It’s just being talked about at the moment but we need to make sure the reasons why curfew is not a good idea are spread far and wide. We know what works. Back in March, we shut down everything we could, got into the habit of checking on the vulnerable and stayed home as long as it was possible to do so.
The R number went down. Infections went down and, most importantly, deaths went down. It wasn’t all good. Many, many people had a hard time because we have a government that does not see looking after people as its job. It didn’t work as well as it would have done if they’d kept a check on airport arrivals, but we did get control of virus spread and prevent overwhelm of our struggling NHS.
What are they expecting?
Other than limits on civil liberties that have set off a whole range of fears and fight-backs and paranoias, what have the government done in the last six months? The main thing I’ve heard is that they’ve increased the capacity of morgues. Is that enough, in their eyes? Prepare for the dead, and leave your corporate friends to make a fortune running warehouse ‘hospitals’?
If so, it would be obvious they didn’t value human life beyond their own, and that looks bad, so they’d also need to do something relatively cheap that *looked* good. Is that why curfew is on the option-cards now?
Curfew is not a good plan
Tory governments have a consistent history of choosing the option that’s cheap in the short term, and creates an illusion of order. I can see why they’d be tempted by the idea of a curfew.
Curfews are dangerous
They’re a gross infringement of civil liberties, so will create more fightback and more paranoia but they are also directly dangerous.
Curfews create empty streets.
Empty streets are dangerous for those who have to go out – remember those key workers we were going to value above all from now on? Those who’d have to go down those empty streets to get to work, and those who’d have the job of trying to police those empty streets?
People who are attacked or get into difficulty on empty streets find no help at hand.
Buildings and infrastructure on empty streets get damaged or broken into.
Cars on empty streets get vandalised or stolen.
Please don’t let them get away with presenting curfew as sensible or necessary.
Curfews are dangerous, and if you’re under curfew in the evenings but going to work and school all day in crowded conditions, curfews will not control virus spread.
(The poems were judged anonymously but we’ve added names here, and a selection of the short listed poems below)
Congratulations to all the entrants for managing, in this terrible year, to write such well-crafted, strong poems. I feel the standard has been exceptionally high and I found it difficult to limit the short list. There were several other poems – many others – that deserved a mention. I have no doubt that the authors’ achievements will be recognized elsewhere.
The winning poems and those on the short list are incredible. Such a richness of theme and craft. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to read them.
by Roger Elkin
The opening of the poem is unusual. The poet begins by musing ‘Strange to think that …’ From that moment I was captured and entranced. The title itself begins the clever play on the sounds and meanings of words – terra, terra cotta, finisterre, terra firma.
There is a wealth of imagery. We are in another world, overwhelmed by the names of ancient places – Phoenicia, Sparta, Greece, the Levant, Carthage, Alexandria, Byzantium, Iberia, Gaul, Albion. There are ‘lashings of olive and grape, oil and wine’ and we are left with exotic ‘lapis lazuli seas,/and earth the colour of spilled blood.’
A superb poem and a very well-deserved winner.
Requiem for a Kayaker
by Clifford Liles
The structure of this outstanding poem where we have the juxtaposition of narrative with phrases from the Requiem for the Dead is perfect.
I have been thinking of the best way to describe the piece and have come to the conclusion that it is visionary. Although the theme is tragic, the death of a kayaker, there is no impression of tragedy or grief. Rather there is a sense is of reverence, of redemption, of a surrender that is willing, an acceptance of sacrifice. At the end we are led to ‘a bright encounter’.
The author of this poem has a real feeling and flair for language. Wonderful.
Museum Piece by Pat Childerhouse
This is an excellent dramatic monologue with subtle and sinister implications. I like the naming of characters. A clever, interesting poem.
Bridge by Pat Childerhouse
There is beautiful clarity and simplicity here. The image of the bridge made with old man’s beard and honeysuckle is beautiful and just right.
Pig Succour by Alan Bush
This poem made me shiver with the image of the ‘undressed light’ photographing ‘other-thoughts amongst the hogweed’. It is sinister and nightmarish and brilliantly written.
Unseen by Alan Bush
Another poem with sinister, dark, violent undertones. Deftly written with a perfect choice of words and images to create atmosphere.
You Let the Cat Out by Ion Corcos
This was a strong contender for a winning place. I really like the surrealism of it and the insistent repetition of the title line. An excellent poem.
Supplicating God by John Moody
The way the poet creates a sense of extreme heat is brilliant. I love the sonics of the first line ‘Burning earth beneath our surly struggle.’ Great use of long and short lines.
Dragonfly Thoughts for a Dried-Up Land by Camilla Lambert
Another strong contender. Some effective and imaginative juxtapositions of imagery and a perfect choice of words throughout. An unforgettable poem.
Shadows by Camilla Lambert
A terrific opening line and a shift of tone at the end. Strong images throughout especially the one about Lavender. Lovely poem.
Terra, terra by Roger Elkin
Strange to think that something
as transparently aquamarine and slicked
with turquoise as the Mediterranean
should be named, in part,
after the Latin for earth
but that was when this sea-cradle
was Rome’s lifeblood, its trade-routes
stolen from Phoenicia, Sparta, Greece
and the Levant; and its imperial money-mould
swapped hands in the markets of Carthage,
Alexandria, Byzantium, Iberia and Gaul –
reason enough for this stretch of treachery
at the centre of things to be called
the middle of the earth – that red earth
they fired to amphora, and pan-tile:
Italy’s terra cotta.
And yet, more certain, more contained,
this slippery sea than that terra incognita
where Visigoth and Hun – wolves
circling wolves – grew mean-eyed on envy
and waited patiently for erosions of will.
And not as indefinable, this sea, as that
where Iberia gave way to landless horizons
at the world’s end, so named it finisterre.
Or as divisive as Caesar’s Albion gamble,
that uncertain terra firma made secure
by history’s cliché – veni, vidi, vici –
and lashings of olive and grape, oil and wine
shipped in for centurion and legionnaire
skulking in draughty camps
and getting maudlin-drunk
on memories of warmer shores,
lipped by lapis lazuli seas,
and earth the colour of spilt blood.
Requiem for a Kayaker
by Clifford Liles
Behold, this loud altar, a cataract
all draped in thunder; this throng of hushed ferns
and rushes. In the shallows, a kayak.
Did strength leave him? What left his boat upturned?
This man, who but for neoprene is naked,
Drifts by beeches hewn from time as soaring pillars.
A nave of Nature, still as roots and mud,
where man’s survival turns on strength and skill.
Past timeless trees, flowing ever downwards;
his paddle’s gone, surrendered to the rapids.
Torrents crash. This surge slicks darkly seawards.
It passes empty scrubland, wild and arid.
A clearing opens in the wilderness;
a bright salvation, where he comes to rest.
A selection of the shortlist
by Pat Childerhouse
In which the puppet-master gives a talk about his craft
When I read Sheri S Tepper’s ‘Beauty’ back in the early ‘90s, I thought she had done me an injury.
I enjoyed it, but the Ending (not the ending of the book, The Ending) was just too dark. Not fair.
I just read it again, here in 2020 and, when I got to the bit about the Ending (which she places in the 21st century, round about now) I just thought yes, fair enough – but she left out the climate crisis.
Sheri S Tepper’s ‘Beauty’ offers hope, inspiration, and a tremendous call to action. It’s rich, it’s complex and – ooh, I don’t often use this word – it’s seminal. Next time I find myself looking at one of the more recent popular fantasies – Terry Pratchett perhaps, or J K Rowling, I’ll enjoy seeing the star-fire flashes of Tepper’s ideas in them.
Read ‘Beauty’, and remember – a fantasy book is as good or as bad as the ideas and the actions it inspires. Read it, then – as Ursula K Le Guin was fond of saying – go do the next thing. It may well be a better thing than the one you would have done if you hadn’t read ‘Beauty’, and you can’t say fairer than that.
In the absence of hard evidence of a divine engineer in the sky, I’d say the patterns in your mind are who you are.
This is my thought for the day because it became necessary to clean and decorate the back room, and to do that, it was necessary to move two wallfuls of books, including the poetry and the political sections.
It isn’t a chore. If you’re one of nature’s librarians (ie, your childhood created bookworm patterns in your mind) – if that’s your story then you’ll know that moving and sorting books is the third best thing in the world, coming after reading them and helping to make new books happen (for me, that’s publishing – for others, it’s writing, or buying, or borrowing, or reviewing, or forming clubs around discussing…) books.
Are books better?
Funny thing is, most people don’t read books. In a recent survey among some schools, kids were asked who reads books. “Old people and people with no friends” was a common answer. How much they are missing! To all those who say ebooks are as good as books, or browsing the internet is as good as any kind of book, I say – look to the patterns in your mind. Does bouncing around on the internet, slipping from link to link and forgetting where you started, really lay down a strong, comprehensible and retrievable pattern in your mind? How much do you remember of the stuff you clicked through yesterday, last week, last month? Can you flip to-and-fro, contemplate and come to know an ebook the same way you can a book on your shelf (not just when you’re reading it – all the time).
How gullible are you, how confusable are you, how well do you know your history, your environment, yourself? I suggest to you, along with David Didau, that people who read books have better lives – and the reason for that is the quality and retrievability of the patterns in their minds.
From Ely to South America and Back
While I was moving the political section (remember, we’re clearing out the back room so we can decorate) a hundred and one worlds opened their doors in my head, and reminded me of the richness of the forest in the mind. Here’s one: When I picked up The Open Veins of Latin America, I remembered a beautiful bookshop in Ely. It was a day of beautiful things – the cathedral, the river, the teashop with the samovar and the gunpowder tea – and this bookshop. And this book which, I confess, I picked up because the colours on the cover caught my eye long enough for me to notice what a startling title they presented.
And then, as I look at the book, more and more doors open in my head as I remember reading this tragic history, and how it led me to watch a film about Hugo Chavez, and how I learned that socialism must, and can only ever be, international socialism (act local, think global) because socialism is about people, not flags.
Socialism relies on ‘class analysis’ and you just can’t do that by the kinds of hats people are wearing, these days. Who is the ‘them’ in ‘them and us’ these days? Isn’t it the international corporations? Is it not the case that the ‘them’ we are up against are the world champion border-jumpers? If they can put the cause and the effect of their actions in different countries. And hoover the profits into their (global) banks while you’re watching the misery and chaos on the national news and wondering what it all means, they have already won. You’ll probably end up losing everything, and all the while looking around the neighbourhood for someone who looks a bit different to you to blame it on.
Narrativium – the drug of the post-truth generation?
And then another set of doors opened, and I remembered the more recent discovery that the author of The Open Veins of Latin America had expressed some regrets in later life, that he’d got caught up in what Terry Pratchett called narrativium, that if he’d had time to write it again, he would have written it differently.
That doesn’t mean the book is wrong, or bad, it means that a story can have the same start and a thousand different endings, depending what lines the author gets a-running along. But sometimes, like the author of that book, you need to retrace your steps, and take a look at some of the things that got lost along the way.
And that opened another, more recent set of doors, about all the things from recent years that are beginning to be forgotten in the daily click-fest – I remembered writing an essay for my CLP, explaining the theory of the ‘Overton Window’, of how the movement that gathered around Corbyn was steadily leading us back to socialism, to caring about others and our environment, caring about the truth – but they really didn’t need my essay – a tide was flowing our way. It isn’t now – and that brings me right back round to today, and reminds me how I need to talk to our local socialist group about the importance of getting that report properly investigated, so the truth will be known properly, and the size of the victory of the anti-austerity movement will be seen, despite the loss of that election, and so that we remember who the enemies were, which brings me to the importance of getting down to some serious political education so that our local socialists don’t forget that socialism is, and always must be, internationalist, analytical, and founded on strong, joined-up ideas – which requires an enormous bookshelf and/or regular, good-quality political education.
And that’s just one book, on one shelf. Going to go move the poetry books now. I wonder what’ll happen to the patterns in the mind then.
Think global, act local
And if you’d like to spend some time on enjoyable activities numbers one and two now (you know, the reading and writing ones) here are some links to Earlyworks Press comps and books…
There was a time back in the last century, when I gave credence to the idea of ‘colour blindness’ as a way of solving racism. It turned out to be a way of convincing yourself it had been solved – if you happened to be white British, that is. While we were being virtuously, wilfully blind, assuming everything was going to be rosy from now on, Liverpool was in turmoil, and school kids were passing around those “Boot Boys” novels. Many of us had completely blinded ourselves to the renaissance of fascism.
It doesn’t work because we don’t have a level playing field. I can see that you are black and act as though it doesn’t matter, but you can’t see that I’m white and act as though it doesn’t matter. I can pretend we’re the same colour, and the problems disappear – from my view. Not from yours.
But now, we have another form of wilful blindness to deal with. Understandable, and well-intentioned, a horde of would-be progressive academics, activists and politicians – to give a random sample: Dawn Butler, Philip Pullman, Owen Jones – and now Margaret Atwood apparently – are pretending to be sex-blind.
As with race, the problem with pretending to be sex-blind is that women have very real, very practical problems that can’t be catered for and can’t be funded unless our sex is recognised. The police, pretending to be sex-blind, record cases of ‘women’ committing violent and sexual crimes, and every time they do it, the statistics that women’s services depend on for their funding get hazier until they become worse than useless; women’s health and wellbeing groups are trying to get by without using any of the words that clearly denote the female condition, and as a result, the grounds for their funding and the efficiency of their outreach go down and down; and teaching on sex and gender has gone the same way – now so far from reality that we have a generation of young people who really cannot tell sex from gender.
What we need to know
Black people can’t escape the problems of being black unless we sort out our institutions and our racist cultural heritage, and we can’t do that unless we see, and talk about, the realities of colour.
It is not wrong to talk about, learn about, and formulate rules about, colour – in fact we need to.
Women can’t escape the problems of being female unless we sort out our institutions and our sexist cultural heritage, and we can’t do that unless we can see, and talk about, the realities of sex.
It is not wrong to talk about, learn about, and formulate rules about, sex – in fact we need to.
Like many people, I’m busy reading up on anti-racism now, because I realise we really, really need to talk about it and sort out the injustices going on around us. I was hoovering up Reni Eddo-Lodge’s “Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race” and agreeing with every word… but I ground to a halt on page 181. Feminism, she tells us, must work to liberate everyone. Yes, in a sense. I do believe that if we can deal thoroughly with sexism, we will all be living in a better, healthier society – but, to revert to my first example, does that mean we should be yelling “all lives matter” when black people have something to say? I don’t think so.
Eddo-Lodge says that feminists should be thinking about “disabled people, black people, trans people, women and non-binary people, LGB people and working class people” – well yes, but am I allowed to add “if they’re female”, or is she doing the “all people matter” thing at feminists?
Having included absolutely everyone in the worklist for feminists, Eddo-Lodge then illustrates her statement by saying feminism will have won when we’ve ended poverty, and when women are no longer required to do two jobs by default (meaning the care and the emotional work as well as the money-earning – true, but that’s about female people, isn’t it?). Feminism must combat sexual violence (that is, almost always, males attacking females). Feminism must combat the wage gap (because females earn less). And it must be class conscious (true, absolutely, unequivocally true). And she says feminism must be aware of “the limiting culture of the gender binary”.
And she’s lost it. Feminism is, and has always been, grounded in challenging the social rules and practices based on ‘gender’ – that is, the social constructions that tell us how males and females should behave and should be treated – constructions that are different in different cultures, but that have some commonalities (based on sex). But like many commentators, she’s translated that into telling us we must also disregard sex – wrong. Then she slips from ‘sex’ to ‘sexuality’ and tells us feminism must recognise that sexuality is fluid – well, that’s a whole nother argument and I’m not going to go into that one here but the key point is that reality matters.
Eddo-Lodge tells us that feminism, like anti-racism, has to be “absolutely utopian and unrealistic, far removed from any semblance of the world we’re living in now”. And here, at last, we have the key to a clash that’s been causing endless pain and furore in recent years. Yes, we must deconstruct race and racism. But colour won’t go away, because people are different colours. That’s reality. We must deconstruct GENDER and sexism – but we can’t deconstruct sex, because biology won’t go away. That’s reality.
Rejecting reality in order to be wilfully sex- or colour-blind means blinding yourself to problems that need our attention. If you want to help find solutions, please don’t do either.
Reality matters. Sex matters.
Racism, sexism and classism are the errors to be corrected.
Do please read Eddo-Lodge’s book – it’s excellent, except for page 181. We need to think about, and act on, what she’s saying.
And if you haven’t already, do please go to J K Rowling’s website and find out what she actually said about sex. It is exactly what we need to be saying, and exactly what women are being repeatedly punished for saying.
With apologies to all our would-be short story writers, we have decided to cancel the final comp of the year. The poetry and flash fiction comps remain but, the main focus of the short story competition has always been to produce a collection to be proud of and, due to – well, you know all the things that happened in 2020 – we’re unlikely to be able to get a book out this year.
We’ll be blogging the best of the poetry and flash fiction comps, but no-one seems that keen on reading story collections online so we’d rather wait, and see what next year brings than run a short story comp with no book at the end of it.
If you have entered the short story comp already, I’ll be emailing you soon to see about returning your entry fee. In the meantime, if you want to get in touch, please email me, or use the contact form on this blog.
Sir Keir’s recent comment on BLM (which he corrected apparently, after a lot of shouting) demonstrated that he can’t see why Black Lives Matter have made many of us want to change everything. He can’t see why people want to change or educate our institutions, including the police.
He’s a long way from being the worst on racism – just look at those Tories – remember Theresa May, Amber Rudd and their development of that ‘hostile environment?’ Remember the list of revolting, racist comments Boris Johnson has to his name?
I know many of us are busy learning to be anti-racists now. I see the books by and about black people leaping off the shelves in the bookshops. If you haven’t done so yet, please do some reading.
If you’ve started already,
please do this now…
Get a photo of yourself holding up a book you think would help Sir Keir understand. Spread it all over social media with these tags…
And then save the photo somewhere where you can find it again so that every time a politician does or says something that demonstrates they just don’t get it yet, you can post it again, with their name on the tag.
A message from Jocelyn, from her home in Deux-Sevres….
A busy time just recently processing entries for the Segora Writing Competitions (which we’ve run since 2007). A record 21 countries are represented this year. It’s an exciting time wondering what the judges will choose.
This brings me to my Summertime Task. The judging of Earlyworks Press Flash Fiction Contest. It’s a fascinating but rigorous duty to judge the entries of a writing competition. As I enter lots of competitions myself, I know the dedication it takes to refine one’s work to a standard, then the nervousness of sending it off into the ethers. Have I followed the procedure correctly? Did I Pay? Did I send the right version? Then follows the seemingly endless wait for the results, to be followed by delirious exultation or disappointment. There is nothing like winning, but comfort yourself that the rejected piece is now ready to go elsewhere, and with the reminder that there is inevitably a certain degree of subjectivity in the final phase.
Currently I am working on a ‘coalescence’ of personal journals and don’t know where that will take me. Also on a project researching Georges Simenon who lived here during the final two years of WW2, in hiding from both the Gestapo and the Free French. During this period he wrote some of his finest romans durs, in which local villages and villagers feature.
It’s a real pleasure to be involved with this forthcoming competition and I look forward to the entries flooding in. Being part of an international writing community means a great deal to me. It’s uplifting and thrilling to know our words matter to one another, across oceans and mountains, that through language we are part of a shared culture which both defines us and grants us freedom of thought.
Now, after these lofty insights, I have a potager to water and my neighbour’s chickens, geese and ducks to feed!
Do you remember your personal experience of #metoo? Does it bear some lessons we can use to learn anti-racism?
All the stories
#metoo was a celebrity thing at first, but then it started flowing around social media and those posting their experience, and those reading those posts, began a journey. For me, it was a slow realisation that whilst I’d been ‘pretty lucky’ (a friend pointed out a story that started “apart from the usual groping…”) – although I’d been pretty lucky, I had never realised just what a morass I’d been ‘rising above’.
That morass included quietly accepting the blame for all the shame or confusion I suffered – of digging it quietly in, dodging the consequences of “don’t get yourself into trouble” – but not successfully dodging them – of growing up with a feeling that I ‘handled things badly’, or ‘put myself in the way of harm’.
And then came the #notallmen and the #getoverit and the outright aggression from men – and yes, some women – who took any talk of female oppression as an insult to any and every man. We’re seeing all that now in the ‘all lives matter’ responses to BLM.
I still clench my fists and cringe when I remember an incident from decades ago – I cringe, and send up a prayer of thanks to a woman I’ve only met once, the woman who stepped in and saved my then teenage daughter from a situation I’d been completely blind to – blinded by the horrible familiarity of unhealthy male attitudes everywhere I went.
I’m not blind to sexual exploitation any more.
#metoo was an excellent learning experience for women. It helped bring us together, and empower the latest wave of feminism. Despite the scary bits, I don’t regret it for a moment but what I’m thinking about now is how raw, undermined and vulnerable many women felt at the time. To participate, you had to speak your pain. To really spread the word, you had to speak your pain in public, on social media, in all the places that would invite the backlash, that would remind you of, and put you in the sights of, the people who want to hurt you.
#metoo was an excellent learning experience for men. Many men did get together and have enlightening conversations, and discuss what was going wrong, and how to help put it right. Even if it made them feel uncomfortable.
Black Lives Matter
Many of us are engaged now in a very similar exercise – we’re learning what’s missing from our history, and in finding out that “I’m not racist” isn’t enough. We have our ‘L’ plates on, and we’re learning how to do anti-racism. That’s great, but it does mean that we have our attention very much on ourselves – what can we do, what do we need to know, etc etc
Black feelings matter
But this morning I read some messages from black women about the emotional toll black people are currently suffering from all these statements and actions. Of what a slog it is to unburden and analyse a lifetime’s defensive reaction to racism, of how many times they’ve already had to try and explain, of the anxiety caused by the attention on them, and the anticipation of the inevitable backlash…
So – if anything I’ve said here about the experience of #metoo resonates with you, please use it to inform yourself about how black people might be feeling right now. We need to tread carefully, we need to be aware of all the stirrings of lifelong struggles that have common elements, but may be far more intense than we realise for some around us.
We need to be honest, and kind, and humble and do a lot more active listening than maybe we’re accustomed to.