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There are times when writing poetry seems a vain irrelevance. What on earth is the point in poetry when the news has become some kind of macabre scorecard of death? Really, in the face of such a brutal assault on people with nowhere to go, what place does poetry have? It’s a question I’ve asked myself a lot recently. Watching the crisis in Gaza unfold I’ve had the same response to what I see and hear as so many other people I know: disbelief turns to fury, and fury becomes a hopeless rage at my impotence to do anything much to help change the situation. Next comes growing frustration, and – as the violence goes on and on and on and suave government spokesmen sit in TV studios and echo the party line that none of anything that’s happened is their fault – there is, eventually, an almost overwhelming sense of despair.
And what good is poetry? Poems don’t comfort traumatised children, or staunch wounds, or provide bandages and medical care. They don’t save lives. All I can hope is that – maybe – they occasionally do a little something to help to re-draw the way we understand what’s going on. That once in a while they make some kind of stand in opposition to the brutal logic of war, a logic which sees ever-increasing violence against a civilian population as being the only possible course of action and sets about it with vigour and high-explosives.
The poet Michael Rosen has written extensively and eloquently about the conflict in Gaza. He’s not alone. In her poem Running Orders Lena Khalaf Tuffaha takes us into a world which can be destroyed at any moment by a ‘roof knock’, and renders irrelevant any discussion about war being targeted, or surgical, or civilised. Right now, there’s an anthology of poetry for Gaza being put together, whose proceeds will go to humanitarian relief there. And yes, it’s not enough. How could it be? But it’s something. It’s a start, a contribution to setting out our determination to create a better world. And if we take that contribution and add it to countless other contributions, large and small, then maybe we do change things. I think we have to hope so.
And if all that sounds a little woolly, a little bit pie-in-the-sky, and you’ve read this and think poetry counts for sod-all squared and then some, and you’re hankering for getting involved in some more direct kind of help, then you can always donate to Medical Aid for Palestinians. God knows they need the cash.