Over the past few days, the UK has been reeling under the force of the momentous referendum vote to leave the European Union. Like so many others, here at Young Poets Network we’ve spent a lot of time glued to rolling newsfeeds and standing slack jawed in front of the TV as we try to process what’s happened, and what it might mean for all of us in the UK and beyond.
We’ve already heard lots of your reactions to Brexit. Young Poets Network exists for young people up to the age of 25 and under, and it’s this younger demographic (18-24 year olds) which voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU. We know that some of you will be feeling upset, anxious, embattled, at odds with your parents and families. Maybe some of you will be feeling hopeful, excited, ready to face whatever comes.
However you feel, however you voted (or would have voted, if you could), we’re urging you to write about it. Lots of you won’t have been able to take up the opportunity to make your voice heard in this referendum, and we want to give you the chance to do so now.
Here at Young Poets Network, we’ve been thinking increasingly about poetry’s place in a world where uncertainty is an inevitable fact. You can read about this in some of our recent features: from Carolyn Forché, we’ve heard about the ‘poetry of witness’ and the role poetry has to play as both a witness of life- and world-changing events, and as a powerful expression of our reactions to the same. We’ve been talking to young poets about how they respond to some of the biggest issues and threats facing our planet, and how they think their own writing can be a source of change. Above all, we’ve been reading your writing, and coming to understand more than ever how invested young writers are in their world, their society, their own and others futures, which sings out loud and clear in the many and varied poems we receive, every single week.
However you choose to write about it, please send us your poems, lines, verses, monologues and bars about Brexit. It doesn’t matter whether you’re currently living in Britain, in Europe, or further afield – we’d love to hear from you.
A selection of Brexit poems
A Letter from the Youth of Britain
Little Britain is severed and splintered,
A country divided in two,
Seeking answers in the slamming of doors;
We have turned our backs on you.
We weep for the union we’ve broken,
We mourn for the ties that we’ve torn,
For our break from a unity built on peace;
Into which we had been born.
by Krystina Mawer
Red on White
We recede into ourselves like coral,
the English. Anemone-red in the
face, Middle England sits in its rock pool,
behind the leaving tide with the hot sun
bearing down. Red as a cross on a flag,
cream-white as our cliffs – as a bleached, damp rag.
by Joseph Birdsey
Pencil Drawn Borders
Robert tells me over curry
I’m sick of immigration,
stuffs Masala in his mouth and
sips his cup of tea.
There’s a poster on the wall
above the table in the kitchen,
There’s a diner, people laughing,
and a jukebox by the side.
Robert loves the ‘50s,
the dancing and the smiles-
when Britain won a war and
only 60 million died.
The carnival and music
passes by his window
he dances and he laughs,
marvels at the lights.
And when his car gets a scratch
He blames them on the corner
the shifty looking bloke,
He should go back home.
Robert tells me over curry
We’re going down the drain
and romanticises a past
that hurt more than it helped.
by Martha O’Brien
How do you know when a blank sheet of paper is face down?
From the lies everyone tells you about the other side.
They asked me if I knew what British values were.
I said that I didn’t. Asked if they were compiled somewhere.
He pointed at a face down sheet of paper,
told me of all the great British values.
Told me how the ink was fading,
that it needed to be traced over,
that it needed to be made strong again.
Told me of the other side.
by Jeremiah Brown
24/6 – X marks the spot
Held in their curving hand
Up and down this democratic land
The ballots papers
Stripped from many acres
The trees mourning their fallen leaves
Leaves, of fallen branches, thieves
X striping the enclosing box
Till the last clocks
Mark the coming of the next dawn
Fall the battle field once drawn
Paper stacked in neat, straight lines
Crisp and knowing signs
Of the division between two sides
And how turns the political tides
A measure of their conformity, perhaps
The counting piles, holds small gaps
As the spoils, lie within their democratic right
On the voting room’s floor, from early night
The news, a solemn affair
Not that they truly care
As people sit, palms clenched
Democracy firmly entrenched
So much that not a soul would say
Or whisper, what next, for the next day?
When did the pen marks replace the youth?
When did parliamentary majority last echo the truth?
Only then can we fall, mourn
Search our hearts and be reborn
If that is possible to continue and stand
Then this is Eden’s land
(Untouchable paradise, we will not know
Till into the darkened mist, we go)
by Sioned Gill
Borders to Big Ideas and back
The European idea is alive in me;
encoded so deeply in my border-blurring,
that i can’t really say where Europe ends
and i begin.
Even when it’s ostensibly
ending right now,
if the tabloids are to be believed.
I come from the European heart,
a place that has showed me
only the best of the EU project,
i’ve grown up without borders and
i’ve taken that for granted for so long.
And now that im mostly grown up
i still can’t shake that inherent europeanness in me,
this better-than-borders, bigger-than-me entity,
and, truth be told, i dont want to.
I learned to love this European identity,
how couldn’t i when i’ve beem raised
as the future of this idea for so long?
And even while other hopeful Europeans
are denied entry into this deeply flawed fantasy,
are left outside at borders
suddenly so visible and imminent and violent,
are left alone by us,
by those who are supposed to carry them
over the dividing lines and into our homes;
even while other young Europeans like me
are forced out of their European identity,
are left to deal with the fallout, the shattering,
on their own
this big idea of last century
keeps living on in my bones.
by Nele Petri
Brexit: A Sonnet
When I showed up in the early nineties,
The continent was newly safe and sound.
The Wall had fallen, the Cold War had ended,
Ever Closer Union, peace all around.
Amid Troubles and wars the Union grew,
Together we would forever belong.
We got citizenship, and currency too –
Proof in our wallets, the future was strong.
I was British and European, the same,
My homeland always moving forward. But
Then. Nativism infiltrated, stayed.
Disgusting rhetoric. I ignored it.
Until I was ripped apart, asunder.
I used to feel British. No longer.#
by Lily Morris
Huge thanks to everyone who submitted their Brexit poems – we’ve been incredibly impressed, moved and challenged by your individual responses. If there’s a poem you’d like to send us on this subject, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.