The Politics issue

October 1, 2016

I’m currently putting the final touches to October Snakeskin – the politics edition. It will probably go online late on the first or early on the second of October.
When I set the politics challenge a couple of months ago, the EU referendum had just produced a result that showed Britain divided, after a campaign that a fractious and divided nation, whose tribes were hardly able to communicate with one another, and often showed little respect for one another. In America the bullying demotic of Mr. Trump seemed to be overtaking civil discourse. Worse than that, it was producing its mirror-image in the rhetoric of his opponents, whose anger at his success was increasingly expressed in language marked with bitterness, stereotyping and an unattractive intellectual snobbishness.
I was hoping for poems that would look beyond the stereotypes and the anger. I wrote:

Please don’t send me poems explaining that you are cleverer than Donald Trump. I know that. Send poems about society, about social relations, about politicians, about social conditions, about conflict, about possibilities, about violence, about life.

Wit and satire are welcome, but priority will be given to poems that manage to be both positive and intelligent.

Poets, being poets, of course largely ignored these instructions. For many, it seems, the worrd ‘Politics’ means an excuse to let rip with spleen and name-calling. I have been sent a plethora of poems making personal attacks on Mr. Trump. I even received one that was nasty about Mrs Trump.
Tony Blair was a target for bitter abuse, too, while others wrote with scorn about all politicians – denouncing the lot as stupid, inept or corrupt.
Such poems certainly did not fit the rubric of ‘positive’. Were they ‘intelligent’? Some were well-made poems, with a cutting edge that might have found a place in other issues. Some were doubtless well-justified in their anger, but I’m afraid I grew increasingly critical of the voice of resentment and loathing, and the labeling of fellow-citizens as deplorable beings whose opinions and grievances were not worth listening to. I tired also of the voice of cynicism. Not all politicians are crooks, and it is lazy thinking to label them so. Yes, I too have written poems in the past that were scornful of the whole political profession, and sometimes there is a place for such. But this time I was looking for something else.
So what will you find in October Snakeskin?
I was especially pleased to receive a batch of poems from Tom Vaughan, a British ex-diplomat who has seen international politics in close-up. In them we hear the intelligent voice of political experience; five are included in the issue.

233faludy
György Faludy

Another highlight, and a reminder of why politics matter, and the appalling results when politics go wrong, is another in Thomas Land’s series of translations from the Hungarian. Once again he gives us a version of a poem by György Faludy, who resisted the Nazis, escaped to America and on his return home was condemned to a labour camp by the Communists. His poem is about an imagined meeting with Osip Mandelstam, the great Russian poet who died in one of Stalin’s camps.
There are other good things too. Poems by socialists trying to see a way forward through current troubles, alongside poems that take a more conservative view of human culture.
So – my apologies to those who open the October issue hoping to find swingeing poems that endorse their prejudices. What you will find instead are poems that take political issues and look at them slantwise. I think it’s rather a good issue.

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One Response to “The Politics issue”

  1. Annie Fisher Says:

    Looking forward to it, George.


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