Website of poet Elizabeth Rimmer


  • Living la Vida Lockdown

    a shelf with primroses, an oil lamp and a statue of the Virgin Mary

    I don’t know about you, but this week has been a tough gig. I may have been mentally prepared for a lockdown (that oil lamp you can see was bought in Sri Lanka for the first one!) but emotions tend to take a bit longer to process. Also, while my life is relatively undisturbed, it has become obvious that for an awful lot of others, it is full of anxiety and heartbreak, and the grim realisation that some of us are being left to battle alone, in the teeth of what is, at best, a casual and callous disregard for their dignity and well-being, or, as it looked at first glance, a strategy to write off the most vulnerable.

    I was pleased to see the Scottish Government move quickly to issue statements that DNR forms are not to be sent out to whole groups of people because they have disabilities or are over a certain age, and to reassure them they are not to be placed under to pressure to sign them. Statements were explicity made to autistic people to reassure them their needs were being taken into consideration too. In England, I believe health authorities also undertook to send out similar reassurances. But by then the damage had been done. On other issues too, it is becoming clear that the help offerred to businesses isn’t effective, that moves to supply equipment to hospitals are lagging, and that the police monitoring of social distancing guidelines is inappropriately harming disabled people who find themselves harassed for to stopping to rest. And the Westminster government is ruthlessly heading towards a collapse of of the Brexit talks and a cliff edge crash out of the withdrawal agreement.

    I am confident that there will be a surge of resistance to any such move, and that the government will find itself under severe scrutiny when the lockdown is over, but I was shocked to find a friend sharing a post on Facebook from a page called the 17.4 million, instructing us to share a picture of the Prime Minister if we felt he was doing the ‘best job possible’. No, they aren’t working on the PPE issue, or coming out of lockdown, or the needs of those whose livelihoods have been destroyed, but my goodness, they are working on the PR on social media.

    I haven’t been this angry all week, though I did write a long and very angry poem, which I have submitted somewhere (so can’t share here). But I have been afraid. In different ways the lockdown has hit the members of my household hard, and I’ve found it difficult to keep my head on and hold everything together.

    I’ve also been feeling increasingly uncertain about the new book. When all this is over, things are going to feel very different to when I started to put it together. It is far too soon to think of ‘after’, and writing about ‘during’ is going to take finesse. Plus some of the questions I’ve been raising – like ‘what is a person?’ ‘how do you know you’re a person?’ are answering themselves. A person is a network of relationships of many different kinds, with your history, real and mythologised, with your landscape, your community (all of the communities you’re part of, not just the human ones) and they are all under stress just now, changing week by week, before our very eyes. And that is where I’m moving to – transition and transformation, what you take with you, what you lose, what you find. I might have to change the title, too. It was going to be Burnedthumb, as claiming the right to be my poet self was such an important thing to me, but if you’re here at all, you know I’ve been Burnedthumb for about fifteen years – and this book needs not to have its main focus on me. It’s going to be about all of us.

    I’m still lighting a candle at eight o’clock every night for everyone who is in isolation and finding things tough. And sending love to you all.

  • The Flight From Understanding

    Every so often I want to get on my high horse and rant about this, but here’s a guy who has done the job for me, back in 1957, without any of the slang and swearywords I’d have to edit out.
    Bernard Lonergan writes:

    For concrete situations give rise to insights which issue into policies and courses of action. Action transformsthe existing situation to give rise to further insights, better policies,more effective courses of action. It follows that if insight occurs, it keeps recurring; and at each recurrence knowledge develops, action increases its scope, and situations improve.

    People who have looked into permaculture theory will recognise the imperative for observation and responses, feedback loops and spirals of abundance. On the other hand, Lonergan writes about the opposite, the spiral of degradation which he calls ‘oversight’ or ‘the flight from understanding’:

    The flight from understanding blocks the insights that situations demand. There follow unintelligent policies and inept courses of action. The situation deteriorates to demand still further insights, and as they are blocked, poloicies become more unintelligent and action more inept. What is worse, the deteriorating situation seems to provide the uncritical biased mind with factual evidence in which the bias is claimed to be verified. So in ever increasing measure intelligence comes to be regarded as irrelevant to practical living. Human activity settles down to a decadent routine, and initiative becomes the privilege of violence. The preface to Insight,The collected Works of Bernard Lonergan Volume 3, published by University of Toronto Press.

    This applies to so much I have been seeing over the last few years, and I’m sure everyone can come up with their own examples. Here are three of mine:
    Food is short, and the situation is too desperate to stop and think about lasting solutions, so we have to resort to GM technology. Don’t be emotional, says the government. But look at the science. OK GM food hasn’t been proved to have killed anybody, and ‘frankenfood’ is a particularly unhelpful term of abuse, but look at the actual results. It doesn’t deliver on yield. It doesn’t deliver on pest resistance. It hasn’t cut down the use of pesticides and herbicides. It has cross-fertilisied with non GM crops. It has escaped from cultivation. On every level it has failed to do what it was supposed to do. It is an experiment that has failed. Move on.

    The same can be said for nuclear weapons. They are too terrifying to use.They are expensive to maintain or replace, to the point where their possession compromises the standing of a conventional army. And they haven’t kept anyone out of war. They are a failure. Let’s cut our losses and move on.

    And now there’s the looming energy crisis. We are so tempted to fly from understanding this one. If we are bounced into allowing fracking – which will only happen if the companies involved are given large subsidies and allowed to relax current environmental safeguards, we can’t guarantee cheap abundant energy. we can guarantee higher taxes, envirinmental devastation, and some years down the line when shale gas runs out, the exact same problem we have now, and less opportunity to rectify our mistakes.

    There are moral issues here. But prior to the moral responses come the intelligent insights. And before the intelligent insights, the patient and unself-serving attempt to be still and observe, not react out of panic. I see a lot of division between the spiritual people and the intellectual, the practical and the moral, but it does seem to me that the good and the clever should not be at odds – or we’re all screwed.

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