may read or dance or take a bath,
go to class, play darts or
watch the news.

I am seldom on my own:
a geometry of love, hate, friendship
forms about me.
Someone calls my name,
enters my cell,
asks a favour,
makes some claim upon me.

And I marvel
as I lie alone at night
that this world is as complex as the other;
that even here in jail I am not free to
lose my freedom.

Pat Arrowsmith

The Harder They Come

The book reviewed by Vivien Goldman in NME, 25 October, 1980.

The Harder They Come
By Michael Thelwell
(Pluto press £2.95)

The movie that inspired this book refused to go away. It crept out, disappeared, then just when it seemed to have sunk without trace, it started turning up again, like that old war wound, nagging at the art houses and late-night fleapits of many nations. Perry Henzell’s film has true staying-power.
It defined Jamaica – and through the classic soundtrack album (barely audible in the film itself), reggae – to generation after generation; probably becasue of its uncanny accuracy.
Henzell may not have realised how acutely he pinpointed the runnings, in his adaption of True Story of ranki’ Rhygin, the country boy gone city who becomes enmeshed in the only available business, ganga. He’s a charismatic outlaw, toting his gun with as much aplomb as his snazzy thread, dodging cops and soldiers while his record rules the charts, women clinging to him intimately as sweat.
This incandescent transmutation of reality into wish-fulfilment into myth fired the spirit of Michael Thelwell, a teacher of Third World literature at the University of Massachusetts, as it affected many others. He wrote this big fat book to expunge the THTC germ that infected his blood, in the same way that Jean Rhys wrote her classic Wide Sargasso Sea when Bronte’s Jane Eyre stuck in her psyche. Like an oyster, she coated the irritant into a pearl. This is not, however, the book of the film.
Thelwell’s prose resembes a big bowl of Jamaican cornmeal porridge. With scholarly attention to minutiae, he fleshes out the film, laboriously explaining Jamaican cultural traditions, lifestyle and vocabulary as he goes; it seems as much for his own benefit as the reader’s. Until Thelwell shifts into fourth, two thirds of the way through, where he starts taking on the voice of character after character, his narrative voice is a Jamaican grandmother telling a fairy-tale, with relish, but slowly. Grown up, there’s nothing of the film’s – of Rankin’ Rhygin’s – slick flash aspirations embedded in this book. it’s heavy going to read, and feels like it was heavy going to write, too, though it’s informative. It took me a long time to read, but I kept on wanting to come back to it -perhaps I was even savouring it slowly, as a slow book should be tasted.
By the end, I understood why Niney the Observer, years ago, showed me excitedly around Bunny Lee’s Kingston bungalow, at the foot of the Hellshire Hills. Bunny sat solidly in an armchair, not exactly firing on all cylinders that afternnon. Jah Stitch lolled on the couch, eating bananas.
“We are cowboys, and this is our ranch!” Niney almost stammered in enthusiasm.
I was slightly bemused at his choice of words; this corral seemed just – OK. After reading this book, I have a greater socio-historical grasp of his vocabulary. But you can dance to the film.

Vivien Goldman

The Bad Thing

John Wain (1925-1994) was an English writer associated with the ‘Angry Young Men’ and ‘The Movement’.
This is from his 1956 collection, A Word Carved on a Sill.

The Bad Thing

Sometimes just being alone seems the bad thing
Solitude can swell until it blocks the sun,
It hurts so much, even fear, even worrying
Over the past and future, get stifled. It has won,
You think; this is the bad thing, it is here.
Then sense comes; you go to sleep, or have
Some food, write a letter or work, get something clear.
Solitude shrinks; you are not all its slave.

Then you think: the bad thing inhabits yourself.
Just being alone is nothing; not pain, not balm.
Escape, into poem, into pub, wanting a friend
Is not avoiding the bad thing. The high shelf
Where you stacked the bad thing, hoping for calm,
Broke. It rolled down. It follows you to the end.

John Wain



I met a traveller from a Poundland,
Who said—“Two vast and discount toilet rolls
Stand in the Sainsburys. . . . Near them, on the stand,
Half sunk a shattered hand sanitizer lies, worn down,
And wrinkled tip, and nearby a coal tar multipack,
Tell that its panic buyer well those passions read
Which yet survive, price stamped on these lifeless things,
Hands washed to National Anthem, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Coronavirus, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal shop, boundless and bare
The lone and level stands stretch far away.”

Tim Wells

Kissing Asses

Patti Smith in the 1970 production Femme Fatale: The Three Faces of Gloria. The show was described as “A Religious Entertainment,” and was written by Jackie Curtis, a drag artist who first performed in Tom Eyen’s “Miss Nefertiti Regrets” at La MaMa in 1965. The show combined familiar religious and movie scenes with “bizarre contemporary situations,” according to the rave review published in the newspaper Show Business by Frank Lee Wilde.
Also in the clip are Wayne County and Penny Arcade.