Jody Porter talks to ANDY JACKSON and W N HERBERT about the success of their post-election poetry project. This article was first published in the Morning Star
THE next few weeks will see a radical web-based poetry project reach its conclusion, with the posting of the final poems out of a planned 100 on the New Boots and Pantisocracies website.
The project is curated by poets W N Herbert and Andy Jackson and takes the theme of “the first 100 days,” which has become something of a post-election meme in recent years.
The website has published poems initially reflecting on the post-election political landscape before moving on to document the state of British society in the last few months since the tumultuous general election. Poets involved include George Szirtes, Helen Mort, Ian McMillan, Roddy Lumsden, Sheenagh Pugh and Sean O’Brien, each one responding to what the curators describe as “the new unrealpolitik.”
The name of the project brings together the concept of the pantisocracy (where all govern equally) as proposed by 18th-century poets Coleridge and Southey, with the 1977 Ian Dury LP New Boots and Panties, a quintessentially British record, rich in blue collar poetry and musical variation.
W N Herbert says: “The idea for the blog sprang from an online exchange between myself and my publisher Andy Ching.
“The phrase just arose, and the way it bounced Dury’s ripe knowingness off Southey and Coleridge’s early idealism suddenly seemed to make sense of our current bewilderment. It was, we realised, one of those rare spontaneous puns you look again at and think, ‘What can I do with that?’”
Jackson says of the project: “There was a sense of disbelief after the election result came in. A Tory majority without the limited restraints placed on it by its former coalition partners spelt bad news for the arts, education, health, welfare and many other areas traditionally sacrificed to austerity. Poets associated with the project have responded in various ways, looking at the benefits system, human rights legislation, TTIP, Scottish independence and many other topics.”
Co-curator Herbert added: “there’s plenty of anger and bewilderment, but these are lines of poetry rather than unwavering expressions of a party line, and their energy comes from a collision of the verbal with the visceral, a recharging of language even as it is being emptied by our political masters and their envious opposites.”
The initial aim — 100 poems in 100 days — has been a success, and the curators are considering the next steps. Herbert explains: “The plan is to take New Boots into the live arena, organising readings of contributors as we’ve done with previous projects. The other part of the plan is, we can now reveal, to continue past the 100 days as long as the contributors’ political and poetical will is there and until everyone interested in writing something has done so.” Readers can therefore expect an incendiary mix of heads-up poetry in a town near them in the near future.
Jackson concludes: “Poetry has taken a stand in a way that it is rarely afforded the chance to — not just via a few isolated voices on lonely hillsides and street corners, but collectively and loudly. We hope that this project demonstrates that the radical art of the polemic in poetic form still thrives, and that poetry has a place in both reflecting society and politics, and rejecting it where it cannot accept the way things are.”