Ballot Beats – promoting the youth vote through poetry

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As the deadline to register to vote in the 2017 General Election nears, 7 million voters – most of them younger – remain disenfranchised. This continues a long-recognised trend in British elections; in 2015, only 43% of young people aged 18-24 voted in the General Election, compared to an overall turnout of 66 % and a turnout of 78% for those aged over 65.

Nothing in the Rulebook has long championed the power that the arts have to inspire and affect change; so a new project from the brilliant minds behind the Theatre Centre really caught our eye. The group is looking to use the power of poetry to cultivate advocacy and galvanise action from young audiences, moving them towards compassion, conversation and campaigns.

Working with award winning poet Mr Gee, the group ran poetry workshops in different parts of the UK and encouraged young people to create poems about their beliefs, and why voting feels important to them.

Some of these young people can already vote – most of them can’t: they need other young people to be their voices, and to tick their ballot papers. Their words, beliefs and rhymes have been collected and shared in #BallotBeats

A spokesperson for the group said: “At Theatre Centre we believe young people need and deserve representation. We believe that the best way of achieving this representation is through voting. We want to help encourage young people to get their voices heard and to vote. We want their concerns to be placed at the heart of the political agenda and to be visible with our political landscape.”

Nothing in the Rulebook Co-Founder, Professor Wu, praised the importance of the #BallotBeats project: “The Conservative Party called the 2017 election on the assumption that young people will remain apathetic to the democratic process. They are absolutely banking on the youth vote not turning up; because they know if this were to change they would face a nigh impossible task of forming a government to implementing the cruel and Victorian-era policies of their regressive manifesto. Rest assured it is completely within their interests – and the interests of the corporate elite – to keep the status quo as it is, and keep young people bored and disgusted by politics, and prevent them from realising the power that they truly wield. What a great victory it would be if this were to change and those people who will have to live longest with the outcome of this election turned up en masse to the polling booths on 8th June.”

“Poetry has a long-standing tradition of inspiring protest and activism, and Theatre Centre’s #BallotBeats project is exactly the sort of galvanising initiative that is needed to bring a little more hope and optimism to the world at a time where so much around us seems created to inspire fear and cynicism.”

For more details about the work of Theatre Centre and #BallotBeats please contact Emily on emily@theatre-centre.co.uk or call 020 7729 3066. You can also follow them on Twitter (@TCLive) and Facebook.

 

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Creatives in Profile: Interview with Andrew McMillan

McMillan photo credit Urszula Soltys

Andrew McMillan. Photography by Urszula Soltys

Few writers have exploded onto the literary scene with quite as much acclaim as Andrew McMillan. The South Yorkshire-born poet’s debut collection, ‘Physical‘, was the first ever poetry collection to win The Guardian First Book Award. The collection also won the Fenton Aldeburgh First Collection Prize,  a Somerset Maugham Award (2016), an Eric Gregory Award (2016) and a Northern Writers’ award (2014). It was shortlisted the Dylan Thomas Prize, the Costa Poetry Award,  The Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year 2016, the Forward Prize for Best First Collection, the Roehampton Poetry Prize and the Polari First Book Prize. It was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation for Autumn 2015. He currently lectures in Creative Writing at Liverpool John Moores University and lives in Manchester.

It is a true honour to bring you this detailed interview.

INTERVIEWER

Tell me about yourself, where you live and your background/lifestyle

MCMILLAN

I just bought a house in Manchester with my boyfriend, so for the first time I feel I can say I permanently live somewhere. I was born in Barnsley in 1988 and lived there until I went away to university, and then a couple more times after university as well- I moved to Liverpool when I first started working at LJMU,  and now I’m moving on to MMU in September which I’m really excited about. I like decorative bowls, which I guess is a lifestyle choice, and I got drunk the other week and told Ben we could get a dog, so that’s going to be a new thing as well.

INTERVIEWER

Is creativity and writing your first love, or do you have another passion?

MCMILLAN

It was always writing. From being very young, I used to write little horror stories and then moved on to writing poems; there was a magazine called Young Writer, which I don’t think is around anymore, that would publish work and run competitions and send you a proper contract to sign and things like that so it felt like something special. Then I ran away from it for a long time in my teens, I wanted to be an actor, and then a politician, but really what I liked was standing up in front of people and talking to them, and using words in an eloquent way and so when I started reading 20th Century poetry again at college, and I found Larkin and Gunn, then I started writing poetry again.   I’m passionate about all different art forms, I think all artists always wish they were proficient at something else, but I have no other skills, I can only write (and most days I can barely do that); I’m very interested in fashion, in clothing as another form of communication. If I had the right skills I might have liked to have been a fashion designer.

INTERVIEWER

Who inspires you?

MCMILLAN

Too many poets to mention by name, but I’m a writer because first and foremost I’m a reader, I read as much as I can, of contemporary poetry; you can be inspired by what you don’t enjoy too, you can frame yourself in active opposition to a thought or an idea as well as taking inspiration from others’ work in a positive sense.

Jon McGregor, and his novels, are the reason that I write poetry the way that I do.

Tom Spanbauer, another novelist, and in particular The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon, changed my life.

It’s a terrible cliche but I’m inspired much more by urban dilapidation than I am by beauty, a wreck rather than a masterpiece (that’ll probably be my epitaph too)

My parents, their lives, their warmth, their support, is a constant inspiration. And I’ve only ever wanted to make them proud.

INTERVIEWER

Your debut poetry collection, ‘Physical’ was released by Jonathan Cape in 2015. Its themes of and focus on masculinity seem particularly appropriate for our society right now – much has been made, for instance, of the ‘crisis of masculinity’. What do you think it means to be a man in the 21st Century?

MCMILLAN

Any discussion of masculinity has to really start from an acknowledgement that men still occupy a very privileged place within society; but for young men, particularly young working class men, things are really bad. It’s no one cause, but a confluence of things, such as a stigma around mental health for young men, an economic earthquake in the latter half of the 20th Century that ripped away traditional manual jobs and didn’t replace them with anything,  so what you have is a generation of young men who feel they shouldn’t talk about their emotions or hurt, who can’t see themselves in the role their fathers or their grandfathers might have had, which was to exchange their strength for money in the workplace, and so they feel they don’t have a place, or they feel they don’t know how to be a man, and so that lack has been replaced by, in some cases, getting bigger and bigger at the gym, or getting a ‘status’ dog- a loss of identity or position is being replaced by caricatures of masculinity because these young disenfranchised lads don’t see how else to assert the fact that they exist.

What has been really interesting, as I’ve grown up, is to see the change in fashion in what men are being told they should look like. So a pressure women have felt since the dawn of time, is now being focussed on men. And its often a male gaze on other men – so you know see heterosexual men posting topless pictures on Instagram, not to try to find sex; but so other heterosexual men will comment on how good they look; they need validation, and they’re not getting it from outside, so they’ve got it from each other, in a competitive way I’m not convinced is entirely healthy. As with everything, its also economic; so the idea of the ‘new man’, which came around in the 1990s, was intrinsically tied to wealth and middle-class status, so for young working class men, they’ve had to create a hyperbolised identity in order to survive.

INTERVIEWER

Looking around at current trends in poetry, what are your thoughts and feelings on the ‘poetry industry’. If we can define it thus. And how would you advise aspiring poets to break out onto the ‘poetry scene’?

MCMILLAN

Poetry is in a really good place now and I look around at my peers and think I’m lucky to be part of a really exciting generation. I think the key thing for anyone to remember is that they only write because they like reading, so keep reading, keep involved, go to invents; BUY as much as you can afford to- if everyone who writes poetry bought poetry we’d all be millionaires. It might seem daunting on the outside, but poetry is a very small, very friendly world and people help each other out, and remember each other too, so showing your face at events or holding the doors open for writers at a literature festival (as I did in Lancaster for three years) is always going to help you out in the community. I would say as well that I think whilst its good to set up your own nights, to read poetry in front of your friends etc, its also important to seek out an audience and criticism from outside people you might already know.

INTERVIEWER

When looking to submit poetry, what are the steps and key aspects to consider before doing so?

MCMILLAN

If its to a poetry magazine/journal- have you read the magazine before, do you know if they take that kind of work, what’s the poetry editor’s name, have you read their guidelines etc- all those basic things that will get you in the good books before an editor even gets to the poems. Also get ready for rejections, you’ll get a lot. Tons of them. Some will say encouraging things, some will just be a little slip of paper saying ‘Thanks but no thanks’. It isn’t a criticism of you as a person, or even that the poem is bad, it just meant it wasn’t the right fit for that editor for that particular magazine. So perseverance too, if you believe in the work, keep at it. Most of the poems in physical got rejected from nearly every magazine you could name, and the book still did alright 😉

INTERVIEWER

In terms of writing poetry, what do you think is most important to keep in mind when writing your initial drafts?

MCMILLAN

Not to end the poem too soon, and not to have any sense of where the poem might end, you have to surprise yourself, if its predictable or too simple a journey for the reader to make, they won’t want to make it again.

INTERVIEWER

Do you have a specific ‘reader’ or audience in mind when you write?

MCMILLAN

I always like to steal an answer of Thom Gunn’s when I answer this, in response to a fan letter he said something along the lines of:

‘If I had an ideal reader, I think it would be myself, when I was younger, maybe thirteen or fourteen, and to say to them, its OK really’

I think that’s probably true of me; but I also don’t just want a gay audience, or a male audience – I’m really just writing poems about the body, so they’re for everyone.

INTERVIEWER

How would you define creativity?

MCMILLAN

Any act which seeks to make an interruption to the crushing and terrifying monotony of being alive.

INTERVIEWER

What does the term ‘poet’ mean to you?

MCMILLAN

Someone who wants to put on some spandex and power slam words into the page

INTERVIEWER

James Joyce argued poetry was “always a revolt against artifice, a revolt, in a sense, against actuality.” In the modern world, ‘actuality’ is increasingly hard to define – we live in a culture of ‘fake news’. Many have argued that poetry has an element of truth to it that reality sometimes does not. What role do you think poetry has in a world of ‘alternative facts’?

MCMILLAN

Again, I’ll quote someone else much more articulate, Rita Ann Higgins ‘To get to the poetic truth, it is not always necessary to tell the what-actually-happened truth, these times I lie.  Poetry has to have a truth in it, it has to be driving towards some universal truth, otherwise there’s no heart in it, but around that, it can make things up. Poetry shows us the real truth in something, and to do that it might often have to make things up.

INTERVIEWER

Since Percy Bysshe Shelley penned the Masque of Anarchy, poetry has been used by writers and artists as a means of revolt against the status quo and to champion causes, giving voices to those who perhaps would not otherwise be heard. What are your thoughts on poetry as protest?

MCMILLAN

Maybe the very act of writing a poem is a protest, its always a peaceful political act in many ways I think, however angry the poem. Poetry shouldn’t just be polemic or rant though, it has to be more nuanced than that I think. But in an age of Trump or ‘strong and stable’ or Twitter or 24hour news, the very act of slowing down, of going to a page with a pen, and saying what can I do with this ancient language that is new, how can I compress and distill, that feels like a protest against something, perhaps.

INTERVIEWER

Could you tell us a little about some of the future projects you’re working on?

MCMILLAN

I’m just finishing up a second collection of poetry which I’m excited about, so hopefully I’ll be able to talk more about that soon.

INTERVIEWER

Aristotle said that poetry was “finer and more philosophical than history; for poetry expresses the universal, and history only the particular”. Do you believe in a universal language – or any sense of universal human thought?

MCMILLAN

I don’t think I do, really; I think there are brief moments of connection with another human being, but they’re very often transitory.

INTERVIEWER

Could you write us a story in 6 words?

MCMILLAN

I got drunk: We bought dog.

INTERVIEWER

Could you give your top 5 – 10 tips for writers?

MCMILLAN

  • Read
  • Read everything
  • Read stuff you hate
  • Read stuff you love
  • Read novels
  • Read poetry
  • go to art exhibitions, watch strange films, talk to strangers
  • put yourself out in the world in a way which allows things to happen to you
  • never get drunk and promise to buy your boyfriend a dog

 

You can keep an eye out for updates on Andrew’s projects and upcoming shows through his website, and purchase copies of his debut collection ‘Physical’ online

Creatives in profile: interview with Laura Waddell

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Laura Waddell writes reviews of fiction, a book column, articles, and short fiction and poetry. She has been in the Guardian, Independent, Sunday Mail, Gutter, Glasgow Review of Books, 3AM magazine, Review 31, and others, while working extensively in literary and translation publishing before joining HarpterCollins as Publishing Manager of Children’s Reference.

Shortlisted as Emerging Publisher of the Year by the Saltire Society in 2016, she is also quite the social media guru – creating a number of innovative literary initiatives such as #ScotEbookDay and #ETeaParty, which was featured as a book marketing success in the book Blogging for Writers.

It is an honour to bring you this detailed interview.

INTERVIEWER

Tell me about yourself, where you live and your background/lifestyle

WADDELL

I work in publishing, and am a writer, and I live in Glasgow. As for background/lifestyle, where to begin? I grew up in Coatbridge, a post-industrial town outside of Glasgow, and far enough away from it to glamorise living in the city. I studied up to an MLitt in Modernities (essentially modernism and postmodenism), with a focus on William Carlos Williams. I have A LOT of personal projects on the go in my spare time, and write a lot. I’m drawn to writing with observations about the everyday, and to finding the small, subtle, interesting notes in everyday life. As a result I pick up a lot of bits of paper I find on the ground incase anything interesting is written on them. There are some weird shopping lists out there. I find a lot of trash on the street aesthetically pleasing. I like to people watch. I’ve always been better able to connect with writing that focuses on the modern, the grubby, and all that is accessible about cities – I think because classics, or references to flora, weren’t really part of my education. I’m interested in experimentation with form, of making the most with a little, or utilising material in unusual ways. This can often be seen in my poetry newsletter, Lunchtime Poetry.

INTERVIEWER

Is writing your first love, or do you have another passion?

WADDELL

Writing is absolutely my first love. Before I could write, I would dictate stories to adults around me who’d write them down. I found a little red notebook containing some of these, and there was one about an octopus tap dancing on a table. In recent years I’ve written articles (politics, opinion), short fiction, and book review, and built up a portfolio of published pieces (the Independent, Sunday Mail, 3am magazine, Review 31, Glasgow Review of Books, The List, a couple of book contributions coming this year such as Nasty Women (404 Ink), others). I’ve had times in my life when I’ve been utterly consumed by the need to write, and times when I’ve felt too dispirited to pick up a pen – like most writers, and people in other disciplines, I imagine. By extension, I’m very invested in reading and the business of publishing, and finding new ways to find and communicate what’s out there.

INTERVIEWER

Who inspires you?

WADDELL

Writer-wise, I love William Carlos Williams as mentioned, for finding joy and meaning in the ways that I like, and Eimear McBride for the transcendent feeling of reading her use of language, connecting with her books in a rare and deep way, because the words in their broken-down fragmentary form go right in whole. I’m inspired by writers who have depicted places and people I’m familiar with and who are also masters of style and story, like James Kelman and Janice Galloway. I think Lara Williams is one of the most talented and exciting young writers around today and can’t wait to follow her work as it progresses. I like bell hooks and Rebecca Solnit. There are a lot of women leaders in business, politics, arts and media I look up to, as well as women who are just beginning their careers and taking on, tenatiously, areas that are still unbalanced playing fields in terms of gender. I’m also very inspired by the energy of friends who are also writers, publishers, or artists from other disciplines such as music, performance and theatre.

INTERVIEWER

Who were your early teachers?

WADDELL

I had a teacher in primary school called Mrs Shields, who taught our small class to always look up when walking around a city, for that’s where surprises and beauty in architecture can be found. I had a history teacher in high school called Mr Jenkins, who encouraged my love of learning and told us fascinating stories. As an only child (until I was 11) I spent a lot of time with adults.

INTERVIEWER

You’ve worked extensively in the literary and publishing industry – what do you think are some of the key challenges facing the industry at this point in time?

WADDELL

It’s not always an easy industry, and nobody joins it to make a fortune, but the upside of that is that it’s often a workforce of people who are very passionate about what they do. I’m glad to hear more talk about diversity in publishing, not only in terms of gender but in race, and I think it’s a problem that stems from the makeup of the publishing workforce itself, which may not always be able to imagine why anyone would find writing interesting when it comes from a background that is not white and middle class or upper class. A lot of stories have never been told, and I want to read them, and I believe there’s an appetite for them. Other than that, when it comes to trade, there are all kinds of issues around discounting – when authors make little money (and this is decreasing), it’s rarely because publishers are rolling in money themselves (although contacts should always be as fair as possible), but because of squeeze at the other end. I hear a lot about the FUTURE and TECH and whilst it’s essential to find new ways of publishing in an era where the media landscape is rapidly changing and digitising, there’s an awful lot of vague noise full of internet-related words that sounds like change for the sake of change instead of looking at better ways to simply publish what people will want to read and make them aware it exists.

INTERVIEWER

What power do you think writing, literature – and art in general – has in supporting and encouraging aspiring artists from marginalised communities?

WADDELL

For me, as a working class kid in an area of poor resources and endangered libraries, what literature I could get my hands on was very special to me. Access to art, both creating and consuming, broadens options in life, as well as empathy and self-expression, and it shouldn’t be the preserve of the rich. Art is about communicating, and what is communicated forms the landscape we live in – what we can expect or demand from our politics, the perspectives we read, the stories that are told and on the record throughout history. Scottish PEN are working on a project now called Many Voices, which sees writers hold writing workshops with groups of people whose stories often aren’t told in their own words – young offenders, refugees, and others. I’m suspicious of any politician who says working class people (or other groups) need only simple things in life. No, I want more. And I’m suspicious of anyone within these groups who says the same thing. Both are ways to control and restrict, to peg people into small, stereotypical boxes. And as a reader, I want writing that is the most innovative and beautiful, I want more of it, and I don’t believe that comes from any one demographic.

INTERVIEWER

Do you feel any ethical responsibility in your role as a writer?

WADDELL

Not in a way that is separate from the ethical responsibilities I feel as a human being. When I write articles, occasionally I want to highlight a cause or examine a prejudice. When I write fiction, I write whatever comes out, but it will naturally reflect my beliefs, and I am very interested in class and gender. 8. Do you have a specific ‘reader’ in mind when you write? Not particularly. Perhaps myself, a little younger.

INTERVIEWER

Can you tell us a little bit about how you began your career in the publishing industry?

WADDELL

I was very fortunate to get a paid internship assisting a writer (Sara Sheridan) facilitated by the wonderful Adopt an Intern. I stayed on, and it was a wonderful and generous experience, where I learned a lot about marketing and PR, the media, the needs of a writer and how to work with them. I’m now a Publishing Manager with my own list of titles. Paid internships are important. They make it easier for a wider range of people to enter the industry. As I believe diversification of the industry is an important part of diversifying the books we publish, and that is key for staying relevant and commercially viable in the present day, publishing as an industry should be paying people for the work that they do at this early stage, for their own good.

INTERVIEWER

What advice can you give to aspiring creatives who are interested in pursuing a similar pathway? To anyone who is interested in getting into publishing, I strongly urge you to: A) read as widely as possible. Having an understanding of the terrain is important.

B) Stay aware of industry news, such as the free bookseller.com newsletter digest.

C) Network, network, network. Opportunities arise this way. Twitter is a fantastic way to follow people who work in publishing and see what they’re up to. Go to book launches.

D) Be kind to everyone. I’ve always remembered who was welcoming to me when I was young and shy and feeling out of place at the very beginning of my career. Publishing generally is a supportive and jolly industry, and we’re mostly all in it together for the love of books.

E) Develop hard skills. Nobody is impressed that you’ve used social media – talk about copywriting skills, data analysis, project management. Learn Excel!

F) Look after yourself. Life/work balance is hard when you love what you do, but you need rest and time to let your mind wander.

INTERVIEWER

What, in your opinion, makes a “good” book?

WADDELL

I don’t think there’s one good answer to this. Some books I like are very different from each other. I think a good book is one a reader loves, and readers have very different desires. I review books, and when I review I am looking for some basic requirements – depth, structure, eloquence. But the books I’ve loved the most almost always split between 1 and 5 star reviews on commercial sites.

INTERVIEWER

If you had to draw up an essential reading list everyone should read, which books would make the cut?

WADDELL

I really don’t think I could do that in brief, here, sorry! Here’s just one I found directly instructive – Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit. I snuck it into a book cover once.

INTERVIEWER

What are your thoughts on some of the general trends within the writing industry at the moment? Is there anything in particular you see as being potentially future-defining, in terms of where the industry is headed?

WADDELL

I’ve been really thrilled to see the success of 404 Ink, publishers of Nasty Women, an anthology of writing by women that has captured the zeitgeist of women-led protest and initiatives to raise each other up. I’m honoured to be a contributing writer. The crowdfunder was 369% funded and backed by Margaret Atwood. Another example of small indie publishers going out to publish what they really believe in are Own It!. Both these publishers have talked of publishing what they’ve heard other people dismiss, but they’ve known there is a commercial and cultural appetite for, and that often means diversity. As I’ve said above, I think diversification is the key to publishing’s continuing relevance and success.

INTERVIEWER

Could you tell us a little about some of the future projects you’re working on?

WADDELL

I’m currently guest editing an issue of The Drouth magazine and enjoying commissioning writers for it. Other than Nasty Women, I have an essay in another book coming out in 2017 about literary criticism in the digital era, and a piece in the first issue of brand new magazine Marbles, which has a focus on mental health. I’m continuing to write fiction, articles, and review. I want to see more writing from Scotland translated, more international relationships developed between Scottish artists and artists of other countries, and more investment in smart, commercially sustainable publishing – but that’s a very long term goal!

INTERVIEWER

Could you write us a story in 6 words?

WADDELL

Varieties of female moths lack wings.

INTERVIEWER

Could you give your top 5 – 10 tips for writers?

WADDELL

To young writers, keep going. Try not to lose or flatten your early or original style (I’ve never written as easily as I did when I was a kid), but take criticism on board. Do not be dissuaded by rejections – everyone gets loads. I was rejected by a magazine I later went on to be an assisting editor on. Build a portfolio. Pitch. Put yourself out there. But be respectful and follow guidelines when submitting. Read the worst reviews of writers you adore, and bear them in mind when you read reviews of your own work. Find what’s at your core that you have to express.

“You had me at ‘haiku’” – why so many people wrote haikus for the NHS

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When we first launched our inaugural poetry project, ‘Haikus for the NHS’, we couldn’t have predicted the incredible response we received. With over 200 haiku submissions from poets and writers across the world, the team here at Nothing in the Rulebook were, quite simply, blown away by the support and eagerness of fellow creatives to get involved.

Our competition winner, John Blackmore, spoke movingly about how he “found the poetry project and felt literally moved to write.”

So what exactly was it that moved so many people to contribute their haikus in support of this project?

We spoke to dozens of those poets who made our short-and long-lists (read their haikus online here) to find out. Their responses are published here below:

Shortlisted poet Sarah Purvis was moved by the power of protest poetry to inspire others to action:

“I chose to submit a haiku to be used to support this campaign because I believe that effective protest poetry is a powerful way to ignite emotion and create a lasting imprint on the human conscience. I believe that our NHS is invaluable and have witnessed first hand the dedication, passion and kindness that NHS staff innately possess, through various hospital stays and care provided for myself and my family. Our NHS reflects the values of our society as it supports inclusion and compassion. The conservative government continues to eradicate all that is ‘human’ in society, casting an impersonal blanket of privatisation, which continues to suffocate our NHS. I wanted to show my support for the NHS in a very human, subjective way; a way in which we can all freely express the essence of important issues – through creativity.”

Many poets, including Katie Bell, Joan Barker and Charlie Rowland, spoke about their personal experiences of using the UK’s National Health Service and the importance for all of us to support it through any means necessary.

“I entered the Haikus for the NHS poetry project mainly due to the fact I rely heavily on the NHS – I have marfan syndrome and scoliosis, which meant I had to undergo numerous cases of major surgery. Without the NHS’ support, I would’ve been unable to afford the surgery. It really shocks me how the system is failing, and I hope the haikus everyone submitted help the NHS start to try their best to reform and survive.” – Katie Bell

“I recently started taking part in a Monthly Creative Writing Competition being run by my mobile phone provider.

I would see the title of that month’s competition and within a few days my work was thought out, sketched out, fleshed out and then finally sent out with a sense of achievement (and not a little excitement that it might win).

Then my husband was diagnosed with cancer and my time and energy was focused on him and our interaction with the NHS.

I found that the choice of topics for the competition no longer inspired me and I stopped submitting an entry.

It  was with a wonderful sense of irony therefore that, when I found out about your competition I was immediately enthused and the words came without any effort.

The end result succinctly summed up what I feel about the people who are looking after my husband and the knowledge that we are all responsible for keeping them safe; not just physically but as part of an essential organisation.

Is there a point to “Poetry as Protest”?

Poems themselves may not cause change to happen but their creation may encourage others to action.

They can also alert those who are part of the change-making process that people are aware of what is going on. They can never say that didn’t know how people felt and that they did what they did because no one cared.

I would say that anything that can affect others on an emotional level has to make a difference.” – Joan Barker

“I wanted to submit to this particular project, probably for the same reason that a lot of people strongly about the NHS.

They have helped my family countless times without ever wanting thanks. They provided palliative care for my Grandma in her final days; they nursed my son back to health when he had pneumonia. My mum was also a Nurse when I was young, so the NHS was part of our household income.

Let’s not forget the families on the other side of the care workers lives who rely on the NHS for their income. Funding cuts will dramatically effect their financial security and cause stress and worry. We have a right to say we’re not happy about the Government’s decisions especially as it effects millions of people lives.” – Charlie Rowland.

For others, such as Karen Rodgers, Robert Holtom and Sean Smith, the NHS is a vital part of society, and hugely symbolic of the power of political ideals that have been systematically attacked and undermined by the incumbent Conservative Government. And, as such, they felt moved to use any form of resistance – including poetry – to protest these devastating and ideological tory policies to help save the NHS.

“I entered the NHS Haiku competition because I feel strongly about how important the health service is to the community. I think good health can be taken for granted, sometimes, but when you’re sick the health service is there to help and support people and their families, hopefully, back to good health. Being sick is stressful enough, without the worry of financial issues. Doctors and nurses should be celebrated for their caring and professional manners. Writing expresses feelings and thoughts, and is such a powerful tool.” – Karen Rodgers

“Hundreds of nurses with patients on beds flooded the stadium, a giant Queen of Hearts was there and lots of Mary Poppins flying about by umbrella. As the dance unfolded the beds were pushed together and lights were lit to spell the ‘NHS’ – it was epic. That was part of the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics and I can still picture it now. Given the government was already imposing austerity and cutting our public health services it was also a moment of beautiful protest. The NHS is testimony to what can be achieved when people come together to improve all the nation’s health and well-being. And it must be free at the point of delivery to ensure it transcends our abysmal class system and the inequality it creates. We can’t give up on the NHS and whether it’s a display of Olympian proportions or the three lines of a Haiku we must keep celebrating and defending it.” – Robert Holtom

“I live in Ireland but was born in Manchester so experienced the NHS at first hand in 1962. My Mum also worked as a nurse so had a direct input into the NHS at the time. I believe the NHS to be one of the most important progressive pieces of social legislation in the twentieth century. The thought that governments in Westminster have spent the last twenty or so years trying to dismantle the NHS is extremely worrying. Having experienced the Irish health system, I know that allowing a small sector of business people to turn public health into profit is a recipe for disaster and will have a direct negative effect on the most vulnerable people in society. If poetry can be used to bring attention, consideration and protest to this impending debacle then it serves a very worthwhile purpose. Long live the NHS!” – Sean Smith

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Photo credit: Ed Lederman/PEN America

And other creative comrades were inspired by the power of poetry – and the arts in general – to facilitate change and serve as tools of protest:

“I work for a charity with strong links to healthcare and am very angry about the number of privatised services in my city – it’s happening very much under the radar and it’s frontline services- those which should be responsive to patients not beholden to shareholders. I also love poetry and a challenge – a triple whammy- although to be honest, you had me at ‘haiku’!” – Andrea Mbarushimana

“I believe the arts in general are a powerful protest tool, whether that be through film, theatre, photography, painting, prose or poetry. I think the way NITRB is planning to disseminate the poetry is an effective way to show our support for the NHS and make various salient points to the government. (Some would even make great placards.) I have always been passionate about the NHS, it is our civil right to have a fully effective and free health service regardless of income. It is perhaps the greatest institution to have ever been introduced to Britain not just for the health benefits, but for social equality, too.” – David Milligan-Croft

“I always believe in the power of poetry, and to me good poetry is like a national healthcare service that should be available to all. Ah, a person without healthcare is like a poet without a poem.” – Ernesto P. Santiago

“As a young man growing up in Cardiff, I came upon a statue of Aneurin Bevan.  I remember feeling immensely proud that a welshman had come up with the idea of a socially inclusive and nationally supportive idea, that is the NHS.  At its inception in 1948, Bevan, the then Labour Health Minister, famously said; ‘The NHS will last as long as there are folk left with the fate to fight for it ’ – That is precisely why I am compelled and proud to add my voice to this campaign.

A little over a year ago, I stumbled on a book of Haiku poetry, in a wonderful little bookshop in Bath.  I fell for this very poignant style of sketching out a thought or idea, in a naturally free and impulsive style.  Ever since, Haiku has provided me with the opportunity to take a creative time-out moment.  It allows for me to capture a feeling or moment in words, in much the same way a photograph can capture a visual image.

As we have seen, from the popular idea that the Haikus for the NHS project has presented; a few carefully chosen words, committed to a single idea, can have a profoundly powerful and emotional impact. Words can and do make a difference.” – Michael Gerard

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And we also heard stories from Maureen Miller and Courtney Lesa Minto that provided us with two international perspectives on how both the NHS, and the idea of using haiku as a medium of creative protest, literally transcended international and geographical borders, spanning oceans and cultures:

“Like most Yanks, I was introduced to the National Health by a Beatles lyric. Not that pop lyrics are poetry, but they help you to understand when you’re being stopped from doing everything you can. My workplace, one of the largest government hospitals in the US, pops songs without lyrics in the halls between the new and old buildings at all hours. Lost patients and doctors walk it dazed and out of step, their back-and-forths through the additions fighting death Muzak from above. It’s poetic, by which I mean tragic, romantic and tragic, maybe recognizable. That’s the vibe I got from British junior doctors in the London Review of Books, anyway, and they have a bang-up poetry section, plus their payroll gave this editor I know insurance for eyeglasses he couldn’t get here. My brother, paraphrasing Shelley, once made fun of people who need poetry to protest by saying his eighth grade English students were the unacknowledged legislators of the world. He meant that children already knew what Shelley meant without having read him. The same is true of doctors who see everyday with those specs that universal health care works. If saving the NHS requires a schoolchildren’s scrum, so be it. Get in it. The people in charge need to be knocked into some sense from the adults in the room.” – Maureen Miller

“I may not be a UK resident, however across the 16,000 kilometres between us, I stand with the poetry for protest movement and I stand with the National Health Service.

Upon learning of the ‘Winter Crisis’ and the planned March movement, paired with [Nothing in the Rulebook’s] planned poetry for protest distribution, both the movement and the heart of the NHS captivated my support.

To protest with such a loud silence… to give the most silent and meditative form of poetry the power to communicate volumes to the hearts and ears of a crowd… it leaves one beyond words.

I think that the way people protest says a lot about who they are protesting for, and so I felt compelled to write and submit my haiku on behalf of the hearts across the world who stand with the NHS.

I may be only one seventeen year old Australian girl, however I stand proudly for the hearts outside of UK borders who have been touched in some way or another, be it family members or friends or simply admiration, by the health of the NHS.

The National Health Service and all of the life saving doctors and nurses and all in between who have suffered from funding cuts and staff salary reductions, have international support.

I stand and write, beyond her borders, in support for the NHS.” – Courtney Lesa Minto, Australia

What so many of these moving and inspiring comments prove is poetry’s ability to produce a visceral effect that can inspirit, inspire, and transform those who read and hear it. And it is this that makes poetry such a powerful tool for speaking out against the wrongs of the day – for channelling the universal human feelings of every man and every woman into something meaningful and real, into a form of protest and resistance.

 

Haikus for the NHS: watch the video

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On Saturday, 4 March 2017, the team at Nothing in the Rulebook joined almost 250,000 protesters at the demonstration in support of the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) in London.

This was a crucial part of the final end-game of our  ‘Haikus for the NHS‘ poetry project, which sought to build on the long-standing tradition of poetry as protest to support the NHS.

You can watch the short film detailing our experience of the day below.

You can also read the winning haiku, along with short- and long-listed entries online. 

Haikus for the NHS: read the poems here!

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When the team here at Nothing in the Rulebook first launched our ‘Haikus for the NHS‘ poetry project at the turn of the year, we did so with a simple aim: to show our support, through art and creativity, for one of the UK’s most treasured institutions: the National Health Service.

Quite simply, we have been blown away by the incredible response to our project. While we have now announced the winners, we wanted to share with you the haikus we received that made our short- and long-lists.

“Poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence,” claimed the brilliant poet and political activist Audre Lourde. In these challenging times, we need poetry more than ever before.

This is because poetry is far more than grammar and syntax – the terms and measurements that help us identify and discuss language scientifically. It is more than copy on a page. It is rhythm; it is sensations; it is incantation. And, through this, poetry becomes meaning. It becomes truth.

Poetry’s essence, therefore, produces a visceral effect that can inspirit, inspire, and transform those who read and hear it. And it is this that makes poetry such a powerful tool for speaking out against the wrongs of the day – for channelling the universal human feelings of every man and every woman into something meaningful and real, into a form of protest and resistance.

The poems we have published here – and which we will distribute among the thousands of demonstrators marching on London on 4 March – capture this essential essence of poetry and move us through a range of powerful emotions, all while leaving us with the essentially common strain of thought: that we must fight and do what we can to protect the UK’s National Health Service.

At times, personal, moving, funny, abrupt, stark, visceral and filled with a vehement passion and anger against the incumbent Conservative Government, these poems stood out for us among over 200 submissions as capturing the essential essence of all that is good about the NHS, while also using poetry – specifically, haiku – as protest.

To all those who submitted: thank you. And to those reading now, we hope you enjoy reading these fantastic haikus as much as we did.

The winning haiku

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Here, for those past help, the best of humanity, banishes all fear – John Blackmore

Our shortlisted poems

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Aneurin Bevan, had a beautiful ideal, stop shitting on it – Juliet Staveley

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Crisis is defined, by all we are losing, save our NHS – Eva Reed

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A nurse with tired eyes, her golden heart is breaking, beneath her disguise – Sarah Purvis

Selected poems from our longlist are below:

Tories underfund
Our welfare, schools and councils.
At least we have our-

– Daniel Louden

“The Hippocratic oath,
We’ve signed, you haven’t.
Hypocrites”

– Emma Gowen, Suffolk UK

health care . . .
riddled with holes
the open sky

-Ernesto P. Santiago

“We are a first world!”
We cry – unknown is the fact
That we will soon die.

– Katie Bell

slash-and-burn farming—                                                                                                                 one more NHS service                                                                                                                     reduced to its cost

-Shrikaanth krishnamurthy, Birmingham UK

My life, again; mine

and untold others, living,

made livable. Thanks.

-Sarah Peploe

Picks you up when all is lost

The NHS, it breathes life…

back into despair

They come through for us

Doctors and Nurses are there

Be there for them, Now!

Tell the children why

You can’t afford their care fees

Bet you can’t do it

– Charlie Rowland

Cut, try to stem a

haemorrhaging system, a

self-inflicted wound.

A tick of the pen

budget slashed to nothing.

No nurse to heal us.

Injured? Take a seat

a small plastic one over there.

Lords sit on velvet.

– Sean Smith

I can’t stop coughing
Unnecessary death sucks
Free health care is cool

– Kaela Starkman

nurses help,
doctors heal patients,
amplify life.

– Karen Rodgers

What is as good as

dead as preventable deaths

the NHS saved?

NATO allies throw

bombs with their talk of markets.

Wrap yourselves in white.

– Maureen Miller, USA

We came in crying

And stay amongst the dying

Care is more than words

Come one and come all

See the power of profit

Stealing from us all

– Joshua Deslatte

No beat of the heart

His on the Surgeons table

Save our NHS

– Louise Burgess

Professional medics

Determined to provide us

Care when we need it.

– Morna Sullivan

We lie ill in beds

They come and make us better

We should care for them

– Joan Barker

They want defunding,

Then complain the NHS

Is under-resourced

I’ve estimated

That without the NHS

I’d have died twelve times

I needn’t cook meth

To pay for cancer treatment

Thanks to free healthcare

Fuck every Tory

Who thinks that dying people

Owe them anything

– Hannah Froggatt

Unsung heroes dedicate their lives

to save us in our desperate hours.

Now we save them.

– Jess Burman

You can only cut

Something so much before it

Slowly bleeds to death.

-David Milligan-Croft.

What does it cost you

To forget the sick and dying?

How much for a life?

Decision makers

Acting in self interest

Will not heal the poor

– Andrea Mbarushimana

Beds and meds, they said,

Free to rich and poor alike

Don’t ruin that now.

– Juliet Staveley

Live without fetters:

Shoulder health and happiness

From cradle to grave

The day our children

Second guess their pains for fear

Of cost, all is lost

– John Blackmore

From the Blitz it grew,

They said it would be bomb proof.

We will be the shield.

All the blue Tories

Profiteering wantonly,

We’ll show the fuckers!

– Robert Holtom

Why our tempers fray?

Missus May, your trolley waits

and botched service rates

She has turned back time:

the dark days of the 90’s

where people die young

– Freya Scott Broomfield

For our NHS

Humanity that binds us

It cannot be lost

Quietly you sell

Our rights, in parts, Theresa

Know that we see you

Cold hard cash, money

Its so little to pay for

Lives, humanity

– Eva Reed

The dream of caring

Was gone in seventy years.

Leaves fall; the sun sets.

– Melody Clarke

they want to privatise

So they deprive the barely alive

Keep Britians pride alive

– Alina Ahmad

Death, disease

Hardship, pain

This is not a third world country

It’s 2017, in the UK

– Michael Gerard

To have forgotten

What it’s like to sleep soundly.

Poor Prime Minister.

– Shane Young

To cut health funding

you save little, and you lose

a nation of lives.

Her hand may subtract

health from the nation, but we;

the world! will stop her.

Hearts worldwide will stand

and join hands in waiting rooms

for the NHS.

– Courtney Lisa Minto, Australia

‘Haikus for the NHS’: NITRB announces winners

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Somerset-based poet and musician John Blackmore has been announced as the winner of Nothing in the Rulebook‘s inaugural poetry competition, ‘Haikus for the NHS‘.

The project was launched early in 2017 to use the power of poetry as protest – specifically, the power of haikus as protest – in support of the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS).

Blackmore’s poem was chosen from a shortlist of haikus by the poets Eva Reed, Juliet Staveley and Sarah Purvis. These haikus will be printed and distributed liberally during the national demonstration to support the NHS on Saturday 4 March.

“Against a backdrop of gross underfunding, continued cuts and closures of NHS services, and the increasing trend towards marketization and privatisation, the Conservative party are destroying one of the greatest achievements of working class people in Britain,” the founders of Nothing in the Rulebook said in a joint statement. “We are looking to use the power of poetry as protest to spread messages of support for the NHS and what it stands for.”

“We have been blown away by how popular our project proved – we received almost 200 haiku submissions, so many of which were of an incredibly high quality. We’d like to take the opportunity to thank each and every person who submitted haikus – especially those we received from international writers and poets. We had entries from Australia and the USA, with people getting in touch to say they want to lend a hand in whatever way possible to support an institution that is treasured not just in the UK but across the world,” they added.

“It demonstrates, really, both what makes the NHS so important; as well as the power of poetry as protest. It was fascinating to see how many haikus captured a powerful yet meditative sense of emotion that stays with you for days after reading what is, lest we forget, such a short-hand form of poetry.”

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John Blackmore’s winning haiku. Nothing in the Rulebook will also publish all winning and long-listed haikus online.

About John Blackmore

John Blackmore is a singer, songwriter, poet and English teacher based in Somerset. Much of his music (listen on Soundcloud) and writing draws on his experiences of, and interactions with, the people and places of his native west country. In 2011, John was a semi-finalist in the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award and, in 2014, he contributed music and literary comment to a BBC Radio 4 documentary concerning the Victorian Dorset Dialect poet William Barnes. He is part of the Poetry Society’s ‘Young Poets Network’ (read his prize-winning poems here).

 

Disappear Here: Launch Screening

 

logo 2 no backgroundDisappear Here – a poetic film project bringing together 18 Artists to create 27 poetry films exploring the Modernist/Brutalist superstructure of Coventry ringroad – has announced the date and venue of its free launch screening.

The event offers the opportunity to see the artist’s work produced over the last few months, find out more about their creative process in a Q&A session and connect with funders, supporters and citizens of Coventry.

Nothing in the Rulebook previously featured a detailed article about the project, which notes how Coventry Ringroad, which inspired the project, “is an archetype of reinvention. Each time the same A4053 road, but every journey around it different. It is the eye through which Coventry is (notoriously) seen, and can be seen, from above and below; a looping horizon where tarmac sea and brilliant blue sky meet and form a sinew of shuffling perspective.”

You can watch a trailer of the films here below:

Adam Steiner, Disappear Here Project Lead, said: “It’s been a great experience to work alongside emerging and established artists from Coventry and beyond to reimagine the ringroad through a series of poetry films.

“Coventry ringroad is one of the city’s most iconic (and notorious) physical landmarks , acting as both city wall, orbital conduit and dividing line. I feel the ringroad deserves to be celebrated as well as criticized – it is the duty of artists and citizens to engage with issues of public space, control of architecture and the human experience of our built environment – to shine a light on the fantastic, the boring and the universal in the everyday. Coventry has always been underrated as a place to live, work and create – so I hope the films will encourage people to visit and seek inspiration where they can to read, write and attend more poetry events!”

Laura McMillan, Manager, Coventry City of Culture Trust, said: “The diversity of artists, writers and filmmakers will be central to Coventry’s plans for UK City of Culture. This project engages artists in reflecting on an iconic feature  of a city that is constantly reinventing itself.”

Peter Knott, Area Director, Arts Council England said: “One of the Arts Council’s ambitions is to use our National Lottery funding to support the creation of new artistic work that entertains and inspires, which is why we invested in Disappear Here. It will be a great experience for people to take a fresh look at Coventry’s architecture and landscape through the eyes of these poets and filmmakers.”

The event is free – with some money left behind the bar for those who arrive on time. Please RSVP via eventbrite. 

Logodaedalus 

 

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“O’er Mendip, Dorset Downs and Glastonbury, to altitudes of Aeolian awe.” Photography by Mike Dodson/Vagabond Images

I

Of the apple, rotten to its core

Of gleaming realms decaying in the wake

Of terror, mass-destruction, debt and war

That then caused mankind’s foundations to shake.

Of mistrust, fear, corruption and deceit;

Of Earth and human nature, good and ill;

Ten years of violence, crime, atrocious feats

Committed by those who exploit free will.

Ten years that shaped a poet’s life and words

Success and sorrow, solitude and love;

An unrelenting passage through a world

Both helped and hindered by all things above.

Oh Muse, let not my young years be dismissed—

I have but lived a rambling rustic score

Beneath the gaze of Kings—I bid you list

Where my words will be whispered evermore.

A Milton not of mill towns but of hills

Like Barnes and Hardy led through Wessex Lanes

A man of worthy words and winding rills

Whose rural life by avarice is stained.

Memory! Fail me not, but let me see

Beyond the haze and gaze of those before,

O’er Mendip, Dorset Downs and Glastonbury,

To altitudes of Aeolian awe.

Dear reader triumph not in life’s disasters,

Be not unmoved by suffering and pain

Read what was done, by whom, and wonder after

Whether life can continue just the same.

There’s little I can change in modest verse,

This history holds but one didactic charm:

Change the world for better, not for worse

And close the stubborn door on years of harm;

I write in hope of happiness, health and calm.

* * *

Ten days of Autumn stole into the world

And I returned to noble school pursuits

With little fear or worry in my heart.

Pensive boy: enthralled by Summer’s embers,

Restlessly dreaming of odysseys gone

To darkling moors and warm littoral sand,

Keeper of a blithe and youthful mind,

Captive to the ocean’s ebb and flow

And rural bonds of homely love alone,

Yours were the final throes of blameless bliss,

The simple earth, a lucid life since lost.

Somnolence can never last forever:

Grieving for a close grand matriarch,

A Hibernian Muse unparalleled

In wit and loving care, demanded strength

And, single figures gone, long leafy lanes

Could harbour such a boy little longer.

Nine months—less: ’til June the following year

Were mine to grow, to prove my worth and leave;

Age and time demanded greater knowledge,

New faces, forums, large amphitheatres.

These were then beyond remit and mind:

Transpositions past all those then perceived.

But as the bell that tolls chimes for us all,

And ripples disperse from the pebble thrown

In fits of rage and malice from afar,

The world as known was shaken, shattered, bruised

By New York City’s flaming, falling towers.

For, Babel like, yet at the hand of man,

A proud nation’s glittering spires fell

Confounding all four corners of the Earth.

The eleventh of September saw dark Hell

Return the globe to chaos and conflict

Unseen in over sixty years since war

Threatened to terminate mankind for good.

Oh evil churlish men! What agonies

Must you inflict on fellow man?

Samsons from all seasons, sides, époques

Are claimed and crushed in West and East alike.

Was not one fall enough to see the fault?

We seem’d determined to resign ourselves

To second state of envy, blood and hate;

Two toppl’ng tow’rs, when selfishly destroyed,

Undermined hopes of an Edenic state.

A child returned to have this chaos eek

From moving image into heart and soul:

Memory fragments, metal shards imbibed

And drunk unwillingly through enfant eyes.

What words might best describe existence since

Than anger, fear and sadness, death and war?

In days revenge was waged anew on him

With whom responsibility seemed to fall

Thousands of miles away across great seas

And deserts; an elusive figure, Bin

Laden was named and soon all Hell ensued.

“What made him send those young men off to die?”

“Suicide bombs or brainwashed murderers?”

“How can we stop this happening again?”

“Is any place on earth considered safe?”

Murmured questions hung on every lip;

Whispering women soothed unknowing babes

Unknowing what the future held themselves.

For that is what terror prescribes to do.

To shake, to doubt, to question and to stop

Actions others envy and disapprove.

A War on Terror?—An oxymoron;

Fire fighting fire fighting fire

‘Till all are burnt and all resigned to lose.

Still in rural calm, young minds perceived

The world had changed, digressed on roads all new.

A father’s fear was intangibly felt;

Innocent anxiety, deep and dark

Half-eased and quelled in fierce loving embrace,

All while macabre jets of light laid waste

To Afghan men, women and children far

Beyond the realms of infant cognisance.

And daily torrents, hails of bullets flew:

Fountains of fire streamed all around the world;

Visceral libations floridly hurled

By morbid media to quench our minds,

Satisfy unsavoury appetites,

Until this daily death and destruction

Made us impervious to Afghan plights.

A captain, Hamid Khazi, was sworn in,

To steady a nation which was breaking,

Almost unnoticed by the wider world—

His steering brave, unfeared, yet Hamletic:

Taking arms against a sea of troubles

That broiled and brothed far out of his control.

Within a month another vice arose

As if to warn of what was yet to come.

The price of Avarice and Greed supplanted

Deeds of War that raged afar elsewhere;

The blind and stumbling Cyclops, Enron Corp.

Collapsed and died, it seemed, at No-one’s hands

In the vein of that old Polyphemus.

The guilty few who tumbled cared little:

While those left fleeced would suffer evermore.

Soon int’rest here, too, waned like aging moons:

Our local screens proclaimed a global news

Skewed to the supposed int’rest of the main,

That sowed unconscious, silent ignorance

Of agony, deep hurt and destruction

Like holy fire through society.

So closed a year that left the world on edge:

An occidental civilisation

Had creaked and heaved as if in Portland’s Race.

A Rome, Carthage and Greece that stumbles on,

Connected? Logged on? Yes—but not to life.

To money. Moral worries all unheard

As Christmas light and song brought distraction.

At midnight, at Burn’s Auld Lang Syne we cheered

To welcome in a palindromic year.

 

~ Written by John Blackmore 

About Logodaedalus

Logodaedalus is a modern-day epic poem, written by the Somerset-based Poet John Blackmore. With his permission, we have serialised the poem, and will be bringing you further instalments over the coming weeks. Keep an eye out for book II in this epic.

About the poet

john-blackmoreJohn Blackmore is a singer, songwriter, poet and English teacher based in Somerset. Much of his music and writing draws on his experiences of, and interactions with, the people and places of his native west country. In 2011, John was a semi-finalist in the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award and, in 2014, he contributed music and literary comment to a BBC Radio 4 documentary concerning the Victorian Dorset Dialect poet William Barnes.
You can listen to John’s music on Sound Cloud: https://soundcloud.com/j-blackmore
John is part of the Poetry Society’s ‘Young Poets Network’. You can read some of John’s prize-winning poems online: http://poems.poetrysociety.org.uk/poets/john-blackmore/

Poetry as protest

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We live in a time when language is deliberately misused and manipulated – frequently for malicious purposes – to serve and support those in power. This is a time of ‘alt-facts’, an Orwellian landscape in which language is a tool of deception and demagoguery.

The cries against this state of affairs are often silenced or minimised precisely because there is a lack of available tools to articulate an effective challenge. Beyond the obvious decline of trade unions and collective action, there is also a lack of control over language itself; we are unable to change the terms of argument because we are not in control of the narrative or discourse in which we find ourselves.

The reason for this is two-fold.

Firstly, the mainstream media is controlled by elite corporate power – 6 corporations own 90% of the media in the USA, and just 3 corporations control 70% of the media in the UK. The media therefore has none of the independence or freedom that is supposed to make it a tool of the people to challenge power. Noam Chomsky explains this problem pretty succinctly:

“The media serve, and propagandize on behalf of, the powerful societal interests that control and finance them. The representatives of these interests have important agendas and principles that they want to advance, and they are well positioned to shape and constrain media policy.”

Secondly, the rise of social media – which was trumpeted by many as a means of empowering the people and removing the power of corporatized media – has not delivered an age of enlightened thought. In fact, the opposite has occurred; with a rise of misinformation, and the creation of siloed communities of likeminds who more often than not confirm, rather than challenge, existing biases held by individuals. Rather than open people’s minds to new ways of thinking, social media reduces our willingness to be open minded and reinforces our entrenched opinions. Recent studies have shown that documentary maker, Adam Curtis, was perhaps right when he claimed the internet and social media were doing the opposite of what they were created to do:

 “[They] facilitate communities of solipsists, interpassive networks of like-minds who confirm, rather than challenge, each other’s assumptions and prejudices. Instead of having to confront other points of view in a contested public space, these communities retreat into closed circuits.”

If the problem lies within articulation of thought, therefore, the solution must be one which enables effective expression of ideas just as effectively as the political language of our current demagogues currently delivers a succession of political victories for neo-fascists like Donald Trump and the extreme right wing of the Conservative Party that currently finds itself leading the UK with an unelected Prime Minister.

And so this leads us to poetry – which perhaps may be surprising, given we live in a time when poetry is so often dismissed as being irrelevant.

Yet while poetry may now be found on the margins of public discourse, it is no less important. This is because poetry, like political language, is rarely spoken without intention. Furthermore, poetry has advantages and intrinsic attributes that political language and rhetoric lacks: including – but not limited to – a drive towards articulating a truth that is universal. Consider the words of the brilliant activist and poet Audre Lorde:

“Poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives.”

Rather than seek to confuse the listener and disguise meaning in order to achieve malicious objectives, in the way politicians so frequently use ‘triangulation’ and jargon to cover their true intentions; poetry by contrast seeks to make clear that which was uncertain or hidden.

Unlike political speech, poetry cannot afford to misuse language. Should a poet do otherwise, they sacrifice the very reason for a poem’s existence. Because above all else the language used in a poem must be precise and accurate. Every word must be chosen with the utmost care. Every word must count towards an ultimate goal – which is the delivery of meaning to the reader or listener of the poem. Above all, this goal must be towards truth – as Wilfred Owen wrote: “true poets, must be truthful”.

The poet must therefore labour over exact, precise articulation – since the poet understands that every word used creates a world, creates a meaning (to follow Derrida and Lacan), and that each word added or removed alters this meaning, and alters the world.

This touches upon what makes poetry so powerful as a tool of protest – as a weapon we can use to challenge the malicious powers that have risen to prominence in this age. Because poetry is far more than grammar and syntax – the terms and measurements that help us identify and discuss language scientifically. It is more than copy on a page. It is rhythm; it is sensations; it is incantation. And, through this, poetry becomes meaning. It becomes truth.

Poetry’s essence, therefore, produces a visceral effect that can inspirit, inspire, and transform those who read and hear it. And it is this that makes poetry such a powerful tool for speaking out against the wrongs of the day – for channelling the universal human feelings of every man and every woman into something meaningful and real, into a form of protest and resistance.

Of course, the idea of poetry as protest is not new. In 1819, for instance, Percy Bysshe Shelley was moved to pen poetic verse in protest at the Peterloo massacre. The Masque of Anarchy advocates radical social action and non-violent resistance: “Shake your chains to earth like dew / Which in sleep had fallen on you- / Ye are many — they are few”.

More recently, the swinging sixties and the Vietnam war also saw protest poetry emerge and blossom. See, for instance, Adrian Mitchell’s Tell me lies about Vietnam (available for free via The Guardian), a few lines of which are printed below:

“Every time I shut my eyes, all I see is flames
I made a marble phone-book, and I carved all the names
So coat my eyes with butter
Fill my ears with silver
Stick my legs in plaster
Tell me lies about Vietnam”

Then you have the searing, satirical masterpiece The Revolution Will Not Be Televised by Gil Scott-Heron, featuring lines that simultaneously call for change while comically critiquing the current state of affairs:

The revolution will not be televised.
The revolution will not be brought to you by the
Schaefer Award Theatre and will not star Natalie
Woods and Steve McQueen or Bullwinkle and Julia.
The revolution will not give your mouth sex appeal.
The revolution will not get rid of the nubs.
The revolution will not make you look five pounds
Thinner, because the revolution will not be televised, Brother.

Scott-Heron’s lines work on the page; but they are also made more powerful by his own incantatory delivery of them. His voice electrifies the poem and gives it new meaning, and – for some – makes the possibility of revolution and protest more real.

Yet the performative element of spoken word poetry perhaps is also one of the charges sometimes levied against it. Scott-Heron’s poem even serves as an example here: precisely because his call for the revolution not to be televised will for most people be watched on television screens (or, in this age, on computer screens). There is a touch of cynicism to Scott-Heron’s poem, too – an acknowledgement that his poetry lives in a world in which a protest against mainstream media is the exact sort of thing that will be broadcast across mainstream media.

This, of course, is a paradox of modern capitalism, touched upon by the late, great political theorist and writer Mark Fisher in his book Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative, who uses the example of Kurt Cobain to illustrate the point:

“In his dreadful lassitude and objectless rage, Cobain seemed to have give wearied voice to the despondency of the generation that had come after history, whose every move was anticipated, tracked, bought and sold before it had even happened. Cobain knew he was just another piece of spectacle, that nothing runs better on MTV than a protest against MTV; knew that his every move was a cliché scripted in advance, knew that even realising it is a cliché. The impasse that paralysed Cobain in precisely the one that Fredric Jameson described: like postmodern culture in general, Cobain found himself in ‘a world in which stylistic innovation is no longer possible, where all that is left is to imitate dead styles in the imaginary museum’.”

Fisher’s outlook on our future hinges on our ability to effect radical social change. Yet he is pessimistic mainly because he does not identify a clear tool or solution to help us achieve this. He does, however, hint at what any theoretical tool must be able to do:

“If capitalist realism is so seamless, and if current forms of resistance are so hopeless and impotent, where can an effective challenge come from? A moral critique of capitalism, emphasizing the ways in which it leads to suffering, only reinforces capitalist realism. Poverty, famine and war can be presented as an inevitable part of reality, while the hope that these forms of suffering could be eliminated easily painted as naive utopianism. Capitalist realism can only be threatened if it is shown to be in some way inconsistent or untenable; if, that is to say, capitalism’s ostensible ‘realism’ turns out to be nothing of the sort.”

The final sentence is crucial, here – because it highlights the way forward. In order to overcome the capitalist system that has produced the age of Donald Trump and ‘alt-facts’, it must be shown to be unreal – it must be shown to be false.

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Will writers lead the next revolution against the world of alt-facts? Photo credit: Ed Lederman/PEN America

Once again, poetry appears as a real solution – for it is perhaps only poetry that has the ability to reveal this reality effectively. To return once more to Lorde, by revealing those in power for what they really are, poetry can become more than protest – it can incite the radical change needed for revolution:

“I want my poems–I want all of my work–to engage, and to empower people to speak, to strengthen themselves into who they most want and need to be and then to act, to do what needs being done. In other words, learn to use themselves in the service of what I believe. As we move toward empowerment, we face the other inseparable question, what are we empowering ourselves for? In other words, how do we use this power we are reaching for? We can’t separate those two. June Jordan once said something which is just wonderful. I’m paraphrasing her–that her function as a poet was to make revolution irresistible. Well o.k. that is the function of us all, as creative artists, to make the truth, as we see it irresistible. That’s what I want to do with all of my writing.”

Regardless of whether the revolution is televised or not, if it is poetically led, it will become irresistible; and if it becomes irresistible, then perhaps it will also become inevitable.

So, where is this poet-warrior-led revolution going to start? And where are the poems to inspire it? Well, we’ve launched our Haikus for the NHS’ poetry project to – hopefully – ignite the initial revolutionary flames. Why not let the spirit of poetry as protest burn in your inkwells and get involved ahead of the national demonstration in support of the UK’s National Health Service on 4 March?