Reviewed by Bill Topaz
War Cry: Milton Smalling; First Class Publications London 2011; 128 pp. ISBN 978-0-9508636-3-4.
On the back of this book the author’s brief autobiography describes him as being born in Stepney, Jamaica which he left in 1965 to join his mother in Battersea the working class area of London which is the home of the New Worker and a well established black community. War Cry is the fifth book to be published by Milton Smalling since his first book of verse hit the streets in 1982; three of these are slim volumes of poetry, the other a play, all of which are unknown to this reviewer.
The advert accompanying the review copy states that the poems “draws upon his experience, and he documents the things that he sees around him”. The poems are undated, but that entitled “The Greedy Bankers” suggests at least some have been written recently. No clues are given as to the precise occasion which inspired the poem. The poem “African Americans Cuddle or Struggle” contains the line “This is a wonderful day for African Americans” may or may not be a reference to Obama’s 2008 Presidential election victory. It would be useful to know one way or the other. Titles such as “The Mass Murder of Enslaved Black Africans”, “The Working Class Under Pressure” and “Divided Britain” tell us that the author is coming from a progressive direction.
Here are a few examples of his work:
From: “Living in Cardboard Boxes in London”
The poor lives in the shadow of the rich.
A stone’s throw from the seat of parliament,
people are sleeping in cardboard boxes.
They are drinking themselves to sleep, because life is cheap.
From: “Since the Day We Were Born”
Since the day we born people have been in conflict,
With other people somewhere in the world.
Some people have never known a week or a month of peace
Maybe when it all ends someone will tell them.
The literary critic Philip Hobsbaum, making a passing reference to Smalling’s 1980s poems in his 1996 book Metre, Rhythm and Verse Form notes that his published writings are similar to the score for a performance where the meaning is much more evident when performed on stage than in a private reading.
Curiously all the poems are in Standard English with not a trace of Jamaican patios or the “Sarf London” dialect which one might expect from a poet concerned with Black and local issues.
The forename of the author and the name of the publisher might give rise to unduly heightened expectations, but the reader approaching this book with an open mind will find it a remarkable example of modern self published poetry. It will be of considerable interest to devoted connoisseurs of that genre.
Available for £12.99 from First Class Publications, PO Box 1799, London W9 2BZ.