Chris Searle was born in Romford in 1944. He has worked as a teacher in Canada, Tobago, East London, Mozambique, Grenada and Sheffield. His books include Classrooms of Resistance, Words Unchained, This New Season, We're Building the New School, The World in a Classroom, Grenada Morning and The Forsaken Lover (for which he was awarded the Martin Luther King Prize).Dismissed in 1971 from a teaching post in Stepney when he published a book of his pupils' poems, he was re-instated after his pupils went on strike in protest.
His previous books of poetry include Mainland (1973), Red Earth (1980) and Common Ground (1983). He was recently a Visiting Professor at York University, Toronto. At present he works for the Yemeni Community Association in Sheffield, teaching veteran ex-steelworkers and asylum seekers. He is a keen cricketer and author of a book about the game, Pitch of Life. He writes a weekly jazz column for the Morning Star.
'Our friend who lies here has had a hard life, and met with a hard death; and if society had been differently constituted, his life night have been a delightful, a beautiful and a happy one. It is our business to begin to organise or he purpose of seeing that such things shall not happen; to try to make this earth a beautiful and happy place.' (William Morris, speaking at Linnell's funeral)
For Kevin Gately and Gurdip Singh Chagger
As they struck me down, I dreamed a dream.
The hoofs had left me broken and sprawling.
Another lump with the horse droppings in those fine streets
To be shovelled and swept into the gutters of Northumberland
But my comrades picked me up, from under the very heels of death
And carried me away, through streets lined with a hungry throng –
Hungry like I was, and jobless to boot;
The very reasons for my angry marching,
Through the flying stones and crashing windows
Through the shouts and cries of misused men
They bore me, their bodies wilting with my dying weight,
To a place where suddenly the air was full of calm.
There was dignity and peace, and a great crowd marching,
Marching past Trafalgar Square, where grief–faced men doffed their
caps at me
As I lay, coffined and covered, lifted by my comrades.
Yet though all who watched saw me confined,
Shut in death's box, another ended man
Who left no wealth for his family, no vacant space at his workplace,
No holy words from his priest, no day's work for a gravestone
I found myself huge like mankind, as vast as its history,
And no box could take my limits, no death my new beginning.
Truth to tell, I looked down upon my funeral
And my funeral was the march of the world
With all the men and women who ever worked in my
struggling part of the city –
For Eastwards it was we marched, Eastwards they carried me
Through that City, that fortress of the moneymaker
Those walls of stone that grew to some men's greed,
Those streets which never opened life to men like me
But only gave me right of way in death.
Past Aldgate where John Ball had stood in all the power of the
And Tyler shouted down the walls that kept them poor,
Through the grimy valleys of Whitechapel where Flemish weavers
Had struggled manfully for Wilkes and liberty
And Mendoza the Jew had boxed to Science and greatness –
Through these streets they bore me, bore me homeward.
And men and women pledged to me, vowing vengeance,
Vowing completion, success, victory and humanity
And I saw and heard it all, watching from my everlastingness,
As over the cobbles we travelled, to Mile End and Bow,
Thousands moving towards my lot of earth.
And people scrambled over mounds, over tombstones,
Between pillars and plinths, columns and angels, marbles and
Over the bones of seamen and chandlers, lightermen and sailmakers,
Cabinet makers and carpenters, river pilots and garment makers –
They surged around my grave, respectful but angry,
Mourning yet organising, dutiful yet mighty,
Unleashing yet a tiny spark of massiveness
As the rain fell in November, dripping from the London plane trees
That overhung my part of the ground, and bowed their
branches to me.
Headlam read some solemn words over that gone part of me
And Morris' great beard shook the rain from its midst
As he spoke of me with love and brotherliness
And sung out his death song, roaring with his great man throbbing
The words of might that stretched through all the power of
Towards me, me, a working man appalled at lack of work
And lack of Justice, lack of the organisation men need
To fulfil their lives and love their peers
And set man to man or man to woman to woman to woman
In a life of love and discovery of all the great potential of the world
And all its people – me, now all around could not but return
And I was every man and woman that every thought or sang for
freedom in those streets,
Or fought for respect and equity mid the canals, the docks,
The terraces, factories, workshops, sweatshops and blocks,
Every man and women who from the tenement of their
world lived to make life better.
I was William Blake walking through the chartered riverside streets
Where houses, masts and heads hung low, waiting for regeneration,
I was Charles Dickens standing under the lantern of
Making words shine like beacons for the sake of the downtrodden,
I was Jack London from the wharves of San Francisco, the ice
of the Klondike
Wilfully scaling down to the human hell of the abyss
And sharing suffering to tell and prove to the world.
I was Thomas More, dreaming man's Utopia at Stepney Green,
John Donne making puns under the growing mulberry trees
Planted by the Hugeonots to feed the silkworms,
I was Ben Jonson laying bricks and forging plays in the new streets
I was Arthur Morrison howling my rage through the dens
of the Jago,
Joseph Conrad, learning my new language through the rigging
And stretching my symbols far beyond the Shadwell Entrance,
I was Gustave Doré drawing on my sheets with the black ink
I was Isaac Rosenberg working my images in a damp, cracking
garret in Stepney,
Forcing my weak chest towards the capitalists' war to pay for
my mother's maintenance
And championing my sensitivity through the tyrants' trenches.
I was Paul Robeson with my notes of kind black thunder shaking the
Mahatma Gandhi living, breathing, learning, taking struggle from
the people of Bow,
I was Christopher Caudwell, writing, analysing, fighting,
Leaving all behind to serve his brothers in the dry rocks of Castile,
I was all those certainly, and I was more.
I was every gasworker that ever stoked a stinging fire in Beckton
And stood by the retort's shaking flames, taking brute heat –
I was with Will Thorne when we took our eight hour day.
I was every dockworker whoever pulled a pulley in Millwall,
stood in the cage,
Was left on the stones or lay with his limbs crushed
at Blackwall Yard.
I was with Ben Tillett when he spoke like fire through his stammer
to us at the gates,
Swinging his spiked mace into a wealth of stevedores and dockers
As he goaded our resistance in the morning mists rising
from the Isle of Dogs.
With Harry Orbell when we pushed back a trainload of blacklegs
With our bare strengths, organised together.
I was Tom Mann, leading thousands singing down
the Commercial Road,
Riding with ships upon wheels, brandishing our stingy sausage
meals at our employers,
Clamouring for more justice and more money
Flexing the muscles of a new class in history.
I stood with the matchgirls at Bow, scratching my jaw for the curse
of the phosphorus,
Pelted with mildewed fruit the statue of Gladstone,
erected from our wages.
Cutting our wrists as our women's blood ran down its length.
I was William Morris, spreading out my poems from the corner
of Dod Street,
Holding off the batons of policemen who tore at our banners,
And yes, I was Alfred Linnell, crushed by the ordered horses
of the State,
An exile from Bow killed in the fairways of power.
I was Sylvia, writing late into the night at Old Ford
For the next day's Dreadnought, and the next week's struggle
Force–fed and beaten inside the dull bricks of Holloway,
Shouting down the imperialist war in the market places of Poplar,
Inspiring all our women to stand up, stand up for their lives
And take all their joys and money–held, man–held freedoms.
I was with the East India dockers when we shunned
the Jolly George
Not loading or fuelling a ram against the workers
Whether in Russia, Cuba, China or Chile.
I set up speaking platforms in the street for Harry Pollitt,
Marched with George Lansbury to Brixton Prison
And walked back to Poplar after his words split the prison bars.
I shared the dying moments of Minnie Lansbury as she too pushed
aside the zooming rate,
The cold, growing burden of her neighbours,
Stood with Nellie Cressall in her labour pains at Holloway,
Took on the troops as we held fast in 1926,
Cursed with my mates at the betrayals of our leaders
And the armed phalanx of soldiers who guarded the blacklegs.
I whooped with joy as the fascists ran from us in Cable Street
And stood arm in arm with Jew and black man at the barricades.
I looked up with my people towards the blitz of Nazi bombs,
And with the world, fought back the night that came in daytime,
Taking our lives and hopes and hard–won freedoms.
All these lives I shared as the rain fell, and the wet earth slithered
Scraping the wood that covered my bruised flesh –
Then all the people vanished from my sight, all buildings,
brick and smoke.
Only the river, deep and dark, tidal with the moon stayed with me,
Mud and stones exposed from its raw banks.
Marsh, swamp and limepit, overhanging reeds,
Empty of the light of people.
Then Eastwards from a roman city crept out the wood and brick,
Saxon farm and meadow combed from the matted grassland,
And the long ships of the Norsemen edged along the banks
And miscegenation thrived, all along the river.
From the Sussex coast moved up the Norman swords,
Making laws, seeking consensus, speaking new words.
Power grew with the barons, blessed by the Church,
But peasant blood raged with the sweeping river.
Then craft built our suburbs – persecuted from France
The 'Fourniers', 'Fleurs–dy–lys', 'Nantes' of the Huguenots
Crossed shores and made cloth, wove skills with the Flemish,
Making first stitches in the garments of our greatness.
East India, West India – Empire made slaves of the world,
And rich men ordered docks, berths for their treasures.
So, leaving their strips of land, their herd of goat or cow,
The people came, changing earth for dust and stone.
Men from the western sea, speaking in new rolling accents
Walked new streets with a shovel and a pick.
And out of the marsh came solidness, hardness –
Quayside rose from mud and meadowland, as Irish breath
made new lines of progress.
And the ships brought sugar, shares and profit,
Not made by the sailors who had boarded them at the Gold Coast,
Not made by the blackened men who scooped the coal
from their planks,
Not made by the ironsmiths who built the Great Eastern and
steamed our country forward.
For whom? For whom?
Not to the Jews to whom our river made life's arteries flow again,
As pogroms crushed their hopes and breaths and futures
And our narrow streets blazed wide for their struggles.
But for a new class of barons – in that City, that granite burden of
the working people
Which prospered on their pain and labour,
Pleasured on the toil of all their hands and brains,
Looked to crush a world–wide class with its craft and cunning.
From the islands in the necklaced sea came people,
Their history grounded in sugar and the bitter taste of the slave.
Boats sailed northward, bound with hopes and myths,
To drive and oil the new machines and onward transport
of the world.
Those came from the west –
And from the east, to find fulfilment, find the centre,
Came brown–skinned people, eager to work and organise,
Reaching a strange, wished–for land with hostile mouths and insults
scrawled on walls.
Here they came, and as with the others,
They stayed and worked and mixed, and built and learned
and struggled –
As we all have, as we all do – all have, all do,
To make these streets softened with the flesh of living people,
To make these walls invisible for the crossing smiles of men,
To make these houses filled with the hopeful laughs of children,
To make these estates shine with all the colours of the human,
To make this river run free with the will of structured love.
From those who came, to those who come,
Sprung from the multitudes stems the one.
Out of the rubble
Beyond the storm
Rooted in history
A new world is born.
The earth yawned above me : rain and soil still clattered on my box,
Beneath the rare trees of Bow, Morris still roared his song
I was beneath and above, past and hence,
Death was but a phase, life began for others –
I saw and heard it, lived it and repeated it.
This dream I dreamed, as they struck me down.
August 6, 1976
'Searle... writes with a passion; political anger infused into his writings to provide most of the poems with energy and drive.'
'Searle's poetry is characterised by a passionate political drive as a celebration of revolution that scans the continents of the world. Lightning of Your Eyes balances the energy and strident desire for change with poignant and personal recollections. Through Searle's belief that by investing words with meaning, they become more than ink on the page, his poems themselves become vehicles for change.'
'At his best Searle's compassion, anger and sense of historical morality as a storyteller are reminiscent of the early Gorki. I can see no other writer in Britain with whom to compare him.'
'He is that curious mix of guru, guerrilla and your favourite fast bowler.'
'I feel good reading these poems.'
'These poems... grab you by the throat, by the heart... Poems that touch awake the flame of anger against injustice.'
Race and Class