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Poetry review: For Gaza by Mike Jenkins

06 Jul 2024 4 minute read
For Gaza by Mike Jenkins

Jon Gower

While the Merthyr poet Mike Jenkins is well known for giving voice to those silenced on his home patch by poverty and inequality he is also heedful of oppression and silencing everywhere in the world. In his latest pamphlet he is concerned with the effects of conflict and war in many places, but in particular Gaza. As he recently explained to Culture Matters:

As with all my work, the oppressed people are at the very centre of my concerns and particularly the boy Mohammed with his kite-making, the poet Mosab Abu Toha and the small girl Hind Rajab trapped in a car and surrounded by Israeli tanks.

I also wanted to include poems about other war experiences: the effect of the Troubles on my wife and, from our visit last year to Krakow and Auschwitz, my reactions to the sheer horrors of the past there.

One of the poems which opens the collection is dedicated to Mosab Abu Toha, a Palestinian poet, short story writer, and essayist from Gaza who was detained by Israeli forces when leaving Gaza. The opening of the poem itself, ‘For Mosab’ suggests:

They can kidnap the poet

But not his words.

Send them out, send them out

like pigeons from a loft,

To land on branches, splintered roofs

to visit many dusty patches for food…

Violence

This is a volume that rails against violence and vents spleen at power-pill-addicted world leaders who ‘squash statues at will,’ those ‘Acolytes of Trump or Johnson,/ calling everyone else out for misinformation.’

And, of course the poems seek out an explanation for the atrocities, to look for a way of apportioning blame or at least responsibility for all of the suffering and pain. ‘Whose Name?’ asks:

Whose name on the bomb?

Is it yours or is it mine?

Is it the men & women on the lines?

The factory owner or the shareholder?

Is it that genial politician we voted for?

Or the one who only cares for his own future?

Is it the madman calls himself a ruler?

The pilot, tank commander, drone controller

With their coordinates & radar?

Is it the trader, the dealer,

The captain of the ship which carries it?

Is it the people who cheer,

Or the reporter who fails to trace it back?

Is it the names of everyone who let it happen?

A bomb the size of our planet.

Reading For Gaza reminds the reader of the seamless streams of blood-letting which cut through recent history, from The Troubles in Northern Ireland to the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews, flowing through the city of Rafah in south Gaza just as they did along the Falls Road. The poems thus connect the streets of Belfast with the Krakow ghetto and the gas chambers of Auschwitz and are often stark and spare, torched with anger or shot through with disbelief. It’s as if there’s a simple sub-text to all of the 27 poems in the collection which asks will we ever learn?

There is also the sense of a poet’s own hopeless-ness, one that sits within him until the moment he finally takes to the keyboard, to shape the words on behalf of the blockaded, or those sitting under skies where the bombing goes on relentlessly.

The poem ‘Al Jazeera Winter’ tells us how:

we learnt

how the Arabic pronunciation

of Gaza was softer, more blurred –

discovered a Strip

68 times smaller than Cymru,

Had so many refugees from 1948

That ‘Nakba’ means ‘catastrophe…’

Some of the poems in For Gaza try to map out the latest catastrophe even as they try to suggest its dimensions, too, looking at how the hawks in the sky have been replaced by warplanes and drones and the leaping dolphins in the sea have been supplanted by US gunships. ‘I Looked Up’ concludes with the speaker of the poem surveying the razed cities in front of him:

I spied out at streets and flats

where we should shop, walk and chat

but saw only shattered buildings

homes become tombs, pavements of hurt.

For Gaza by Mike Jenkins is a Red Poets publication, produced with the support of RedKite Print and Mwnci Coch: Red Monkey, with all profits going to Medical Aid for Palestine.

It is available from Mwnci Coch: Red Monkey Prints.


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