With the Arab revolution now moving onto Libya, its seeds having been sown in Tunisia with the death of Mohammed Bouazizi, the world’s media is again alive to the power of public protest. The role of poets in this uniquely high-tech protest, which has seen brave souls in town squares supported by their fellow citizens on Twitter, has been a prominent one. Lowkey, the UK rapper and social commentator, has been an excellent source of online information, frequently linking through to writers and speakers such as Mona Eltahawy.
What great poetry will emerge from these tempestuous events? The moment is possibly too soon for fine writing: perhaps this is a moment not for reflection but revolution. The events of Libya, though, have made me think of a poem which beautifully describes another conflict, as painfully internal as that which Gaddafi currently visits on his people; it was written by Anna Warrington about the Troubles in Ireland. Specifically, it is about a moment in her life which prompted her to decide that she wanted to leave Belfast as soon as she was able: in autumn 1993, when she was fifteen, one of her neighbours was shot dead in front of his family in the middle of the night. He was shot by the terrorist group the Loyalist Volunteer Force, and left a wife and four children.
I hope that the new work that comes from the birth of the Middle East’s hard-won freedoms is as vital and resonant as Anna’s. Here, without further ado, is “Reasons for Leaving”.
The scarlet dawn cried out,
Speaking of love’s severing
– A strangled unbirth –
In a broken, bloody tongue.
Suddenly hedges became battlements
And behind the vanished stone
Weeping grew in the cold, wind-stained ground.
Your children wrapped, alone
In bitter blankets of grief –
Their all-knowing eyes
Sharpened and hollow.
No more moments of incidental beauty
Blossom on mazed retinas –
The leaf-shadowed gardens darkened
With the shiver of a passing car.
And in the shades of evening
They mouth (with empty hearts)
A desperate prayer of understanding
To a steel-cold God. Seeking
Your reasons for leaving.