It’s now five years since the illegal and immoral invasion of Iraq. It coincides nearly to the day with StAnza each year, and each year in St Andrews I think about it. Back then I wasn’t a StAnza board member, just a poet doing readings and schools workshops. I had been a lifelong member of the Labour Party (well, 37 years anyway), an activist, and a friend and supporter of the late Robin Cook. Before the festival I had my resignation letter written, and I remember telling Elaine Feinstein that I was going to send it off if the invasion happened. She tried to dissaude me, but my mind was made up. I said in my letter that I felt I wasn’t leaving the Labour Party; it had left me. So shock and awe happened, and my letter went off. I’ll never join a political party again – there is no honour in politics whatsoever nowadays.
This year’s StAnza, with its theme of poetry and conflict, brought it all back, especially in the poetry of Brian Turner, who served in the war, and whose experiences are given vivid poignancy in his poetry.
And now I’m also in turmoil over what’s happening in Tibet. Anyone who has visited that country feels a connection with it, and I am no exception. Seeing the images of Sera Monastery and the Barkhor district of Lhasa I can’t believe how peaceful it all seemed just a few weeks ago.