(First posted Feb 2013)
At the beginning of February, Freedom Bookshop was firebombed. No one was hurt and not a single word was broken. In fact, the burning of words only strengthened links and empowered ideas. Funny how things turn out.
The lack of media attention was disturbing, but not surprising. Interesting waifs and strays heard via word of mouth. Activists blogged, tweeted, and txtd each other. And as a writer, I heard in a pub. I went to Facebook. I was livid. Then confused. I searched for reasons why this, above everything else at the moment, should bother me so profoundly.
I wondered whether my emotional self was translating oppressed whispers from my Irish blood. Or if my survivor self was looking for further sacrifices to appease her inner goddess of rage, or whether I just fancied causing trouble. My anger it seems was talking to someone quite small and gentle. Someone who likes red ribbons and hiding in bushes to make owl sounds at passing strangers.
The owl child knows the power of ideas. She understands that exploring meaning, possibility and experience is fundamental to our growth as individuals. If we are to survive as a species we must be in psychological contact with each other. We need to hoot ideas. Surprise each other with alternatives. These rich moments of intellectual connection with each other is integral to our survival as a collective species. Books, essays, music, theatre, poetry – these are our ropes of empathy, of telepathy, of emotional mergance. Owl-girl weeps at the burning of books. She asks ‘If we are not free to think, what are we free to do?’
I was a silent child and silence is not always golden. Silence is sometimes a purple and yellow place where you can wander for years making specters out of your own shadowy thoughts and unreflected feelings. Silence breeds soldiers who chase you, heavy footed and deep breathing, into the hollows of dark trees. Inside dead trees it gets cold.
Transmuting moping into hoping I set up a fundraising project – ‘Donate a Poem for Freedom.’ Words to replace words. The resulting anthology will be a print-on-demand book, available around mid-March, with all proceeds going to Freedom Books. We have had so far close to 500 poems and reading through them all has been a sheer delight. Everyone’s generosity, solidarity, kindness and out-right talent has once again elevated my spirits. People are awesome!
Yes I know I over use the word awesome. But when people are awesome, you simply have to tell them they’re awesome.
The creep of the far right in the UK is disturbing. I think a fraction were responsible. Let’s face it, they have never been fans of spoken or written ideas, unable or unwilling to see how conflicting ideas when explore bring about personal and social growth. They appear to feed on fear. And with the rise in poverty and squeeze on resources, many in the UK are afraid. This attracts extremists. Fear makes you exploitable. People are hungry. People are losing their homes, jobs, transport links and healthcare. Some are contracting with fear. Others are expanding with love and connectivity. Yes they are. You just don’t hear of them over the blare of the television.
There is a steady rise of foodbanks, activist groups, sustainability initiatives and protest movements – these connections can change our society long-term for the better.
We have a great opportunity in our collective loss to come together, build links, friendships and establish sustainable ways of living which fall outside consumerism, if (big if) we transcend the fear.
We need to stop looking to blame other poor people for our losses. The ‘other’ is everywhere and if we become consumed by blaming the ‘other’ we will lose sight of our greatest power – our oneness.
I have been extremely fortunate this year to feel part of something very special. When I heard of the firebombing of Freedom Books I put together ‘Donate a poem for Freedom’. The idea was to put together an anthology of poems to raise funds for the recovery. The poets that submitted were wonderful, each and every one of the 701 of them.
Sadly, I had to whittle them down to a select few. The anthology is beautiful because of them. Proving again that art, in all its various forms, is activism in motion. Why? Because it connects and transforms our experience. We can be idealists. Explore the contrast of where we are and where we want to be which is the starting block of any social change. Art looks beyond the now to the possibilities hidden beyond.
I owe a personal thanks to each poet. You reminded me of how brilliant people are. We are not naturally extreme, dogmatic, or destructive. We are creative beings who strive for peace.
The book is available to buy here and all proceeds go to Freedom Books.
Iain Sinclair, William Rowe, Steph Pike, Steve Evets, Shirani Rajapakse, J. Montgomery, Gabriel Moreno, Sigi Dlabal, Andrea Phillips, Pam Brown, Helen Moore Nick Burbridge, Jill Sandra-Phillips, Charlie Mann, Gavin Hudson, Juan Sinag, Louis Brehony, Katherine H, James Scott, Ushiku Crisafulli, Tim Wells, Jean Taun, Jonathan Humble, Cathy Bryant, Niall McDevitt, Heathcote Williams, Gerardo Insua Teijeiro, Christian Watson, Katherine McMahon, Lesley Hale, Maxime Berclaz, Shanise Redmon, Mark Postgate, Antoine Cassar, Rob Gee, Alan Morrison, Pat Jourdan, Kevin Higgins, Zita Holbourne, Christopher Barnes, Laura Taylor, Simon Howard, Lynn Myint-Maung, Abbie Stroud, Peter Sragher.
I also want to offer a thanks to the Salford Star for their interview with actor Steve Evets on his contribution. Poet Antoine Cassar for his wonderful blog post on the project. Plus Laura Taylor’s article in Write Out Loud and everyone else who dug deep and bought a copy, blogged, tweeted, spoke, facebooked and wished us luck.
©Alex Clarke 2013