How many people does it take to change (the world)?
by Maya Stokes
This piece was a Senior Winner of the Orwell Youth Prize 2020.
Did you hear?
London is burning, and
not for the first time.
It appears that, despite this city’s strange obsession
with umbrellas, its foundations are as flammable
as the first little pig’s house, its people
are an exothermic reaction raging in an unchecked,
(underfunded) school laboratory.
Rumour has it that
flames were first sighted in Minneapolis,
through the irrevocable lens of an iPhone,
where a man’s dying words became
a generation’s catharsis
but some witnesses claim that
their smoke alarms have been sounding
since 1619, when the tides first brought ships
full of stolen lives onto our horizon.
For the past fifteen days,
children of the first apocalypse
have spilled onto the streets, from households
struggling to domesticate their
multi-faceted, thinly-medicated anguish.
You see, I’ve heard that
21st century grievances have outgrown
the wafer-thin walls of polite, terraced houses,
they take more than 280 characters to narrate
under a trending hashtag.
So you should be careful
of these creatures, their skin is particularly sensitive
to slurs, their ossicles have evolved
to filter out politicians.
They read Noughts and Crosses instead of Middlemarch
and practised survival skills on playgrounds more segregated
than dystopian landscapes.
They learnt that justice is only balanced on the scales
Statues of costumed oppression
fall at their feet
and days later, are dredged from river beds
to repent for a history of unspoken sins.
The future of our beautiful, broken planet
is already dust beneath their heels
and maybe that’s a good thing.
This is an excellent take on the political poem; a notoriously difficult form approached with such assurance! There is so much to recommend this poem (from the phrase-making: ‘its people/ are an exothermic reaction’ to the extended metaphor which links fire and revolution). The author might have explored the musical possibilities of words a little more so as to more fully crystallise a sense that this had to be a poem and not another kind of text. In other words what can the sound of the word do to invoke meaning as well as the definition of the word? Nonetheless, a wonderful poem.” Kayo Chingonyi, Orwell Youth Prize Judge
Maya Stokes is a senior 2020 Orwell Youth Prize winner, responding to the theme ‘The Future We Want’.
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