Voices of peace speak poetry

24th June 2005 at 01:00
Magistri Pro Pace pound;4.00 available from Edinburgh Stop the War Coalition, Peace and Justic Centre, Princes Street, Edinburgh EH2 4JBwww.edinburghstw.org.uk

Magistri Pro Pace (Teachers for Peace) is a new "political" poetry pamphlet in memory of teacher, poet, musician and TES Scotland columnist Tony McManus.

The more successful poems in it are often the least overtly political. However, the publication presents itself as more political demonstration.

The poetry ranges in quality and style from the personal, the playful, the lyrical and the witty to the reflective and meditative as well as to the earnest, the didactic, the pedestrian and the propagandist. Subjects include, as you might expect, the September 11 incidents, Iraq, the war on terror, Palestine, Northern Ireland, false imprisonment and class (and classroom) politics, but it also contains poems of love, landscape, family and children.

The five voices, Allan Crosbie, Linda Richardson, Annie McCrae, Andrew McGeever and Jim Aitken, provide a colourful and interesting patchwork of poetry.

It is perhaps McGeever who comes closest to a poetic fusion of the personal and political when he describes an invasion of a different sort in "My Father's Calliper": One night I kept awake, crept into his bedroom, took the contraption back to mine for a closer look: thick leather, steel-buckled straps joined by tensile spring too hard to stretch, all bolted to a boot. I wept, recoiled in shame for invading his privacy, his dignity, his war.

We learn nothing more of the five poets other than they are EIS (Educational Institute of Scotland) activists as well as working teachers in Edinburgh, while the cover note by poet and Scottish PEN president Tessa Ransford tells us "Poetry has for too long cringed in the corner, even in the classroom".

Whether we agree with Orwell that all art is propaganda or with Auden that poetry changes nothing, we could hardly accuse the likes of Hugh MacDiarmid, Sorley MacLean, Ezra Pound, Pablo Neruda or Federico Garcia Lorca - to name but a few significant 20th century poets - of political (or literary) cringing.

The trouble with presenting poetry on or as a political platform is that it can put the poetry in a gated complex or a ghetto, or it may amount to special pleading. All the poetry here may not be great but at least the poets' hearts are in the right place.

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