The Poets Have Been Silent

Roger McGough, Mersey Poet and National Treasure, has been persuaded by Waitrose to judge poems for their Year of Poetry. The idea seems to be that the winning entries are posted to the competition page and also are displayed in actual Waitrose supermarkets. I have to say I haven’t seen any in store yet (I now live 45 miles from the nearest Waitrose – *shocked face*), and the first round results seem to indicate that one needs to be either a small child or a grandparent to be selected. I don’t know what has happened to Round 2 of the competition but Round 1 results can be seen here. Undeterred, I sent a poem in for Round 2 – and not only have I not heard that I won (!) but the whole competition seems to have folded. So, because you won’t see it in Waitrose, I decided to donate my cheese poem to the Internet.

Not a lot of people know that a couple of years ago I was looking into the idea of becoming a cheesemaker. I went on a proper course and made experimental cheese batches in my own kitchen.  It looked like this:

#001 Chaource style September 2011 003

So, I wrote a poem inspired by a quote from writer and all round smart-arse G.K. Chesterton, who obviously thought he was being funny when he said: The poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.  I regard statements like that as a challenge. It’s only when you get to do some cheesemaking that you realise what a poetic subject cheese actually is.

On the Subject of Cheese

The poets have been silent on the subject of cheese;
of milk, gone bad, come good again,
milk, shapeshifted into solid character
by sly bacteria, the maker’s hands
and the wild herbs of the pasture.
Cheese is poetry in edible form;
the subtle alchemy of heat, salt, pressure,
the white and blue moods of ripening mould
and the long, cool patience of the cellar.


Is it a blog? Is it a ‘zine? Is it a Stare?

the Stare's Nest main

Two things happened recently which made me more than a bit cross. One was the results of the European and local elections at the end of May, which gave the noxious UKIP, and its politics of fear, a much larger say in our national life than it deserves; the other was the outgoing Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman having a go at poets for “conniving in their own irrelevance” and not making poetry accessible to the masses. As often happens with the creation of new ideas – and many new poems – I found the two issues colliding in my head, and The Stare’s Nest is the result.

Supposing poets wrote about current affairs – the kind of thing you see on the TV news, or on the internet, or on the front page of the Daily Mail? Supposing poets got angry about disability rights, or the minimum wage, or the demonisation of immigrants, or education or austerity? Because poets call the powerful to account, don’t they?

Supposing poets refused to be cowed by the media’s insistence that we are all going to hell in a handcart, and instead, told stories of the wonderful Romanians who live next door, or the day they made a real connection with somebody from a different race, or language, or generation? Suppose they celebrated random acts of kindness, or imagined a future where we’ve got over some of our gloom-mongering and made the world a better place? Because poets are visionaries, right?

I looked around for an inspiring quotation to act as the name of the blog. I thought of Seamus Heaney’s lines about the Irish “Troubles”:

History says, don’t hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.

So hope for a great sea-change
On the far side of revenge.
Believe that further shore
Is reachable from here.
Believe in miracle
And cures and healing wells.

But “Hope and History Rhyme” is already in use where it should be, in Northern Ireland, and  “That Further Shore” is already in use for another literary blog.

I thought about the Mahatma Gandhi’s words that say:

In a gentle way, you can shake the world.

But “Shake the World” is a brand of ethical fashion bracelets…

And then I came to William Butler Yeats’ poem “The Stare’s Nest by my Window”, the full text of which you can find here on the new website.

It’s the last stanza that appears on our header – see above. It really spoke to me, especially the phrase “more substance in our enmities / than in our love”. I don’t think it has to be like that. I’m not sure what Yeats’ metaphor of the Stare – or starling – and its empty nest meant to him in 1922, during the Irish civil war, but for me, I see the empty nest as a big silence in our national life, where poets are not speaking out as clearly as they could be, and every little poem we post as a honey bee that adds something sweet and purposeful to the nest.

It’s important to me that it is free, and on line, accessible to everybody. It’s a blog, because there will be regular posts rather than an “edition” that arrives all at once, and it’s a zine because there will be contributions from many voices coming in. Thanks so far are due to Cathy Dreyer, who has promised to co-edit with me, to Dru Marland, for the beautiful cover art, and to Hilda Sheehan and Martin Malone for the two poems that kick off the project. I want to keep it going at least until the general election. Submissions are already coming in.
So go on, if you are a poet, send a poem, please, and whether you are a poet or not, please share the blog details with people who might want to read our work. I don’t want it only to be read by other poets.

Tell us how it is. Tell us how it could be. Come build in the empty house of the Stare.