Pessimism is for Lightweights: Teenage Dreams in Tumultuous Times
On the road with her LiveWire poets, Salena Godden finds hope in youth and poetry’s ability to help us mourn our passing world.
These are turbulent and wild times to be a poet. These are tumultuous times to be in any way creative and proactive in all fields, science and art, music and literature. Side by side we are all on the frontline documenting these times and rebelling against the negativity, the demagogues and politicians, bankers, big pharma and big fakers. We share our work and experiences online and on stage and in print.
The world is in constant mourning and so who better to speak at the wake than the poets?
All over the world, every morning, we open our notebooks and hearts and share our perspectives, our fear and grief, our hope and solutions, to try to spread the word, we all want to save the planet, save the animals, save the bees and the trees and save our human rights and humanity.
On the ground and out on tour I am riding a wave of productivity and connectivity. I am recognising how much people want to have a chat and a hug with me after my shows, this is new, the hugging is new. I don’t mind it and feel it is a sign of these times. We are all seeking alignment and connection and confirmation we have something to live for.
People need Poetry
I am often asked to debate about the rise in the popularity in poetry. I feel that the world is in constant mourning and so who better to speak at the wake than the poets? Who better to speak than the marginalised poets, skint and working class poets at that. I’m a hardcore optimist. I am a believer in finding the good in people and the more I talk to strangers and make friends the more I find I am not alone in this wave of hope and action, people I am meeting at gigs and shows and on my adventures.
Recently after a gig a small gang of us found ourselves in a cosy bar down an alleyway. Inside it was all Día de Muertos skulls with a menu that boasted hundreds of variations of mescal. We sat around a table and chatted. You never know what you will get with a gig, every single poetry show is different, a different feeling in the room and for me always a different set list.
Some of my poems endure for decades and other poems are Mayflies and only live for one gig.
I never do the same poems in the same order and I always read some new pieces. Some of my poems endure for decades and other poems are Mayflies and only live for one gig and never see the light again.
This month I have been on the road with Out-Spoken and the inimitable Joelle Taylor, a poet of the highest calibre and passion and one of my greatest and much loved LIVEwire poetry comrades. I recall that night and how we sang the praises of Birgitta Jónsdóttir and Byline Festival and raised a glass to her, we’ll all be together at Byline Festival in August and I am looking forward to that.
Time passed and I slurped down 4 or 5 delicious salt rimmed margaritas and soon found myself chatting to some University students on the next table. We talked about Extinction Rebellion. We talked about Greta Thunberg. Yet again, here I am with complete strangers and we were all talking about the future.
On my travels it has been this way, every gig the hugs and connections and also people talking about XR, it is all people are talking about, it is all I’m talking about. And here was another moment when I sat quietly confident in the good in people. I was thinking how relieved I am that teenagers are so switched on and passionate about this world and the future, their future.
One lad told me he is studying biology, and specifically the science of spiders and their web making skills. He explained to me how we as humans can learn from spiders and use that web making science to save lives. I loved his passion and his optimism and I didn’t catch his name so I’ll call him spider man.
As the bar closed and I said my goodbyes and meandered back down the alleyway to my Premier Inn. I remembered being a passionate teenager in the 1980’s. I remember my teenage bedroom poems about saving the planet. How I wore a CND badge on a black cap, ox blood Doc Martens, ripped denims and joined protests and marches.
For my art GCSE I remember spending weeks making a huge painting of a mushroom cloud with Thatcher and Reagan and the apocalypse. I was rubbish at art but I liked my teacher. She quizzed me about this work, and asked if this was what I feared and if this is what I really thought was in our future, a mushroom cloud.
I remember solemnly nodding and explaining, yes I did, that the world needed to change, that it was polluted and I was concerned about the hole in the ozone layer and the world ending in nuclear war. I heavily referenced Prince’s Sign of the Times lyrics. I had a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye and I recall my art teacher being puzzled at the passion I had for the subject and for the world.
I am saying all this because I know as a teenage girl I would have been so inspired by Greta Thunberg. I would have followed her and marched and joined the school strike then just as I do now.
I honour the powerless teenage dreamer I once was by supporting the power of these 16 year olds dreams now. I picture how different the world would be if we had had a someone like Greta for us back then, back then when our peers called us hippies and made jokes about how we knit our own muesli.
If you like this article…
Digital edition from £29. Print edition from £36.
Join News Club for events and interviews in London.
… to help us commission more great journalism every day.
Back in the 1980’s when to say you cared about the planet was a bit like being Neil in the Young Ones. Just think what if we had all listened to the science, art, poetry and music of the times instead of power mad politicians? What if we listened to the idealism of teenage dreams? We might not be in the hot mess we are in today if we had ever listened to the artists and not the bankers.
And as I fall asleep in my purple Premier Inn room I am hopeful. I am happy that kids are being heard now.The children are on the rise and we are all connecting and listening now, and about time, we are all reading and sharing and caring is cool again, well yes, we are late, very late, but better late than never and it’s a good place as any to start.
We have to change the channel, we have to tune into each other and into the natural world. Because to change the way we are dying we have to change the way we are living, if we change the way we are living, we can change the way we are dying.