Vibrant Verse: British Poetry as Occupied Territory

The British Isles have given more than their share to science, literature and philosophy. But in other ways they have done less well, as the great Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) noted in one of his short stories. This is a German woman talking to the English spy Ashenden:

“You English, you cannot paint, you cannot model, you cannot write music.”
“Some of us can at times write pleasing verses,” said Ashenden,
[and], he did not know why, two lines occurring to him he said them: “Whither, O splendid ship, thy white sails crowding, Leaning across the bosom of the urgent West?”
“Yes,” said Mrs Caypor, with a strange gesture, “you can write
poetry. I wonder why.”
And to Ashenden’s surprise she went on, in her guttural English, to recite the next two lines of the poem he had quoted. (“The Traitor,” 1928)

Mrs Caypor was right. The British Isles have never produced a composer to compare with Beethoven or an artist to compare with Michelangelo. They haven’t even come close. But Milton compares with Dante and other great poets have graced these islands, from Burns and Yeats in Scotland and Ireland to Wordsworth and Thomas in England and Wales, from the home-grown Chaucer to the adopted T.S. Eliot. Britain has a golden poetic tradition. You can say that without hyperbole or irony.

“The laurels are all cut…”

And poetry matters. Like music, with which it has very old links, it is the deepest and most soul-stirring of the arts, possessing immense spiritual and symbolic power. In some ways it’s the heart of a nation’s culture, nourished by traditions that stretch back into prehistory. And that’s why those who hate a nation and its traditions will try to drive a stake through that poetic heart. If you want to harm Britain, attack its poetry. Cut down the groves, smash the sacred shrines!

That, at least, is my reading of a consistent pattern in British cultural life: the elevation of minority poets to undeserved prominence. Like classical music, poetry is a field where White men far outperform other groups — even the feminist Germaine Greer has admitted that women have never matched men there. But hers was a rare example of liberal honesty. The normal liberal reaction to the excellence of White men is denial and destruction. Take the post of Poet Laureate in Britain, an honour bestowed to recognize the merit and national standing of a poet. It has been filled in the past by stale pale greats like Wordsworth, Tennyson and Betjeman.

Today it is filled by the White lesbian Carol Ann Duffy (born 1955). I actually think she’s a better poet than her White male predecessor Andrew Motion, but she wasn’t appointed Laureate on merit. Rather, she’s there as yet another symbol of how Britannia Delenda Est  — “Britain must be destroyed,” its traditions overturned and its resources seized by outsiders and aliens. The hostile elite delight in inverting the traditional order whereby White heterosexual able-bodied males were the leaders and arbiters of Western culture. As a woman and a lesbian, Carol Ann Duffy is bursting with diversity points. That’s why she’s the Poet Laureate of Britain.

Reframing Scottishness

But Duffy is not as diverse as her former lover Jackie Kay (born 1961), the Black lesbian poet who is now Scotland’s National Makar (i.e., “maker,” which is the literal translation of the Greek poētēs). Described by the Guardian as “a popular choice to reframe Scottishness,” she succeeded the White Liz Lochhead, another startlingly bad poet. This is a sample of Kay’s vibrant verse:

My seventy-seven-year-old father
put his reading glasses on
to help my mother do the buttons|
on the back of her dress.
“What a pair the two of us are!”
my mother said, “Me with my sore wrist,
you with your bad eyes, your soft thumbs!”
And off they went, my two parents
to march against the war in Iraq,
him with his plastic hips. Her with her arthritis,
waved at each other like old friends, flapping,
where they’d met for so many marches over their years,
for peace on earth, for pity’s sake, for peace, for peace. (Jackie Kay: Scotland’s poet of the people, The Guardian, 20th March 2016)

Reframed Scot: the Black lesbian Jackie Kay

The poem describes her adoptive parents, a White (and possibly Jewish) couple who raised her after her Nigerian father, in typical Black fashion, impregnated a White woman and then took no responsibility for the child that followed. The Black father of the London terrorist Khalid Masood did the same. Unlike Masood, Kay hasn’t attacked Whites in Britain with a car or knife, but she’s hostile and subversive in her own and more prolonged way.

And that was possibly the intention of her adoptive parents, who were communists dedicated to the overthrow of the British state. When she met her real Black father many years later, he turned out to be a fundamentalist Christian who did not approve of her lesbianism. Non-White immigration is not good for the vibrant LGBT community, but the hostile elite don’t care: what matters is that non-White immigration is bad for Whites. Jackie Kay “reframes Scottishness” by negating Scottishness. She’s the reverse of Robert Burns in every way from her race and sex to her lack of talent. On raw diversity points, she should have beaten Carol Ann Duffy to the post of Poet Laureate for the whole of Britain.

After all, she is so devoted to Scotland that she lived for more than a decade in the English city of Manchester. But her Scottish accent didn’t fit her for the role of Laureate and even the hostile elite may have been embarrassed by the direness of her poetry.

Punjabi Poetaster

But dire poetry didn’t hold Maya Angelou (1928-2014) back in the United States, where the same hostile elite work to elevate the unworthy and alien. Angelou’s poetry has been regularly aired on the BBC, another subverted institution that works to destroy traditional Britain. For example, the spoken-word channel Radio 4 has appointed the male Punjabi Sikh Daljit Nagra (born 1966) as its “Poet in Residence.” Like Khalid Masood and Jackie Kay, he’s “British” in the sense that he was born here. Like Masood and Kay, he’s hostile to the White British and their traditions.

That’s precisely why he has been showered with awards and “has run workshops all over the world.” Like Jackie Kay, he’s a subversive outsider who attacks Britain with bad poetry rather than with terrorism. Unlike her, he has the cunning to disguise his lack of talent with pretension and obscurity. Here is a sample of his vibrant verse:

Stowed in the sea to invade
the lash alfresco of a diesel-breeze
ratcheting speed into the tide with the brunt
gobfuls of surf phlegmed by cushy,
come-and-go tourists prow’d on the cruisers, lording the waves.
Seagull and shoal life bletching
vexed blarnies at our camouflage past
the vast crumble of scummed cliffs.
Thunder in its bluster unbladdering yobbish
rain and wind on our escape, hutched in a Bedford can.
Seasons or years we reap
inland, unclocked by the national eye
or a stab in the back, teemed for breathing
sweeps of grass through the whistling asthma
of parks, burdened, hushed, poling sparks across pylon and pylon. [Etc] (“Look we have coming to Dover!”, 2006)

That poem helped win Nagra the Forward Prize for Poetry in 2007. It reminds me of a burning rubbish-tip: gusts of oily smoke obscure the broken TVs, rusting fridges and rotting food, so the precise meaning is difficult to make out. But he seems to be sneering at English xenophobia and celebrating the vibrant enrichment of England through the southern port of Dover.

The poem is also a reference to Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach” (1867), a haunting meditation on the decline of Christianity that is still well-known and widely quoted more than a century after it was first published. Arnold was a stale pale male and a great poet. Nagra is a vibrant melanic male and a poetaster (the useful Latin term meaning “bad poet”). His hostility to White Britain comes out clearly in the title of his collection Tippoo Sultan’s Incredible White-Man-Eating Tiger-Toy Machine!!! (2012). The title is refers to a famous Indian toy in the Victoria and Albert Museum:

The tiger, an almost life-sized wooden semi-automaton, mauls a European soldier lying on his back. Concealed inside the tiger’s body, behind a hinged flap, is an organ which can be operated by turning the handle next to it. This simultaneously makes the man’s arm lift up and down and produces noises intended to imitate his dying moans. (Tipus Tiger at the V&A)

Sultan Tippoo’s White-Eating Tiger

Dyslexic doggerel

With attitudes like that, Nagra is obviously an ideal Poet in Residence at the BBC. All the same, I would have preferred the Black Barbadian-Jamaican Benjamin Zephaniah (born 1958) in the role. But he might have been too crude and low-brow even for the hostile elite. Here is a sample of Zephaniah’s vibrant verse:

“The Death Of Joy Gardner”
They put a leather belt around her
13 feet of tape and bound her
Handcuffs to secure her
And only God knows what else,
Said the Empire that brought her
She died,
Nobody killed her
And she never killed herself.
It is our job to make her
Return to Jamaica
Said the Alien Deporters
Who deports people like me,
It was said she had a warning
That the officers were calling
On that deadly July morning
As her young son watched TV. [Etc] (“The Death Of Joy Gardner”)

Zephaniah aligns with Jackie Kay, not with Daljit Nagra: his poetry is undisguidedly bad, rather than obscurely so. The doggerel above is about Joy Gardner, a Black illegal immigrant who died when the police tried to restrain her for arrest and deportation.

Dyslexic with a degree: Benjamin Zephaniah

Zephaniah, who is “dyslexic” and couldn’t read or write at the age of thirteen according to Wikipedia, has spent decades writing bad poetry about Britain’s racism and xenophobia. He has promoted open borders in poems like “We Refugees”:

We all came from refugees
Nobody simply just appeared,
Nobody’s here without a struggle,
And why should we live in fear
Of the weather or the troubles?
We all came here from somewhere.

He’s clearly hostile to Britain, which is why our liberal elite have showered him with awards and honours. In 2003 they tried to add the Order of the British Empire (OBE) to his resumé.

Foremothers and forefathers

But the elite had misjudged their enricher. Zephaniah rejected the honour with angry contempt:

“Me? I thought, OBE me? Up yours, I thought. I get angry when I hear that word ‘empire’; it reminds me of slavery, it reminds of thousands of years of brutality, it reminds me of how my foremothers were raped and my forefathers brutalised. … Benjamin Zephaniah OBE — no way Mr Blair, no way Mrs Queen. I am profoundly anti-empire.” (Benjamin Zephaniah at Wikipedia)

If Zephaniah were genuinely concerned about rape, he would talk about the horrific sexual violence carried out by Blacks and other non-Whites not just in cities like London and his birth-place Birmingham, but also in towns like Rotherham and Oxford. He isn’t concerned, except as a way to feed his own resentment and hostility to Whites. If he didn’t carry out rapes himself during his days as a young criminal in Birmingham, he certainly knows about the genuine “rape culture” of the Black British underclass.

Liberalism is now powerless

Zephaniah’s stupidity and crudity are why I would have liked him to be Radio 4’s Poet in Residence. Alas, the hostile elite were too cunning and preferred to keep him at his subversive work elsewhere. At least, I would call it “subversive,” but what do I know? You might think that Jackie Kay, Daljit Nagra and Benjamin Zephaniah are all highly influential figures in modern British culture, living embodiments of liberal power.

But they aren’t, as two great Jewish intellectuals have recently explained in the Guardian. Here’s the anti-Islamist Nick Cohen:

Democracies consist of competing elites. But the elite that always matters is always the elite in power. In Britain’s case it is the pro-Brexit elite. In the case of the United States it is the Trump presidency and the Republican Congress. (Revolting! by Mick Hume review defence of a far-right democracy, The Guardian, 27th January 2017)

And here’s the American sociologist Michael Kimmel:

And this notion that the left is all so angry and censorious … it depends on ignoring one small technical detail: the left is not in power right now. The left does not have the power to be censorious. (‘Angry white men’: the sociologist who studied Trump’s base before Trump, The Guardian, 27th February 2017)

There you have it: liberalism has been thrust from power by Brexit and Donald Trump. Or so Cohen and Kimmel want us to believe. Their pretence that “the left” are currently powerless reminds me of the pretence that the murders carried out by Omar Mateen and Khalid Masood say “nothing about immigration.” In fact, the left continue to wield enormous power. They have followed Gramsci’s advice and gone on a long march through Western institutions. Poetry in Britain is now occupied territory, which is why ludicrously bad poets like Jackie Kay, Daljit Nagra and Benjamin Zephaniah enjoy such success and prominence there.

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