Since June 2017, I have felt disconnected from the UK poetry scene. My own area is becoming more extreme politically, and this is often reflected in the poetry arena. At one time I simply tolerated all political expression in the name of free speech, but over the last couple of years it's got to the stage where the world of open mics and readings feels a one-sided environment, so I don't enjoy many events and tend to stay away.
On the morning of 9th June 2017, I am dumbfounded that so many British voters have chosen to endorse a party led by a man who had befriended terrorists, and whose political machine is engineered by self-confessed Stalinists. I know that many did so in spite of Jeremy Corbyn, some individual candidates having even gone so far as to have disowned their party leader. But more of a kick in the stomach is the endless reel of triumphant social media posts from friends, many from within the world of poetry, celebrating Labour's almost-victory and citing Corbyn as their reason for voting - splashing grinning selfies, or, worse, supposedly profound philosophical quotes and statements in celebration of their hero's unexpected surge. Friends who had previously scoffed at the Labour Party's current brand of politics have become, stretched on the unrelenting rack of peer pressure, devoted fans.
Over the succeeding months, swathes of society, including many people who had seemed middle-of-the-road, grow increasingly commited to the Hard Left, and are seemingly indifferent to the alienation of the Jewish community. Trying to agree to differ, I find myself frozen out by several Corbyn Converts, my reservations met with derision. An editor ceases to reply to my letters. My observations on online groups are met with scorn. A poet I know produces a tweet mocking concerns over Corbyn's stance on terrorists. Other poets use Theresa May's decision to unite with the DUP as a platform for suggesting fears over Corbyn's friendships with terrorists are unfounded, as if professional cooperation, born of political necessity, with a hard right but democratically legitimate political party is comparable to an obscure backbencher going out of his way to invite rabid Jew-haters who impose the death penalty for homosexuality, and whose publicly, proudly, expressed wish is the obliteration of "the Jews," and the world's only Jewish state, to Parliament. All of this is done with apparent sincerity and moral certitude.
At a reading in late 2017, the conversation between poems turns to Antisemitism in the Labour Party - specifially, how news of this might be dismissed as mere smears. When I offer my own view, I am greeted by a sour expression, a tut, and an abrupt turn away, my words too true, and the truths I offer too disturbing to the ears of one octogenarian Corbynite, indisposed to hear a single word of criticism levelled at the Dear Leader.
Slowly, the poetry circuit grows more and more homogenous in its Corbynmania. A book is published in his honour. Mild-eyed, allotmenteering Guardian readers, and quaint former-fencesitters, now explode with gushing admiration for the Magic Grandpa, while the more media-savvy post pictures of Corbyn riding unicorns, or mocked up as a Star Wars hero. One poet I once worked with posts that Corbyn is "a groovy Socialist grandad." Some take to Twitter, where they post foul-mouthed blasts of support; others hear my concerns with thinly veiled boredom. At a reading in Manchester, a man whines out a badly written poem dripping in cliche, and seeming to last for about three and a half hours, devoted to lionizing Corbyn in rhyming couplets; his party are routinely praised at open mics. Often I try to pluck up the courage to redress the balance and deliver some counterblast against, say, Corbyn's denial of the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, or his being paid by the Iranian regime which hangs men for the "crime" of being gay. Instead, I sink into my seat time after time, and swish a flat drink around my glass. Never one to avoid a poet's work due to their politics, I nonetheless find myself less and less interested in the products of any brain fixated on such a divisive crusade as that being wrought by Corbyn and his fanatical associates - including those who encourage violence against politicians with whom they disagree. Not wishing to deflate anybody else's free expression, I let the saccharine sycophancy wash over me, again and again, until finally I have enough and, not wanting to be associated with it, bow out of the scene.
I hear of similar problems overseas. A poet in los Angeles tells me how, at reading after reading, multiple poets will stand up and rubbish the idea of Antisemitism - alleging that in today's society it no longer exists, accusing those who suffer it of fabrication. I have stopped appearing at poetry readings, she says. Safety must come first. I agree - but the tragedy is as symbolic as it is personal. And it is a story I have heard again and again, in different variations. As extremism increases, across the world of poetry, good, valuable voices are being slowly lost, as, like some demented gardener, the tide of political purity goes weeding out the differently opinionated, the diverse, the Jewish. I think back to events I've attended over the previous few years, where comperes literally called for those of particular political persuasions to leave, or when I sat in shock as speakers urged the audience to boycott specific venues or events because people performing there have previously appeared in Israel. Such racism is no longer restricted to dodgy pubs and dark chatrooms. It has been given implied license via the rise of Corbyn's mob, and shows no sign of abating.
Absence can dull the sting of disaffection, and after a year or so of restricted activity, due in no small part to a wish for privacy following the loss of my father, I make short strides back into my former hinterlands. Attempting to recalibrate my poetic ventures, I head onto social media, creating facebook pages on which to promote the literary initiatives I have been quietly plotting. Briefly thinking of adding friends, I aim instinctively for the profiles of poets, only to discover a tidal wave of bile and unsubstantiated claims, all politically motivated, spewed on the pages of people I had previously liked, admired, trusted. Some of the most alarming were:
Re-postings of discredited allegations about the funding of political parties - specifically, claiming that Change UK were being paid "by Israel."
A post rubbishing the apparent use of chemical weapons by Syria's President Assad, insisting that the impression of his wrongdoing might be regarded purely as an American plot.
Accusations that reports - and thousands of videos and photographs - of Venezualan protests agaist that country's autocratic, and Corbyn-supported, leader, were faked.
The assertion that Zionism goes against the tenets of Judaism - from someone with no connections to Jewishness or Judaism whatsoever.
Repetitions of proven lies about the Israeli-Palestinian issue, with at least one case of invoking the Blood Libel.
Around this time, I become aware of a push by the local Liberal Democrats to draw attention to a Labour councillor who has shared Holocaust-denying facebook posts, and others of a similarly stomach-churning nature, and find that this man is about to be invested as our area's Mayor. I contact the Lib Dems, and we re-boot their campaign, this time it is successful and the Labour Party rescind the Mayoral nomination (though retain the councillor's services and include him in promotional party videos), but on confiding in Corbyn-supporting poet friends, I find their response is a collective shrugging of the shoulders. Only one shows concern, and in all other cases I find that yet again the emails dry up, the texts disintegrate, the empathy is nonexistent.
I ought not to have been surpised at this cold-shouldering. Such people stood proudly by their leader throughout the scandal of Wreathgate - when he was pictured holding a commemorative wreath for Jew-killing terrorists - a revelation which would shake the foundations of any normal person's faith, but seemed to matter not a jot to the loud-mouthed marchers, student activists, self-satisfied poets, celebs desperate to be relevant, dated rock stars or even the achingly plain "everyday folk" who had flocked to worship at the Church of Corbyn, often without being able to articulate quite why. I don't believe one should abandon strongly-held beliefs purely due to the attitudes of others. But for me, news of EU nationals attacked in London in the aftermath of the EU Referendum was a more than sufficient final straw to jolt me from my former pro-Leave stance. No matter the pro's and cons, I reasoned, no position on the EU is worth the causing, however inadvertent, of pain and fear to others. I don't expect every Brexiteer to follow suit, but we ought at least to reflect on how the promotion of goals which seem innocent to us, might affect the lives and safety of others. Such considerations seem to play no part in the minds of Corbyn's fans. We had only three months to choose a side in the Referendum. They have had more thn three years to do due diligence on Corbyn. However, the first signs that the cult may have at last begun to crumble emerge this week, with poor reults for Labour in the European elections. No sooner has the Brexit penny begun to finally drop for them also, than some of those who had deified the curmudgeonly Corbyn as "the first politician I've ever believed in," are throwing their toys out of the pram, and can be seen today proclaiming online that "Corbyn Must Go!" and echoing half-hearted calls from some of the party leader's beleagured internal foes for a second Referendum. Predictably, the result is mounting venom, and the imminent internicine struggles are not going to be pretty, as thousands of embittered people begin to turn on one another, leaving the rest of us, who foresaw this grotesque eventuality years ago, bewildered and repelled.
Meanwhile, my own position remains one of isolation. The natural response to such political turmoil is political poetry, but I can't write this, and so spend hours staring blankly at the laptop screen, the days drifting by. All enthusiasm for normal pleasures and interests is sucked out of me, and I am in the Calder Valley in body, but not in mind, or spirit. Nor will any vestige of normality be miraculously resumed when Corbyn inevitably resigns. To pin our discontent on the career of one individual is inaccurate and unfair: an entire new political culture has been created similar in part to its anti-Western Soviet forerunners but embodying also many new-fangled attributes born of support for violent movements, hatred for the state of Israel, intolerance of constructive criticism, and a willingness to throw inconvenient minorities under the bus in order to help their leader into Number