Tony is one of the Old Guard Punk Poets who emerged in the original Punk Poet uprisings in the UK. Currently, he lives in France, where he does a handful of things associated with the arts – among them writing, theatre and directing. This work was selected principally because this site is very sympathetic to the immigrant experience, or the emigrant experience – whichever angle you choose to view it from. Leaving a country is very much about abandoning your old conditioning and this poem captures that better than many full-length immigrant memoirs. We look forward to publishing more from Tony. You can find more of his work at tonystowers.com
Being British abroad
The thing about being British abroad’s though you never really
change everything else around you does – the familiar’s
suddenly strange. A square peg in a round hole, you cling like truth to a liar
trying to make your new world bend to your desire.
You can follow your national teams to bolster your ID
and sports you never cared about suddenly get priority.
You can wave a Union Jack or stick GB on your car,
try to hold the crowd back while queuing vainly at the bar,
insist on milk in your coffee and sweetener in your tea,
read English papers and Radio Four at three,
eat an English breakfast, spill ketchup on your vest,
boast about the good old days and on your laurels rest.
Accepted concepts taken as gospel melt like molten wax
dentist, banking, directions, car trouble, an ache, admin, tax.
Struggling to explain your needs within a dictionary’s pages,
you mime and grunt like a stupid twit, inside frustration rages.
You flounder in silly arguments trying to get your point across
and get into trouble at work by disagreeing with your Boss.
‘You don’t unders-tand!’ becomes your daily plea.
The penny drops: ‘Who don’t understand? O my God, it’s me!’
But it’s a losing battle ’cause the world is bigger than you,
grinds you down, wears you out like a walking stick or a shoe,
beats you up, slaps your chops and orders you to sober up
just because you won the war and once won the world cup.
You were told GB was everything, beyond a mere zoo,
a pond to dip your toes in but cloudy not clear and blue
yet the further you go away from it, the smaller GB gets
and all you held important shrinks and like a sun, it sets..
And you want to remain a part of it but must accept you are
abandon worn-out friendships but for new ones lose your heart.
‘This is the centre of the world!’ you think, but then you
stumble and fall
and live abroad and realise the world has no centre at all.
The less adventurous say: ‘Not me! I’d miss family and friends’
but that’s not hope of change talking, that’s fear of changing
Born and dead in the very same place while all you do is moan
but were you ever really challenged, ever left your comfort
If we all spoke the same language we’d end up saying the
a world of ‘Can’t’ and ‘Won’t’ and the negativity that brings.
A scientific experiment – labelled and analzyed,
trying to shape it to our ends instead of rationalized.
And those who stay behind get defensive when criticised,
they think you’re criticising them but you’re simply politicised!
Media, history, tradition, culture – it’s really a double-edged
it can make you strong at home but can be meaningless
The biggest surprise I ever had was teaching in a French
I asked a history question, was left looking a fool:
‘What happened in England in 1066?’ – I saw 30 faces blank
until one brave kid raised his hand and said ‘Ze English invented
Nationalists talk of ‘us and them’, ‘foreigner’ clichés abound,
but we’re migrants in a rudderless boat going round and round
and round.If all you know is only one way then you never see the rest,
the Self is never challenged nor convictions put to the test.
British life is island life – a drawbridge and a moat,
pull it up, shut out the strife like an immigrant in a boat.
Drip-fed digital media, our attention’s soon diverted
and we end up talking to ourselves or preaching to the
Being British abroad is Pandora’s box –
once opened, never shut.
Do I regret opening it? Ha!
I’d like to say ‘no’, but . . .