British poetry in opposition

This poetry video from Britain is called Emergency Verse – Brian Beamish reads “30%”. It says about itself:

The poetry collection “Emergency Verse: Poetry in Defence of the Welfare State” was launched on January 5th 2011 in the Poetry Library at the Royal Festival Hall in London. There are 112 contributors to the volume in total and this is a video clip of me reading my poem entitled “30%” in reference to the level of draconian cuts the UK coalition government is imposing upon the poorest in our society.

It was inspired partly by the famous “I warn you” speech made by a young Neil Kinnock in 1983 that is still, sadly, relevant today. The introductory remarks are being made by poet and editor of the collection Alan Morrison.

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

The Poets’ Assembly – Alan Morrison on the new breed of British oppositional poetry

Tuesday 25 June 2013

edited by Jody Porter

THREE years into the Tory-driven brutalisation of our society, there is now the kind of far-reaching poetic opposition to austerity which the Poets in Defence of the Welfare State campaign attempted to jump-start back in autumn 2010.

The nation’s first anti-cuts e-verse campaign, Emergency Verse was titled as a riposte to George Osborne’s odious “emergency” budget.

Thanks to donations from many of its 120 contributors, most notably Michael Rosen and Prakash Kona, the ebook migrated into print.

A thick red brick of poetry and polemic, it was patroned by Caroline Lucas of the Green Party, and launched at the Poetry Library, Southbank Centre, in January 2011.

The Robin Hood Book followed in 2012. An even thicker breezeblock of a book, it boasted 131 contributors and patroned by Mark Serwotka of the PCS union.

Protest poetry campaigns are now flourishing, notable recent examples include Fit To Work: Poets Against Atos, Poems for Freedom and Solidarity Park’s support for the burgeoning protests in Turkey.

Added to those are increasingly politicised collections from imprints such as Smokestack, Lapwing and Waterloo. Radical poetry from journals such as Red Poets, The Spleen, and Mike Quille’s Soul Food poetry pages in The Communist Review.

The internet is providing a home for parallel germination of alternative poetry through the likes of The Penniless Press, The Recusant, and Niall McDevitt and Heathcote Williams’s vibrant reincarnation of the counter-cultural International Times.

A new breed of British oppositional poetry is surging past the beige banks of a broadly “liberal” poetry scene, which is only belatedly catching up.

Most of the poetic opposition to the Tories’ pincer movement on the poorest has, to paraphrase Auden, been “a way of happening” on the margins, in a “valley of its making” quite separate from the metropolitan poetry “elites.”

There have been some ostensible “debates” on austerity politics in certain high profile journals, but these occasional dialectics have come across as tokenistic and non-committal.

The poetry “establishments” have been more preoccupied with constructing their own “austerity survival kits” than taking any clear and active part in poetic resistance.

All at a time of poisonous policies and stigmatising narratives from the most rightwing government in living memory.

Ultimately, it will be to the lasting detriment of not only British poetry and its perceived relevance, but of society itself if poets with the most prominent platforms choose tactical circumlocution over more robust opposition to what is happening to this country.

This is a time for poets to speak up for the powerless and challenge this decaying and merciless capitalist system.

For capitalism, such as the anarchic and valueless strain we live under today, is the enemy not only of all common good and social solidarity but of poetry itself.

Could we imagine Auden or Spender having nothing to say in their poetry about the state of society if they were here today? Of course not.

They’d be doing precisely what they did in the ’30s — very much the twin decade to ours — and pooling their powers into oppositional poetry and polemic.

In the meantime, the widening tide of oppositional poetry will continue to cause ripples. To pile its spines of protest anthologies on the reefs of resistance.

Poetry is all of our property. It is the demotic flower grown from the common tongue. It has the power to persuade and to foster fellowship. Even, at its most empathic, to serve as the mouthpiece for the body politic.

Shelley once wrote that “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” Such is the potential for profound influence on social consciousness that poets, at the vanguard of a changing language, possess.

It is up to all politically conscious poets to come together in greater numbers and put poetry at the epicentre of popular resistance to dehumanising austerity.

Losing jobs, security, benefits and homes is devastating enough, but more and more people in this country are losing hope.

And, at times of lowest spirits, poetry — like prayer — has the peculiar power to rehabilitate hope. And without hope, opposition withers.

Poet Alan Morrison is editor of The Recusant and Caparison’s anti-cuts anthologies Emergency Verse and The Robin Hood Book (highest runner-up in the Morning Star Award for Protest in Poetry 2013). He is also a polemical contributor to Fit To Work: Poets Against Atos. A third Caparison anthology, The Rent Book — Verse for the Evicted Generation, to petition for the reintroduction of private rent controls, is planned for 2014. Poets in Defence of the Welfare State (PDWS) is a supporter of The People’s Assembly.

Well Versed is edited by Jody Porter.

2 thoughts on “British poetry in opposition

  1. Pingback: British and Swedish poetry and history | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  2. Pingback: Turkish pro-democracy movement, poetry and the Internet | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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