by archiemac Originally published on November 16, 2015 in Poetry
A full-scale riot that broke out in the Bristol squatting community where I lived, triggered by police heavy-handedness, an eviction and an unwanted branch of Tesco’s. Includes video.
The Stokes Croft Riot
Black flags fly from the free-shop window.
Below, a girl who eats no flesh
cradles rolls of rat-cage mesh.
A burst of Caribbean lingo.
A metal sheet across the door
of what was once an anarchist bookshop.
Workmen whistle on the rooftop
of a cobwebbed Polish store.
A waft of cider pressed from plums.
Dreadlocks held in place by pencils
flow beneath a Banksy stencil
of teddy-bears with petrol-bombs.
A mother and three freckled children
munch on processed Cornish pasties.
A bunch of banjo-strumming crusties
eulogise an ancient pilgrim.
Below them sprawl the words “No Tesco!”
in a spray of turquoise chalk.
Slicing the air like a lightning-fork,
across the road, a dubstep disco.
Upstairs, on mirror-cluttered floorboards,
with their hands behind their heads,
sit four lads. Anxiety spreads.
Policemen rage and strut like warlords.
A magpie pecks at two dead wasps.
Three smokers light up from the same match.
A price-gunned artist with a name-badge
straightens rows of bags of crisps.
Honeybees crawl into window-bolt sockets.
A man with a five-stringed guitar on his back
and a sudden new symphony tingling his neck
drags copper from his fluff-seamed pockets.
A forest of police vans, some
inscribed along the sides in Welsh.
A swig of beer. A sneeze. A belch.
Vuvuzelas and a drum.
Reggae rustling from a barrow.
Metal grates on windscreens. Helmets.
Davidsons, O’Connells, Wilmots,
freegans fresh from reading tarot.
A choir of sirens. Graffitied galleries
with lithographs and oblong roses.
Dishcloths over mouths and noses.
Fish broths brewed in nearby sculleries.
Like peapods in a field, the truncheons
line behind a fence of wooden
pallets and plastic bins, a cordon
across which froth downtrodden tensions.
A lawn of glass is planted, crashing
in green and brown, down on the road.
A sparrow pipes a merry ode.
A plump househusband unpegs washing.
Lanterns flicker underneath
a golf-ball moon, as flames burn bright.
A bottle sails through orange light.
A Catholic calls upon his faith.
Confused and lost in silent thoughts,
a lesbian couple grind up ganja.
A seamstress waters a hydrangea.
“Smash the pigs!” a locksmith shouts.
A towel of smoke. A ripple of coughing.
Crackling wood. More bottles fly.
A surge of leather gives reply.
Stampeding feet, disordered scuffing.
A hooded boy squirts lighter-fluid
in and round an upturned dustbin.
A glittered girl dressed as a pumpkin
tangoes with a cloak-wrapped druid.
A Hindu teenager with braces
dreams of love and wipes her cheeks.
A broken-hearted sculptor breaks
and waves a gatepost in grim faces.
Thrashing stripe-sleeved forearms bulldoze
through a fence of passers-by,
identity numbers tucked away,
and crack a teacher on both elbows.
Two foxes yowl in carnal rapture.
New walls of trolleys, bins and tyres
leap up. A motorbike backfires.
Shields are dented. Visors fracture.
On worm-turned soil in boxy gardens
paving slabs are smashed to lumps
then hurled above the heads of tramps
at random-swiping truncheoned cordons.
A sleek patrol-car’s windscreen crunches
in a crystal spiderweb.
Doors fall like kernels from a cob.
Squirrels bound through smoky branches.
“Stop throwing concrete!” cries a beggar.
On the supermarket roof
a fellow blossoming in youth
advances with a laden stagger.
A rock swoops down into the face
of a policeman. Hearty cheers
ring out among the mutineers
whose numbers never seem to cease.
A zephyr brushes cool and light,
wafting, as though from a joss stick,
with the scent of melted plastic,
through the balmy April night.
A lonely truncheon on the pavement.
Two splayed feet. A sunken helmet.
A body like a fallen elm that
gathers moss, devoid of movement.
A dozen squatters round a chimney.
Downstairs, the dubstep booms again.
A nest-haired, stripe-faced, clown-eyed man
jeers, oinking, at his fleeing enemy.
“Whose streets? Our streets! Whose streets? Our streets!”
chirps the flock across the croft,
some snatching riot-shields with graft
and with the skill of Olympic athletes.
A brown rat scampers down an alley,
nibbling bottoms of rubbish-bags.
A greyhound, whipping, looping, wags
his tail into a clump of holly.
Riot-shields rebound and ricochet
off an encroaching chain-store shop-front.
Like starving beagles forced to fox-hunt,
jobless graduates bounce in disarray.
The greyhound stares and barks like murder.
A green-haired woman grips the leash
and drags him past a loud pastiche
of street art blaring “New World Order”.
Birdlike signposts, bricks and bollards.
An overcharged and priced-out class.
A waterfall of corporate glass
below a club of honking mallards.
Potato waffles under armpits.
Trolleyfuls of rice cakes, veal,
tobacco, vodka, crates of ale,
veer across a crunching carpet.
A heroin-fiend’s neglected daughter
with ditches dug through both her arms
ploughs a boot through burglar alarms,
cash registers and flavoured water.
The loneliness inside her squirts
a bitter bile around her stomach
as she wheezes in a flummox
at empty, soulless human hearts.
A pigeon gobbles chunks of vomit
beside a hoarding where fake breasts
and gang tattoos that peep from vests
ensure that revenues don’t plummet.
A white-nosed only-child stares
into a different universe
where every mind is God, a force
pulsating through a trillion spheres.
A polyamorous film-maker
bites a web-designer’s neck.
Her camera holds a black-gloved smack
around the head of a hitch-hiker.
Eaves and telephone wires chirrup.
Morning growls its groggy message.
Horses canter through the wreckage.
An officer jumps off his stirrup.
Aproned girls fix chalkboard menus.
Mushrooms fizz and eggs are scrambled.
A mangy ginger tomcat tramples
violets by a music venue.
Briefcases and butterflies
meander through the paint-splashed streets.
Milk-froth bubbles. Coffee heats.
Love-dead housewives mutter lies.
Beside some scaffolding, some squatters
and a few policemen gather,
lost in mirth and friendly chatter
that doesn’t mention snouts or trotters.
A spike-haired poet without an agent
offers a line of ketamine
as though it were a vitamin
to a cackling stripe-sleeved sergeant.
UKArchive ID: 35810 Archived comments for The Stokes Croft Riot
franciman on 16-11-2015 The Stokes Croft Riot Hi Archie,
This had me gripped from the start. Evocative, but a also wistful. There is a sense of pride in belonging which I find endearing despite the gritty, cracked paving nature of the poetry. Oh, did I mention that I like this?
Author’s Reply: Thanks Jim, for the comment and the fave!
You know, it's only now that you make the metaphor, that I realise that the short sharp lines could be metaphors for the smashed-up lumps of paving slab hurled by the rioters. I was not consciously doing that when I wrote the poem.
Yes, I did feel a very strong sense of belonging to this community, although I only lived there for seven months. The sense lasted for a long time after that.
All the best,
stormwolf on 16-11-2015 The Stokes Croft Riot I think you are a creative genius Archie. A rare talent indeed. Every line a cracker of imagery, insight or social commentary. You take no prisoners and your writing and persona is as authentic and lacking pretension as it is without doubt biting in its satire.
I remember you from before when you were under another name as your work is so original in every way. Outstanding.
Author’s Reply: Thanks very much!
Mikeverdi on 16-11-2015 The Stokes Croft Riot Truly evocative writing, I know Bristol, was there in the sixties. I've never been involved in this kind of riot, I have however charged the thin blue line before. The picture you paint with your words is bleak, the video compelling. This is as good as it gets for me.
Author’s Reply: You charged the thin blue line once? Gosh, Mike, you rebel!
Thanks for stopping by,
Mikeverdi on 16-11-2015 The Stokes Croft Riot In truth Archie, who knows anyone's life, we all have a story. Mine is on here.
Author’s Reply: You have poems about charging the police with a Newcastle Brown Ale bottle in your hand?
I'd like to read that…
Mikeverdi on 17-11-2015 The Stokes Croft Riot Not poetry, real life. Charging down Whitehall under an Anarchist flag, throwing marbles under police/horses to gain access to the square and American Embassy. Like I said, everyone has a story, even old farts like me.
Author’s Reply: Why haven't you written about this period of your life? It sounds fascinating, real, gritty, full of adventure. I would definitely be interested in reading about that.
The tactics you describe sound like those of the Class War movement. Is that the group you were associated with?
I'm seriously considering joining that movement once I go back to Blighty, which I would like to do over the next couple of years. It's the only group that really has any appeal to me.