Look Back in Anger: A poem for Grenfell

For all the negative press football and football supporters get, one couldn’t help but feel a little choked up on Tuesday night when the French and English national teams and their fans came together to sing Manchester’s anthem Don’t Look Back in Anger in an effort to remind the global community of football’s unifying spirit in times of adversity. The message of solidarity echoed the repeat fixture two years ago when both sets of fans sang La Marseillaise at Wembley in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks. Both equally horrifying events, both symbolic gestures of the communal grief felt on either side of the Channel.

Neither event, however, could have prepared us for what was to happen in North Kensington in the hours proceeding Tuesday’s fixture. A fire started in the early hours of Wednesday morning spread uncontrollably through the Granfell Tower apartment block, soon engulfing the 24 floors and some 120 homes. Three days on it is still unclear how many people perished in the fire, but estimates are that it may be in the hundreds. Questions over the safety of the building now hang in the air and as the community unites to find clothes, shelter and sustenance for the affected residents, the mood has started to turn from one of shock and disbelief to one of anger.

This afternoon an estimated 1,400 people marched on Kensington and Chelsea Town Hall demanding “justice for Grenfell”. The protests came as evidence mounted to suggest austerity and crippling government cut backs are at the heart of the disaster. Claims that fire-resistant cladding for Grenfell Tower would have cost just £5,000 have resulted in fury, and a lack of response from the local authorities has also accentuated the belief that there is a growing disconnect between the council and the community. In Gaby Hinsliff’s words, Grenfell was a shameful symbol of a state that didn’t care.

If more evidence emerges to suggest that there is a connection between government policy and the tragic events that unfolded on Wednesday morning then the public will have something they haven’t had in the previous disasters that have hit the nation; a target. Where individual, mindless acts of terrorism have resulted in solidarity and a clear prerogative to keep up our normal lives in spite of those who seek to disrupt them, this disaster may well do the opposite. Things now have to change and life cannot be allowed to go on as it was if we are to prevent it happening again.

As Les Nicholls so eloquently describes in this poem, in this instance, we do have a right to look back in anger.

LOOK BACK IN ANGER, a poem by Les Nicholls

Timber plastic concrete and steel

Burned with a fury that hardly seems real

Taking with it the old the young of varying races

Scenes etched on our minds of their terrified faces

Babies mothers husbands and friends

The names of the missing on a list without end

Look back in anger now with total disgust

Betrayed by those people in whom they should trust

This was no act of god this was utter neglect

This was a lack of compassion and social respect

Look back in anger at the warnings ignored

Shunned by their landlord to whom they implored

We are shocked as a nation as this horror unfolds

And full of emotion as the stories are told

We have seen religion and culture all put aside

United in anger for all those that died

A public inquiry will not bring back the dead

it will not help those people who need to be sheltered and fed

Look back in anger as they talk and debate

While anger and despair haunt those left to wait

Look back in anger at the political spin

But the anger now rises as our patience grows thin

This tragedy occurred in a land of prosperity

In a home for the poor besieged by austerity

This suffering was caused by ignorance and conceit

It was an avoidable  horror we must never repeat


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2 Responses

  1. Os

    To Hell with that poem.
    Look back in the same anger you looked back with at the terrorist attacks of the last few months.
    Look for the justice for the vaporised schoolgirls. Look for the justice for the foreign nationals with limbs crushed to a bloody pulp by runaway vans. Look for the justice for the comatose parents in hospital having shrapnel removed from their vital organs not even knowing whether their children are alive or dead.

    When you can tell me that suicide attacks are not part and parcel of living in British cities, THEN I’ll look back in anger at a residential tower fire.

    1. Rip Bulkeley

      Misses the point entirely. The Grenfell Tower atrocity was self-inflicted on our society by itself, and therefore symbolizes many similar unnecessary injustices right across the page.

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