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:
Tony Blair was a common target for virulent abuse, too, while others wrote with scorn about all politicians – denouncing the lot as stupid, inept or corrupt.
Such poems 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.
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.
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, one way or another, look at them slantwise. I think it’s rather a good issue.