The poet laureate, Simon Armitage, has written a poem about the invasion of Ukraine and the pain of displacement, as a mark of solidarity with those under fire.
Resistance was written over a few days against a backdrop of harrowing television footage of Ukrainians fleeing bombardment and shooting.
Armitage, who was appointed poet laureate in 2019, said: “This is a public role and there are times when I need to respond publicly. The first time that happened was at the beginning of the pandemic. That was one of the most important events in my life, and I felt a responsibility and duty to write something.
“Then this great big mess came along, and I felt the same way. My head is full of images and language and ideas, and it’s almost a relief to set things down on paper.”
The poem was a “refracted version of what is coming at us in obscene images through the news”. Reports from Ukraine were both compelling and difficult to watch, he said. “I definitely can’t sit through both the 6pm and 10pm news bulletins.”
The poem repeats the words “it’s war again” several times, in reference to successive conflicts in recent history. “There’s a weariness in the poem; here we go again,” said Armitage.
“But [the poem] is also a form of resistance, I hope. There’s not a lot I can do, sitting here. But writing it down, taking ownership of the terrible images, feels a positive act.”
Poetry had an “unbroken relationship with conflict and war, going right back to the Iliad”, said Armitage. He pointed to the famous generation of first world war poets – “the bloggers of their day” – and to Tony Harrison’s poems about more recent wars in the Gulf and Bosnia.
While evoking the desperate urgency of escaping death and destruction, Armitage’s poem ends on a note of hope: “An air-raid siren can’t fully mute the cathedral bells.”
It was not clear yet whether the world was at a truly pivotal moment, he said.
“I was talking to somebody the other day who’d been a young man at the height of the cold war and the Bay of Pigs crisis, and he said he used to go to bed not knowing whether he’d wake up in the morning .
“I don’t think we’re quite there yet. But in terms of catastrophe, tragedy, this feels as real and raw as anything I can remember. And the stakes are very high.”