Welcome poets, polemicists and disbelieving masses! New pants for old! The 2015 General Election made manifest changes that have been taking place in UK politics this century. Previous certainties like Labour’s Scottish hegemony are no more. Older patterns like the Conservative dominance of England have reasserted themselves. The idea of the UK as a single country has been replaced by a plurality of national, regional, generational and class identities.
The week after the election Bill Herbert and Andy Jackson decided to chart the responses of those unacknowledged legislators of the world – poets – to the new dispensation. For the first 100 days of the new government they published a poem a day on their New Boots and Pantisocracies blog, recording life under the new unrealpolitik. Now it is a book by over a hundred of the most compelling and distinguished poets of our time, including Sean O’Brien, Sheenagh Pugh, Daljit Nagra, Claudia Daventry, Ian Duhig, Michael Rosen, Polly Clark, Ian McMillan, George Szirtes and Malika Booker.
New Boots and Pantisocracies takes its name from the idealistic plans of Coleridge and Southey for a social utopia or ‘pantisocracy’, and from Ian Dury’s iconic first album, with its ironic and melancholy celebration of working class identity on the eve of the Thatcherite revanche. It is a book of poems and polemics, contraries and resistances, appalled but not entirely despairing.
We stayed in the pub, election night. There were a few of us: the guv’nor, the usual lads, some of the ever-popular drunk sorts and the feisty Welsh barmaid. By the time we clocked red London was sinking we were tossing back the drinks, less for the fun of it and more to lose the taste. The jukebox took a beatin’ too – reggae and punk. Songs from our yoof. Babylon’s Burning, I remember that all right. Beasley Street was my choice. We were up at the bar reciting along: ‘Keith Joseph smiles and a baby dies…’ The Welsh girl asked who he was. In honesty, the lilt of her voice deserved a better answer. ‘He just moved in,’ I told her, ‘you’ll be hearing a lot about him.’ Come the weekend she caught me by the elbow, ‘I looked that Keith Joseph up,’ she said. ‘He seems like a proper cunt.’ Tim Wells
All summer the children have been running in the global refugee crisis in the communal garden Ammar is searching for his brother on a train kicking a football through the yellow roses, chasing the bodies roll out across the parched ground on the platform, a woman lifts a card sign I hear their cries from the fourth floor help us, save our souls! A child on my side of the block & some days who looks like my child is asleep I take my boy down there to play in the calm waters of a tourist beach with Luna’s boys – Albert, Adam, Ali, the newspapers don’t know how they live on the council side. Luna is Ethiopian I think this story ends and I mean to ask when I see her down on our street but describe the baby bound in batik on her chest, but instead smell of 71 people dead we talk about the letter in her mailbox: in a truck on the highway. We the council children can no longer use sincerely wish we could help the communal garden – there is no reason in the global refugee crisis. Hannah Lowe
A man is knocking down a high brick wall only to rebuild it further from the swollen river, each brick re-finding its original neighbour, the wall somehow more massive than before. Torrential rain from a bright sky, though the ground is bone. Days of rain upon the man and the wall in minutes make him pace back and forth and change tack. Now he is smashing the bricks, bagging the bits, piling the bags in a line, then a stack, then, well, a wall. The water laps against the bags, soaks them dull. The earth is a footprint set hard and sharp. There are children up on roofs, arms out, shadowing helicopters and planes, smudge-faced children down in the dirt scratching for tools of make believe. There are parents looking for their children, good parents looking for naughty and nice alike. The motives of others, says the voiceover, the unfathomable motives of others. Mark Robinson
after Cameron On Cameron, Conversations with Dylan Jones (2008) The politician always wanted to be a politician The politician points at the things he wants. The politician sounds like a very reasonable man. The politician has previously had a problem with women but now it all seems to be coming together. The politician has never been described as a miserable wet Friday afternoon in Manchester. The politician cried when a lovely Oxfordshire girl sang. The politician noticed more white faces in prison and said: ‘There are obviously more eastern Europeans here.’ The politician often comes out of those places with a fair bit of gob on his shoulders. The politician always wanted to be a politician. The politician has never been in prison, and previously had a problem with those places, a very reasonable problem with those European faces. The politician cried: ‘I always wanted to be reasonable.’ The politician said more but it all seems lovely, the women are lovely white things, the afternoons are never miserable. He has a fair bit of Oxfordshire on his shoulders, but it all seems to be obvious. The politician has often been described as wet, an eastern girl points at the gob on his shoulders and sings: ‘The things he wants, the things he wants…’ Hannah Silva
the news is no less shit when wrapped in sun the taste of loss still sour as an unripe plum a hemisphere can’t shift the weight of death or else of dying hope face down & drowned again in puddles of infernal spring & me still waiting on lenin’s slow train alone & forlorn & in the grip of northern rain april’s thesis still unproclaimed jerusalem postponed our flags le maimed no chink of paltry light to grace our days all vigour subjected to unspecified delays Paul Summers
Gorron’t train. One o’ them old unz Squeaked like a bugle. A lot gorron (Voices like tinkling dreamcatchers> At Wombwell. An it were that early Moon were still chunterin’ in’ sky One of their coins fell Abartar late it wor. They were all Gunner work pickin and packin. To the floor of the train Zero Hour for them zero hours Tha could call it if tha were bein And rolled, rolled, a moon Clever. No need for clever round Here no more. Nubdysedowt. Tumbling from the sky Silence breeds compliance. Northern Lean-to. Northern Shed. And landing at the feet Northern Outhouse. Northern shithouse. Northern rented house. Northern Shared House. Of the future Northern half-demolished house Where I have seen the shadows Of the dispossessed Gathering around candles.) Ian McMillan