Entry - MAG Poetry Prize 2010

Breaking the silence when White meets Black

by William West

On meeting you

I encounter our shared colonial history
You are too polite to mention it
But I wonder at the rage
That I guess lies beneath

I stay in a posh hotel
That I haven't even paid for
And I get a sanitised tour of your proud country
But my hotel
Was a retreat centre
For British Army officers
And I am haunted
By stories of the Mau Mau uprising
And the subsequent brutality against ordinary Kenyans.

I was only 13 at the time
So you tell me I'm not responsible
But the scars remain
And the ghosts
And the silence
And we can't talk about it

I break the silence in front of 300 black Africans
You are still polite with me
But then I hear a painful story
From an old man
And it still hurts him today
We embrace
And he finally accepts his white son-in-law

Added: 16.04.2010

Judges' comments on this poem


A heavyweight subject tackled skillfully. The poem nicely came full circle at its end.