Tag Archives: politics

A Song For The Spanish Anarchists

This Herbert Read poem was in his 1939 anthology Poems For Spain edited by Stephen Spender and John Lehmann.
Many of the poems in the book are by writers who had volunteered in the International Brigades to support the Spanish Republican government against General Franco’s troops, including John Cornford and Charles Donnelly, who were killed in combat. Spender and Lehmann’s introduction stresses the crucial role of poets in the international anti-fascist struggle, and expresses their desire for a new genre of popular poetry:

In a world where poetry seems to have been abandoned, become the exalted medium of a few specialists, or the superstition of backward peoples, this awakening of a sense of the richness of a to-morrow with poetry, is as remarkable as the struggle for liberty itself…

A Song for the Spanish Anarchists

The golden lemon is not made
but grows on a green tree:
A strong man with his crystal eyes
is a man born free.

The oxen pass under the yoke
and the blind are led at will:
But a man born free has a path of his own
and a house on the hill.

And men are men who till the land
and women are women who weave:
Fifty men own the lemon grove
and no man is a slave.

Herbert Read

Radical Poetry In The 80s

Suprisingly things aren’t much different today, despite the interweb, Roundhouse Poetry Collective, and grime. The situation for radical poetry is discussed in this Marxism Today article from February, 1984.

A Spotlight feature, The Trouble With Poetry

There is a prevalent view in white culture of the poet as droopy decadent self-indulgent aesthete shrinking from political change and hiding from the real world to pen banal or unintelligible laments about eternal truths. Poetry is set up in opposition to politics; people working in politics think poetry has nothing to do with them.
The romantic image of the absinthe swilling velvet-cloaked garret-dwelling outsider separates the poet as hero and prophet from ordinary people. It also conceals the fact that most poets are poor and enjoy their poverty no more than other deprived persons. And this romantic view, while to some extent feminising the poet (so that some skinhead poets I know need to reassure their audiences that you can
remain a Real Man despite scribbling rhyming couplets), completely denies the existence of women poets, who may also be mothers hard at work in, and perhaps also outside, the home.
Poetry was once an oral art practised in public. Lullabies, ballads, riddles, curses and chants were shaped and passed on by ordinary women and men as well as by professionals. Though poetry has become, since the fourteenth century, increasingly associated with books written and read by the literate elite, the oral tradition has continued boldly on, in this country flowering anew since the war to produce a rich variety of poets.
Marxist theory speaks of man controlling nature, has no concepts to deal with gender and sexual difference, and tacitly accepts the idea of woman as part of nature to be controlled and exploited for man’s ends: literally hundreds of women break into poetry to demonstrate that by accepting we have bodies and are part of nature, we create culture and press for change. Poets like Alison Fell, Judith Kazantzis, Michelene Wandor, Janet Dube, Stef Pixner, Gillian Allnutt and Berta Freistadt perform their work in pubs, clubs, cafes, meetings and bookshops across the country.
A similar upsurge of black poets has occurred. The experience of oppression in this country backed up by whites’ attempts to deny it has led black poets to mine the riches of Caribbean culture and mix proud angry words with music to testify to their need and determination to survive racism and celebrate a history whites would rather forget. Lynton Kwesi Johnson, now internationally known through his live appearances and his albums, recently completed a successful national tour with Manchester bard John Cooper Clarke, thus proving that black and white can cooperate. He is just one among many: John Agard, Grace Nichols, James Berry, Keith Jefferson, to name but a few.
Some white working-class poets go so far as to declare that poetry is dead and long live rant. The Ranters, drawn from north and south, include Attila the Stockbroker, Joolz, Seething Wells, Little Brother, Little Dave; they draw on the tradition of scurrilous ballads in rhyme and, like the other groups, produce their own fanzines and magazines.
I emphasise that the lists of names above are short owing to the constraints of space, and apologise to all the poets whose names I have omitted. The current poetry revival challenges elitism: any selection of poets is invidious, and in this case is based on my experience as a white feminist.
The public role of the new generation of radical poets is, oddly enough, aided by the current recession. As theatre companies close for lack of funds and grants, so the actors involved have re-formed into variety acts performing at the many cabarets which have sprung up across London and other large cities and which offer a cheap night out: beer and music, mime, comedy, poetry and backchat.
This is very different from the hushed churchly atmosphere associated with traditional poetry readings where the emphasis remains on the written text read from rather than performed in a mixed-media entertainment setting. Instead of welcoming the diversity of choice now available, which reflects our multi-cultural society, some establishment poets ignore it. The recently published Penguin anthology Contemporary British Poetry, for example, caused a furore by concentrating solely on the work of a small elite group of poets (all white and mostly male) and omitting all the poets discussed above. And there are still plenty of critics happy to disdain as tainted or corrupt poetry that is in any way connected to politics, to dismiss feminist poets as shrill hysterics, and to patronise working-class and black poets as occasionally interesting minority inhabitants of a peripheral zoo.
These new poets are frightening, subversive and dangerous. Radical poetry heals the splits our culture inflicts as necessary (common-sense) wounds between intellect and body, man and woman, mother and
revolutionary, conscious and unconscious, theory and ideology. Radical poetry tries to speak what has been unspeakable: working-class , black and female experience. The Left is not always comfortable with this. Nor am I: other poets give me disturbing, shifting images which don’t correspond to my yearnings for simple socialist-feminist heroism. Radical poetry allows the unconscious back in. Labelling it as irrational, opposing it to scientific theory doesn’t make it go away. Poetry makes us laugh or shudder or weep or desire when perhaps we’d rather fantasise controlling the world through a political language which is almost never playful and inventive. The Right understands the power of the unconscious and exploits it in rituals and ideology, utilises the energy of repressed yearnings and conflicts. If we on the Left want to unblock more of our creative energy for change, we need to let poetry (a way of thinking, of understanding, of being) back into our politics.

Michele Roberts

Pat Arrowsmith

Pat Arrowsmith was a pacifist and socialist. She was jailed 11 times for her non-violent direct action. She organised the first British protest against the nuclear weapons establishment in Aldermaston, Berkshire, in 1958. In 1961 she was the subject of parliamentary questions after she was force-fed while on hunger strike in Gateside prison.
Adrian Mitchell wrote of her: ‘Pat shows her love through her life and through her poetry. You can’t seperate the two of course. I’ve heard people say: “I’d like to write political poems.” The only answer is: “Then live a political life.”‘
She wrote several novels, political books, and poetry collections. This poem was written on 9th July, 1968 whilst she was on a peace mission to Cambodia. It was published in Help, Apple Road Review and in 1981 in the CND published collection of her poetry On The Brink.

Viewing a Cambodian Casualty

Are you real,
standing among the palms, surrounded by
fellow villagers, photographers
and us?

Your back is pencilled, crinkled, stretched
in a taut unnatural tissue.
You were burned, they say,
four years ago with
scalding jelly from a U.S. bomb.

But are they really scars on flesh
or just a map, a
diagram of human degradation?
Is it skin or paper so
tortured and disfigured?

My eyes glaze.
I merge with the cameras.
My eyes turn to lens.

I no longer see you but
merely a picture with a
horrifying caption.
You are viewed on the screen;
read about in papers;
observed at exhibitions.

Jellied petrol may have blistered you, but
I have been chilled by
white hot phosphorous;
my nerves iced;
my glands numbed;
my eyeballs frozen.

I too have been injured.

Pat Arrowsmith

pat_arrowsmith

Downing Street – John S. Clarke

A 1922 verse that’s still as true today.
John S. Clarke was a socialist MP, poet, and lion-tamer amongst many other things.

If you’ve searched without success in every pestilent latrine
For a sample of the most revolting filth the eye has ever seen;
If the garbage of the midden and the sewage of the drain
Reward you not, and all your efforts seem in vain,
Let not barren explorations fill your busom with despair,
Just trot around to Downing Street, you’ll sure unearth it there.

John S. Clarke

John