I was going to head this as Political Poetry, but I decided I don’t know what that means. I’ve read a lot of poetry which touches on political issues. Much of it is very poor poetry, including swathes of MacDiarmid’s writing (some of it I can’t even see it as poetry). Too often political poetry descends into polemical ranting, which I can’t abide. However, I have at times been touched by poems which reflect on matters which can be regarded as political – read Adrian Mitchell’s work, for example. If we widen the issue to include poetry which comments on social issues, the choice of good reading widens correspondingly.
The thought is prompted by the knowledge that I’ve got two readings coming up which have social/political issues at their hearts. The first is one promoted by Amnesty International, whose aims and objectives I wholeheartedly support. This particular reading is to focus on peace, and I’ve written on wars in the past – Hiroshima, concentration camps, the Somme, the illegal and immoral invasion of Iraq – so I have a tranche of poems lined up on that subject. But I’m going to personalise the reading by including other poems on personal conflict and social issues, finishing with three of my poems from Tibet. I’ll talk about the civil rights problems in the region, which I’ve observed. The other reading is one on anti-sectarianism, hosted by the Federation of Writers (Scotland), of which I’m proud to be Makar. Here I’m on shakier ground. I was brought up in a household which was atheist and humanistic, so I didn’t have any formal exposure to any organised religion as a child. When I was of an age where I could think about spiritual and philosophical matters for myself, I discovered Zen Buddhism, and that is the path I have followed since my teenage years. When I encounter sectarianism, whether it’s between sects of Christianity, Hindu-Moslem conflicts, oppression of religious or sectarian groups, I’m looking at them from the outside, dispassionately, without personal involvement or experience. So my poetry doesn’t take sides between sects or religions or political philosophies, and that’s the position I will adopt in choosing poems for this reading.