British poetry and politics

This video is called LONDON NO-CUTS DEMO – The People Say “No” to Austerity Britain – 26 March 2011.

By Jody Porter in Britain:

Well Versed feature: Literary meltdown

Wednesday 14 March 2012

Alan Morrison was born in 1974 and grew up in Sussex and then Cornwall where he started writing, partly in response to the policies of the Thatcher period.

He is editor of the Recusant, as well as Emergency Verse – Poetry in Defence of the Welfare State (PDWS), an e-anthology campaign featuring 107 poets against public-sector cuts and proposals to privatise the NHS.

“I started the PDWS campaign and its pilot e-anthology project as a prompt response to the near-apocalyptic emergency Budget of June 2010, hence the title Emergency Verse,” Morrison explains.

“Having grown up in poverty during the late ’80s and experienced the bitterness of struggling on the outside of the grab-all-you-can Vanity Fair of Thatcherism, I felt that I couldn’t now, as an adult and a poet, just sit back and say nothing.

“Having been the editor of the Recusant – a non-conformist literary webzine with an ethical socialist slant – I had built up a broad base of potentially sympathetic contributors.”

It wasn’t long before the project’s momentum started to build. “I quickly managed to get Green Party MP and leader Caroline Lucas to act as patron and she contributed a brief statement for the front of the book.

“The Emergency e-anthology was emailed directly to all Tory and Lib Dem MPs, and some Labour MPs, I was deluged with emails from contributors petitioning for it to be published as an actual book.”

One contributor, Alan Corkish, suggested a reasonably priced printers he used for his erbacce imprint, and the option of asking contributors to donate £5 each towards costs of a print production.

Morrison was surprised and touched to receive legion pledges from many of the contributors. “One or two, such as Indian poet Prakash Kona and ex-Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen, who donated £170 and £400 respectively, particularly helped in kick-starting the book’s publication.

“By January 2011, EV, a red brick of a book with over 360 pages, was launched to a packed Poetry Library in the South Bank Centre,” Morrison enthuses.

With its politics so plainly nailed to the mast, the anthology’s reception would always be mixed, but its prescience would be uncanny.

“I anticipated it might be a devisive anthology, unapologetically partisan as it was, even down to its agitprop-style cover design, stamping its identity as a left-wing publication – as much a political petition as a book of protest verse.”

“Perhaps inevitably, EV had its waiting detractors, although many of its predictions have proven almost entirely accurate – protests turning to riots, housing benefit caps leading to mass homelessness, the privatisation of the NHS, an escalation in suicides amongst the mentally ill and vulnerable – have all either come about or are beginning to. EV flagged up a lot of these likely effects long in advance of when it was fashionable to do so.”

Morrison is optimistic about the effect the anthology appears to be having: “Now it seems the initial austerity consensus is beginning to break down, and more and more of the public are starting to ask some pretty big questions of this Millionaire’s Row of a government.”

Following the success of EV, Morrison soon set about producing a second anthology. The Robin Hood Book again deals with austerity and the ransacking of the public sector, but now in the shadow of last summer’s riots, the Occupy movement and endless Tory policies of social and economic exclusion.

“The RHB’s main focus will be as its title suggests, since it is now quite simply a moral imperative that some kind of long-term transaction tax on the banks – the culprits of our austerity – be implemented if society is to in any true sense be ‘in this together’.”

“The Robin Hood Tax campaign will be contributing a statement explaining the mechanics of the Tobin Tax and how it would benefit society. But The RHB will also include a polemic on our culture of welfare-stigmatisation and policy discrimination against the sick, vulnerable and disabled, as well as a comment on the betrayals of our NHS and education system. It will also, fingers crossed, include a statement by our new patron PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka on the public-sector cuts and the union campaigns.

“In terms of poet contributors, this time round I decided that two heads would be better than one, and I have been fortunate in finding Cheshire-based poet Angela Topping, who has managed to recruit a significant number of poets from circles and networks outside my own. I’m also particularly pleased to have so many younger voices involved this time round – it is this present younger generation which is being disenfranchised and betrayed by a second wave of Thatcherite social apartheid.”

The Robin Hood Book: Verse Versus Austerity will be published by Caparison and launched in spring 2012. For more from Alan Morrison visit

Black & Blue is a new literary publication that aims to bring a radical and socialist perspective to drama, prose, poetry and other forms of writing: here.

Europe’s largest conservation charity has been encouraging nature lovers and budding poets to wax lyrical about wildlife, enthuse about the environment and gush about green spaces in response to the competition theme, ‘Nature Poetry’. And the RSPB has been overwhelmed with how far some entries have come in from: here.

Scotland Yard took a battering over the weekend after a young black man arrested during last summer’s riots released a recording of Metropolitan Police officers racially abusing him: here.

6 thoughts on “British poetry and politics

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