Cross Posted from The Stare’s Nest

The Stare’s Nest has been in operation for two months now and every day we have delivered at least one poem that fits our general theme: political and social engagement, reflections on what really matters, something hopeful from time to time to refocus us away from the dreadful news that fills our screens day after day. At the outset we said “Tell us how it is. Tell us how it could be” and poets have sent us their versions of the examined life, to prove to ourselves and others that poetry is relevant, that it engages with the real world and its concerns. We’ve had poems about Gaza and Northern Ireland, Greece, America, and Chile; poems about family, friends, neighbours and strangers, about war, trees, toilets, and shopping. All human life is here.

When I started up the Stare’s Nest I wasn’t sure if anyone would send us anything at all, but I worked on the principle “build it and they will come”, and so far they have. I’m grateful to some very experienced and well-published poets such as George Szirtes, Philip Gross, Carrie Etter, Jenny Lewis, Ian Duhig and Tamar Yosseloff (aha! the last two of those are coming up soon!), to some of the rising stars of British poetry, to members of Jo Bell’s excellent fiftytwopoetry group (of which I am proud to be a member); to poets I didn’t previously know from the USA; to poets I know personally from Reading, Oxford and London; to poets I’d never met but who found us via word of mouth, and to a few who have had their first ever published poem appear here. I’m also most grateful to our first two poets, Hilda Sheehan and Martin Malone, for the poems that kicked off the site, and to the inimitable Cathy Dreyer, who co-edits with me and who was utterly indispensable when I was in the middle of moving house and had no broadband for ten days.

What I am most proud of right now are the comments made by two poets whom I value immensely. Sarah Wedderburn is a friend from Roddy Lumsden’s classes at The Poetry School. She sent us the amazing “A Word on Killing” which was published on August 30th. The first stanza is so revealing:

I’ll only say this once. Then I’m going back to writing about home,

journeys, everyday events and minor breakages—even they send

fragments far and wide.

When she sent this deeply personal poem she told me:

“I have written this expressly for The Stare’s Nest, recognising that with this website you have provided a context where such a subject might have a place. I’m thrilled that she picked up her pen and wrote something so true because the Stare’s Nest was there for it to find a home.

We’ve also had great support from Fran Lock, whom I don’t know personally but whose poems I really admire. She has sent us an elegy for a good friend, written in her usual beautiful, intricate style, but that still manages to convey a raw emotion. It’s coming up soon. She said:

“I’m tentatively submitting the attached poem to The Stare’s Nest because it is the only place I’ve seen where (if anywhere) I think it might belong… I’m still not sure (from a poetry point of view) if it is ready to see the light of day, but I think if it is, The Stare’s Nest is the place I would like it to be. Your beautiful site has inspired me to set it down properly and find a place for it.”

This is what I wanted to achieve! As well as the funny poems, the angry and the polemical, a safe place for such delicate work that really comes from the heart.

Thank you all! Let’s keep going. Send your honey bees to fill the empty nest of the Stare!

Judi Sutherland

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.