In all our sanctuaries we sit at risk

Songs from our Seclusion (congratulations, Keir Starmer)


What can poetry offer our enforced Corvid-19 seclusion, this locked-in time of question, tension, upset and loss, this desert time ?

In some eras and cultures, poetry has played and still plays a major role in the community’s life. In others, barely any. And only partly does that depend on how good the poets are. In the UK, how many of us are getting Shakespeare out, in these days ?

I’d like to send something out into the ether now and every day for a while, just in case it can offer something, or speak to someone in a meaningful way.

Once, an age ago, during an election campaign, I sent a short poem a day to my local MP and her campaign team. I called the series “Poems for the Campaign.” The “campaign” I meant was for a more human and civilised society. Was there time or place for a bit of poetry in that campaign ? Is there poetry in it ? Might the odd poem even help, or encourage, the campaigners ? Might it open up and make larger some moment between phone calls ? Might it act as a stepping stone, sometimes, through the torrent ?

Earlier I had done something similar, but less frequent, and called it “Poems for Between Times.” And I sent it round to individuals I knew were working under intense psychological pressure. For display on their desks, perhaps, beside the phone, for the eye to rest on during off-moments, between sentences, between meetings, between times. To display on the computer screen. For the eye to pass back to the mind. A sort of key to an inner door, a stillness in the palaver, an inward pause and expansiveness between times.

I want to do something similar here. I shall post up, and send round individually to my friends, a very short passage of poetry a day, a snatch of a thought, a glimmer. In case one or another rest in the mind. In case the mind, in turn, may rest a little in the words.

In the first instance, at least, they will come from two series of poems, both written almost simultaneously in Greece in the spring of 1994. One explores the notion of I – Thou, empathy and community (pace Martin Buber “I and Thou”) ; the other the notion of the shadow, the hidden aspect in each of us (pace Carl Jung).

For there are signs of a widespread yearning for a kinder world, to follow our present traumas. A feeling that we mustn’t just go back to where we were before. But greater kindness, a lasting connectedness, can only come if we understand better our fears, our hates, our desolation, the causes of our furies and divisions. Such things do not just evaporate when the infection passes.

For me, each of the two series is only really meaningful if it is read in conjunction with the other. Though they are completely different, they belong together.

Each of them can be found in its entirety on the right hand side of the home page of this blog. The extracts from them that I am now planning to post up on a daily basis are often quite extensively revised. And that is in recognition of this new time, my new ancientness, and their new nature as extracts standing alone, and no longer just part of, or link in, a more extensive passage or argument.

If you find value in them, or in one or two of them in particular, please share them as widely as possible.

I am finishing this note on the day we’ve heard that Keir Starmer has won the election for the Labour leadership. And won convincingly, which also matters. This result was always Labour’s only hope as a political force, and beyond that, the UK’s only route towards a viable and honourable future. If we help him.

With a poem or two ? It will take a bit more than that. But his success means that Labour is not lost yet. There is enough sanity among its membership to ensure the right person, the only person, won through.

Congratulations, Keir Starmer. Congratulations, Labour. Now change your title. Your task is to represent and restore a whole nation, not just a class abused. The restoration of our nation will be as much the child of Labour as the NHS has been, and it is also Labour’s best hope.