old favourite

March 7, 2012

GLOBAL JUSTICE NOW

This poem is going to save the world tonight.

This poem is going to show you

How corrupt

Those who lead us are.

This poem is going to reveal their lies

This phony war

Exposed before your very eyes

And on those eyes

As we tread the road to Damascus

Lie scales.

But the scales fall from your eyes

As the terrible truth is revealed.

 

They lie to us!

The poem announces;

Hush! Be quiet!

Words like that could start a revolution.

 

The atmosphere was electric

The focal point of every eye

As I shout out

For all to hear

War is wrong! Politicians lie!

 

The audience were astounded;

Around me

At a poetry night

In Brighton

Something beautiful took place;

 

The Brighton poetry lovers

Cast aside their right wing opinions

Like the Daily Express

Folded and left on a train.

 

Meanwhile, in Parliament…

His glass eye washed in saline

His expression was a frown

And an awful revelation

Occured to Gordon Brown;

 

“Wait! Stop!

Pause the satanic mills!

For a poet down in Brighton

Has an issue with the ills

That we bring to society

It’s time we have a change!

I know we’re making money

And life is pretty good

But the way we go about it

Just isn’t how we should.”

 

It was a humbled Gordon

Lowering red briefcase in shame

And the tongues in the House of Commons

Were ringing with my name;

 

“The words of this poet in Brighton

Have cut straight through our lies

The proletariat are revolting!

The scales are leaving their eyes!”

 

Like ‘Global Justice Now!’

Penned in aerosol

This poem has converted the preached-to

 

It’s big, it’s clever

It couldn’t be much bolder

And good reviews are swarming in

Like bees on a record holder.

 

Swords are just used to cut ploughmans

The tanks just hold water now

And what once was a millitary base

Is a field with a well-fed cow

 

A spark of optimism

Twinkles in every eye

And above all the buildings

We see the red banners fly

 

All it took

Was this truth seldom spoke

War is wrong. Politicians lie.

*     *     *     *     *

I wrote this about five years ago.  It’s my first ever political poem, and I wrote it after going to one too many poetry nights and hearing people reading poems about politics. At the time I didn’t really know a way of writing poetry about politics other than going on about fighting the power. And please don’t get me wrong here, I’m totally all about fighting the power and social justice and all that. I’m just not that interested in poetry about how Tony Blair is a liar and George Bush is a right bastard.

There seems to be a lot less political poetry about these days, at least in what I’ve seen recently – I wrote this a few months before Gordy became PM (and thought it would be prescient to future-date it. That and at the time I was really into glass eyes.) I’m not sure if it’s because war inspired people to write political poetry more than social injustice would. Or that social injustice and “the cuts” are a more complex issue (and a less visually dramatic issue), so it’s hard to write something simplistic about it.  So there are less poems, but ultimately more thoughtful ones.

I realise this is mostly a set of sweeping generalisations. There are undoubtably some very good political poems, and I’d hate to tar the genre with one brush. It’s important to say something and to point out injustice if it’s taking place, but if you want your message to be seen as anything vaguely important, (and even then, don’t count on it) you’ve got to say something interesting. And please, don’t tell people what to think. It always reminds me of The Guardian encouraging its readers to write to swing voters in Florida during the 2004 presidential election, urging voters not to re-elect George Bush. The Florida residents, furious at being patronised by a bunch of lefty brits, subsequently voted Republican with a greater majority than four years ago. Telling people what they think or what they ought to do is

These days, I write about politics (or newspapers) all the time, and I don’t by any stretch of the imagination recommend it. Personally, I’m completely obsessed with the minutiae of politics – Thatcher eating 24 eggs a week, Charles Kennedy smoking on a train, Ed Miliband solving rubiks cubes, etc, and unless re-reading Alistair Campbell’s diaries is your idea of fun, it’s not a path for all to follow.

Poetry and politics are both endlessly self-referential. Just as every poet is weighed down by the dead poets on their back, every politician carries a folder of headlines and soundbites of the past wherever they go.  Cliches are endlessly re-worked in speeches in a parade of Westminster in-jokes.

They’re also both universally ignored by a large portion of the population. But the crucial difference is that politics directly affects pretty much everyone, whilst poetry sadly doesn’t. It’s important to be interested in politics, it’s nice to be interested in poetry.

I’m not entirely sure where this meander is going. Personally, I’ve got fairly strong political views, but I can’t find a satisfactory way to put them in a poem without straying into didacticism. I’ve felt much more comfortable about writing about politics lately, and I’m cautiously optimistic about the benefits of doing so, as long as it’s done well. Just don’t expect anyone to change their mind.

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