Poetry and politics: Live Canon’s Election Special

by isabelrogers

Tomorrow, we vote. Today, we have poems.

Billy Bragg once sang ‘mixing pop and politics – they ask me what the use is’. The Live Canon Election Special shows that people have been writing about elections for at least two thousand years.

Helen Eastman

Helen Eastman

Live Canon is an extraordinary thing: Helen Eastman persuades a load of actors to learn poems by heart to perform in all sorts of places. Today, it was political poems in a double bill that will cross London. I went to the sober lunchtime performance at Greenwich Theatre. Tonight they will do it all again at the Hen & Chickens in Islington, to a probably very different audience. There will be heckling.

Three actors took us through two thousand years of political poetry, from Ancient Greek writing to some that was only written this week by children as young as eight. (The kids were brilliant, by the way. Often the most truthful of all.) We had poems written by suffragettes on slates in Holloway Prison. There was Burns, Glyn Maxwell and Carol Ann Duffy. There was a hilarious one by Martin Figura about a visit Heath made while canvassing. There was even a live music accordion finale, with audience participation. That will definitely be more raucous this evening in the pub.

If you get the chance to hear Live Canon perform (are you in Islington at 9.30 this evening?) – take it.


There was also a poem of mine, which was expertly performed by Live Canon:

The truth about political correctness

Back in heartless landless Tory heartland
my father stood in our local election.
An old-style Liberal, he embraced defeat
with polite relief. At school in ’79,
with Maggie top and mine
the only Liberal parents, my two best friends
were Tory and Labour. We dug for rhetoric
left, right and centre. How democratic.

Then, staying with three American sons,
my sister chose and – while I learned to skate
and chew gum – kissed one. My father joked,
applauding the odd wild oat, but did the other father
know his son was ‘practising on my daughter?’

Later our Liberal family sat to eat
accompanied by Any Questions. The panel –
four educated, erudite professionals –
augured well for informed opinion.
My father noted perhaps they had gone ‘too much
the other way.’ I blinked, observing all political shades
were represented. He looked puzzled and said,
as though to one stupid or deaf
(his shade developing chameleon clarity),
‘but they’re all women.’

It was then that illusions cracked
round a number of things, including confusion
between lacking and talking bollocks.
There was no comment of equal weight
when a panel had balls enough
to achieve a full complement of eight.
Plus, of course, the Dimbleby two,
making a double-figured mathematically-based
secure assumption of something terribly logical,
apparently too obvious to explain.