'Poetry can stick up for the weak' according to Michael Rosen, or it can 'mock the mighty'; it can 'glorify our rulers or it can dissect them. You choose.' In these powerful new poems Rosen is clear about his own choices. Listening to a Pogrom on the Radio is a book about anti-Semitism, racism, Fascism and war, Trump, le Pen, and the Tory assaults on the NHS and education - the stupid and the sinister, the ridiculous and the revolting. In his first collection for grown-ups since Don't Mention the Children (2015), Michael Rosen confirms his reputation as the heir to Jacques Prévert, Ivor Cutler and Adrian Mitchell. Few poets writing today can move so effortlessly between childishness and childlike seriousness, or dare to ask, like the child in Hans Christian Andersen's story, why the silly emperor is not wearing any clothes. Includes a hilarious series of poems apparently found under the floorboards of Lewis Carroll's study...
Alice Under the Floorboards
Under the floorboards of a room at Christchurch College, Oxford, an electrician has found a manuscript thought to have been written by 'Lewis Carroll' (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson). Some of it is hard to decipher and it is clearly incomplete...
'Come in,' said a woman in a loud voice. Alice walked in to a large room at the Compartment of Edification. Sitting in front of her, staring into the middle distance was the Blue Queen. 'How old are you?' said the Blue Queen. 'I'm seven years old,' said Alice politely. Sitting next to the Queen was the Gibblet. 'Seven?' said the Gibblet, 'Seven? Test her.' 'Test her,' said the Blue Queen. 'Test me?' said Alice, 'but we've only just met.' 'And be robust,' said the Gibblet. 'And be robust,' said the Blue Queen. Alice heard a scratching sound. She looked round and observed a row of scribes scratching the word 'robust' on their scrolls. 'Why are you doing that?' enquired Alice. 'To tell the world the good news about robust tests,' they chorused. 'But how do you know \"robust Tests\" is good news?' asked Alice politely. 'Because the Blue Queen said it is,' chorused the scribes. 'Just because someone says something is something, doesn't mean that it is the thing they say it is,' said Alice. 'Test her!' shouted the Gibblet. Test her!' shouted the Blue Queen. 'Robustly,' said the Gibblet. 'Robustly,' said the Blue Queen. 'Why do you keep repeating what he says?' said Alice. 'How else would I know what to say?' said the Blue Queen. 'You could think for yourself,' said Alice. 'No, no, no!' screamed the Gibblet. 'That's why we have the tests.' 'What? To help people think for themselves?' 'No, the opposite, you little ninny,' screamed the Gibblet. 'I like opposites,' said Alice. 'I like thinking of things that don't have opposites, like a cupboard, or a coal scuttle.' 'You go on like that, you'll fail the test,' laughed the Gibblet. 'You go on like that, you'll fail the test,' laughed the Blue Queen. 'As far as I'm concerned you've both failed,' said Alice. She turned round and walked out.
Alice came to an old stone building. She walked in and saw some people sitting round a table. On the table were books and papers, and the people had put rings round some of the words. One of the people, a friendly-looking Wombat pointed at one of the words and said, ‘it’s a subjestive!’ Some of the people in the room clapped. A Frog, just as friendly, looked at it and said, ‘it’s not a subjestive.’ All the others who hadn’t clapped before, clapped now. Alice came over and looked very hard at the word. ‘What do subjestives do?’ she asked. ‘They subjest,’ said the Wombat. ‘Is it subjesting now?’ Alice asked. ‘Yes,’ said the Wombat. ‘No,’ said the Frog. Just then the Gibblet walked in. Everyone went very quiet. ‘Have you done it?’ the Gibblet said in a very disagreeable way. ‘Yes, we have,’ said the Wombat, ‘it’s all done except for the last one: the subjestive, so because it’s not done and we can’t agree on it, we would recommend, sir, that we leave it out of the Spadge.’ Alice felt her head going round: first it was the subjestive, now it was the Spadge. ‘It will not be left out of the Spadge!’ shouted the Gibblet, his giblets shaking with rage. ‘But sir...’ said the Wombat, ‘we cannot ask children to find a subjestive when some of us don’t think it’s there.’ ‘Oh yes we can,’ said the Gibblet, ‘it’ll be there if I say it’s there.’ ‘Oooh,’ said Alice excitedly. ‘Sometimes I say my Boojum is there. And then it’s there.’ ‘That is nothing like subjestives, girl,’ said the Gibblet, ‘I’m beginning to find you very, very annoying.’ ‘Oh,’ said Alice, ‘what are subjestives like then?’ The Gibblet went red. It all went quiet. The Gibblet got out a little leaflet which was called ‘The Spadge’. The Gibblet studied it, turning it over and over. After a silence that seemed to Alice to be much too long, the Gibblet said, ‘Subjestives are things that you find in the Spadge when it says, ‘Here are four sentences. Underline the sentence that has the subjestive’.’ Alice got excited again. ‘Oh I love those, because when you don’t know the answer, all you have to do is guess one of them, and one time out of four you’ll be right!’ The Gibblet stood up. ‘You will not repeat what you have just said anywhere ever, ever, ever!’ he said sternly. ‘Don’t worry,’ said Alice, ‘I don’t need to. We all do that choosing any- one-of-the-four trick every time we play parlour games. Everyone does.’ ‘Do they?’ said the Gibblet in a shocked voice. ‘Well not everyone, actually,’ said Alice. ‘It’s just a trick that some people know. People who don’t know end up not choosing any. Then they’ll never find the subjestive, will they? So they’ll be wrong. It’s a shame really. Quite often when I do it, I end up with the right answer.’ ‘But – but –’ spluttered the Gibblet, ‘you might not know which one really is the subjestive.’ ‘And clearly, you don’t either,’ laughed Alice. ‘And while we’re doing “and”,’ said the Frog, ‘can I ask why the subjestive is in the Spadge when we haven’t finished advising you on what should be in the Spadge ?’ ‘You people make me sick,’ shouted the Gibblet. ‘Borogove was right. You are the Blob. You are all the Blob.’ And he stormed out. Alice looked at them all. ‘Are you the Blob?’ she asked, looking for something blobby. ‘It’s like your Boojum, ‘said the Frog, ‘if the Gibblet and the Borogove say the Blob is there, it is there.’
As Alice walked along, she was delighted to see that on one side of the road there was a beautiful old building with the word ‘Library’ on it. Oh, that’s just what I need right now, she thought. After all these awful conversations, she was beginning to feel tired and irritated. I could just go inside, sit down on a comfortable chair and read a book. But just as she walked up the steps to the Library, a frightening creature with big jaws and claws and a giant pair of scissors in his hands, jumped out from behind one of the pillars and roared: ‘You can’t come in. I have locked the doors. This library is closed.’ ‘Oh,’ said Alice, ‘that’s a pity. Are you saying that the library is closed for now, or forever?’ ‘For forever,’ said the frightening creature. ‘Do you have a name?’ said Alice, who had learned that when people say that you can’t have something it’s always a good idea to find out who they are. ‘I am the Georgerwock,’ it said, ‘don’t you know the poem? “Beware the Georgerwock, my son! The jaws that bite, the claws that catch, the scissors that cut, snip, snip, snip!”’ Alice thought for a moment. Yes, she did remember a poem that went something like that but something was different... ‘Well, Georgerwock, I think it’s a great shame the library is closed. I wanted to read a book. Did you close the library?’ ‘I did,’ said the Georgerwock, ‘we have to live within our means.’ ‘What does that mean?’ said Alice. ‘It means we can’t spend more money than we have,’ said the Georgerwock. ‘That seems very sensible,’ said Alice, ‘but a shame all the same I can’t read a book.’ The Georgerwock was just about to say something when they both heard a clinking sound. It came from a building next door to the library. Alice looked across to it. It had a big sign outside saying, ‘The Counting House.’ ‘What’s that?’ said Alice. ‘No need to worry your little head about that,’ said the Georgerwock. ‘Oh I’ll look for myself, then,’ said Alice and she walked over to the Counting House with the Georgerwock flapping along behind her. Inside was the King and he was counting out his money. I’m sure I’ve heard about that before, thought Alice. Alice looked through the window at the pile of money sitting on the table in front of the King. It was enormous. And there were sacks more of it sitting behind him and piles on the floor too. ‘Are you going to spend all that?’ said Alice through the window. ‘Good Lord, no,’ said the King. Alice turned to the Georgerwock, ‘So why can’t we use some of that money to open the library?’ The Georgerwock and the King looked at each other and laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed. ‘What I mean,’ said Alice to the Georgerwock, ‘is when you said “we”, “we” had to live within our means, did you count the King in with that “we”. Is he part of “we”?’ Again the two of them laughed and laughed and laughed. ‘Of course not,’ said the Georgerwock, wiping tears of laughter from his face. ‘Now you run along, little girl’ said the King, ‘and don’t...’ ‘...bother my little head about such things?’ said Alice in a mocking sort of a way. ‘Exactly,’ said the Georgerwock. But Alice thought she would like to find out more about all this.
Alice heard some singing and chanting. She turned to the Blue Queen and said that she wanted to find out more about it. ‘Excellent,’ said the Gibblet, ‘excellent’. The Blue Queen took Alice to a darkened room and showed her some magic lantern slides. Alice looked at them with amazement. She saw people standing with their eyes shut, she saw people kneeling. Sometimes it was just men, sometimes it was men and women together. ‘That’s very interesting,’ said Alice, ‘and are there people who don’t do any of this sort of thing?’ The Blue Queen and the Gibblet went very quiet. ‘Are there?’ said Alice. ‘Children like you,’ said the Blue Queen, ‘need to prepare for life. That’s why we showed you lantern slides of different kinds of people.’ ‘Yes, I know,’ said Alice, ‘but are there even more different kinds of people who don’t do any of this sort of thing? If I knew about them, wouldn’t that help me prepare for life too?’ ‘Don’t answer her,’ screamed the Gibblet, ‘she doesn’t need to know. I’m not even sure it is knowledge, anyway.’ The Gibblet opened a huge book called The Big Book of Knowledge. ‘No, it’s not in here,’ he said exultantly, and closed the book very quickly. ‘If it’s not in the The Big Book of Knowledge , it’s not knowledge,’ he added. ‘Who wrote this The Big Book of Knowledge? asked Alice. ‘The Borogove,’ said the Blue Queen, her voice trembling with emotion. She shut her eyes. ‘The Borogove, the Borogove,’ sang the Gibblet in a high pitched lyrical voice as he kneeled down on the floor. ‘Have you got the Borogove on one of these lantern slides?’ asked Alice. ‘One day... one day...’ said the Blue Queen in a mysterious way. Alice walked on.
Alice was walking down the street when she came across a lump in a doorway. She bent down to look closer and saw that it wasn’t really a lump, it was a person. ‘Are you a person?’ said Alice. ‘Only in a manner of speaking,’ said the man – for it was a man. ‘Why are you lying in this doorway?’ Alice said. ‘Where else do you suggest I go?’ the man said. ‘Home.’ said Alice, ‘Why don’t you go home?’ ‘Well, now,’ said the man. ‘I would most certainly go home right now, if I had one.’ ‘You haven’t got a home?’ asked Alice. ‘Let me explain,’ said the man, ‘some people deliberately lose their home so that they can get money from the Blatherment, but they’re putting a stop to all that.’ ‘Is that good?’ said Alice. ‘That puts things right,’ said the man. ‘Now what?’ said Alice. ‘Well,’ said the man, ‘now I don’t have a home and I don’t have money. That evens things up nicely. I used to have no money but I had a home and that can’t be right, can it?’ ‘Have you got anything to eat?’ said Alice. ‘Nope,’ said the man, ‘you see: that matches too – no home, no money, no food.’ Alice felt in her pocket and she still had some of the cake she found earlier. She hoped it wasn’t any of that funny food that made her bigger. Or was it smaller? She was just about to hand some to the man, when he stopped her. ‘No, no, no, no,’ he said, ‘that just encourages me.’ ‘Encourages you to do what?’ said Alice. ‘Encourages me to live,’ said the man. ‘Oh, I see,’ said Alice, but then she thought that encouraging someone to live sounded like quite a good idea. ‘I’m not sure that what you’re saying makes sense,’ said Alice. ‘Look, the way to make people better off,’ said the man, ‘is to make them poorer. At the moment, I’m doing the poorer bit and at some time later, I’ll be better off. Just you see.’ ‘How long till then?’ said Alice. ‘Maybe a couple of years,’ said the man. ‘Won’t you need to eat in that time?’ Alice asked, ‘and it’s getting cold. It’s not good for you getting cold.’ Just then the door opened. Alice and the man looked in and they could see now that it was some kind of bank. Maybe they’ll let him go in there, thought Alice, but just then two men came out, talking. ‘We’ve turned the corner,’ said one. ‘Things are getting better,’ said the other. They closed the door of the bank behind them, locked the door several times and walked on. Alice sat down next to the man in the doorway. ‘You see, it’s what I said’ he said to her, ‘things are getting better. Good news, eh?’ ‘Yes,’ said Alice. ‘I mean... er...’ But she couldn’t finish what she was saying. She wasn’t sure that ‘getting better’ quite said it all. She looked at the man. He was lying down again and he had shut his eyes.
The Blue Queen and the Gibblet wanted to show Alice something. ‘This,’ said the Blue Queen, ‘is a glass-room. It’s made of glass so we can see into it. We can see everything that’s going on in there.’ ‘It looks nice,’ said Alice, ‘what do you do in there?’ ‘WE don’t do anything in the glass-room,’ hissed the Gibblet, ‘We put children in the glass-room.’ ‘Why?’ said Alice. ‘To fill them up with knowledge, of course,’ said the Gibblet. Alice looked in to the glass-room. There were rows and rows of children in there but they didn’t seem to be being filled up with knowledge. Alice was puzzled. She remembered from... where was it? Before she fell down the hole, when she went to school, there was a person there they called a ‘teacher’. In the glass-room, there was no teacher. ‘Excuse me,’ said Alice, ‘isn’t there supposed to be a teacher in the glassroom?’ ‘There is a teacher in the glass-room,’ said the Blue Queen. ‘There is a teacher in the glass-room,’ said the Gibblet. Alice stared again. She didn’t want to annoy them but she believed in saying true things. So she said, ‘Where?’ ‘The teacher,’ said the Blue Queen, ‘is where the teacher is.’ ‘Very good,’ said the Gibblet, ‘exactly. The teacher is where the teacher is because the teacher couldn’t be where the teacher is not.’ ‘We’re not running out, you know,’ said the Blue Queen. ‘I didn’t think you were running anywhere,’ said Alice. ‘No, no, no,’ said the Blue Queen, ‘we’re not running out of teachers. We’ve got loads of them.’ ‘Loads of them,’ repeated the Gibblet. ‘But not actually here. In this Glass-room,’ said Alice. ‘We’ve told you,’ said the Blue Queen, ‘there is a teacher in the glassroom.’ ‘And if we’ve told you something is what it is, then it is!’ said the Gibblet. Alice tried to understand this but she couldn’t. Just then some heralds blew trumpets and called out: ‘The Blue King is going to make an announcement! The Blue King is going to make an announcement!’ This made the Scribes very excited and they all wrote down, ‘The Blue King is going to make an announcement.’ The Blue King stepped forward and said, ‘I have good news. This year there will be no more poor people.’ At this, everyone started clapping and cheering. Even the Scribes stopped writing for a moment to clap and cheer before getting back to the hard work of writing, ‘ere will be no more poor people.’ ‘Where will they go?’ said Alice. Everyone went very quiet. Then the Gibblet said, ‘the poor people won’t be anywhere, because they can’t be anywhere if they’re not there.’ The Scribes loved that too and scribbled that down. Alice looked at her hand. She wondered if by saying it’s not there, it would disappear. Or, as she was feeling a bit hungry, if she said that a sandwich was in front of her, it would appear. She was just about to try when... [the manuscript ends here]
‘For socialists who enjoy poetry this collection is an essential read for now... a fine poetry collection and a stirring call to action against a system based on profit not need.’
‘gives a voiceless to the voiceless in society.’