Tag Archives: Michael Smith

Political Poetry

“You don’t have to be a poet, but a citizen you must be.”

This line is from ‘The Poet and the Citizen’ by Nikolai Nekrasov, written in 1856. The poem is a response to Pushkin’s ‘The Poet and the Crowd’ and written two decades after Pushkin’s death in 1837.
There is still much discussion about political poetry, can poetry be political?, can poetry change anything?
Ranting poetry was frequently political, and this continues on with Poetry on the Picket Line. I also think that who the audience for poetry is can often be political. Several poets who’ve done Poetry on the Picket Line gigs have asked should the poems they read be political? My response is that standing on a picket line to read poems is political in itself. The poems can be funny, romantic, whimsical… but it’s where you are reading them and to whom that is the political act.
There is plenty of working class poetry on this blog; from Chartists, to Black Panthers, prisoners, Ranters and Dub Poets. It’s interesting that Ranters and Dub Poets have been labelled separately in recent years whilst in the 80s it wasn’t a given distinction. We were all poets who read together, struggled together, and supported each other. One thing I personally got from poets like LKJ and Michael Smith was that if a poem in Caribbean voice could say so much and hit so hard; so could one in a Cockney, Manchester, Yorkshire one. The politics was in a working class person writing, and reading, to and for a working class audience.
The words are important, and poetry galvanises us as well as shares our voice, but actions are more important. I’ve never been one to knock on the doors of the Academy for acceptance. We’ve never been overlooked, we’re outside because that is where they want us. It’s telling to see so many poets looking to the literary establishment rather than building their own.
Linton Kwesi Johnson started writing poetry in formal English, he then switched to his own Jamaican voice. He says that one of his inspirations for doing this was Marcus Garvey who promoted people doing things for themselves. Burning Spear was a big fan too.
There are plenty of young poets doing solid work as poets and people, but given the amount of ‘woke’ young people at slams and poetry readings, and pouring forth on the interwebs, it’s a puzzle that the country, and the US too – it’s where most of Slam’s politics come from – has steadily got worse.
Lest this ends on a depressing tone, I’ll stay true to my own ‘Down with miserablism’ beliefs: to all the young ‘uns doing the do and fighting the fight – keep on keeping on. Forward ever, backward never.

Wailin Fih Mikey

Mih Feel It
(Wailin fih Mikey)

Dih dred ded
an it dun suh?
No sah

dih dred ded
an it dun suh?
Ow can a man
kill annadah one
wid stone
bludded intenshan

bludgeon im ead
in drop dung ded
an nuh one
nuh awsk
such a wikkid
wikkid tawsk
dih dred
Dih dred dead
an it dun suh?
no sah

dih dred dead
an it dun suh?

Early early
inna dih day
Mikey ah trod
dung a illy way

isite up sum men
from a pawty fence
an hence-
was stopped!
wid all dih
chattin whe gwaan
an questions ensued
Mikey painin run out
ah im mout
too soon!
an is den dih trouble
run out

for BAM!
four stone inna dem ans
an BAM!
dem lik Mikey dung

mih feel it
mih feel it
mih feel it

Dih dred ded
an it dun suh?
no sah

dih dred ded
an it dun suh?
ones must know
dih reason
for dis deadly
out of season
no reason
dred dred dred dred

‘Riddemshan for every dred
mus cum
mus cum’

is dih livity
not dih rigidity
for even doah seh
Mikey ded
cause dem mash up
im ead
even doah seh
Mikey gawn
im spirit trod awn
trod awn

‘Riddemshan for every dred
mus cum
mus cum’

Dih dred ded
an it dun suh?


Ahdri Zhina Mandiela

This poem about the murder of Michael Smith is from her 1985 collection Speshal Rikwes.

Michael Smith – Meck Dem Know How Yuh Feel

From his posthumously published book It A Come, 1986.

Meck Dem Know How Yuh Feel

Meck dem know how you feel
fi siddung deh so long,
an a no you one de pressure a teck.
Down to de yout-dem inna Brixton
stop sing glory to Englan,
for not even a laugh
can come outa dem heart
de way dem desperate
fi sinting fi nyam.

Meck dem know dat bull inna pen
waan fi come out
fi go chat wid im frien
an backward dem wid dem
mock-ritual-of-poverty chat
dat dem hold we wid
when election pop.
Dem tink we doan know,
meck dem galang so.

Dem tink we figet Vietnam
when we did jump and shout
dat dem fi drive dose barbarians out
an never realize dat dem a human
dat have a burnin desire fi free
like any odder man.

Meck dem know how you feel,
an no bodder come to me
come look sympathy,
for friendly understandin
is not de solution.
We waan answer, or else
dis-ya civilization ya
cyaan go no further.

Michael Smith