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[ with poems by Iain Twiddy and Martin Figura]

Question: What do these 3 scenarios have in common?

1 – “What do you want for supper?”
“I dunno, anything’s OK, whatever you want.”
“I could make some soup.”
“I don’t really feel like soup but anything you want’s OK.”
“I could heat up that Chinese.”
“Nah, I’m all left-overed out.”
“All right, what do you want.”
“I dunno. What do you want?”

2 – “OK Amelia, it’s time for lessons.”
“But I want to color.”
“You know every morning is lesson time. This week is the letter ‘N’.”
“I don’t feel like letters. I want to color.”
“Hmm, how about color for fifteen minutes and then letters?”
[Silence. Wiggles.] “OK. You can set the timer.”

3 – “Damn, look how muddy the creek is today.”
“Yeah, all that rain, looks like tomato soup.”
“It’s all the runoff from those tobacco fields. Isn’t there a law against that?”
“Hey, it’s their land. They can do whatever they want.”
“Maybe so but it’s our drinking water.”

Answer: 3 scenarios, all politics.

Politics with a little ‘p’: transactions in which each party has a stake. No stake = no politics. If it really doesn’t matter what we have for supper then all choices are equal, but if it does matter and I don’t make my position plain then I’m practicing passive aggressive politics. If there’s room within our politics for each of us to have our positions honored then we are practicing egalitarian politics. And if my right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are infringed by the practice of your similar rights, then it’s time for reality politics.

Whose stake is most important? Whose voice is loudest? Whose choice carries the greatest weight? Sounds like we’re edging into the realm of big ‘P’ Politics.

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This week I received in the post from Ireland Poets Meet Politics 2020, an anthology of poems from the Hungry Hill Writing Tenth International Open Poetry Competition. The winning poem is Contactless by Isabel Palmer, about COVID-19, but the range of politics with big ‘P’ and little ‘p’ ranges from war, genocide, and sectarian violence to displacement, racism, sexism, redundancy, and annoying neighbors.

These two poems from the anthology in particular spoke to me: the wholeness of the earth cast aside for the extraction of profit; the wholeness of individuals cast aside once profit has been extracted. Whose voices are stifled and ignored? Whose choices are judged unworthy and irrelevant?

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Borderlands

We found the world had already been claimed,
so ground out, drained, ironed in straight lines
– like the bed of the Red Sea to the verges –
that churches were ships, farmsteads treasure islands,

every centimetre weighed up for worth,
milked for produce, mined for living ores.
So existence thinned to frail causeways,
like streaks of light leaking from bellies of cloud,

to quaggy headlands, trench-squidge tracks, rivers
unassailable through the stars of barbed wire,
where even the wind seemed prevailed upon
to hurry and be gone the way of the sea;

we were deigned becks and streams like beaten dogs,
drains that ushered in, eeled for Holland,
fenced-off trees extending the invitation to climb
like an amputated limb, and holiday lashings

of untrampable grass, the spurt of trespass,
the ballast crunchy as bone between tracks,
feeling the self stripped into sin like a corpse
dumped overnight by the trash-flowered siding.

And so it went on, drilling, implanting – until,
surveying the banished domains, roaming
the crumbling borders – it gradually exposed
how if the world was lack, and doing without,

there was nothing to stop us making it up.

Iain Twiddy

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The Remaining Men

When the men surfaced for the last time and dispersed
some were left over. These men wandered about the town
until the each found their own particular sweet spot.
Then they just stood there, looking out over the scarred coast
through red-rimmed eyes to the rough brown sea.

As the days went by people gave up asking them
why so still and could they fetch someone
or something? They became like street signage,
A-boards, parked prams or tied up dogs; something
to be manoeuvred around. As the months when by

the men became hardened to difficult weather
filling their coat pockets with hail. During the great storm
of Eighty-Seven, their caps blew off and went cartwheeling
down the streets with bin lids. As the years went by
the slagheaps faded to green and saplings were planted.

The men began to petrify into monuments. When
the new road for the business park went through
a lot of them were tipped back onto trollies, like the ones
railway porters used to use, then loaded on to flatbed trucks
with the traffic cones. Most were broken down for aggregate.

The lucky ones were sold off as novelty porch lights
and stood outside front doors on the new estate
illuminating small front lawns and driveways.
As the decades went by, saplings became sycamores
and elms and named Colliery Wood. In autumn

the early morning light on them was glorious
and cycle paths made their way there. The remaining
men were defaced by graffiti and badly worn
by then; many considered them to be an eyesore.
When children asked what they were, not everyone

could remember and of those that did, few were believed.
As the centuries went by, they all but disappeared,
only the circle in the park remained. Archaeologists
and historians disagree about how they came to be there
and what they might have been used for.

Martin Figura

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Both selections are from Hungry Hill Writing Anthology: Poets Meet Politics international open poetry competition 2020, judged by Bernard O’Donoghue. Editor Jennifer Russell. © 2020 Hungry Hill Writing and contributors. hungryhillwriting.eu.

Iain Twiddy studied literature an university and lived for several years in northern Japan. His poetry has appeared in The Poetry Review, Poetry Ireland Review, Harvard Review, Stand, The Stinging Fly, and elsewhere.

Martin Figura lives in Norwich with Helen Ivory and sciatica. Together they began hosting Live from The Butchery Zoom readings during Lockdown with leading guest poets. A new edition of Whistle (Cinnamon Press) was published in 2018. His new theatre show Shed is interrupted but ready to go.

My own poem, Phenology Notebook April 7 2020, was shortlisted and appears in the anthology. Thank you!

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AfterwordThe essential benefit of having grandchildren is that they provide the grandparents with something to talk about over supper which is not politics!

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2020-06-11a Doughton Park Tree

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