I’m very pleased to have a poem I wrote after the Brexit referendum up on Andy Jackson and WN Herbert’s Neu!Boots and Pantisocracies site. Originally set up to publish a poem a day responding to the 2015 general election, they re-booted their project last month.
I’m not a polemic poet, but a number of factors came together to prompt me to write this one. I was new to fb last summer, and didn’t submit a post-election response, though the Pantisocracy of the title took me back to graduate student days in Newcastle in the 80s. Researching a PhD on Wordsworth, autobiography and 18thC psychology, I became intrigued by Coleridge and Southey’s vision of creating a socialist society in America. A greater part of my work was on the polymaths of the period, the usual suspects of the Scottish Enlightenment, and also English thinkers including Erasmus Darwin, and Joseph Priestley. That the latter was born in Birstall, the village in West Yorkshire where my dad’s parents had lived, added an extra layer of interest.
The adult Priestley moved to Birmingham, and was a key member of the Lunar Society, where philosophers, industrialists, writers and radicals met at full moon for reasons of safety, in the days before street lighting. That didn’t help them in the long run: their homes were burned down in 1791, in what became known as the Birmingham or Priestley Riots. The government turned a blind eye to locals’ violent objection to the ‘Lunartics’, as they were known, celebrating the anniversary of the fall of the Bastille. Priestley fled, and eventually emigrated to Philadelphia, where he continued his work in science and theology – maybe forming a kind of pantisocracy-lite, close to the Susquehanna, Coleridge and Southey’s chosen location.
Forward to midsummer, 2016, and I was taking long, late-evening walks in the Pentland Hills above Edinburgh. On the terrace of Swanston Brasserie, the sunset sparked little stars, like the ones on the EU flag, I thought whimsically, in our beer glasses. A full moon accompanied me across the Caerketton ridge. I dubbed it ‘Remain Moon’ (I think its official designation was ‘strawberry moon’), and it seemed all would be well. Of course the assassination of MP Jo Cox in Birstall the week before could not be undone. It was always likely that Scotland would vote remain; now the pro-leave citizens of the northern England would surely re-consider?
I was back on the hill, under July’s ‘Buck Moon’, the other day, still struggling to comprehend all the events of the past month. Another Bastille day atrocity had taken place, and too many others around the world. Birmingham has been the site of further riots since the Lunartics were smoked out. We do what we can, we dream or we act, and there are some terrific poetic responses on the Neu!Boots site.
Postscript: The August full moon, according to this source, will be the ‘Sturgeon Moon’ . . . .
Remain Moon Four years ago they gathered, the local press, the people, to pause in civic duty at the statue of Joseph Priestley. A week before the vote they came again, the people, and the national…