British and Swedish poetry and history

This poetry video from Britain is called ‘The Privatisation of Air‘, written and performed by Paul Lester.

By Andy Croft in Britain:

The radical impulse and the insurrection of poetry

Monday 01 July 2013

21st century poetry

At the heart of Alan Morrison‘s new collection Blaze a Vanishing/The Tall Skies (Waterloo Press, £10) is a long poem about the history of working-class and radical writing from the 18th century to the present: “the poetry which, against all hope in times passed,/Howled out at the prowl of the wolf at the door … impossible blossoms of song discharged from glands/Of damp and dark; stubborn shrubs miraculously sprouting/Amongst frugal fauna on trickling walls in freezing garrets/And melting slums.”

Morrison is one of our most original young poets and one of our most distinctive critics and editors – he edited the anti-coalition poetry anthologies Emergency Verse and The Robin Hood Book: Verses Versus Austerity – and his new book should soon take its place in the radical tradition he is celebrating.

Its first half is a study in Swedish landscape, history and culture from Ingmar Bergman, Alfred Nobel and Emanuel Swedenborg to Tove Jansson, focusing on early 20th-century working class writers like Harry and Moa Martinson, Dan Andersson and Ivar-Lo Johansson, a socialist who wrote to encourage “ordinary working men/To graduate from hand to brain; fuse the anvil with the page.”

The second half concentrates on British literary history, including some splendid acrostic poems about WH Auden, TS Eliot, Alun Lewis, Harold Monro and Martin Bell.

From the poems, pamphlets and political tracts of the English civil war to the poetry of the “ill-equipped and corduroyed brigades” of the Spanish civil war, Morrison traces the history of the quiet suppression of dissident literary traditions by the canons of Eng Lit and “the supreme cultural power against/the straining voices of the songful poor: the power to ignore.” Powerful and original stuff.

It would take a hard heart to ignore the appeals of Chrys Salt‘s new book Home Front/Front Line (Roncadora, £8).

Published to mark the 10th anniversary of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, it’s an extraordinary and moving dialogue in poetry and prose between the poet and her son, a Territorial Army paratrooper who in that year spent five months in Iraq with the 7th Royal Horse Artillery.

It is a brave, beautiful and deeply unsettling way of making the reader look again at long-familiar events, as though the mother of Wilfred Owen or Edward Thomas had kept a verse diary during the first world war.

The book proceeds by way of a series of contrasts. The soldier’s letters from Iraq – “It’s like an episode of Mash out here … Thanks for the sunglasses. I’m missing beer. We killed a goat!” – are counterpointed by the poems of an anxious mother back in Galloway: “And beyond the long horizon/men, massing with their guns./Fathers, husbands, boyfriends, lovers,/other men’s sons.”

Salt remembers her son as a baby: “Skin soft as rabbits/kicking against my palm/with lickable, buttery toes.”

But she also thinks about the Iraqi children whose deaths are just so much collateral damage: “Children burned alive in the bent/wreckage of a car. A hand blown/from a wrist. Splashed brains. Backs broken.”

The book moves in two directions at once. As the soldier writes home about the poor food, the inhospitable desert and his sense of pride in helping to “rebuild” Iraq, his mother cannot contain her helpless rage at the appalling contradiction of a war in which “they blow off both [a child’s] arms, then offer a prosthesis.”

The book bursts into the concluding rant of The Insurrection Of Poetry: “Listen/you tyrants, murderers,/fundamentalists, mutilators,/rapists, occupiers,/racists, persecutors,/autocrats, crucifiers,/fanatics, torturers, liars,/obfuscators, manipulators,/warmongers/silencers/Listen!/Poems all over the world/are saying/ENOUGH!”

2 thoughts on “British and Swedish poetry and history

  1. 100 years ago: Constitutional crisis in Sweden over military build-up

    On February 10, 1914, the Swedish government resigned, with more than 100 Liberal members of parliament issuing a joint statement warning that the actions of King Gustav V threatened to put an end to parliamentary rule. A conservative government was installed, headed by Hjalmar Hamarskiöld and comprised of business leaders and high-ranking civil servants.

    The crisis was sparked by King Gustav’s “Courtyard Speech” on February 6, when he addressed 30,000 farmers and conservatives who had marched against the Liberal cabinet headed by Prime Minister Karl Albert Staaff, demanding an increase in defence spending.

    The protesters were mobilized by the conservatives on the militarist demand that Sweden boost its army on the pretext of protecting it from external enemies, in particular Russia. There were mounting tensions over the disputed border of Sweden with Finland, then part of the Czar’s empire.

    King Gustav’s speech voiced support for an increase in military spending. It was written by explorer Sven Hedin, a pro-monarchist and admirer of Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm. On assuming office in 1911, Staaff’s cabinet had abandoned the construction of the F-Type warship begun by the previous conservative government, maintaining that such a warship was too narrow for Swedish waterways and that the only justification for it would be to cooperate in an offensive with the German navy.

    Political tensions ran high following the king’s speech. According to the New York Times, 30,000 socialists held a demonstration on February 8 in front of government offices protesting against any increased expenditures on armaments, demanding instead that ministers work for peace.

    Staaff’s Liberal government protested against the king’s speech, maintaining that as a constitutional monarch he should not make political speeches without first having the substance of such speeches approved by the Cabinet. The king refused to submit to such a restraint.


  2. Pingback: British poetry in opposition | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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