The Good Old Cause

The Stare’s Nest has been fun to run but it was taking over my life so I decided to retire it, at least for a while. Other websites focussed on social justice and politics have recently popped up.

Bill Herbert and Andy Jackson’s New Boots and Pantisocracies is an excellent and wide ranging webzine that was only meant to continue for 100 days after the election – but as I found with the Nest, there’s so much to say, and they have kept it going with a new poem every day. There’s some great poetry from a wide range of poets on NB&P, and I am very proud to be the poet for Day 18, with a poem about the protests that happened in London immediately after the General Election; how the mainstream media hardly covered them but how social media is a powerful tool for letting us know what’s going on.

Marie Lightman has started a lovely website inspired by the refugee crisis. Writers for Calais Refugees is full of compassionate poems about war, suffering, humanity and exile. Filled with my usual hubris, I tried a poem that discusses the entire history of human migration from the Year Dot. The point was to illustrate how people have always been moving, since human history began, and we are all, in essence, migrants.

Thanks to Andy, Bill and Marie for including my poems in their wonderful poetry projects.

There’s been  a fair amount of discussion recently about political poetry. Why are so many poets left wing? Have there been any really right wing poets? Well, a lot of poets are quite poor, if that is their day job. A lot seem to work in the public sector; this generally means they are empathetic, and empathy and poetry seem to be closely linked. But can we postulate cause and effect?

I think we can. I believe that poetry, at its best, is the most direct way of communicating between two minds. A poet can make his or her reader see what they see, feel what they feel, experience what they experience. A poem is nearly a magic spell for conjuring up emotions. Anyone who reads enough poetry steps into another person’s mind and gains a sense of what it is like to be that person. Through poems I’ve lost a daughter, seen my father murdered, lived in fear of forced marriage and FGM, given birth, been treated for cancer, cared for a loved one with cancer, been shot at, been addicted to drugs, refused to mourn for a child killed by fire. Well, just a little bit. But it is hard to hate and to discriminate when you hear from poets such vivid first hand accounts of humanity at its best and worst. You tend to realise that we have more to unite us as human beings thanto divide us. Does poetry make you left wing? Well, not always. There’s also something of a zeitgeist thing; poets have sometimes glorified war, sneered at the working class, basked in public school privilege and shouldered the White Man’s burden (while grudgingly deciding that Gunga Din might actually have some good points after all) to full jingoistic effect.. Maybe we are more sophisticated these days, or more self-aware, but I do think there’s a cause and effect relationship. Poetry helps us walk a mile in another’s shoes, which builds our capacity for empathy, which makes us want to do something about the injustice in the world. And that’s a left-wing stance.