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Over the past few weeks, the world around us has become increasingly disturbing and distressing. The homophobic hate crime in Orlando. The murder of Jo Cox. The hateful rhetoric evoked by the referendum. And now this. Brexit. I am still in shock.

I sit at my desk, working on my second novel, and find myself compulsively reading the news online – which makes me feel anything other than creative right now. The UK is in crisis, its politics spiralling out of control. The far right are celebrating. Those who voted Leave were lied to in the most outrageous fashion. I am scared of living in an intolerant country, in which xenophobia, racism and prejudice of all kinds are running riot.

Yes, we will fight this, in all the ways we need to. We will hold on to hope, even when we are jaded and low. Slowly, we will interpret this mess. We will find the right words – and when we can’t, we will look to others to give us those words. Not just those involved in politics, not just campaigners and activists, but also artists, musicians, writers and poets, whose voices we need too, more than ever.

I experienced a few of those voices at a literary event on the run-up to the referendum, and am grateful for the language, the hope, the sense of community they gave me – all of which have stayed with me this week. This event, at Bath’s Central United Reformed Church on 21 June, was Shore to Shore: Celebrating Poetry and Community with the Laureate and Friends. The brainchild of Carol Ann Duffy, she and three other poets – Jackie Kay, Gillian Clarke and Imtiaz Dharker, plus musician and composer John Sampson – were stopping off on their two-week tour across Britain from Falmouth to St Andrews, where they are performing at fifteen venues until 2 July. A local poet joins them at each gig. Our guest that night: the brilliant RV Bailey. The tour is a celebration of independent bookshops and a special anthology accompanies it – Off The Shelf: A Celebration of Bookshops in Verse.

Bath’s night of poetry was hosted by Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights, one of the city’s two excellent indie bookshops. When the world makes no sense, bookshops are one of the places where I find solace. Mr B’s has a resident dog called Vlashka, a record player, a bibliotherapy room. They will wrap your books in brown paper, tie them with string and seal them with wax (oh yes). Across town, in Toppings, you can drink tea while sitting by the window in the vast art and poetry section. It’s open every day until late evening, so I often find myself there, flicking through newly published novels, reading their opening pages and – contentious, I know – their closing lines. These moments are solitary, yet it’s also like being with an old friend. In a mad world, bookshops feel safe and peaceful. They are places where anything is possible, great feats of imagination, written or drawn. They are restorative, vital. We need to support these precious spaces, these lifelines – because they support us. They make it possible for us to do things like sit and listen to Jackie Kay reading Extinction (original title: Nigel Farage), a poem so timely, so apt, that it met with huge applause.

The power of poetry, spoken out loud, never ceases to impress me. These poems covered subjects ordinary and momentous, personal and political – from love to loss, being gay in the fifties, losing a parent, losing a partner, growing old, learning to swear, climate change, and meeting violence with love. We laughed and cried, often at the same time. There was elegy and consolation. There was anger and wit and political defiance, all spoken in the writers’ unique rhythms. In other words, a sense of shared humanity.

Poetry finds words for the unspeakable. It affirms us, says I know what you’ve seen and felt, I’ve been there, I got through it and so can you. Often it goes further, says you can be better than this – we can be better than this.

Some poems have stayed in my mind. Like Bailey’s British Red Cross. Kay’s April Sunshine. Duffy’s Premonitions. The evening closed with a standing ovation. I felt changed by what I had heard. That’s what poets do. That’s their power. They can soothe us, egg us on, fire us up, show us what we’re missing, make us stop and look at ourselves, our lives and what we are doing to each other.

Speaking to the Independent in March, after her appointment as Scotland’s new Makar, Jackie Kay said: ‘For every place that you might expect poetry to go, I’d also like to take poetry somewhere unexpected, whether that’s in a prison, an old people’s home or a hospital.’

How wonderful, and necessary, especially now.

Rachel's Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction longlisted debut Whispers Through a Megaphone is out in paperback on August 4th. 

Join the conversation! Tweet us with your thoughts on Rachel's piece.

Missoula

A few years ago I was hired to be a reporter for the alt weekly in the little mountain college town in Montana where I lived then and will live again next month, after a brief, worthwhile, but ultimately failed experimental phase in Philadelphia.

The job seemed too good to be true: not only did a rigorous, well-written, and free newspaper still exist in this idyllic little city of 60,000 people in 2014, but the publisher was willing to pay me to travel around western Montana talking to people, asking them whatever questions I wanted, and writing about what I found out, despite the fact that I knew nothing about journalism. I had a job that could possibly become a career, and I could do it in a town surrounded by green mountains, with snow-capped peaks in the distance and clear and rocky river running through a downtown of dark bars and bookstores. I could do something that sounded legitimate—be a reporter—but I could still spend my nights drinking in the basement bar where my wife bartended and my weekends skiing and sleeping in fire lookouts.

I wrote about an almost-lost Richard Linklater movie filmed in Missoula before Slacker came out. I wrote about marijuana growers whose operations were raided by federal agents. I wrote about a militia member who posed in camo, in the woods, pointing an assault rifle at an imaginary enemy. I wrote about cattle mutilations and UFO sightings.

Mostly, though, the job entailed desperately trying to root out news stories in a town where the most heated political controversies had to with questions like whether the city should build a second artificial wave in the river for surfers and freestyle kayakers. I wrote about flood-map changes, small-town airport improvement plans, recently opened ice-cream shops, new schemes for recycling glass.

But then something awful would happen, and you would glimpse the deep fault lines over which this seemingly faultless city had been built. A rape scandal involving the local university and the county attorney’s office became so pervasive and entrenched that the U.S. Department of Justice launched an investigation and Jon Krakauer wrote an entire book about it. And one night, in April 2014, a seasonal wildland firefighter named Markus Kaarma shot and killed a 17-year-old German exchange student for entering his garage, presumably to steal Kaarma’s weed. Kaarma claimed he was defending his home—a six-bedroom house that his mom bought him—but evidence presented in court suggested Kaarma and his wife had deliberately tried to entice burglars into their garage in order to kill them and exact revenge for a series of petty thefts.

I didn’t know anything about journalism, but I sat in the courtroom with Kaarma and his cavalier common-law wife and his shattered-looking mother and the victim’s family and a whole throng of media from Missoula and Germany as county attorneys laid out their charges of first-degree murder and Kaarma’s expensive defense lawyers tried to portray their client as a frightened victim forced to protect his family. I watched the trial from a back row, with a reporter’s notebook on my lap, scrawling down the details of the deadly night. I began to see what had really happened: a privileged person whose mother had bought him a little piece of Missoula felt it was justifiable to shoot a teenager at point-blank range in order to defend his piece of unearned turf. The jury found Kaarma guilty, and the incident began to take the shape, in my mind, of a parable. But if that’s what it was, what was the moral?

The answer, it seemed, had to do with this place, with the way Missoula attracts people like me—and like Kaarma—who come from elsewhere, who feel privileged just for being there, and who then want to keep the place from being ruined by more people like them. I began to see myself and my fellow Missoulians as the flaw in the marvelous Montana landscape. Who would want to be that? So I quit my reporting job and convinced my wife to leave. Yet ever since I arrived in Philadelphia, I’ve been waiting to go back.

My flaws, it turns out, are my own, and don’t have much to do with where I am. So if I’m going to be a flaw, I’d at least like to be one in a beautiful place, within driving distance of a decommissioned fire lookout and a ski hill without lift lines and a bunch of cold mountain lakes.

Tweet us with your thoughts on Ted's piece: do you ever feel like a flaw? Have you witnessed the beauty of Missoula first hand?

Ted's debut The Minor Outsider is out on April 7th. 

Minor

 

I'm excited to introduce a new feature on our website: ONE AUTHOR BLOG is a virtual 'speakers corner' where ONE authors will post short pieces, and our readers are very welcome to respond. Like the imprint itself, our writers are bold, fresh, and original - not to mention thoughtful and funny. This blog will bring us closer to their worlds. Enjoy! Elena Lappin Editor, ONE, an imprint of Pushkin Press