London Grip Poetry Review – Roy McFarlane

Emma Lee describes Roy McFarlane’s new collection as an important book from a compassionate poet.

The Healing Next Time 
Roy McFarlane
Nine Arches Press 
ISBN 9781911027454 
79pp      £9.99

When Claudia Rankine was asked if she would write about Mark Duggan, who was fatally shot by police officers in August 2011 she suggested instead that the questioner write about him. Roy McFarlane has taken up that challenge. Although the second section of the book does focus on deaths in custody (or otherwise involving the police) – and not only of black people – The Healing Next Time, isn’t just a litany or a British version of Citizen. The first part, ‘New Millennium Journal’ considers aspects of racism in the UK, covering 1999 – 2006. In ‘2002 – What we do when things fall apart’,

Tupac has never known California love, but he knows the love of Wednesbury
and the boys who bleed from the plains of Bangladesh, loves Zidane, chips
and kebabs, joins in the chants of Albion on Saturdays. Tupac knows the rhythm
of hip hop, dreams of Audis and weed and ends the day with Inshallah
                           when he's not running the gauntlet of fucking pakis.


A friend of the activist steps off the tube shaking; sitting by a thick-set man
who rolled up his sleeves to show the ritual marks of the NF, C18 &
Nazi swastika. It's growing up in the shadows; in the debris of the Twin Towers,
in the soil of Ground Zero, finding its target in the hijab, the foreign-speaking,
                           dark-skinned, five-times-a-day-praying believer.

The regular, football supporter wants to fit in but is still regarded as alien and grows up feeling the weight of a different religion, of being singled out by far-right supporters and the growing normalisation of the rise in far-right beliefs. The relaxed long vowels of the first quoted stanza contrast with the tighter, shorter vowels in the second where stress and wariness dominate.

Attention to key details is continued in ‘Joy Gardner, 1993’, which is about a woman who died from suffocation after police taped her in the process of removing her from her home to deport her,

Police, judiciary and hospital taped together
                            a tapestry of events and kept a corpse alive
              until they could taper their stories to a rounded tip.
A mother is bounded by the red tape of officialdom
                        until things taper off
                        but a mother lights a taper in the darkness until

The poem doesn’t end there but reminds readers that the poem’s subject isn’t a mere statistic and the lengths gone to cover up mean it could happen again. The repetition of variants on “tape” is a deliberate reference to the 13 feet of tape Joy Gardner was bound with.

The poem that was the starting point for the collection, ‘Mark Duggan, 2011’ is shaped like an angel but acknowledges,

                                                   He was no angel
    holding a gun, throwing it away          not holding a gun, hands held high
a gun was found on the green                            nobody saw the gun fly away
                                         the gun in the black sock
                                      There are no angels to be found
                                 in the shadows of the death of PC Blakelock.

This was a death that sparked riots and, yet again, the reaction from police and officials was denial and deflection: a response that implies the man’s death wasn’t worth apologising for or even worth being honest about its circumstances.

The prose-poem, ‘Conversation’ has the stage direction “Nina Simone playing in the background of a Café”

Writer: And what about Stephen, Joy, Mark, Anthony, Rashan, Not one of them is called Lazarus!
After all the inquest, all the post mortems, all the police inquiries, nobody's found guilty for all of
that shit.

Rasta: That's what you write, the ping-ping, the rise and flow, the silence, the violence, the vibrato
and whatever they  call it and then sing it. We are the disciples who beareth witness of these things
so write, write it all.

The poems in The Healing Next Time do precisely that: bear witness, acting as a reminder of the existence of institutional racism which implies that some lives aren’t regarded as mattering. The collection ends on an optimistic note however: change is a slow process but worthwhile as long as we can wake with hope. The Healing Next Time is an important collection from a compassionate poet.