DOI: https://doi.org/10.33008/IJCMR.2020.01 | Issue 3 | April 2020 Andrew Calcutt University of East London
This submission showcases my experimentations with ‘news poems’, a creative practice based on taking the top stories of the day and re-writing them in a form of heightened speech which aims to be poetic. In the context of ‘fake news’ (Pomerantsev, 2019) and ‘post-truth’ (D’Ancona, 2017), a call to the imagination may sound like playing with fire. But nothing could be further from the truth. Instead, the imaginative remake of journalism becomes an essential part of coming closer to truth. Much of the journalism we have known only tells us the half-truths we already know. But when we use our imagination to approach those involved in news stories, together we make room for our common humanity. This is the task for journalism today, and the news poem is our best chance of fulfilling it.
Since 2012, I have been experimenting with ‘news poems.’ That is to say, I have taken the top stories of the day and re-written them in a form of heightened speech which aims to be poetic. In 2018, I wrote a series of news poems commemorating the 51 Londoners aged under-25 who died as a result of knife wounds or gunshot wounds in London that year. Collected under the title ‘Anthem for Lost Youth’, I am submitting these pieces along with this research statement to exemplify my take-up of traditionally fictional methods in the quest for truth – an unending quest for what is necessarily unfinished.
‘Anthem for Lost Youth’ is a solo work but it is also part of a series of Experiments in Creative Journalism which I have devised with colleagues Simon Miles and Rishabh Shrivastav. The series began in 2017 when Simon and I collaborated on ‘Two-Way Street’, a film/text poem addressing the contradiction between increasingly desperate attempts to gain entry into the West (migration), and increasingly violent reactions against the West (terrorism). Latterly Simon and I have been joined by Rishabh, an accomplished film-maker, and two research interns, Francesca Battaglia and Will Vincent. Together we have staged a sequence of mixed media performances entitled Not News At Ten. The first of these took place at The Poetry Society, Covent Garden, in July 2019, followed by our contribution to the Being Human Festival, Autumn 2019. We are all what might be called students of journalism, though some of us have also practiced it for long periods – in my case for more than 40 years. We are all equally insistent that journalism must do better; indeed, we hope to draw attention to the idea of Creative Journalism because we believe that mainstream journalism is suffering from acute failure of the imagination.
In the context of ‘fake news’ (Pomerantsev, 2019) and ‘post-truth’ (D’Ancona, 2017), a call to the imagination may sound like playing with fire. But nothing could be further from the truth. To our way of thinking, the imaginative remake of journalism is an essential part of coming closer to truth. This is because much of the journalism we have known only tells us the half-truths we already know. In any case, is ‘fake news’ really such a threat to journalism and society? Despite mounting anxiety about the corrosive combination of algorithms and social media, surely the 50-year-old Internet, viewed as a whole, has become the biggest fact-checker we have ever known. On the other hand, the considerable array of surveys and research (Allbright, 2018; Digital, Media, Culture and Sport Committee, 2019) which would account for regressive behaviour, e.g. voting for bigots, according to levels of exposure to fake news, seems to echo the spate of ‘effects theory’ studies which peaked in the 1980s in the attempt to show that violent videos caused violent behaviour. Though it was made frequently and vehemently, this case remained stubbornly unproven – not least because the researchers concerned were presenting what was essentially content analysis as if this could provide a satisfactory explanation of human behaviour (Livingstone, 1996). In the fake news discourse, the same sort of category error appears to have re-surfaced.
Perhaps ‘fake news’ has acted more like a moral panic prompted by the realisation that the masses have been using news in the much the same way as the petit bourgeoisie, i.e. as the story which affirms my existence rather than the account which confounds what I thought I knew. Ever since the ‘journalism of attachment’ advocated by Martin Bell (Bell, 1998) and others 20 years ago, the petit bourgeoisie has made a point of selecting some facts and de-selecting others according to their capacity for personal validation. It seems they may have panicked when they saw the masses doing much the same thing.
If the significance of ‘fake news’ has itself been falsified, the real problem is fake democracy. Journalism is heavily implicated in this because politics and journalism were a tight-knit double-act throughout the era of social democracy. Now, by contrast, the end of that era is evident in the characteristic failing common to both politicos and journos – a failure of the imagination. Apart from a small of number of notable exceptions such as John Harris (Harris, 2019), even when they leave the office long enough to speak to people living outside the Westminster Village, most journalists appear unable to envisage them as anything more than the one-dimensional shapes they have already slotted them into: vulnerable/predatory, victim/perpetrator, cynical conspirator/naïve believer. This is the furthest expression of journalism’s disposition towards determinism. It was already discernible in the teleology of the traditional news reporting format known as the inverted pyramid, which starts at the end of the story and folds the rest into a sequence of paragraphs of diminishing importance. Thus, readers have frequently gained the impression that what has happened, simply had to happen – it was always going to end in tears (Calcutt and Hammond, 2011).
Journalism also faces an additional set of problems associated with new technology: Professional journalists can no longer expect to be the first people on the scene with the capacity to record it – such is the spread of smartphones and the digital communications infrastructure. A mechanical version of news reporting can now be operated without the participation of professional journalists – with user-generators to provide the raw material and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to process it (Sharpe, 2016).
Combined with professional journalism’s fatalistic approach towards its own protagonists (as indicated above), it is hardly surprising that ‘news avoidance’ – growing numbers of people admitting to avoiding the news – was the top takeaway from this year’s Digital News Report (Reuters 2019). To regain wider relevance professional journalists must become more humanist and less determinist. Instead of tending towards teleology, they should start by recognising how those in that situation – any situation, could have acted otherwise; while in comparable circumstances we ourselves might have acted likewise.
Similarly, journalists cannot regain credibility without fully acknowledging the contradiction between people as subjects of their own lives and people as the object of pressures beyond their control. This contradiction characterises the human condition: it has shaped all that we are, including journalism itself. At its best, journalism has been able to address this, but in the hands of professional journalists Fact has frequently defaulted to the depiction of people as objects, leaving Comment and its big brother, Politics, to bring the human subject back in post festum.
Never wholly satisfactory, even this combination is no longer viable, largely because the Westminster Village grew accustomed to treating the majority population as its own object, to such an extent that the polity of social democracy has been a ghost town for a generation. In today’s context, in order to remain relevant to the majority population, professional journalism must rise above its reifying side. In the absence of social democracy and its auto-corrective function, as a matter of urgency journalism will have to find its own way of capturing the contradiction inherent in human actions. This does not mean that every factual report needs to begin with a version of Hamlet’s soliloquy. Nonetheless, news reporting needs a new form in complete contrast to the inverted pyramid, the previously predominant format which tended to present its subjects as standardised objects.
Composition is key to such developments, i.e. the more-or-less musical arrangement of words so that their current deployment also resonates with all the nuances of previous usage. Arranged in this way, words themselves become the objective correlate of the human subject as it really is – a field of various possibilities. Accordingly, in order to do justice to its subject-matter – the human subject, while retaining its characteristic sense of urgency, journalism should look to the literary form which offers the largest semantic field in the smallest number of words: the poem.
Loosely defined as heightened speech, the poetic is the mode of expression best able to take today’s top stories and slow them down long enough to draw out the contradictions they contain. Moreover, it can do this without surrendering the newness of news. Whereas the New Journalism of the 1960s re-told ‘the news as a novel’ (Wolfe and Johnson, 1975), with turnaround times to match, a poetic re-telling can be provided in timely fashion and grasped in the instant.
Re-directing the hack pack towards poetry is certain to provoke squeals of incredulity. But journalism must distance itself from the hack, or else face closing time in the last chance saloon. Nor am I advocating this counter-intuitive move for the sake of journalism alone. In a period of fragmentation, creating a shared account of the world we ourselves have made – for and on behalf of ourselves and each other, is a precondition for social renewal.
But such a concerted account cannot be left at the level of the mundane. Again, the requirement is for heightened speech, since this is the mode of expression which raises us to the level of what we have in common. The precedents for this are many and varied. As religious liturgy and public oratory are carefully composed, so they call upon individuals to give up the personal preferences and prejudices which would continue to differentiate them at the conversational level. Journalism today would do well to pay similarly close attention to formal composition. Moreover, at the high table of what we have in common, there is less likelihood of imaginative failure. At this level, where, as Terence the Roman playwright put it, ‘nothing human is alien to me’, we are more likely to envisage other people as other than they already are; more inclined to see them as potentially more than they have been so far. Thus, the form of words in which we would encounter our commonality, is also the composition through which we could recognise the extraordinary in other human beings.
News as we have known it only tells us what we already know. But when we use our imagination to approach those involved in news stories, together we make room for our common humanity. To my mind, this is the task for journalism today, and the news poem is our best chance of fulfilling it. Please read the following news poems – and judge for yourself.
Allbright, J. (2018) ‘The Micro-Propaganda Machine’, https://medium.com/s/the-micro-propaganda-machine accessed 30 October 2019.
Bell, M. (1998) ‘The Journalism of Attachment’, in M. Kieran (ed) Media Ethics, Abingdon: Routledge.
Calcutt, A. and P. Hammond (2011) Journalism Studies: a critical introduction, Abingdon: Routledge
D’Ancona, M. (2017) Post-Truth: the new war on truth and how to fight back, Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Digital, Media, Culture and Sport Committee (2019) Disinformation and ‘Fake News’: Final Report, London: House of Commons.
Harris, J. (2019) ‘Anywhere But Westminster: the real fight to take back control’, The Guardian 25 September 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/video/2019/sep/25/anywhere-but-westminster-the-real-fight-to-take-back-control-video, accessed 30 October 2019.
Livingstone, S. (1996) ‘On The Continuing Problems Of Media Effects Research’ in J. Curran and M. Gurevitch (eds) Mass Media and Society, 2nd Edition, London: Edward Arnold, pp. 305 – 324.
Pomerantsev, P. (2019) This Is Not Propaganda: adventures in the war against reality, London: Faber & Faber Reuters Institute For The Study Of Journalism (2019) Digital News Report 2019, Oxford: Reuters Institute For The Study Of Journalism http://www.digitalnewsreport.org/ accessed 30 October 2019.
Sharpe, R. (2016) ‘Manifesto For Human Journalism’, Proof: reading journalism and society http://proof-reading.org/manifesto-for-human-journalism/ accessed 30 October 2019.
Wolfe, T. and E.W. Johnson (1975) The New Journalism, London: Picador.
Anthem For Lost Youth
A Full Report Of The Under-25s Shot Or Stabbed To Death In Non-Domestic Incidents In London In 2018
Anthem For Lost Youth commemorates the young people who were killed on the streets of London in 2018. While looking back at the loss of life, Anthem also anticipates the affirmation of our humanity and the role of reporting in this reiteration. Nearly all the casualties catalogued here were male; most of them were young men from a Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) background. Some would say that the story of their demise belongs to the communities in which they lived; conversely, that no one should presume to tell their story without having lived something like it.
Apart from the question of whether such ‘communities’ really exist, this approach confines these stabbings and shootings to the time and place in which they occurred. It assumes that what began as a violent exchange between specified individuals from designated backgrounds, will stay that way forever. But the killings which took place in 2018 are already writ large across the world city of London – that is, a city which contains the whole world to which it also reaches out. Also, the existence of a worldwide news agenda, and within this the prominent position of London’s knife crime and drive-by shootings, jointly point to a further form of our own existence. Namely, besides being particular individuals, each of us is also an incarnation of the humanity common to us all. In accordance with this, the essential mode of our existence, Anthem is an account of what happened in London in 2018, written from the perspective of what we have in common.
Even before I began to write this account, we were all already affected. But the routine reporting of these events has been sadly lacking. Journalism’s traditional formats could not rise to the occasion because they tend to shrink human actions, simplify contradictions and reduce complex characters to a single, given trait. Moreover, even though it is predicated on commonality, news journalism has fallen into the habit of addressing us as cynics who will always be alienated from each other. In the attempt to face the worst and address the best in us all, I knew I would have to find a new form of journalism capable of going beyond the established routine – just as the events which I’ve tried to do justice to, require us to rise above particular identities and identify instead with the universal.
The best I’ve been able to come up with is the ‘news poem’, combining the lyrical with the factual; the actual crime scene juxtaposed with fleeting thoughts intended to carry readers across space and time. I’ve also included echoes of Homer’s Iliad (any errors in translation are my own), the ‘war music’ of Ancient Greece. The title, Anthem For Lost Youth, is all but lifted from Wilfred Owen’s poem about young men dying during the First World War, ‘Anthem For Doomed Youth’.
To those crying out today for action to stem the flow of blood, anything less than government policy supported by sufficient funding, is seen as superfluous, even self-indulgent. But to this author’s way of thinking, the effects of urgent action are bound to be limited, perhaps even counter-productive, unless complemented by collective imagination. Social structures will fail without a structure of feeling to invoke our human essence. To this end, I commend to you my Anthem For Lost Youth.
In this naming of the dead,
We shall say what needs be said.
Not on behalf of family or friends,
This is remembrance for the rest of us,
Lest our days are lived in dread.
Young people act as if they’re indestructible – an illusion which fades with age. Add this to the fact that these youths don’t count for much in the wider world, plus the pressure to gain status by getting attention, and you can see immediately how the fuse lights itself.
What does your world sound like, without that rat-a-tat beat?
What are the right words for you, now you’re beneath our feet?
Kyall Parnell (17) was stabbed when an altercation aboard the No 68 bus spilled out onto the streets of Tulse Hill, South London. His heart was punctured and Kyall was pronounced dead almost half an hour before midnight. But it was New Year’s morning before the Metropolitan Police began investigating.
Tearaway, you weren’t meant to Steal Away To Jesus.
Couldn’t wait for the New Year to come in,
Skittering across the street in what became your endgame.
Now the conventions have caught up with you.
Floral tributes taped to litter bins and a tent marks the spot
Pegged to the roadman pose in your profile pic,
And the Soundcloud tracks you posted – yes,
Yours is a short life story rife with knife-crime clichés.
We shan’t shank you with that, Kyall.
Even if it’s true you were seen at the blade’s other end,
Your punishment is the 22 minutes ’tween wounding and dying.
But how to get close to you – if for months before New Year’s, your style had you walled up alive?
At 2.35 on 1 January police were called to a flat in Bartholomew Court, near Old Street – the scene of a New Year’s party gone badly wrong. They found two men with life-threatening knife wounds. One of them was Steve Narvaez Jara (20), a student of Physics and Aerospace at the University of Hertfordshire. Steve had moved from Ecuador to live with his Spanish-speaking parents and three younger sisters in Belvedere, South-East London. He was pronounced dead at 3.26.
El amor Ecuador: the aspiring pilot might have flown back to his parents’ homeland – some day in the future he no longer has.
Now Steve has ascended elsewhere – every day’s a party there, so they say.
Funds for his funeral raised online by family, friends and perfect strangers, rose far above the asking.
Enough to give the bereaved a bit of a lift.
Before he was stabbed to death in Shepherd’s Bush, West London, Harry Uzoka (25) had begun to make a name for himself as a fashion model. His killer, George Koh, was already jealous of this success, but relations between the two men went from bad to worse after George claimed to have slept with Harry’s girlfriend. At this, Harry demanded a meeting with George to set him straight. On 11 January George showed up for the showdown with two of his friends; all three were weaponised.
Hurry up, Harry, they’re closing in on you.
Running past the council-built houses – Poundland more than Prada, chased by three youths in puffa jackets, the male model moves out of shot (it’s a Met Police release made from CCTV).
Preceding the police video playing on a London news website, there’s a glossy advert Harry could easily have appeared in.
Just the place where George was keen to be seen.
Jump cut to the three hoodies huddled together in the stairwell: wipe the blade; check the phone.
Hiding the crime; hoping there’s something to show for it?
Later, observe George’s up-tick from drab-land to brand-scape:
Shedding that hot stuff which lipstick only imitates.
Awaiting sentence for possession of drugs with intent to supply, on 31 January Khader Ahmed Saleh (25) was stabbed to death inside HMP Wormwood Scrubs, West London. Khader had survived conflict in Somalia and the journey to the UK, but not the British prison system. His wife and family have complained bitterly about the system’s failure to protect him.
Prison officers are also asking for protection: staff at the Scrubs said they were attacked 90 times from July to December 2017.
Garlands worn by groom and bride
Pictures of a blessed day, worlds away from life inside.
From what your wife has been saying since, sounds like you knew they were coming for you.
Should she have petitioned the Queen directly? May it please Your Majesty to protect my husband while you are detaining him.
But how much could the screws do for you, Khader, if they’re none too safe themselves?
At 1.30 on 3 February police were called to St Mary’s Close, Tottenham, where Kwabena Nelson (22) had been attacked by a group of men armed with knives. The men alighted from their car – a Honda Civic, and surrounded his – also a Honda Civic. Nothing Civic about what followed. By 3.00 ‘Kobi’ was dead from stab wounds.
Did you get out to stop them banging on the roof?
Or were you dragged out?
Curled up like a baby as the silver flashed in and out of you.
Months later, your mother Serwah said: ‘I take each day as it comes. Sometimes I have to take each hour.’
There were more flashes of silver than hours on a clock face.
Try me if you dare! Men will see the moment when your dark blood flows and gushes in response to my spear.
Achilles in Homer’s Iliad, Book 1, 354-5
On 3 February a group of youths on bikes cornered 19-year-old Hasan Oscan in an unlit car park, and stabbed him to death. After a reported assault in 2017, Hasan had moved out of East London to Kent, returning to his parents’ home only at weekends. The fatal attack took place as he was on his way back from a party in Barking. Hasan Oscan was pronounced dead at 22.55.
Quite the character, with your comb over and mutton chop sideburns.
Your father’s is a fish restaurant. Waiting at tables, you seemed to be in your element.
Running out of breath that night, helpless as a fish out of water.
Perhaps your personality consisted of contrasting elements, some submerged so your parents knew nothing of them.
Now your dad is fading to grey, while your mother’s face is coarse with grief.
On 14 February first in a car and then on foot, four youths chased Lord Promise Nkenda (17) and brought him down in Canning Town.
The Angels knocked you over first – drove at you in a BMW.
Then the chariot chase – well, you were on foot.
When you made it into the alleyway did you think you’d have to remain on Earth full threescore years and ten?
Surely you knew: Angels can run as well as joyride.
The pathologist counted 15 hallelujahs before your soul was ready to rise; 15 knife-swipes that sent you to Heaven.
They must have been Angels because of the name of the place they took you from: Goldwing Close.
On 18 February Lewis ‘Dotty’ Blackman (19) came to the party uninvited, arriving at a West London address with nine Camden friends plus the other ‘friends’ some of them were carrying. But the Hackney boys on the guest-list ran the gate-crashers out of the flat, and chased them down the road. Lewis was attacked in Logan Place after he turned to face his pursuers. Caught and stabbed 14 times, he died there in the street.
Don’t dare depart from the script: Kensington address, rented thro’ Airbnb for one night only.
Invites to Hackney-ites, but such sweet danger (everyone knows how it goes) when Camden comes calling with knives. And is that a gun?
Young Montagues, Capulets and the party girl almost young enough for Juliet.
So when does it change from dancing and prancing, pranking and performance? What was it that took it to snuffed-out solemnity?
You stagger; they’re swaggering back indoors.
Do they still not see the fatality?
Sadiq and Abdikarim
At around half-past-eight on 20 February, Sadiq Aadam Mohamad (20) died of knife wounds near Euston station. Five months earlier, Sadiq’s elder brother had died in similar circumstances. Later that evening, Abdikarim Hassan (17) was fatally stabbed in Kentish Town. In the short time between the 20 February killings, the killers drove to East London and back, attacking two more young men en route. But they survived.
Born with barely a year between, now both ended on a knife’s edge; only months apart, you and your brother.
Mother saw you lying there, cordoned off.
Called, and heard your ringtone from inside the crime zone.
Though younger, tonight’s second victim was in some ways your senior.
Arrested and charged in 2017, Abdikarim had been tagged for knife crime long before he was taken to the morgue.
On 27 February Amir Ellouzi (24) died in hospital of gunshot wounds. A week earlier on Old Pye Street, Westminster, he’d been shot in the neck.
Did anyone come to visit you in hospital?
There’s so little said about your demise.
From not much of this and the lack of that,
Who knows what to surmise?
I’ll strip your clothes off you, Cloak, tunic and the rags round your balls, And whip you bawling butt-naked back to the speedy ships.
Odysseus in Homer’s Iliad Book 2, 306-7
Kelva Smith (20) died at the hands of someone he used to hang out with. They argued over a motorbike that Kelva had stolen, which was, in turn, stolen from him. At teatime on 5 March he was fatally stabbed in Albert Road, South Norwood.
Former friends fall out over a nicked bike, neither one the rightful owner.
Whoever gets to keep it, wherever will it take you?
Over the hills and far away? Or funding a few weeks’
PlayStation along with something to smoke?
The life of low-level crime like an old shoe to be slipped into.
Until it snakes up and bites you for stepping on it.
At 00.30 on 8 March a moped mounted the pavement in front of the Vue cinema in Wood Green. The pillion rider fired several rounds through plate glass windows, hitting a man standing in the foyer. Kelvin Odunuyi (19) was taken by ambulance to a central London hospital where he died shortly afterwards of a gunshot wound to the head.
Instead of a roadman’s death, you might have been an oil man, capping the Nigeria connection.
Father has property there. Paid for his boy to go to school in Yorkshire, but £25k p.a.’s still not enough to keep him safe.
They touch you up, your Mum and Dad. She wanted to make it clear they’d already moved out to Harrow; back in Wood Green he had no business being.
But if Kelvin was busy taking care, or just happened to be there, does it even matter?
On 14 March Lyndon Davis aka Lynx was stabbed in Padnall Road, Chadwell Heath. At 20.30 he was found in nearby Nash Road. Chased through his own estate, Lyndon seems to have kept on running even after he was knifed. The 18-year-old rapper was rushed to hospital but pronounced dead at 1.16 the following morning.
Beware the Ides of March!
Did you ever hear the one about Julius Caesar?
Before the start of play that fateful day,
Your destiny already done:
Youth with rueful smile, smiles no more
Little Brutuses later charged with murder.
Persons approaching a car parked in Essex Close, Walthamstow. Inside the vehicle, Joseph Williams-Torres (20), former carpentry student at Walthamstow College. Gunshots fired through the car window. Air Ambulance in attendance at 21.30 on 14 March. Joseph pronounced dead on the way to hospital.
Never a joiner now you’re blown apart.
Perhaps too chippie for your own good – ouch!
Poor puns no more absurd than your demise.
Contrasting photos pop the question:
You went down in which guise – clean-cut blazer guy
Or junior Jamiroquai?
In the early hours of 17 March, Russell Jordan James (23) was with a friend by the row of shops on South Street, Enfield, when he was blasted with a shotgun and both of them were stabbed. Four hooded figures ran away up the alleyway as Russell and his friend slumped down. The friend recovered; Russell was pronounced dead at 1.14.
The two of you attended to in the blue light of the ambulance: one sitting up, blanket wrapped around; the other flat as a pancake.
Giving up shifts in the betting shop to work for a better degree. Couple of weeks away from finishing but this was to be your only result.
Slicked back hair, business attire with a thin gold chain on top. You would have suited The Apprentice.
Except you were fired first.
The group that picked on Beniamin Pieknyi (20), recently arrived from Romania, was as cosmopolitan as London itself. In the old Stratford Centre across the road from the new mall, Westfield, a motley crew ganged up on Beniamin and his companion, goading them and assaulting them until a security guard came over to break it up. The guard was escorting the two Romanians out of the building when Beniamin was rushed into the last shop before the exit. There he was beaten and stabbed through the heart. His time of death was given as 22.30 on 20 March.
Free from work for a night on the town
Fresh-faced and fanciable – how many
Hearts a-flutter at this cherub in a young man’s body?
With your Bieber-ish looks and the light in your eyes,
Did you make them feel like the animals they became?
And you’re the one from Eastern Europe. It’s you
Who’s supposed to be uncouth and horny-handed.
At 1.00 on 28 March Malachi Brooks, a 21-year-old carpenter, was walking home along Surrey Lane, Battersea, when he was ambushed by three men wearing hoods and balaclavas. They got out of a Nissan Micra, stabbed him, then got back in and drove off. Police and paramedics rushed to the scene but Malachi died there less than an hour later. Cause of death: stab wound to the chest. The getaway car was subsequently set alight.
Sister and mother appear at the Metropolitan Police press conference. The appeal for witnesses to come forward, is likely to be more effective coming from them. They sit together, both wearing commemorative T-shirts. But only Malachi’s sister has the strength to talk. His mother doesn’t even know where to look, such is the disabling effect of her grief.
On 29 March someone drove Reece Tshoma (23) to hospital after he was stabbed in the neck in Nathan Way, Thamesmead. But he died later that evening.
Industrial estate, a bus stop, waste ground alongside the railway line. Had to be a stabbing because Gunning Road is on the other side of the tracks.
Different day, one hand inside your trackies for the casual pose.
Nike, nach. Not even tracheotomy will save you now.
Precious little said about your life or death. Were you no one’s precious boy? Someone drove you to the hospital, so you can’t have been friendless.
Since no one’s cut their tongues out, as far as we know, perhaps it is as the cliché would say:
Outside the gang there’s neither life nor loyalty.
In the small hours of 1 April Devoy Burton-Stapleton (20) was stabbed to death on his way home from a bar in Wandsworth, South London. He died in a part of Earlsfield dubbed ‘nappy valley’ because of the many prosperous parents who choose to raise children there.
Yours was an upmarket killing – more Waitrose than Iceland.
Flowers that mark the spot mixed with bottles of Bolly in a cocktail of remembrance.
With what are they intoxicated, these friends of the deceased?
Stooping down to leave their tokens of respect,
Who dress so urban in the midst of suburbia.
The spear sliced into his back between the shoulders Chewing up his flesh and poking out through his ribs – he came crashing down and out, his armour ringing aloud.
Agamemnon kills Odius, Homer’s Iliad, Book 5, 45-7
On Easter Monday evening, shots were fired from a moving vehicle at a group of friends hanging out on Chalgrove Road, Tottenham. When Tanesha Melbourne-Blake collapsed, the people she was with thought she was having a panic attack. But the seventeen-year-old had been hit in the chest, and at 22.43 she was pronounced dead.
Couldn’t stay in to watch Lenny Henry rootsing round the Caribbean. No way; out to boyfriend’s instead.
Studying childcare at sixth-form, maybe a social worker; suddenly lifted out of all that – above and beyond.
Her brother’d promised: you’ll be a star someday. Now she’s cover girl for a yearbook of the dead.
Doe eyes and duck face, recycled Instagrams resurrect her. From poses to posies of remembrance, Tanesha lives like never before.
Still, the body on the ground. Sounds like mortality, rhymes with actuality, the something else that’s blown away.
Shortly before 22.00 on 2 April, Amaan Shakoor (16) was standing with a friend outside Walthamstow Leisure Centre when they were approached by two hooded youths who fired a gun then fired again, hitting Amaan in the eye. He died in hospital the following day, surrounded by family members.
They knew there was nothing more anyone could do.
Handsome in your kurti, growing a beard because you could.
Suddenly there’s a £10k reward ‘for information leading to….’
What more his father wouldn’t do if only there was something?
The bravest thing, Daddio, telling them to turn off the machine.
Police officers and an off-duty paramedic tried to save Israel Ogunsola (18) after two youths attacked him in Link Street off Morning Lane, Hackney. They’d got out of their parked car as Israel rode past on his pushbike. At 20.24 on 4 April he was pronounced dead.
Wounded Israel presents himself to police officers for possibly the only time in his life.
Previously an officer was hurt chasing the car he was TWOCing. Convicted of actual bodily harm, he was waiting to be sentenced pending medical reports.
On New Year’s Day they’d found him next to Steve Jara, and he was the one to recover.
But when Easter came round there were no more resurrections. Already knifed in the arm, back and thigh, what ends Israel is a sharp blow to the heart.
On his way home from the West Ham game Sami Sidhom took a detour to avoid a commotion in the street. Minutes later three youths stabbed and wounded him. He staggered on for a short distance but collapsed in Chestnut Avenue, Forest Gate, only yards from home. Neighbours rushed to assist him but Sami was pronounced dead at 23.27 on 16 April.
Model student, literally: poster boy for Newham Schools 2012.
The family’s made a good go of it here: IT OK since arriving from Sudan.
Now try as he might, his father’s face has a look that says:
The world anew’s beyond me; and now forever shall be.
Police were called to assist a man who had been stabbed in Seven Sisters Road, North London. In addition, on nearby Roth Walk they found Kwasi Anim-Boadu (20), also stabbed. The other man recovered in hospital but at 3.00 on 21 April, Kwasi was pronounced dead at the scene.
When the fight started, life itself spilled out of the house party. No telling where it’d end up or who it would leave behind.
Known as Junior, also known as Lavish, the H&M Moschino mix would have been right up your street. Now you’re lying there instead.
With all the commotion, did you finally feel like a celebrity?
Were you warmed by the attention, or too cold too soon to notice it?
Rhyhiem Ainsworth Barton (17) died of gunshot wounds shortly before 19.00 on 5 May. As featured by dj Tim Westwood, Rhyhiem was a member of Moscow 17, the Camberwell rappers reportedly ‘drilling’ against Peckham’s Zone 2.
His mother saw it coming. Tried sending him to Jamaica for a while, away from everything. But it wasn’t long enough.
Who knows when the war of words becomes a river of blood? Even Enoch Powell didn’t foresee them foaming themselves.
Two days later, out on the street in leggings and a Marvel Heroes wraparound, bucket and brush in hand, Pretana Morgan (38) is scrubbing her son’s blood off the pavement.
On top of a waist-high wall she sets out mementos of her lost boy, including the Maternity tag from before he was named.
With cameras locked on to her, she sends a message to the police, calling for a curfew to shut down all this violence. Same goes for the youth themselves, for the sake of the children you don’t have yet.
Is she speaking out of anger, sadness or a sense of public duty? Who can tell how much of each?
During the evening of 15 May Osman Shidane (20) went into Ruislip town centre to buy cannabis from a youth he’d had dealings with before. This time the deal went wrong. Osman ran off, chased by the youth who caught him and stabbed him three times. He died in hospital three days later.
‘Family man’ his family say
Dry because he’s Muslim
In Sales all day
He went to buy some blow,
Y’know, to each his own.
He couldn’t have known
He’d be the barley mow.
Scythed down by a sixteen-year-old
Who had him in a headlock and knifed him thrice.
Osman fell exactly where Jean Townsend was strangled 64 years before. Jean was a theatrical costumier who worked in the West End. Osman, whose family hails from Somalia, was born in Denmark but had lived in London for 15 years – long enough to become an Arsenal fan and a salesperson for a utilities company.
They are centuries apart, right? There’s a world of difference between them. Yet to dispose of the murder weapon Osman’s killer took a cab to Ruislip Lido. He may have known nothing of mid-century, middle class Metroland, lovingly mocked by the poet John Betjeman. But echoes of that era are audible nonetheless.
At 11.30 on 17 May police officers in Barking, East London, attended Abdulrahman Nassor Juma (23), who had been stabbed. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Found in Crows Road, someone’s been pecking at you with knives.
In the photo issued by the Met, you look presentable enough in a dinner jacket and white shirt.
In the attention economy you still don’t count for much. Your eight-syllable name’s nearly as long as news reports of your death.
Now Menelaus, famous for wielding a spear, ran him through between the shoulder blades as he charged forwards, gouging out flesh, piercing through his chest.
Melenaus kills Scamandrius, Homer’s Iliad Book 5, 60-2
On 11 June Joshua Boadu (23) was stabbed during ‘an altercation involving a group of males’ outside Helen Taylor House in Lindsey Street, Bermondsey. He took shelter in a property in nearby Lucey Way. From there he was taken to King’s College Hospital where he remained on life support for 11 days.
AKA ‘SJ’, Joshua was a quiet, Christian man who died quietly.
At the same hospital he was born in, as if neatness is next to godliness.
Couldn’t have made any noise ’cos his brainstem had stopped responding days ago. But this stout heart kept beating.
He’d been stabbed once before, soon after starting secondary school, so the family moved to Bermondsey from Peckham.
As Josh grew up the area went upmarket. Must have seemed like the right move on all counts.
Worse still, only one day later he would have been flying to Canada for a family wedding.
Police were already at the scene when Jordan Douherty (15) was killed. Too many people had turned up to a birthday party at Romford’s Clockhouse Community Centre on 23 June. The party was called off, and officers were trying to disperse a hostile crowd outside. In the middle of this mêlée, Jordan, who performed as Young Valenti for a drill group called C17, was chased by a large group of youths, then circled and attacked by some of them. He was already on the ground – kicked and stamped – when a 17-year-old stabbed him twice. The knife pierced the left ventricle, leading to drastic blood loss which proved fatal. But Jordan managed to rise to his feet and flee the scene – only to be attacked by another group a short distance away.
Cocksure in the police-released photo, you were the youth to be seen to beat.
Beat him, tear him like a side of beef; film it and put it on Snapchat. Already dying when others had to have a second go.
Another driller killed. Even if you’re the perpetrator, not the victim, the detective wants you all to know that ‘life’ means caged, forgotten – until it’s passed you by.
Isn’t that where they think they are already, these boys and their bloody war music?
In Cavendish Road, Edmonton, at 18.30 on 27 June, there was a fight between men wielding baseball bats. By the end of it, Enfield’s Ishak Tacine (20) lay dying from multiple stab wounds. He was pronounced dead at 19.20.
With hair swept back and shades on top, we’d take you for an Italian footballer.
With a name like that you’d expect the God of Abraham to take you out from under the knife, replacing you at the last minute with a sacrificial lamb.
But you were the one. And slaughter it was.
The officer bemoans that nowadays the knives go in repeatedly. Not the single point which might have been made five years ago.
An eye-witness observed combatants in a state of frenzy:
One without a shirt, another with a T-shirt over his head, they came running….
Do we compare this to cold-blooded murder – and despair?
At 12.30 on 12 July, Katrina Makunova (17) was fatally stabbed at the entrance to a block of flats on Brisbane Road, Camberwell. She died at the scene. Shortly afterwards a man was arrested and charged with manslaughter.
You were just 17 when he saw you standing there…
Wanting to be a beautician and humanitarian: how contrarian.
Contrary as teenagers are bound to be. Even to excess, like your eye make-up.
Early evening, 26 July, Denmark Road, South London. Latwaan Griffiths (18) was riding pillion on a scooter en route to King’s College Hospital when he lost consciousness. The driver stopped, half-pushed, half-lifted Latwaan to the ground, called for passers-by to assist him, and rode off. They did the best they could until an ambulance arrived, but Latwaan died from stab wounds in the early hours of the following day.
Enough gold in your mouth to show you’re not poor.
Another performer, this one drilled with the Harlem Spartans, allied to Moscow 17.
‘Hang on’, the rider shouted. Didn’t want to lose you, couldn’t risk staying with you.
What’s any of this to do with the warriors of Ancient Greece?
Their violence was also a performance, similarly bound by unrelenting codes.
Shortly before 19.30 on 1 August, Sidique Kamara (23) was fatally stabbed in Warham Street, South London, close to the spot where Rhyhiem Ainsworth Barton was shot dead in May. They were both members of Moscow 17, the drill group based in Camberwell’s Barton Estate. Neither one made it to hospital.
You performed on screen under the name ‘Incognito’.
Wishing now you were unseen, instead of ‘cheffed up’ on the street?
Corn crows and a brown suit – was that for the days in court? Old Bailey, no less, so you won’t be wearing your Arsenal chain.
Acquitted of murder in January – maybe it made you savour your freedom. Yet you must have heard it said: the postman always rings twice.
In the early hours of 5 August, Malik Chattun (22) died from a single stab wound after a ‘10-man brawl’ broke out on the Cambridge Gardens Estate in the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames.
Another part of London, where housing estates are few and far. But the fast food outlets across the road – pizza, fried chicken – would fill a hole in anyone’s Murder Mile.
Against the low wall, bunches of flowers laid out in a row. Handwritten notes, carefully composed.
Close friends and relatives of ‘Money Mally’ Malik cannot help but address him as if he’s still alive.
Fine and upstanding, his is the tallest picture on the Met Police website.
Shortly before midnight on 25 August, Shevaun Sorrell (22) was involved in an altercation at the corner of Creek Road and Deptford Church Street. He received multiple stab wounds, one of which proved fatal. Shevaun died in hospital about half an hour later.
The spot where you fell is overlooked by a bus stop plastered with an anti-knife crime poster. ‘Knife Free Since 30.8.2015,’ it says, beneath the photo of a happy lad.
If only your attackers had read it and taken the point to heart.
Instead of yours.
Your old man – he’s 70 – can’t get his head around it: arrived from Jamaica 60 years ago, worked on the railways year after year, brought up his children to believe in family values.
You were good with your hands, he says, you knew about computers. You’d soon have moved on from that dead-end job in a pound shop.
On 27 August the body of Abdi Ali (17) was found in the loft of a house a few streets away from his family home in Enfield. Abdi died of stab wounds to the chest and blunt force trauma to the head. He’d been dead since December.
Hell knows what eight months’ decomposition did to your fine features. Who knows why there was so little coverage of your disappearance, as reported to the authorities on 31 December?
What, then, of the five-day wait between notification that a body had been found, and formal identification?
Was it that the labs were busy? Were the morticians making the remains as presentable as possible? Could it have been that the boy was brown?
Maybe the police were embarrassed about what hadn’t been done and never would be, until that tip-off came in.
Ismail Tanrikulu (22) died of gunshot wounds on 3 September. He was found in Tottenham Cemetery at around 8.00, and declared dead shortly afterwards.
A friend told the Evening Standard: people had called round for him and smashed up his mother’s Merc when he wasn’t at home. Then he got a call to go to the cemetery at 4.30. His cousin drove him, sat in the car, heard the shots.
You had the fringe, the beard and the chain – you could have been an extra in Dogs of Berlin. But at school you were ‘safe hands’ – the rock who played in goal.
By late summer were you all set for the cemetery or similar?
Or come winter could you have become something else?
On 18 September in Corinne Road, Tufnell Park, North London, Ali Al Har (25) was stabbed in the leg. The blade pierced the femoral artery and blood loss proved fatal.
Neatly bearded with glasses – geeky but fashionable, you look like a newly qualified teacher.
An old soldier tried to save you, says you’d lost about four pints.
Tried to stem the flow but it was ‘everywhere’. Whatever he did, was no use.
Meriones grabbed him fast, tackling him hard and spearing him low down in the right buttock. The point rammed in under the pelvis, jabbing, puncturing the bladder – he fell to his knees, screeching, while death twirled around him.
Meriones kills Phereclus, Homer’s Iliad Book 5, 72-5
Elyon Poku (20) was dj-ing at a friend’s eighteenth birthday party when he got into a fight and was stabbed. At 00.45 the music stopped. Neighbours were relieved the party had ended. But there was shouting and screaming and people running away along Wilderton Street, Stamford Hill. Elyon was taken to hospital along with two other partygoers, both of whom recovered from their injuries. Whereas he died of shock and haemorrhage at 4.30 on 22 September.
When Saturday comes you’re already gone.
The marquee still standing in the back garden,
Inside – flotsam and jetsam from any teenage gathering.
Is that how it felt as you lay there – messy, incomplete?
Or was it more intense than anything you ever lived through?
They waved you off in a white coffin drawn by white horses.
Now your father sleeps in your room, he says, so your mother doesn’t get scared of the place.
Sitting in a car on a Saturday night, Guled Farah (19) was fatally wounded in a drive-by shooting. Friends drove him from the crime scene in Vallentin Road, Walthamstow, to nearby Whipps Cross Hospital, where at 23.38 on 22 September Guled was pronounced dead from a gunshot wound to the chest.
Just got a job in a Green Park restaurant. Up West each day, you’d take the District Line from your East Ham home, crossing over to the Jubilee Line at West Ham.
There the journey begins anew: changing faces, might have changed you. Through Canary Wharf where the money’s made, on to the station nearest the Ritz, where they come to spend it.