Poem: A Resignation Letter From Mr Johnson

Recently I have had a few poems published by Poetry24.co.uk who publish poems based on recent news items. Today they have published my poem ‘A Resignation Letter From Mr Johnson’ based on a Channel 4 FactCheck article claiming Boris Johnson lied about EU safety regulations in his resignation letter (read the article here).

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Canaries In The Mine #spokenword poem

(Trigger warning: mental health problems, suicide, self-harm, drugs, sexualised childhood)

This is a poem about how the pressures of modern society contribute to mental health problems. It is usually treated as an individual problem, but when so many people of all ages, in all walks of life, are suffering from stress and looking for desperate means to cope, there is something wrong with society. It needs a collective solution. The most sensitive and vulnerable people, or those under the most pressure, are the ‘canaries in the mine’, the first indicators that we are living in a sick society.

Canaries In The Mine

Canaries in the mine.
Kids that cut themselves.
New mums on Prozac,
Calpol poured down tiny throats.
Twelve year olds try ketamine
(already smoking weed).
Prepubescent boys
ask to drink girl’s pussy juice.
‘Mum, what does he mean?’
A teenage girl has overdosed.
Everybody’s glued to screens.
Can anybody see

canaries in the mine?
Glorifying suicide
on Instagram.
Everybody hates me.
I need to shave my legs or hide.
Mixed messages of
‘just say no’ hypocrisy.
Mass media betrays the truth:
the underlying adult world
a seething den of desperation,
pumping brains with dopamine,
while government departments,
all stained with cocaine trails,
a joke.

Canaries in the mine
Has anybody noticed?
Mental health in crisis.
Social workers having breakdowns,
and those with cancer, sick with fear
they cannot pay the rent.
Teachers taking months off sick.
‘Take personal leave and daily meds.
The problem’s in your head.
It can’t be in society.’

‘Canaries in the mine,’
you said, but far too late.
The miners are already dead.

©️Janey Colbourne 2018

What’s wrong with pornography?

Warning: thoughtful discussion of explicit/abusive content. 

Now let’s talk about something that’s uncomfortable. I’m not going to apologise for being somewhat graphic because this is important. I don’t have any objection to pornography in theory. I don’t see anything wrong in sharing one of the great pleasures in life. Unlike a lot of women, I’ll admit to having watched it. I have particular tastes. Now some of that is down to personal taste, but most of it is about values. I don’t like abuse or incest. Recently there was an article in the Guardian by Gail Dines about the trend for women being ‘choked’ in pornography. Now if you take a look at what’s trending on Pornhub, it makes for quite eye-popping reading, yet these videos have been viewed by millions. You would think ‘taste my farts’, ‘real dad fucks his daughter’, ‘brother and sister fuck’, ‘painful fuck and pisses in her mouth’ would be a bit of a niche market, but no, these are some of the top viewed videos that come up on the first pages of porn sites. There are even videos of women abusing themselves. Fancy watching a woman shove her hand down her throat and vomit for you, whilst being fucked up the ass by a sex machine? No problem.

Pornography is often the first view of sex that teenagers experience, more so now in the age of the internet. This is the first impression of what adults are up to behind closed doors. Now am I alone in thinking wtf? We need to talk about this with them, because sooner or later they are going to see it. Even if this sort of shit is not your cup of tea, finding respectful, consenting, non-violent sex on a porn site takes a bit of a search, seeing some disturbing sights along the way. Not all videos state in the title that they contain abuse. A policy of ‘just say no’ is all very well, but let’s be realistic, kids are going to get curious at some point. Come on, admit it, we all have. So it’s important that we have that discussion with them, whether or not it’s uncomfortable. It’s a sad fact of modern life that we have to have a conversation with our teenagers about the violence in pornography. We need to warn them about it. We need to make it clear that this does not reflect what they should expect from a real life relationship. I was going to say it does not reflect what happens in real life but then I paused. Why are millions of people turned on by abusive porn? What happens in these videos is not pretend. Women are really being choked, slapped and treated like objects. People really are being held down with their noses pinched shut while someone pisses in their mouth. You can’t unsee that once you’ve seen it. Hopefully the ‘dad and daughter fuck’ is not really that, but the age difference is real. How old are some of those girls? ‘Teenage girls’ and ‘college girls’ are probably the most prevalent titles for videos, some of them clearly in school uniforms, judging by the thumbnails. I would never click on a video with a title like that. Let’s hope they are over 18. Of course you could make the argument that people indulge fantasies they would never act out in real life. Gods, I hope that is the case. Nevertheless it is worrying. Is this what is in the heads of millions of people? Why?

Now I’m not a regular viewer of pornography, but I have seen it on and off over the course of my adult life, and I can see a disturbing change in the tone of what’s popular. There has always been an uncomfortable focus on the pleasure of men and the subservient performance of women. Then there seemed to be a growing trend for women showing that they wanted pleasure, expecting it and getting it. I thought there was some hope on the horizon. Recently the emphasis has turned to playing at incest and various types of abusive acts. Is this part of the #metoo backlash? One paragraph in the aforementioned Guardian article stands out for me,

“It is ironic that as women are speaking out loud and clear, the porn industry, together with mainstream pop culture, is promoting choking. In so many ways, choking women is a perfect metaphor for how women have been silenced. Women cannot speak the truth of their lives as long as men have their hands round our necks, or their penises down our throats.“

This is the greatest danger of pornography as it is currently. Not that we will all become promiscuous or sex maniacs. It’s not that sex is ‘dirty’ or even any moral argument that it should take place within a loving relationship. It’s the most basic human values that are being eroded. Respect. Consent. Not hurting people. And this comes down to one word. Objectification. When people are treated like objects, everyone loses their humanity.

We need to stop blushing and talk about it. 

©️Janey Colbourne 2018

Only Lovers Kiss

I’ve just written a new poem. I think this will work best as spoken word. It’s another one in my series about sexual violence. I know this a heavy subject, and some of my poems are quite graphic, but it’s important for people to understand the reality. Because rape culture is a reality. Because sometimes guys deceive themselves about consent. Because people judge women for submitting. Society seems confused about consent. It’s important to understand that violence is not always overt and visible. The only way to change this is to face it, to talk about consent, for everyone to think about it. Survivors are carrying the weight of this. It’s a spectrum of abuse. A key indicator is fear. If someone complies out of fear, it’s not really consent. There is also the issue of normalization of behaviours, which feel uncomfortable for someone on the receiving end, but they are taught to suppress and disregard those feelings. Fear is still there but it is very subtle. Minimising or dismissing someone else’s concerns are a sign of not respecting their right to free choice. People may learn to internalize that and minimise and distrust their own feelings. Everyone needs to take a look at themselves and how they relate because denial is a powerful force. It’s hard to talk about, but it’s time to speak the unspeakable.

Trigger warning: rape

Only Lovers Kiss

When she lies there and allows that violation
From a guy that could put her in hospital
When she lets you put your dick in her
But turns her face away
That is not consent

When she lies there like a rag doll
Speechless
And lets you put your seed in her
But turns her face away
That is not consent

When she complies with your demands
And it gives you a thrill
To see the fear in her eyes
Then she turns her face away
That is not consent

When she turns her face away
To hide her tears
To hide her rage
To hide her terror
To stop you kissing her
Because
She has to hide her soul
Somewhere
Because
Only lovers kiss
That is not consent
And you knew that
All along

©️Janey Colbourne 2018

Just Say No? On The Reality Of Consent #metoo #ibelieveher #heforshe

Just say no?

Consent. How easy is it to define it? When girls are brought up to be polite and boys to speak their minds. When women who achieve and express themselves have been written out of history. When men still earn more than women on average. When rape within marriage only became illegal in the UK in 1991, in the US in 1993, and in some countries is still legal. When the first thing people comment to a girl is how pretty she is. When girls are dumbing themselves down to fit in and not be bullied. When a boy harassing a girl is because he must like her and boys will be boys. When pornography portrays the abuse and subjugation of women. When women in the media are sacked for getting old. When women being ambitious are ‘power grabbing’ but for men it’s normal behaviour. When women are still ‘girls’ when they are 25. When women do most of the housework and childcare even when they have a job too. When women in powerful roles are judged for how they dress but powerful men for what they say. When a woman who says ‘yes’ is a slut and a woman who says ‘no’ is frigid. When in rape trials the victim is interrogated for longer than the accused. When speaking up about sexual abuse is just attention grabbing and makes men feel uncomfortable. When a grope is just harmless banter. When a woman is told that, ‘It’s not all men’ (yes, we knew that) in order to silence her. When adventurous women are told to #makemeasandwich. When a woman has reached the end of her tether from being taken for granted and she is told she is oversensitive. When an angry woman is ‘hormonal’. When a woman’s illness takes longer to be diagnosed because she’s perceived as a neurotic female and not taken seriously. When the man in the meeting says, “Thanks, love, I’ll take it from here. Go and make the tea.” When men’s football is football and women’s football is women’s football. When men make business deals excluding their female colleagues. When men appropriate the work of women to claim the profits for themselves. When it takes women-only shortlists to get women into parliament because of the underhand tactics keeping them out. When a man is mansplaining to a woman something that she has just explained to him. When a man tells a woman how to do her job when she is more qualified and experienced than he is. When women who speak up for women’s rights are ‘frigid man-haters’ or ‘hairy-legged lesbians’ (surprised?) When strangers on Twitter send a woman death threats because they don’t like her song. When a woman receives death threats for saying it’s not ok to threaten and attack women. When a woman is murdered every three days by her partner or ex-partner. When beautiful young women are disfigured by acid attacks. When a woman is torched by her husband’s family. When women are silenced even by other women for making a fuss about rape. When a woman changes her mind in the middle of a first date because he said something that made her uncomfortable but then he turns angry. When a man makes demeaning sexual comments about other women in front of his wife. When a man shows affection in public by gripping his girlfriend’s neck. When school boys make hit lists of girls to be raped. When a woman dare not report domestic abuse because she fears her children will be taken away. When she sees he has a machete behind the settee.

When, just when, can you call it consent? When you can see how the power balance lies. When the man in front of you is three times your size, drunk and pinning you against the wall, flashing a leery grin, and snarling, ‘Hello my pretty.’ When you are scared of the look in his eyes. When the man on top of you suddenly declines to use a condom. When he’s pressed all his weight to your body. When he’s pressed all the weight of the patriarchy against you, just how loud do you think you can say no?

What can we do sisters? When the weight of the patriarchy is pressed against us? It takes courage to stand up for ourselves against such a force. What we need to do is stand up for ourselves and for each other. When we all speak up together our voices will be heard. The #metoo movement is the beginning of that, as is #ibelieveher and #heforshe. Both women and men can stand as allies against abusive, domineering behaviour, and against inequality and injustice. There will be those who try to shout us down—the last desperate voices of a dying ideology. They will fight hard and nasty. They are fighting for an entitlement of centuries standing. They think it is the natural order because they have grown up in it, and because it benefits them. Like the abolition of slavery and apartheid, the battle is long but it will be won.

We can keep in mind that centuries of inequality have biased perceptions and therefore influence the course of justice. We need to change from the default state of assumption that a woman is ‘asking for it’ when she is sexually assaulted and recognise the trauma that she goes through to stand up in court and be cross examined. We can call out those who objectify and disrespect our sisters. This is not ‘political correctness gone mad’. The world is mad and we are the ones who can see it. It takes a little effort to find new ways of relating, but it is not going to destroy you to recognise the rights of women to respect and equality. Is your masculinity is so fragile as to be threatened by strong women? Surely not. A man who can respect and honour women, in touch with his gentle self as well as his strength is truly a man worthy of respect. It takes courage to recognise our vulnerability and seek true connection.

We have moved closer to employment equality but there is still a long way to go. Women still have to battle for appropriate levels of respect and acknowledgment in the workplace. We need to call out those who patronise women in the workplace, those who judge women on their appearance before their abilities, those seek to appropriate the achievements of women. We need to insist on acknowledgement of our intelligence and capability and appropriate levels of pay to reflect that. We have the right to expect these things just as men do. The feminine approach to life is undervalued in the workplace. And look where that has got us to—the greed and cruelty of the planet-destroying, people-destroying insanity of capitalism.

Feminine does not equate with weakness. Feminine power has a different quality to masculine power, but it is not lesser by any means. We can complement, balance and moderate each other if we collaborate. It is not that one energy is better than the other, but that when they are out of balance, it is destructive. The most important things we can do as women are to speak out from our place of feminine power, support our sisters, respect the men who have the courage to stand with us as allies, and stand in support of others who experience unjust prejudice and abuse, including people of colour, immigrants, queers, the disabled. The most important thing those in positions of privilege can do is listen, listen, listen and direct others to do the same. Because people can speak for themselves.

The students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas stood up and spoke out against gun violence. They stood together. Because #enoughisenough
The victims of Harvey Weinstein stood up and spoke out against sexual violence. They stood together. Because #enoughisenough
Protestors in support of the woman in the Dublin rape case stood up and spoke out against injustice. They stood together. Because #enoughisenough
There were backlashes against all of these who spoke out with courage and dignity. Of course there were. But that will no longer stop us from speaking our truth. We cannot be silenced. Because we are too many.
The tide is turning.

We say NO
And we say it damn loud.

©️Janey Colbourne 2018

For My Sisters And Brothers Of Colour

For My Sisters And Brothers Of Colour

I know I have no right to stand here
and attempt to speak for my sisters
and brothers of colour.
I stand here in awe to applaud
their strength and their courage,
their patience in the face of
relentless abuse.

As a child I was picked on,
excluded, abused;
I was ginger with freckles.
But now I am grown,
I doubt I’ve been ever
turned down for a job
or a house,
OK, maybe a date or two,
for my colour.

I have had a peep, a wee hint,
just a glimpse
of the blindness of ignorant fools,
the hurt and the horror,
the terror of being the one
who is different
but really the same.

I know I have no right to stand here
and attempt to speak for my sisters
and brothers of colour.
I stand here in awe to applaud
their strength and their courage,
their patience in the face of
relentless abuse.

My dear fellow humans.
Were we all not born
as tender and fragile,
as needing of love, to be held?
Now we stand for what we believe,
and I stand for solidarity.
I stand with my sisters
and brothers of colour,
not to speak over, or for,
those who speak for themselves.
I stand to applaud.
These words are my standing ovation.

© Janey Colbourne 2018

Common Ground. A spoken word poem about prejudice.

Common Ground

All religions can be used or misused,
misconstrued or abused.
All religions may have their mystics,
moral believers, payers of lip service
and fundamentalist terrorists.

Interpretations are as varied as humanity.
Dogma is not exclusive to religion.
Even skeptics, atheists and scientists
are not immune. It’s a human frailty,
a vulnerability, born of the desire for certainty:
the fear of the unknown.
You build your walls of illusory security.

There are few certainties in life,
but one I do know: cut us open and
we’re all the same colour on the inside.
So wind your redneck in. Have some courage.
Open your fucking door,
and for the sake of any god you like,
shake hands with your neighbour.
You’ll find common ground.

©️ Janey Colbourne 2018