Posts Tagged ‘war’

pacificism or extinction

billions displaced —
starvation — extreme weather
— capital cities
submerged — can we deal with it
without killing each other?

All writers know writing leads you to discover things you didn’t know. I have always resisted labelling myself a pacifist, but this poem brings me close to it. So you could say I didn’t know I was a pacifist. I wrote the poem within a few minutes of finishing Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. What an incredible genius for simplicity Achebe has. Also, I dreamed last night of struggling to survive with Liz my partner, in a post-nuclear-holocaust world. This led to thoughts about climate disaster leading to increased global tension (due to scarcity of resources) leading to nuclear war. The trouble with apocalyptic futures, is cutting through the multiple uncertainties. No serious person doubts the worst climate scenarios are based on watertight science. In the sense that they could happen. Whether they will is the first uncertainty. But what I realised this morning, is that we are only required to hold two uncertainties, two questions. The first is whether the worst scenarios will happen. The second is whether we can learn the necessary spiritual lessons from them. This is totally separate and infinitely more crucial. The worst climate scenarios have a dramatic character which blinds us to how unimportant they are. How we respond psychologically is everything. Nothing else matters. Do we learn quickly enough to stop solving our problems by killing each other? The most obvious way of self-annihilation is with nuclear warheads. But there’s also Cormac McCarthy’s The Road with its vision of a post-apocalyptic society where no-one is safe from marauding gangs of killer-cannibals. There is actually no need to query the details. The point is whether killing each other will lose appeal or gain it, as the difficulties of surviving on the planet become, for ecological reasons, more and more severe and impossible. If we can learn, it will all have been worth it: we will have a better world. If not, it’s cheerio to human beings. What’s that Gandhi quote? When asked what he thought of Western Civilisation, he answered that it would be a good idea. For me, there is little doubt our global civilisation is already committing suicide. And this is happening with the entire population (except a tiny, tiny handful of scientists) in denial: which unfortunately means the chances of a change of heart are currently nil. Therefore the worst climate scenarios aren’t just possible, but highly probable. But if we can redefine our understanding of what it means to be civilised — then finally we can have a ‘civilisation’ worthy of the name instead of whatever this thing is that we have at the moment.


organised evil

eco-warrior —
a contradiction in terms
— supposing we can
survive climate disaster,
it won’t be by means of war

This title took me by surprise. Not entirely sure it works, but here’s my chance to explain. A few days ago I was toying with the phrase organised evil, hoping to get a poem out of it. It seemed full of sinister meaning, and also rich in paradox because as a general rule it seems to me that the urge towards good and the urge to be organised have a lot in common. And also because, from the point of view of evil, being organised is a good thing. This morning, having written my poem and being still without a title, the phrase came back to me and I realised — war is organised evil. In my dream last night I was one of a team of men forming a line across a football pitch, a bit like a line of policemen. It made me think, awake, of political demonstrations and in particular the musical Billy Elliott where the fight between striking miners and policemen is turned into a kind of ballet. There was a balletic quality, too, in the film Selma when Martin Luther King’s sheer genius shines, at the head of a march-demo, when he refuses to confront the police and retreats back the way he has come. In London (and indeed across the world) we have a mass demonstration being planned for 29th November to coincide with the Paris Climate Change talks. Of course you don’t have to be an ‘eco-warrior’ to go on a climate march. But the poem is about the passion I feel on the subject of climate change, and also about how I deal with that passion given it’s something held in deep suspicion by my partner Liz.

witch doctor

explain Nazism
as mass psychosis (thank you
Jung) — what in that case
is our mass denial of
climate change? — mass suicide?

The witch doctor of the title is Jung hinmself of course. The term sounds quite archaic these days, but was common as I was growing up, usually referring to African traditional healers. It was what sprang to mind as I tried to think of a neat summing up of that pose Jung adopts in his writings when he turns his attention to humanity as a whole and tries to psychoanalyse (or in other words, to ‘doctor’) his contemporary society. Simultaneously there popped into my mind the memory of Herman Hesse’s novel The Glass Bead Game, where roughly a third of the novel, from what I remember, is set in a ‘primitive’ society, exploring a past life of the novel’s hero, when he was the village witch doctor. I dreamed last night of the opening sequence of the movie Dr Strangelove which (in the dream) consisted of various shots of a nuclear mushroom cloud. I felt apprehensive because there was heat radiating from the screen, and I wondered if I would suffer radiation burns. I don’t know whether Jung’s ‘doctoring’ of the human race is anything better than a pose. But the problem of climate change is so unthinkable. Any strategy, even playing the doctor, must be valid, faced with the possibility (or indeed likelihood) that humanity is committing mass suicide by business as usual despite rising carbon emissions.

death wish

what does it all mean?
— so many gadgets asking
for termination —
are they us? are we them? who
will we be when they have gone?

A funny jumble of half-considered questions was all I could manage in the end, after more than two hours’ work. And last night’s dreams weren’t even emotionally challenging, or not in any particularly obvious way. The most disturbing element was the notion that I had somehow won millions of pounds worth of electricity supply, thanks to a weird lottery thing (beyond my comprehension) built into the electricity meter by the utility company. And another dream where my mobile phone was a kind of weapon, and I was involved in warfare whose outcome all depended on whose technology was superior. A third dream had me listening to a playback of my own performance of a Chopin waltz. I noticed the tempo was dragging. Overall, awake, I couldn’t get much further than a feeling of ‘Gadgetry boo! Chopin hooray!’. The poem as it stands manages a kind of ‘boo!’ to gadgetry I suppose.


within one person
or among many, few things
are so hazardous
and unpredictable as
the conflict of ideas

I dreamed I was suddenly seized with the realisation that I must join up to the army or navy and contribute to the war: that way, I would get paid, and be able to contribute to the family budget back home. With no loss of continuity, I then had an equally big opposite realisation, namely that I was a pacifist and must become a ‘conscientious objector’. I guess the consistent thing between both these opposite realisations is that I’m realising there’s a war on! The poem is OK as far as it goes, but it fails to capture my sense of wonderment at the way non-physical reality manages to evade our collective radar. And yet it’s right under our noses, because ideas are constantly with us and ideas are non-physical things. And what is going on when ideas jostle one another and compete and conflict? What else are our lives all about? How is it possible we pay so little attention to asking ‘What is an idea?’


sacred space happens
by itself, portents simply
land — time hangs, place waits,
the gods die — Glastonbury,
Calvary and Ragnarok

We are somehow held, all the time, within a web consisting of all the stories we’ve ever told ourselves about ourselves, as individuals or a species. Remembering my dreams forces me to remember my stories. I dreamed I was writing a slip of paper to the effect that Peterborough was the name of an event. A position in time rather than in space. ‘Peter’ suggests ‘church’ which is certainly more than a position in space. But Ragnarok was what I thought of in writing the poem. My understanding of this word depends almost entirely, to this day, on its having been mentioned in the works of two children’s authors whom I used to read avidly as a child: Roger Lancelyn Green and Alan Garner. It was part of Viking mythology, and more of a time, really, than a place. Possibly my childhood mind couldn’t grasp the concept, but ‘got’ the element of eternity beyond time or space. Because the Vikings were warriors, they conceived of the end of the world as a battle. In my dream last night I was trying to negotiate a war zone.

black and pink

what is it about
monotheism provokes
men so easily
to war? — the many faces
in conflict, of the One God

Anti-semitism. Some footballer on the TV yesterday protesting: ‘I’m not an antisemitic’. Howard Jacobson — my idol, the best columnist in Britain — I dreamed of trying and failing to hook up with him. And several other Jews whose achievements or friendship I have valued. Dannie Abse, whose nephew I knew at school. What’s happening in Gaza. In Iraq and Syria. 3 religions all agree there is 1 God, but cannot agree about anything else. Is this irony or something altogether darker? Repressed homosexuality for instance…. The patriarchal One God of Judaism, Christianity and Islam enshrines the male as the source of all good. What else is this but disguised phallus worship? Maybe if this were explicit, men might feel less urge to massacre one another.