READS OF THE YEAR 2017: Henry Bell

I’ve spent the last six months researching and writing a book about John Maclean. A great deal of that reading has revolved around Socialist splits and grappling with the difference between the SLP, the ILP, the SDF, the BSP, and the CPGB. But the most striking aspect has been learning about the extent to which Glasgow existed as an international city in the early twentieth century. 8000 Belgian refugees arrived in the city in 1914, and found a home that was filled with Chinese sailors, Lithuanian revolutionaries, Arabs, Latvians, Indians, tens of thousands of Muslims and Jews, and hundreds of thousands of Irish people. In 1917 Bolshevik Russian servicemen marched in uniform on Glasgow Green with Glaswegian socialists. In 1919 a race riot tore along the Broomielaw, people were shot and stabbed, and thirty-one men were arrested; thirty of them were Black. Over those same years the money that poured into Glasgow, making it one of the wealthiest cities in the world, was systematically stripped from the colonies by other international Glaswegians. So my reads of the year aren’t about Red Clydeside, but they are about Nation, Migration, and Capitalism, and investigating how we live within – or outwith – borders.

Hamja Ahsan Shy Radicals

Part manifesto, part history of the shy revolution, part hymn to introversion: Shy Radicals is a beautiful exploration of exploitation, nationalism and power-dynamics as seen from the perspective of the revolutionary introvert. It’s a poem and a manual that helps you take apart the cult of personality and endless expression and their part in enforcing evils of capitalism, colonialism and white supremacy. Exploring the Shy People’s Republic of Aspergistan, the book looks at how neurotypical-domination has led both to the oppression of shy people, and to the creation of an unnecessarily brutal world: reminding us that ‘the extrovert state is a terrorist state.’ Ahsan’s work is genuinely radical, and this book challenges traditional conceptions of art and politics by putting militant quietness at its centre. It’s as deadly serious as it is fun. Buy two copies and give one to a shy comrade or extroverted enemy.

The flag of Aspergistan consists of a black flag punctuated thusly ‘…’

Rakshan Rizwan Paisley

Rizwan’s short collection links Lahore to the wider world through striking free verse and ghazals filled with jasmine and almond oil and paisley prints. But at the same time, the poems are patterned with the conflicts of class, gender and language that stretch across South Asia and emanate from Europe. The verse is filled with a righteous anger at the violence of colonialism and borders, and at the same time stops to look at the beauty in the gaps and breaks of identity and language:

My voice is the mirror that breaks in Urdu
in each piece, is the light of flowing Hindi

And at the same time:

I wish you had placed your language in my mouth
like a velvet glove, but instead you pour
burning asphalt onto my tongue, pave bitumen
and rock and flatness where there is none
Learn German you say, Integrate.

Poems like ‘Noon’ and ‘Speech Therapy’ dissemble language and the migrant experience. Elsewhere, poems such as ‘Hair’ and ‘Eve’ take a scalpel to the patriarchy. It’s a bewildering blend of beauty and anger, the personal and the political.

John Berger and Jean Mohr A Seventh Man 

A friend lent me this book months ago and was getting increasingly annoyed that I hadn’t bothered to read it, and I now see why. It is devastating to find that a forty year old book can so clearly lay out the relations of nation, migration and capital in Europe today. A collection of poems, stories, photographs and political tracts following the lives of some of Europe’s millions of migrant workers, the book lays bare the structures of oppression, underdevelopment and greed that create the small moments of hope, joy, suffering, and solidarity that are captured within. It gives its own explanation of why you need to read it:

To try to understand the experience of another it is necessary to dismantle the world as seen from one’s own place within it, and to reassemble it as seen from his. For example, to understand a given choice another makes, one must face in imagination the lack of choices which may confront and deny him … the world has to be dismantled and re-assembled in order to be able to grasp, however clumsily, the experience of another.

Happy dismantling.

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