By Judi Sutherland in Britain:
Poetry that commits to the struggle
Thursday 23rd April 2015
Poets know that creative ideas sometimes emerge from a collision of disparate events. This was the case with my poetry blog/zine, The Stare’s Nest.
It had two unlikely muses: Jeremy Paxman and Nigel Farage.
The European elections of May 2014 plunged me into despair. I watched the rise of Ukip, aided by Farage’s constant appearances on TV and in print. After the results were announced, the news programmes reported that 31 million people had not bothered to vote. Presumably they didn’t think it mattered.
I was reminded of the variously-attributed aphorism that “all that it takes for evil to triumph in the world is for good men to do nothing.” And the British electorate did nothing, in droves.
A few days later, during the annual hoopla of the Forward Prizes for Poetry, Jeremy Paxman — the profoundly underqualified chair of the judges — declared that poetry has “connived with its own irrelevance,” because, according to Paxo, poets have stopped talking to the public and are only addressing each other.
I wanted to create a space for poetry that is relevant to that apparently oblivious public. Poetry that deals with social and political issues in a clear and direct way.
I set up a website and called it The Stare’s Nest, after a poem by WB Yeats, “stare” being an Irish term for “starling.”
Yeats, writing in 1922 about the civil war in Ireland, wrote: “We had fed our hearts on fantasies / The heart’s gone brutal from the fare / More substance in our enmities / Than in our love; O honey bees / Come build in the empty house of the Stare.”
I recognised the syndrome. In Britain today, enmities have been whipped up towards religious believers, immigrant groups, the poor, the disabled, the unemployed. The way our media operates is based on engendering hatred and setting people against each other (see Benefits Street for example), to cause the kind of sensation that sells papers and raises TV ratings.
We are encouraged to feed our hearts on fantasies and they grow brutal on this diet of fear and suspicion.
So I asked for poems about righteous anger, poems which rail against bigotry and political guile, also asked for poems which illustrate the things that really matter: the relationships and encounters, the little celebrations of what we have in common.
Tell us how it is, I asked the poets, but also tell us how it could be.
The poems started flowing in and mostly they have been of incredibly high quality. We have had contributions from Brazil to Bengal, from Tunisia to Shetland. Some well-known poets have been kind enough to contribute — I won’t list them, but you can find them in our tag cloud — and to all of them I am deeply grateful.
We have also featured new poets, sometimes giving space to their very first published work.
Some poems are polished and beautiful, while others are less sophisticated, but were included because of the passion behind the lines or because of the poet’s unique life experience.
Through all of those, I feel able to trace a still, small voice speaking of hope in the face of the many counsels of despair that we are subjected to.
These poems build our understanding of what we share: our common humanity. You can find them at www.thestaresnest.com.
We have over a hundred hits every day, plus 679 followers who have the daily poem delivered to their inbox and a respectable presence on Twitter (@thestaresnest).
After the election, I’m not sure. It’s a lot of work, at the moment I also have a full-time job and my own writing is falling by the wayside. I’m wondering whether there should be a little book — The Best of the Nest, maybe — to sell in aid of a charity that shares the site’s ethos.
If that happens, I will do my best to get a relevant copy to Jeremy Paxman.