Sheenagh Pugh – La Catalana

La Catalana: Port St Julian, Patagonia

In Port St Julian a house once stood,
well known to men in the neighbourhood,

the kind they call a house of ill fame,
and yet it bears a noble name.

Consuelo lived at La Catalana
with Maud, Amalia, Maria, Angela,

and every night they worked, in their way,
like the men who tilled the fields all day.

But back in 1922
the bosses were driving wages low,

men got no good from all their work,
so they downed spades and went on strike.

In came the Army to save the state
from folk demanding enough to eat,

and General Varela’s troops, quite soon,
had fifteen hundred neatly mown down.

Killing peasants can be a chore;
the soldiers fancied some R & R,

so the conquering troops of General Varela
marched off to unwind at La Catalana.

Consuelo went to fetch a broom
and swept the rubbish out of her room.

Angela prodded them down the stair,
Amalia pushed them out at the door.

Maria said, as she slammed it shut,
“We knew the men you bastards shot.

Some were our fathers; we caused them shame,
but we sent them money all the same.

Some came for comfort, their muscles aching;
this is one strike you won’t be breaking.”

And English Maud from the window shouts
“Murderers, get out and stay out!

Go back and tell General Varela
how you couldn’t storm La Catalana!”

Well, the police were called, and ran them in,
so, when they all got out again,

their names were on record: Maud, Amalia,
Angela, Consuelo, Maria,

who will be honoured as brave and good
as long as language is understood,

which goes to show, as any can see,
that words are tyranny’s enemy,

as is comradeship, the sense to know
who your friends are, when to say no,

and there are times nothing hits home
like an angry woman with a good broom.

Sheenagh Pugh spent most of her life in Wales but now lives in Shetland. Her current collection is Short Days, Long Shadows (Seren 2014).

Jenny Lewis – Two Poems

March 2016


You think of deserts and date palms but this place
floods in spring, temperatures below freezing, sand
turns to bog. Just getting to Qurna was tough going;
everything sank (guns, supplies, men) in a mounting
tide of mud; the injured sloshed along on AT carts,
screaming for morphine. We built a bridge of boats
to reach the so-called Garden of Eden – lanes were
littered with rubbish; in between derelict reed hovels
and dirty gutters we found the Tree of Knowledge —
it was leaning crooked through a shell-pocked roof.

Tom: Second Lieutenant Thomas Charles Lewis

March 2003


Suddenly, I saw my son across the square, standing
lost, unprepared under the horizontals of choking
smoke from exploding grenades: I screamed at him
above the jostling crowd but he just stood there,
head bare, brows crouched in a frown. I called again
but my voice fell away; then we were caught in cross-
fire between the Mahdi Army and the Irish Guards —
we realised it was too late to go anywhere. Qurna,
our birthplace, was a conflagration, where Saddam
ruled, Adam and Eve sinned and Alexander died.

Maryam: a Christian Iraqi (interviewed in the Guardian, 2009)


Jenny Lewis is a poet and playwright. Her latest work is After Gilgamesh for Pegasus Theatre, Oxford (Mulfran Press, 2011) and Taking Mesopotamia (Oxford Poets/ Carcanet, 2014) in which the two poems above appear. Singing for Inanna, her new book of poems in English and Arabic with the Iraqi poet Adnan al Sayegh will be published by Mulfran Press in September 2014. She teaches poetry at Oxford University.

Taking Mesopotamia was originally inspired by Jenny’s search for her lost father —the young South Wales Borderer who fought in the ill-fated Mesopotamian campaign of World War l. Through reconstructed diary extracts, witness statements, formal poems and free verse, the book extends into a wider exploration of the recent Iraq wars.

Philip Gross – In the Small Town …

In the Small Town ... ... of Peace, there's a splintering cat-fight. It's Saturday night. Magda, Kirsty, again. The lads, knee deep already in lager and shots, wade in deeper, and there's talk of bottlings and big bastard uncles, and I'll have you, pikey, cunt, you wait, and now the morning after. Peace has this bruised light and a headache in it. It will have to heal and be swept, that spilled self-pity, the splinters that will prick and bleed under each other's skin for weeks. And this is peace, yes, this is not an aberration. If the shuttered arcade can't be rattled and still wake, still peace, just - if only our hushed selves will do, then it was never Peace. Small town or seething banlieu, in the war zone even, peace makes its incursions. The shared fag before. Or in the shattered stairwell, three kid soldiers holding her, clothes ripped, at gunpoint; one waves her away. She's like his sister's friend, her with the buck teeth, Magda, was it, and the stupid laugh, but you know, he knows, she doesn't deserve this, in the end.

Philip Gross is a poet and sometimes a writer for children, novelist and playwright. He won T.S.Eliot Prize 2009 and Wales Book of The Year 2010. Recent collections Deep Field and Later dealt with his father’s final years and loss of language. He teaches at the University of South Wales. In the Small Town … is shortly to appear in The Arts Of Peace, ed. Adrian Blamires and Peter Robinson (Two Rivers Press And The English Association, 2014) Publication date: 28 July 2014