Archive for December, 2019

The Gift

20191205_poetree-2897-2048x1332Children perform ‘The Gift’ at this year’s Trafalgar Square Christmas tree lighting up ceremony. Photo: Hayley Madden for The Poetry Society.

It is hard to feel hope at the moment. But of course, hopelessness is exactly what the wealthy and powerful – the fossil fuel industry, Silicon Valley, the oligarchs, the white supremacists, the right-wing press, etc – want us to feel. They want us pliable, grateful, anxious, mean. Those who dream of frictionless markets do not like resistance. Hope is a glitch in their system.

This year I was given the honour of writing a poem for the Trafalgar Square Christmas Tree, along with London schoolchildren, as part of the Poetry Society’s Look North More Often programme. It’s one of the most famous Christmas Trees in the world – an annual gift from Norway – and the poem is on a banner at the bottom of the tree and was read at the lighting up ceremony. I chose the theme of Hope, because I felt I needed it, and my children need it. I was thinking, I suppose, of Rebecca Solnit writing:

Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. It is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency. Hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth’s treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal… To hope is to give yourself to the future – and that commitment to the future is what makes the present inhabitable.

Anyway, after I accepted the commission the election was declared, and now it feels we need hope even more deeply. And then so many people complained about the shape of the 90-year old tree it became international news. But let’s not listen to the ugly, calculated din of faux-furious opinion.

It was very moving to work with the schoolchildren’s words. They wrote such astounding images, comparing darkness to ‘a broken home’ and ‘an injured look’. They imagined hope gorgeously too: as a parrot, a sunflower, a cheetah, a cake with sprinkles, a young girl… This is our poem, ‘The Gift’.

Hope is our present, for now at least.

The Gift

By Clare Pollard, with thoughts and images dreamt up by London schoolchildren

I walk through Winter’s city,
my footsteps stain the snow.
The darkness shuts like curtains.
It’s later than I know.

Dark is a heart that’s breaking,
Dark is a dream you lose.
Dark is a pounding headache
that makes the world a maze

and then a speck of something,
I see a candle-flame –
a tiny seed that flickers.
I hear Hope say my name.

The seed becomes a golden flower
of pouring light, a gift.
I need you to believe, Hope says.
It’s you makes me exist.

I feel bright feathers lifting.
I hear a tiger’s roar.
I’ve taken many forms, Hope says –
changing is what I’m for.

At Christmas-time I settle
into the shape of tree –
alive, sharp, resin rising.
Hope shines and darkness flees

and I can see a future
as clocks chime their late hour
for Hope will be our present,
and Hope will give us power.

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