It’s been a very busy year for me in my ‘other’ poetry life as a publisher, and I do feel I’ve rather neglected my poetry blog in amongst a lot of editing, typesetting and general day-to-day things.
I have however been grateful for a little more time in the last year for my writing – I have joined a superb and very supportive poetry group, and have even found time to send poems out, with several of my poems being published online this year.
I was delighted when Josephine Corcoran’s excellent poetry blog, And Other Poems, chose to feature two of my horse poems. I hadn’t really thought of myself as a nature or animal poet, but I realise there has been an increasing preponderance of these subjects in amongst my usual sort of topics. There’s some kingfishers and herons, the occasional otter, and this returning to horses in several poems. And Other Poems featured two of these poems, ‘Seven Horse Secrets’ and ‘Odds On’ – the latter inspired by the stranger-than-fiction backstories and afterlives of several well-known racehorses and the financial crash in Ireland (where many racehorses, bought as status symbols at the height of the ‘Celtic Tiger’ boom, were later abandoned, left to starve and put down – you can read more about this here and here.) The bit about the letters being written to ‘Himself, Ireland’ refers to the Guinness-drinking racehorse legend Arkle, whose strung-out skeleton you can see here.
Horses hold something of a fascination for me. There is something melancholic and something unexplained about these large, beautiful and fiercely intelligent creatures, who like dogs have been at our side since the earliest of human times. It’s a complex relationship, tangled in with a lot of very mixed shared history – where cruelty and mistreatment as much as intense companionship and loyalty mark out this animal-human relationship, where legends, mythologies and the symbolism of horses continue to be a part of our culture as they were in ancient times. The reality of the eight million horses who died in WW1 could just as easily be placed and belong within Greek or Roman legend, just as those abandoned Irish racehorses seemed to say something greater about the economic crisis and human nature.
I have also been reading and much appreciating The Stare’s Nest. Billed as ‘poetry for a more hopeful world’ it works both as an antidote but also (and more importantly) an essential, thoughtful and humane response to some of the dark and despondent events both internationally and closer to home in recent times. The site has featured a real range of responses from a broad selection of poets, established names alongside many newer talents – all with a unique view and plenty to say. I was really pleased, then, that my poem ‘Border Dispute’ was selected to feature amongst such good company on The Stare’s Nest, with a few more to follow from me in the new year.
We sit here at the foot of a new year, and it’s hard not to feel a little nervous and perturbed about the year that lies ahead in 2015. It brings elections that in themselves may be divisive and bitter – especially after a year in which saw the worrying rise of UKIP and government policies that continued to hit the poor, disabled, and disadvantaged hardest and are, at the very least, degrading and utterly callous. It raises an awful lot of questions about what kind of country we want to be, and where we are heading. I hold out hope that we can choose a better future collectively, and not a nastier, more selfish and myopic one. It feels like a very frail hope at times, and too often this year I’ve turned the radio off when it’s made me feel too angry at the kind of things I am hearing: foodbanks, people struggling and starving on low wages or slashed benefits, the privileged telling the poor that porridge is cheap and it’s all just a matter of manging your budgets better and learning to cook… I am aware too that there are many poeple out there who cannot simply turn off the radio and make the bad news go away – this is their lived experience and reality.
I don’t expect poetry can change much of this, but certainly it can express some of these things and offer a shared experience or sense of injustice. It can challenge preconceptions or offer empathy and better understanding that improves us or challenges us to think more deeply or more carefully; it can also mobilise and motivate us to make a change, or communicate the unsaid or unsayable to a wider audience. Angela France has a brilliant and very memorable poem based around WH Auden’s much-quoted line ‘poetry makes nothing happen’ in which poetry does, in fact make ‘nothing’ happen (albeit all for the better) in a series of positive, hopeful and peaceful forms. I wish I could link to it, but can’t see it online anyway, so I will ask Angela if it is linkable as it is well worth sharing. If nothing else, the poem’s potential to proffer hope, to offer in the darkest of times both the critique and the glimmers of daylight shows why its power as a way of voicing identity, protesting injustice or celebrating humane values remains important. I’m grateful for projects that offer us poems for strange or trying times, like Anthony Wilson’s blog of Lifesaving Poems (soon to be a Bloodaxe anthology in 2015, and very deservedly so) as well as The Stare’s Nest, and continue to remain grateful and indebted to those who wrote important, challenging and outspoken things in 2014 and made me think that little bit harder or make a connection with them over a shared thought or emotion, and who will continue to do so into the next year and beyond.
So here’s to all of you for a great New Year and looking forward for a happy, healthy and very productive 2015. To those that write, may you continue to find plenty of good, creative and startling things to say that keep us in your fine company. Here’s to hope and better things ahead!