A Poem For Marriage

Andy West (youtube)

Andy West (youtube)

The Trillion Souls by Andy West : a powerful poem for all the LGBTI people who suffered and died without ever being able to celebrate their love, has now been sent to every Australian Senator. Because sometimes poetry may cut through where reasoned argument will not.

On February 14, 2015, Queensland Symphony Orchestra and The Australian Voices premiered Gordon Hamilton’s The Trillion Souls, inspired by BBC reporter Andy West’s poem of the same title. The poem was written to celebrate the passing of equal marriage into English law in 2013.

Hamilton’s piece is dedicated to the memory of gay mathematician Alan Turing, often referred to as the father of computing, whose codebreaking work is said to have shortened WW2 by several years. It was broadcast on ABC Classic FM this week, which is how I discovered it.

Described as a “victory ode”, the poem calls on us to remember the ‘trillion souls’ of all those who died without ever being able to openly express and celebrate their love.

We think of you, the shamefaced girls
Who wept upon your beds
And suffered years of wretched sex
Whilst crying in your heads.

 And all the men, who loved in sin
Though caring for their wives
They hid their passion and hid the truth
And hid for all their lives.

The beaten son with broken hopes
The daughter, shunned and damned
The hopeless children ostracised
When the family door was slammed.

Read the full poem here. the stirrer thought the poem relevant to the current marriage equality debate, and sent a copy to every Australian Senator – see below for some responses. First, who is Andy West?

West was a 34-year-old gay journalist for the BBC in Northern Ireland, who took objection to boxer Tyson Fury being included in the shortlist for BBC Sports Personality of the year.  Fury said in an interview:

‘‘There are only three things that need to be accomplished before the devil comes home.

‘One of them is homosexuality being legal in countries, one of them is abortion and the other is paedophilia. Who would have thought in the 50s and 60s that those first two would be legalised?’

‘When I say paedophiles could be made legal, it sounds crazy. But if I had said to you about the first two being made legal in the 50s, I would have been looked upon as a crazy man.’

West was suspended for speaking out against the boxer’s inclusion, and then left when the corporation refused to remove Fury from the shortlist. He said:

‘I’ve almost ruined my career because my employer is saying someone who is saying I’m akin to a paedophile is worthy of a pedestal in front of other people, and that’s what I take exception to.

‘He’s [Fury] made money, he’s got his belts. I think the BBC has made a mistake. I’ve no problem with him expressing his opinion.

‘I’ve got a problem with the BBC saying this is someone we should look up to as Sports Personality of the Year.’

‘My employer is hurting me and other gay people by celebrating someone who considers me no better than a paedophile and who believes homosexual people are helping to bring about the end of the world.’

‘I’m a human, with a voice and I intend to use it.’

Fury tried to make light of the matter during the award ceremony.

“I have said a lot of stuff in the past and none of it is with the intention to hurt anybody

“It’s all very tongue-in-cheek. Its all fun and games for me. I am not really a serious type of person.

“Everything is happy-go-lucky with Tyson Fury. If I’ve said anything in the past that has hurt anybody, I apologise to anybody who has been hurt. It was not my intention to do that.”

Right. Another of those non-apologies to anyone who didn’t get the non-joke.

You can read The Trillion Souls, a poem by Andy West, in full here.

SENATORS RESPOND

Sometimes poetry may make an impact where reasoned prose and argument will not, so the stirrer sent the poem to all our Senators, adding that this was probably the first poem they’d been sent about marriage equality. A few sent hand-crafted replies, either in person or via their staff.

Patrick Dodson

On behalf of Senator Patrick Dodson, Shadow Assistant Minister for Indigenous Affairs and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, Senator for Western Australia, thank you for sending us the poem The Trillion Souls.  Your thoughtful gesture is appreciated.

Lee Rhiannon

We have received quite a few emails on the subject of marriage equality and with regards to the proposed plebiscite. I don’t believe there have been many poems amongst them, so thank you. As I’m sure you know, the Greens do not support the plebiscite and will continue to campaign for the marriage equality.

George Brandis

I hope my email finds you well. Senator Brandis asked that I pass onto you his thanks for sending him this poem, no one has sent us this poem before. Many thanks and kind regards.

Don Farrell

Thank you very much for emailing Senator Farrell; and you are right, I do believe this is the first poem the Senator has received!  I will bring the poem to his attention; thanks again for writing.

Dean Smith

You are very correct – I have received many, many emails about the marriage debate. I read them all – even the garbage I get sent! In the emails and letters I have come across some gems – I hope to use them when I make my pro marriage speech when the debate next occurs (sooner rather than later I hope, but without a plebiscite). Wow – but never a poem, yet. The poem is great! Thank you!

Derryn Hinch

Thank you so much for taking the time to email Senator Hinch with the poem regarding same sex marriage. It is a sad, but lovely depiction of the current situation. I will make sure that I bring it to Senator Hinch’s attention.

Claire Moore

No, first poem. You know our position and it is strong.

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About the author

Veteran gay writer and speaker, Doug was one of the founders of the UKs pioneering GLBTI newspaper Gay News (1972) , and of the second, Gay Week, and is a former Features Editor of Him International. He presented news and current affairs on JOY 94.9 FM Melbourne for more than ten years.

“Doug is revered, feared and reviled in equal quantities, at times dividing people with his journalistic wrath. Yet there is no doubt this grandpa-esque bear keeps everyone abreast of anything and everything LGBT across the globe.” (Daniel Witthaus, “Beyond Priscilla”, Clouds of Magellan, Melbourne, 2014)