Last Saturday, the poet Paul Stevens went to the Great Socialist Worker’s Party in the sky. He died after a brave fight against liver cancer. I mention the SWP because of course Paul was very left wing. The same label is often attached to moi, yet Paul and I used to have some big rows about politics (the backdrop to all this was 9/11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, etc). Paul founded and edited three excellent poetry zines, The Chimaera, The Flea and The Shit Creek Review, and the reason I’ve mentioned the political stuff is because as an editor, Paul dealt with everyone equally and fairly. In a 2009 interview on the Very Like A Whale blog, Paul said this…
I really do not care what the politics of a poet are. Really! If anyone submits a good poem, I will publish it because it is a good poem. That’s what I think poetry is about. It’s a transcendence of our work-a-day petty selves. I would publish Adolf Hitler’s poem if it were good enough. Same with George Bush. Benjamin Netanyahu. Joseph Stalin. Tony Blair. Jeffrey Dahmer. The Boston Strangler. Condoleeza Rice. Madeleine Albright. Hilary Clinton. John Howard. Attila the Hun. Osama Bin Laden. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Jabba the Hutt. Dutch Schultz. Anthony ‘Fat Tony’ Salerno. Sarah Palin. The Spring-Heeled Terror of Stepney Green. These are all people whose politics or other personal behaviour I strongly disapprove of, and there are plenty more! But if any of them sent me a poem they had written that I judged to be a good poem (which would ipso facto therefore NOT include hate-material), I would publish it! I publish poems: I do not judge personal lives. (Here)
I only knew Paul Stevens online, mostly on the old Burgundy poetry board, and always found him to be humorous, considerate and encouraging towards other poets. To the best of my recollection, the only time Paul and I fell out was the aforementioned rows about politics. It’s a measure of the man that despite his passionate political beliefs he carried out his duties as a poetry editor with neutrality.
The Burgundy board had a section for poetry challenges, and the Paul Stevens poem I want to include here comes from this. One of the Burgundy members was a grand old chap called Harry Bramwell Bird (is Harry still with us?). In the summer of 2004, Harry set a challenge called ‘Another side to love’ (you can find it here). There were 17 entries, and everyone voted on what they thought was the best poem in the challenge. Maz came first with a poem called Phonophilia, Peter Stewart Richards came second with a poem called Found Fossil Remains, and Paul Stevens came third with a short poem called Explosion of Small Birds. Apparently, Paul never meant this piece to be a ‘serious’ poem, but in my humble opinion it both captures Paul’s sense of humour and his skill as a poet. It probably counts as one of Paul’s earlier works yet I think it’s an excellent poem…
Explosion of Small Birds
We parted. Puffs of smoke pock-marked the sky,
each floating where a small bird had exploded
and left a drift of singed, fragmented feather.
The ground was strewn with tiny bits of beak.
We both were sad. As also was the weather.
You can find a bio of Paul and more of his poetry here.
The world has lost another good one, yet I’m sure Paul will be putting things to rights in the Great Socialist Worker’s Party in the Sky.