A road trip and poetry as the political centre of the world

I drove up to Newcastle on Thursday for the launch of the new issue of the brilliant Butcher’s Dog poetry magazine, stopping at Sheffield to pick up two poet friends, Suzannah Evans and James Giddings.  Suzannah was reading her poem featured in the magazine, and James was attending as one of the guest editors. All submissions to Butcher’s Dog are read blind, so it was a nice surprise when my friend James and the other editors picked my poem.  It is also my first acceptance of a new poem since my book was published this spring. We had an enjoyable drive, singing a few songs (notably Purple Rain and one by the Jackson Five) and chatting about everything and nothing.

The reading, at Newcastle University,  was very enjoyable.  Here is a quote from the editors’ note.

‘We leave you with 24 poems that seem to fit these uncertain times perfectly, if ‘uncertain’ doesn’t seem too much of an understatement. Maybe ‘dark times’ is better…Whilst there is darkness in this selection, there is light and wonder too….fragility amongst the chaos and a searching to find out who we are and how we fit our own skins.’
The poetry in the magazine certainly feels immediate, relevant to and reflective of many of the issues and experiences of our times.

You can buy Butcher’s Dog here.  

Returning to Sheffield I had time to skim through the new issue of The Rialto poetry magazine and found several poems by Kim Moore.  You can read one of these powerful poems on Kim’s blog.
Kim is among the many female poets ( including Anna Kisby who I mentioned here last week) now addressing sexism and gender issues through their work. Given the revelations coming from the American film industry and the fact that we currently have a man who has been recorded bragging about physically assaulting women in charge at the White House, it seems that there must be a counter action. I have recently wondered (and perhaps worried) at how poetry is relevant and useful in times such as these. The poetry of women writing of their experiences is one way in which this question is answered. I have felt very fortunate in recent days to have access to these voices, to hear from them directly and without the filter of media or the burble of background noise.
I don’t feel I am overstating things when I say that the poetry I have read this week has enabled me to contextualise and empathise with other humans in ways no other medium would allow.

The poet Tim Lilburn, who was collecting the Homer medal for poetry, made an acceptance speech that seemed to sum up my thoughts this week on the political power of poetry.

“We are in a historical moment, where poets can be especially conflicted about what they do. Poetry can seem ineffectual before climate change, the rise of fascism, the need to decolonize and work toward reconciliation with First Nations. Some poets could be tempted to set poetry aside in favour of activism, or make their poetry overtly political and turn it into pages of declaration and denunciation . . . . but we should not be so quick to abandon poetry in these extreme, dire times.”

Lilburn used the example of Neruda’s poem Let the Woodcutter Awaken, which was written while in exile from Chilean totalitarianism, to describe the impact poetry can have on people’s lives.

“If you present large, sweeping depictions of society and history, you can free people and give them a sense of power . . . . he also learned to describe in detail distinct lives, which helps to establish empathy, love, respect and a commonwealth of courtesy, civility and solidarity in his readers. I believe the act of poetry-making itself . . . can have deep, social effect. Poetry.. is not relegated to the social margins; it is not an adjunct to life and politics. It stands in the very centre of both, quietly and anonymously; in its empathy, imagination, narrative range, and commitment to the assemblage of beautiful, arresting patterns, it creates the political centre.”


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