Peter Blackman (1909-1993) was one of the early pioneers of Black-British poetry. Although his work has been unavailable for many years, he was once a major figure in radical Caribbean politics and culture in London. His friends included Paul Robeson (with whom he visited the Soviet Union in 1949), Nazm Hikmet, W.E.B. Du Bois and George Lamming. In the 1950s, the composer Alan Bush set part of Blackman's 'My Song is for All Men' in his cantata Voices of the Prophets. In 1980, the ex-Soft Machine drummer Robert Wyatt recorded Blackman's poem 'Stalingrad' on the flipside of Stalin wasn't Stallin'.
Footprints contains four long poems, 'My Song is for All Men', 'Stalingrad', 'Joseph' and 'London', plus a short elegy to Claudia Jones, Blackman's friend and comrade and the founder of the Notting Hill Carnival. Footprints is a book about empire and racism, resistance and struggle, from Korea to the U.S. Civil Rights Movement. And it is a book about liberation, from Stalingrad to London.
My song is for all men Jew Greek Russian Communist pagan Christian Hindu Muslim Pole Parsee And since my song is for all men More than most I must state a case for the black man. I have wandered with the Men of Devon over the Devon hills Conned thought with Milton where low voices drift through time buoying music over death and forgetfulness I have wandered beyond to distant Caucasia Skirting my wonder of blood wined in the beauty Of green mountains hemmed by blue waters on Georgia"s coast I have listened to debate in London and Moscow Prague Paris and many another town I have heard statement confused or insistent patient or fretted facing a claim And ever the claim was the same "This is my own" the voices repeated "my hands have built it. It is my very own. Show us your fruiting." Let me then bring mine own This is mine own. I state a claim for the black man I am the black man I hide with pigmies in the hot depth of the forest that is Africa"s girdle I am the Zulu striding hot storm over the brown whispering veldt that rides in my blood like a battle I am the Ashanti I fold my strength in the beaten gold of a stool shaped for immortals I am the Nilotic standing one-legged for my rest I am the Hyskos escaped out of Egypt and become king of Ruandi I am the miner baring the wealth of South Africa I hold the fate of the world in my hands in the uranium pits of the Congo I am no more the man of Zambesi than I am the man of Limpopo I am no less the man from the mountains of Kavirondo than I am the warrior bred of the Masai I am as much Ibo as I am Yoruba I am all that is Africa I reach out to embrace those who have left me I dig cane-holes in hot West Indian islands I run donkeyman on trampships plying from Cardiff I wear a red cap on all North American railroad stations I bring rough hands calloused in the tumult of weariness Strong-boned not given to prayer force strained to hard bruising Bearing rough burdens to enrich men in England America France Holland Brazil. I work for my bread. A woman comes with me long-limbed high-bosomed proud of countenance She walks abroad her presence dressed Fluent of Earth and love Sweet as the fresh-rained corn at early morning Eyes soft as mountain lakes deep-shaded O"er shot of sunshine truant midst the reeds At hide and seek with laughter supply flung The music of her motion Sweeter is this purple grape Than Pompadour"s wild roses Wide-eddied leaps life"s promise Strong In the rivers of her keeping The Black woman brings her beauty I shall sing it Bid every nation know And worship it With her at my side I measure all things She is the source of my pride from her stem all my creations
And since there are those who pretend to estimate the peoples Sum and divide them to suit the needs of their policy That for this class, this for that superior nation, Shaped and assessed on the rate of their own order in merit There are some things I must say to them And oh men of Europe Asia America and all the sea islands Come near and look at these faces For this also concerns you And you men of Africa especially scan them well and remember them You will find them to-day In London Paris New York Buenos Aires Madrid and Berlin One and all for themselves very superior persons The Bitch of Belsen too was a very superior person She was for herself a fine humanist held a peculiar conception Of art, she loved dogs had a taste highly refined above others for parchment The skin of a painter musician a giant tattooed Some poet greater than these to sing the strength of the peoples Alone could suffice her for lampshades She too shared our shape She knew her man carnally kissed him caressed him longed for him utterly when the need was upon her As would a bitch for her dog? no she was at every point woman And around herself and her living she wove a beastly deception There are many like her in our world let us never forget them Let us examine them Swear with me here on oath that these will no longer govern our world These are the men who find my presence constraining in Alabama Barbados London Texas and similar places They teach their children to turn their faces away when they see me They say my features are coarse and repulsive Too like the ape for man. Against these I have always to argue my humanity I may not travel in cabins on shipboard with them Nor sit at table with them command them in armies or navies in churches pray with them or for them In Johannesburg their child if his skin be white May push me from his path on the sidewalk And as he feels his strength increasing to manhood He may kick me into the gutter. No law bring me redress They would have me stand in their polity one for whom laws are made not one who may make them My part to obey and to serve hew wood and draw water I am expected to stand respectfully bared while this kind talk to me Crawl cringe and dance like a poodle trained to beg crusts or a bone for amusement At Martinsville in the United States of America they hanged me on the word of a white prostitute hot from the stews Where all night long she fretted her pennies Prone till the morning taught her lost virtue The source of its pride when she saw me No one could prove my guilt there was none to be proven The judge simply stated my death would have a wholesome effect on the community So they burnt me at Richmond in the name of Christ and democracy To smother the fears that shook them as they played at a race of the masters. To all my wide continent I welcomed these they came to Africa seized all they could lay hands upon Took the best lands for their tilling to build them white houses I pass them each day cool deep-shaded in green Their dwelling places wanton in lovelinesses Spread for their senses by sky river and sea I shelter my weariness in old packing cases Cast of their luxury offscourings of cardboard and tin Scraped of their surfeit too mean to cover their dog My nakedness is whipped from sleep by rain pouring at midnight to strip me in torment the last space Earth pledged safe from their craving To these I have something to say These you claim are only my just deservings Rags and old packing cases fair receivings For beasts such as I am so you say Crabbed you would tent me manacled as madmen Once crouched beneath your palaces I am unlearned in philosophies of government I may not govern myself children must learn of their elders till they are elders themselves I know nothing of science never created a great civilisation Poetry song music sculpture are alike foreign to my conceiving I have never built a monument higher than a mudhut Nor woven a covering for my body other than the passing leaves of the grass I am the subman My footprints are nowhere in history This is your statement, remember, this your assessment I merely repeat you Remember this too, I do not ask you to pity me Remember this always you cannot condescend to me There are many other things I remember and would have you remember as well I smelted iron in Nubia when your generations still ploughed with hardwood I cast in bronze at Benin when London was marshland I built Timbuctoo and made it a refuge for learning When in the choirs of Oxford unlettered monks shivered unwashed My faith in the living mounts like a flame in my story I am Khama the Great I helped Bolivar enfranchise the Americas I am Omar and his thousands who brought Spain in the light of the Prophet I stood with my spear among the ranks of the Prempehs And drove you far from Kumasi for more than a century I kept you out of my coasts and not the mosquitoes I have won many bitter battles against you and shall win them again I am Toussaint who taught France there was no limit to liberty I am Harriet Tubman flouting your torture to assert my faith in man's freedom I am Nat Turner whose daring and strength always defied you I have my yesterdays and shall open the future widely before me I am Paul Robeson I send out my voice and fold peoples warmly to my bosom I sow courage in myriad bleak places where it is grown worn My song kept this fire alight in the fiords of Norway under the Nazis for my power is never diminished I pile volcanoes in the minds of Mississippi sharecroppers I engage continents Beyond all bars you set I shall reach out To tear life's glory down I shall reach out To set life's crown upon mine own head with mine own hand Shall reach out and never forget the reckoning But first I must separate myself from your every particular I must touch you at no point I must shun your very fringes And in all my living I shall never be alone
'At a time of dramatically anti-establishment gestures, Peter Blackman's quiet, undemonstrative dignity as he crystallised key moments in our collective history, was a heart-warming revelation.'
'Peter Blackman unified a black and socialist consciousness with a love for struggling humanity, expressed with a use of English which is profoundly beautiful and unique to his generation.'
'His poems are like great verbal atlases of the working people of the world, expressed with moving and beautiful wordscapes.'