Sunday, 10 July 2016
I Carry A Placard
Friday 24th June was a troubling day - the date had long been in my mind. I woke early to the news of the Leave vote, felt stunned.
Much has been written about the reasons for and fallout from the millions of decisions made by individuals faced on 23rd June with a binary choice: Remain / Leave - a choice reducing the nuances and complexities of the UK's relationship with the EU to something blunt and, as it turns out, dangerous.
The reason the date of 24th June had been on my mind, however, was more personal. That evening, I read as the guest poet in the Shore to Shore tour organised by Picador and Wenlock Books. Carol Ann Duffy, Gillian Clarke, Imtiaz Dharker, Jackie Kay and John Sampson stopped off here to perform at one of a series of events celebrating poetry and community spread along a route from Falmouth to St Andrew's.
All that day, I wondered what to read. The set I'd planned in advance seemed flimsy, inconsequential. What could a few hundred words do or mean in this context of new social, political and economic upheaval? I am not a poet of grand themes - I write about what's ordinary: about queuing, about small encounters, about everyday instances of connection.
What I remember most clearly about the evening, two weeks on, is the transformation of the confused and sombre mood by the reading of poetry, along with John's fanfares and musical frolics, to a responsive, bewildered and committed audience. I remember being amongst strong and strongly feeling women whose welcome of me, whose humour, fury, passion and incredulity gave me a sense that all was not utterly lost.
'Everything is politics', says Thomas Mann. And so I started with my poem Michelangelo's David. It's about a queue. But it's set in Florence. So it's also about love, language, and the fluidity and permeability of borders between people and cultures. It's about the joy of the taken-for-grantedness of those exchanges: it's about knowing the words pizza, gelato, cappuccino without having to try. I read the poem with new energy, as an act of poetry.
After all the beauty and wisdom of the poems read in sorrow, conviction and rage by Gillian, Jackie, Imtiaz and Carol Ann, right at the end, each of us poets, with Carol Ann directing, raised in turn a defiant placard. I held up my one word feeling that sense I often get amongst poets: of being held, of belonging not just to this momentary four word phrase, but to people amongst whom truths must be told.