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You can’t cancel poetry My students' piercing work will never be erased

Infraction Level One. (UnHerd)


January 26, 2022   7 mins

The last copies of England, Poems from a School are piled up on my kitchen table along with heaps of all my other Picador books going back to 1996. Dozens of them — too many to store, but I felt I had to save them from pulping. England gives me a particular pang. It’s such an innocent-looking little paperback with its pretty gilt cover. The tasteful end flaps give you the names of the children included in the anthology — for me a register of beloved students — and the information that all of them are first and second-generation migrants to the UK. They tell you that they have all been paid and further profits are dedicated to charity. There are famous names and warm critiques on the back.

It was published only in 2018. It’s hard to believe that a little under four years later, its rights have been returned to me and its charities have repudiated it. It is not as if there is a real world scandal or complaint from a young poet here — the reverse is true. But the literary and theoretical charges against it are very serious. They predate by some time those against my memoir, Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me, and are in many ways foundational to them.

Remarkably, in 2020, Professor Sandeep Parmar’s state-of-the-nation 2020 essay on poetry and race, “Still Not a British Subject” chose this book by children, rather than any of the hundreds of anthologies and collections of poetry by adults published in the preceding few years, as its ultimate and most damned item. She warned that this book may morally infect the reader, and that to appreciate it is “to be beguiled by the benevolence of whiteness” and even enslaved, as the book “requires an ever-replenishing source of aspirational learners — not just these children, but all poets who are perceived as ‘striving'”.

It’s a large charge for a slim volume, but literary criticism is an ambitious medium these days. Academic essays like Parmar’s are cited on social media accounts and pinned to profiles like manifestos. As our lives have shrunk over Covid, scrolling through the endless smorgasbord of quotes that is Twitter and analysing them become many people’s primary political activity. There’s been a shift in attitudes too: Parmar is surely right to say, as she does in her essay, that in the last few years many book-reading people have come to agree that our literary culture is actively malign, infected, as she puts it, with “a pervasive and unempathetic whiteness” .

Literary criticism has long taught us to trace and name moral systems in texts through the identification of tropes and story, but now it has discovered a more important job in rooting that malignancy out. Books such as Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility have further popularised the activity of linguistic rooting in living humans, and all of this lends political relevance and prestige back to the parent activity of literary criticism. It is not surprising now, to come across terms such as Parmar’s “lyric violence” and “lyric dread”, nor her idea that mere poems, can have (unspecified) “real, even dangerous, consequences”.

As it has become more relevant and exciting, literary criticism has also become more personal and shed some of its hefty academic conventions. Once, the word ‘trope’ indicated a system of language and imagery traceable through a whole, lengthy text — a semantic field or underlying narrative shape. Now the word has shrunk to mean a single metaphor or even word. Wide assertions may balance on very slender, tweet-sized proofs.

Thus Parmar diagnoses Carol Ann Duffy with “lyric dread” — an end-of-empire anxiety — and the fear of “the influx of foreign bodies of all kinds” on the evidence, not of her oeuvre or even a collection of poems, but of an image of oilseed rape in a single poem. The conventions around quotations have also changed: TS Eliot Prize-winning Hannah Sullivan’s enviably accomplished poetic oeuvre, for example, is said to hold a “obsessive superimposition of the past on the just-past-present” and a sinister “fantasy of an unchanging nation”, on the basis not of verse but of conflated extracts from an “essay” which transpires on closer inspection to be a short piece of journalism about a favourite park.

Overt argument or evident intention are often, in this new criticism, less important than the critic’s own linguistic detective work — bias, after all, is always unconscious. For my introduction to England Poems from a School, for example, Parmar is not to be fooled by the lengthy argument about multilingualism and the inheritance of poetries, nor sentences such as “it is impossible to overstate profound and multi-layered are the forces of cultural silencing; or how strong and subtle is the belief that poetry belongs only to the privileged”. She skips past them, in order to pluck out that single word “striving” — which I agree, makes me sound like the Daily Express when describing migrant families — and conjures me on its evidence as a memsahib, teaching English as “a linguistic and disciplinary tool of colonial domination”.

As for the poems, she declines to quote from them at all, because to do so will be to join in the “exoticising” “servitude” the works have been “pressed” into; but she assures us they are in any case without originality, merely expressing “a uniformity of suffering”, and with only “loss, belonging, otherness, migration, war and family” as subjects.

These were good enough for The Odyssey — but I’d still say Parmar didn’t quite capture their essence. The poems are often about dissonance, and duality, but they are also about language: a Russian proverb summons a freezing Soviet tram into a sitting room; on a computer screen, a poet assigns her Hungarian to “Never Show Again”. They are often joyous and they are also, all of them, dynamic, not passive, about living with the duality of a mixed identity, about changing, moving on, seizing the moment and their lives.

Then I
set out to be a woman.
fearless of the natives
Down There
In their world
Not mine 

writes Rukiya Khatun in the title poem, England, imagining the country she will soon migrate to, and how, in a magnificent colonial reversal, she will possess it. The poets and the poems write themselves, and their Englishes, into this imagined England and its poetry. “I want a poem,” says Shukria Rezaei in the epigraph, figuring verse as an Eid pastry, “that leaves gleam on the fingertips”.

And Mukahang Limbu answers her from the end of the book:

“My words
have to have colour
 shades of hummingbirds across hijabs
of Christian girls
in silver boots
”

Limbu is evoking the multicultural classroom from which, over a decade, all these poems grew — classrooms where I have spent most of my teaching life and my happiest hours. Exactly what I think I am doing there, and what multiculturalism itself might be, though, has never been easy to intellectually define. When I began teaching in the Eighties, I argued with a French friend about how it was we allowed hijabs, turbans and crucifixes in my North London comprehensive when her Parisian lycĂ©e would have banned the lot. Why were we so muddled, so unenlightened, she asked? What was this with the Hanukkah candles and Christmas trees, the Diwali party for Nelson Mandela?

My answers were always hesitant, because multiculturalism has always been a practice rather than a theory. Multiculturalism is the thing that happens in schools when young people from all over the world — overwhelmingly, in England in the past 20 years, recent migrants — turn up in your classroom. Multiculturalism is a messy, quotidian, humanist, creed. It was better if a child brought their whole self to school, I used to tell my French friend. You can’t make a division between faith and culture, not really; everyone can learn from each other, stumblingly. Solecisms and Easter eggs all round — what’s not to like?

A lot, it seems today. The new criticism has made the underlying dominance of white colonial Christianity in the lycĂ©e much easier to name — but that same light shines cruelly on the soggy body of English multiculturalism. Solecisms now seem dangerous; trust, presumptuous; Easter eggs a deadly gift. As Parmar sternly asserts, isn’t it true that this country “is not (nor has ever been) tolerant or kind towards non-white people”? Multiculturalism’s answers can never match such absolutist rhetoric. Multiculturalism can only say: we try to be kind; individuals are kind; there are kind schools. It can ask: what, please, is the alternative? It can say: look, this is a beautiful poem.

Professor Parmar was educated in California. The experience of sitting in a classroom where most students are not born in that country, and where there is no majority group, is a particularly 21st-century, English thing. I experience these classrooms as exceptionally kind and creative places where young people hear and listen to each other openly and deeply; make cross-racial and cross-cultural friendships that endure, and, far from being “dominated” by English, remake the language daily in thrilling ways. Poems grow there readily, and poems, also in my experience, do not grow from cruelty, but from confidence and affirmation.

And also from attention. The alchemy that made the poems of England so exceptional was one part multilingualism, one part experience, and one part attention. We created, through readings and self-publishing a culture in school where young people listened to each others poems often and willingly. To this, over time, was added the magical attention of Twitter: adults, often hundreds of them, often writers or teachers themselves, reading and praising the young people’s poems, giving back to them, making them feel heard and important. It was rocket fuel for the young people’s motivation to write and also to read widely in contemporary poetry — poets were people they knew.

No doubt this attention was sometimes, by the new critical standards, impure or patronising, but the overall process of being read and published did not seem to have “real, even dangerous consequences” or to “press” these young people into “servitude”, or “exoticise” them — indeed they have said specifically otherwise — but to inspire them and fill them with confidence. Several of them have gone to great things in writing and politics. They will not be derailed by the destruction of the book, but they are very much saddened by it.

In 2016, a young boy just arrived from Syria, Mohamed Assaf, tumbled into an Arabic poetry workshop I was running with Oxford University and wrote a short poem, apparently off the cuff. It took weeks to get it translated, then printed in a book I was making. It ran:

“The Word Ummi,
My beloved mother,
When I go to my house the pain of missing her
Arrives before me.”

This devastating poem ran first through our school, making Mohamed famous and giving him his own assembly. Then it went onto Twitter, speaking to American poets grappling with Donald Trump’s response to the migration crisis. Then it went into England, Poems from a School to be produced and distributed as beautifully as our publishing industry knew how.

No doubt some people involved were virtue signalling or pleased with their own virtue: overall, though, people were acting from their best impulses; not to promulgate the “benevolence of whiteness” but to frame and present a work of piercing humanity. Certainly, the multicultural consensus in publishing that allowed the production of England Poems helped diverse young people in their lives. The current moment, for all the high principles so sincerely stated, does not seem so productive.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Professor Palmer was privately educated.


Kate Clanchy is a poet, author, and teacher. Some Kids I taught and What They Taught Me is available now from Swift Press.

KateClanchy1

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Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago

Professor Sandeep Parmar is clearly just another brahminical woke racist in the mould of Priyamvada Gopal, and in a healthy society would be excluded from public life.

Last edited 2 years ago by Drahcir Nevarc
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

Why on earth do we succour such people who so obviously hate us? Both should be returned to the subcontinent at the first available opportunity.
No doubt their talents would be much appreciated there.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago

Repatriation would be a bridge too far for me, but I understand the sentiment.

Naren Savani
Naren Savani
2 years ago

You must be joking. They are so dumb they would’nt be hired as janitors in any educational establishment on the subcontinent. It is only this country which gives heed to these malign individuals

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago
Reply to  Naren Savani

“Moderation in all things “ as the Ancients said.

James Joyce
James Joyce
2 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

Both should be excluded from UK life.

Simon Diggins
Simon Diggins
2 years ago

Interesting and very sad article. I note though, if I’ve understood the article correctly, that Kate Clanchy still buys in to the idea that there is a dominant, ‘white’, even ‘white supremacist’ culture that her, excellent books were designed to counter.

So, leaving aside (!) the horrors of her trolling and cancelling, which no-one deserves, are we not witnessing the 21st century equivalent of Stalinist show-trials of the 1930s, as ‘comrade’ denounced ‘comrade’, on ever more ridiculous grounds, and not actually a renunciation of the whole, nonsensical world-view? Kate Clanchy may have nobly been trying to give others a voice but she did it in the cause of, in her words, ‘Soggy multiculturalism’, which unfortunately turns out only to be but a speed-bump en route to the full-blown horrors of Parmer’s horrible, racist and hate-filled ‘identitinarism’’ (I refuse to call it ‘progressive’). One is reminded of the 16th century, when Erasmian, Renaissance-fed, and Humanist Reform, became the seed-ground for the horrors of Munster, 1525, Calvinist intolerance and Catholic reaction; we are, I fear, in such an era.

In short, I have only limited sympathy for her philosophical position, even if I have total sympathy for her personally. I feel most sympathy though for the children she gave a voice too, and whose moving, and very beautiful, poetry has been caught-up in this triumph of unreason.

Last edited 2 years ago by Simon Diggins
Graham Stull
Graham Stull
2 years ago
Reply to  Simon Diggins

Well, quite.

Hersch Schneider
Hersch Schneider
2 years ago
Reply to  Simon Diggins

Same. No sympathy from me, she’s part of the problem

Gunner Myrtle
Gunner Myrtle
2 years ago

I disagree. There is a world of difference between someone who actually works with disadvantaged young people and actually gets their words published – and some private school educated university professor who thinks that destroying the society who elevated her is noble. I truly believe that universities are the root of many of societies problems. We have to stop subsidizing these negative destructive activists.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  Simon Diggins

“Identitarian” is a great word as the opposite to “conservative” – not least because it sounds like a religious sect, which it is, only one founded on perpetual hate.

Dustin Needle
Dustin Needle
2 years ago
Reply to  Simon Diggins

Yes – demonisation of the “other”. They came for the patriotic Conservatives, and now they are coming for their own. Never mind “tolerating this and your children will be next”, we’ve seen Rotherham, Oxford, Derby, Rochdale, Telford and Peterborough to see how that’s panning out and we’re now at the book burning stage.
Just thanking my God for being born when I was and for educated/enjoying youth in more enlightened times.
I’ve switched off from it all now and stay low on the radar. I’m getting on a bit and need to conserve energy to resist the final assault on the British democratic process itself, following the Bercow/Grieve dry run in 2019.
Some rather lovely quotes/passages in the comments section by the way. Thanks everyone.

Karl Francis
Karl Francis
2 years ago
Reply to  Dustin Needle

Fair play guv’nor.

Charles Lewis
Charles Lewis
2 years ago
Reply to  Simon Diggins

‘Triumph of unreason’… I love that. Referable to so much happening in our society today.

Al M
Al M
2 years ago
Reply to  Simon Diggins

I re-read that paragraph several times. Is this an affirmation that Parmar’s observation about the state of ‘book reading people’ is an observable fact and nothing more; or does she agree that our literary culture is, essentially, toxically white and supremacist? If the former, why is this not questioned? If the latter then she’s been out-flanked and scalped by a better practitioner of the creed.

Last edited 2 years ago by Al M
Stephen Magee
Stephen Magee
2 years ago
Reply to  Simon Diggins

I agree. This whole spectacle of cultural leftists turning on each other (Suzanne Moore, JK Rowling, Clanchy, etc) reminds me of Yeats’s line, “We that look on but laugh in tragic joy”.

Phil Simmons
Phil Simmons
2 years ago

Who is this Parmar person, and why should anyone take notice of her ravings? She sounds like an actual, by-the-book fascist, dedicated to expunging Degenerate Art from the world and thus protecting The People from the taint of outside evil. Doubtless she calls herself “progressive.”

Judy Englander
Judy Englander
2 years ago
Reply to  Phil Simmons

And why is someone from California injecting American insanity into British publishing?

Warren T
Warren T
2 years ago
Reply to  Judy Englander

Because you are letting it happen.

pratima_mitchell
pratima_mitchell
2 years ago
Reply to  Phil Simmons

Does she have a hundredth of Kate Clanchy’s brains, culture or reading skills? I suspect she is stuffed full of cliches, third hand sources and an almighty appetite for publicity. She and all her gang.

Last edited 2 years ago by pratima_mitchell
Peter Sellick
Peter Sellick
2 years ago

We are entering a dangerous time in which a new kind of obcessive Puritanism is gaining dominance. This is a brave article; a counter thrust against the nonsense that PC and identity politics is perpetrating in our educational institutions. Keep it up, we need more!

Warren T
Warren T
2 years ago
Reply to  Peter Sellick

It will only be dangerous if we let it happen.

Graham Stull
Graham Stull
2 years ago

There once was a poet from Glasgow
Who grifted Wokeism with know-how
But the grift she had hacked
Stabbed her hard in the back
So she took to UnHerd for a cow-tow.

AC Harper
AC Harper
2 years ago

The shorter article appears to be “Well intentioned and initially well received right-on person out signalled by an even more right-on person.”
Elite courtiers dancing before the throne for elite patronage have to dance faster and faster…

Hersch Schneider
Hersch Schneider
2 years ago
Reply to  AC Harper

Nice metaphor, quite fitting

Laura Pritchard
Laura Pritchard
2 years ago

What a tangled web. I’d like to add an observation. I decided to watch the Canadian TV production of Mallory Towers when I was feeling a bit at a loss after New Year. It’s based on a famous series of books by Enid Blyton which I read and loved when I was a child. The series represents the books pretty well although some of the acting is a bit uneven. The casting however features south asian, black and mixed race characters in roles that they would never have been given at the time of the book’s writing or more specifically, when it was set. The location for the stories is a Cornwall girls boarding school in the 1950’s so you can imagine what roles the characters might have had. Today it would be very, very different. This is a good thing.
I couldn’t stop thinking about this casting however. It is intended, I presume to 1) show equal opportunities in job opportunities and 2) show a positive representation of certain social and racial groups to a contemporary, young audience. However, to my mind, by denying the fact that any non white/non wealthy kids would never have been at this school and that the cleaners and cooks might have been the only multicultural face on offer (if at all in Cornwall at that time), also denies the history and experience of those people. It paints a rosy picture of acceptance and equality that didn’t exist and whitewashes the suffering and discrimination from history.
Now it could be argued for a kids show about girls at boarding school in the 1950’s there are much more complicated fish to fry. There was a lot of content about female opportunity for example although the most ambitious desire was to be a teacher rather than a debutante. But I’ve seen this ‘colour washing’ for want of a better word be applied to many more period dramas and even in contemporary drama, the casting of people into jobs and roles that would still be highly unlikely, certainly in the sheer numbers one sees, still seems to me to be a ‘big bad lie’.
I read somewhere that the casting of a black president in the series ’24’ was instrumental in the election of Barak Obama – it allowed people to imagine the possibility of such a person, particularly a strong, courageous, ethical worthy of the role person. I can see weight in this argument. It’s the same for women role models and those of nonCIS gender. But do we only progress through positive affirmation? What happens when we insist that anything that is oppressive or ugly or not to our taste must be colour/gender/class washed out of our art and culture? Do we not then deny the suffering that comes from those experiences? Obliterate it more than the oppression that keeps a decent person down based solely on their otherness?
Anyone can make the argument that they don’t like a book of poetry written by a bunch of multiracial kids and anthologised/published by their white teacher. Trying to alter the history you don’t like by obliterating it seems to me to be a worse action. Professor Parmar should be campaigning to keep the book in circulation so that the debate can continue. And the historical record as presented through art, writing, music and drama should accurately reflect the world it is carved from to further that debate. Even while it offers some positive reinforcement in the present for the future.

Last edited 2 years ago by Laura Pritchard
Graham Stull
Graham Stull
2 years ago

Well said.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago

I agree with the general point – and I am normally extremely sensitive to these forced recastings (like Ghost Busters, or James Bond). But in the specific case it is not so much a period drama – in practice – but a childrens story set in a particular kind of fantasyland. I wonder whether the mixed-race cast of girls, however anacronistic, is not more common and easier to identify with for even white girls in 2020 than a more realistic casting would have been. And it allows the series to get on with looking at the relationships between the girls, like the books did, rather than the focus on racial politics they could hardly avoid if they had an all-white cast of girls with a few coloured servants.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

I checked this out with my teenage daughter, who had both read and watched Malory Towers. She had not particularly taken notice of the race of the girls and was not particularly interested either. She thought that what mattered was that they had got the personalities of the girls right. I have to say I agree with her.

Andrew Holmes
Andrew Holmes
2 years ago

Why must everything be layered with fraught content? JS Bach wrote music for the harpsichord which is most likely performed on the piano today (which didn’t exist in his time). Must we condemn the performances as untrue to the era in which the music was created? In like terms, can’t a production about girls in a Cornish school be about girls without a subtext of criticism of 1950s Cornwall? I prefer to avoid the woke trap of insisting that all must be fraught politics. Why play their game? Let us allow ourselves to experience a children’s story for what it is.

Kiti Misha
Kiti Misha
2 years ago

I do not understand why we keep feeding the madness of wokeness
 There have always been fringe insane factions in history but people did not really heed their lunacy or enable it by trying to grasp some sense in something that is senseless. I am beyond tired of listening to ramblings of white privilege.

Peter LR
Peter LR
2 years ago

Being able to write poetry in a language which is not one’s mother tongue demonstrates a perceptive intelligence and no small gift. Two of the best prose writers in my class were a boy and girl who could speak no English two years previously when then arrived at school. They had learned how to construct language in their previous (different) education systems and imported those skills on to the new language.
In contrast, we befriended an immigrant South Asian family whose parents were fluent English speakers. As they wished to preserve their native culture they did not speak English at home. Mother explained how horrified they were to discover that their eldest could read English but not communicate in or comprehend it (I can read French but not communicate in French). They changed that situation immediately for the sake of their younger children. I was reminded of that when the article referred to ‘multiculturalism has always been a practice rather than a theory’.
Immigration has to have the commitment to integration to make a success of it and prevent ghettoisation (I’m a second generation immigrant).
PS the “white colonial Christianity” comment in the article is a trope: Christianity is the most multiethnic religion in the world!

Last edited 2 years ago by Peter LR
Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago
Reply to  Peter LR

It depends on the children how it goes. We spoke two different languages to ours at home, neither of which was English. They speak it to each other, though, and to us, it having become their best and main language. Which is pretty much as we would have hoped.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago
Reply to  Peter LR

Scuse me for blowing my own trumpet, but I got the sonnet below published in the French Literary Review three or four years ago. It’s an extended metaphor describing my mounting ennui and self-disgust as I approached the completion of a project to write one more sonnet than Shakespeare:-
Sonnet 141, by Richard Craven
AprĂšs avoir ces cent quarante Ă©crits,
je suis épuisé et me considÚre
une langue craquée léchante, dedans, un puits
empli d’une boue visqueuse, d’une croĂ»te grossiĂšre.
Il en reste quinze encore, coincés, cachés:
des crapauds rotants que les murs moussus
font résonner. Enfin, bloquée, fùchée,
la langue, toute sĂšche et vulgaire devenue,
va bifurquer, et désormais siffler.
Chaque midi, pour un instant, le soleil
Ă©claire cette vie grimpante – viens regarder!
Voilà en bas, frétillante et vermeille,
la langue, les crapauds fugitifs, la chasse
avant que l’ombre couvre la disgrñce.

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

Have you completed the final 15?

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago

Yes indeed, about four years ago.

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

Are they published, if so where?

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago

I haven’t published all 155 as a collection, but various of them have been published in various places. The biggest job-lot so far is here:-
http://www.thehypertexts.com/Richard%20Craven%20Poet%20Poetry%20Picture%20Bio.htm

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

Many thanks indeed!
Besides French, anything in say Latin?

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago

My pleasure. As a matter of fact I have a 40 year old Latin A level, on the dubious strength of which I attempted several years ago to write a poem about a snob trapped in a traffic jam outside Bath (Aquae Sulis!), but it qualifies as free verse at best. I would need to rearrange it into dactylic hexameter before inflicting it on an undeserving world.
Come to think of it, you’ll find quite a lot of my verse on Quora:-
https://www.quora.com/profile/Drahcir-Nevarc-3/posts

Last edited 2 years ago by Drahcir Nevarc
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

Thanks again, I shall always see Leigh Delamere in a very different light!

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago

Haha! And Easton Giordano should have written scurrilous ottava rima after the manner of Byron.

R Wright
R Wright
2 years ago

An overly verbose spew of virtue signalling and humble bragging. You’re playing the postmodernist game and being taking for a fool just like all the others.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago

Multiculturalism is the thing that happens in schools when young people from all over the world — overwhelmingly, in England in the past 20 years, recent migrants — turn up in your classroom.

I always thought multiculturalism was a failed and harmful idea – but in that definition I could get behind it.

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Haven’t you forgotten the stabbings ?

Alex Stonor
Alex Stonor
2 years ago

It’s so like the Soviet Union.

George Drake
George Drake
2 years ago

Behold! The internet,
Makes no comment;
Not entirely sure
Of itself it can have no idea
What you are saying
So clearly; in itself it has
No response. It does not know
Whether you are this or thus;
A confusion of identity beyond
That which you describe so eloquently.

So devours itself completely.
Who can say what is permitted;
How far we can tell our truth behind
Our skin-tone or inheritance
Where are your ancestors buried?
This tribal drum beats harder and
Louder still till silence makes all voices
Equal at last, enough for Poetry.

Rich voices, called to bring
Another soul to confluence
Made slaves to purity of thought
And soul’s identity is heart-felt
Enough, entire, effortless.
Why make another great?
When I can so diminish all
The wide world?

Warren T
Warren T
2 years ago

This article is a bit enraging and puzzling. It’s as if Western Christian culture is not allowed to exist anymore. It is ironic that so many people from other cultures want to be here in the first place.
Now, everyone wants to live in the West for some reason other than what it offers.

Andrew McDonald
Andrew McDonald
2 years ago
Reply to  Warren T

Possibly for the money and the housing and the food. Probably also they’ve spotted that we ourselves seem to have very largely given up on the ‘Christian’ and most of the ‘culture’ too, so nothing to worry about there.

Miriam UĂ­
Miriam UĂ­
2 years ago

I read her excellent memoir and, as a fellow teacher, enjoyed her descriptions of her classes since the 90s. Here was a truly kind, creative and compassionate teacher of the best kind, even if I didn’t agree with all her religious or political views.
I am devasted at her appalling and unjust treatment at the hands of the literati. How can this even be possible in ou supposedly tolerant society today?

Lee Jones
Lee Jones
2 years ago

I’m not sure I really understand the concept of a poem that needs it’s meaning to be explained to me by someone else.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago
Reply to  Lee Jones

You missed the point of the article, that the meaning of a poem does not matter – it is how much/little Whiteness needs to be exercised from it which makes it worthy/unworthy. Which is a shame because I love the Victorian and Edwardian Epic Poets, and they are the most wrong of anything ever written….

Kipling was a Savant, he could write continuous poetry in his head spontaneously. At 14 he had published (by a for profit publisher, and successfully) a book of poetry. He also wrote some of the best books written – an amazing thing was at the height of his success as a writer of Novels he stopped doing them – A reporter asked him what his next one would be and Kipling told him ‘No more, all the novels I had in me I have written, there are none left’. An amazing thing. And great poetry – if you had been around the East in the old days…. well, they were real. ‘White Man’s Burden’. (I would like to add Gunga Din as well but too many heads would explode.)

“Take up the White Man’s burden—
Send forth the best ye breed—
Go send your sons to exile
To serve your captives’ need
To wait in heavy harness
On fluttered folk and wild—
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half devil and half child
Take up the White Man’s burden
In patience to abide
To veil the threat of terror
And check the show of pride;
By open speech and simple
An hundred times made plain
To seek another’s profit
And work another’s gain
Take up the White Man’s burden—
And reap his old reward:
The blame of those ye better
The hate of those ye guard—
The cry of hosts ye humour
(Ah slowly) to the light:
“Why brought ye us from bondage,
“Our loved Egyptian night?”
Take up the White Man’s burden-
Have done with childish days-
The lightly proffered laurel,
The easy, ungrudged praise.
Comes now, to search your manhood
Through all the thankless years,
Cold-edged with dear-bought wisdom,
The judgment of your peers!

I know it is poor compared to the great, African American, Lesbian Poet’s work on Feminism and being a woman – II heard at her reading in Atlanta in the 1980’s her Poem:

“You are More Than Pu** y!”

the first line rang out, encapsulating the truth in 5 words….. and I heard Patty Smith’s great works there too:

‘And the stupid Bit* hes didn’t even know
they were being Fu* ked up the A*s’

Was its shouted, and glorious, end line….. Poetry…. there are all kinds – I think Siegfried Sassoon is the most stirring poet I know, though –

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

My favourite poet, Kipling.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Not my favoutite poet, but certainly some good stuff came from his pen. One of my favourites is The Ladies which ends with that wonderful pair of lines:
For the Colonel’s Lady an’ Judy O’Grady
Are sisters under their skins!

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

I have had a fair amount of dealings with the military, and Kipling’s Tommy Atkins Poem has always been one of my favorites…..

“I went into a public-‘ouse to get a pint o’ beer,
The publican ‘e up an’ sez, “We serve no red-coats here.”
The girls be’ind the bar they laughed an’ giggled fit to die,
I outs into the street again an’ to myself sez I:
O it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, go away”;
But it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins”, when the band begins to play,
The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
O it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins”, when the band begins to play.

I went into a theatre as sober as could be,
They gave a drunk civilian room, but ‘adn’t none for me;
They sent me to the gallery or round the music-‘alls,
But when it comes to fightin’, Lord! they’ll shove me in the stalls!
For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, wait outside”;
But it’s “Special train for Atkins” when the trooper’s on the tide,
The troopship’s on the tide, my boys, the troopship’s on the tide,
O it’s “Special train for Atkins” when the trooper’s on the tide.

Yes, makin’ mock o’ uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an’ they’re starvation cheap;
An’ hustlin’ drunken soldiers when they’re goin’ large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin’ in full kit.
Then it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, ‘ow’s yer soul?”
But it’s “Thin red line of ‘eroes” when the drums begin to roll,
The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
O it’s “Thin red line of ‘eroes” when the drums begin to roll.

We aren’t no thin red ‘eroes, nor we aren’t no blackguards too,
But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
An’ if sometimes our conduck isn’t all your fancy paints,
Why, single men in barricks don’t grow into plaster saints;
While it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, fall be’ind”,
But it’s “Please to walk in front, sir”, when there’s trouble in the wind,
There’s trouble in the wind, my boys, there’s trouble in the wind,
O it’s “Please to walk in front, sir”, when there’s trouble in the wind.

You talk o’ better food for us, an’ schools, an’ fires, an’ all:
We’ll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don’t mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow’s Uniform is not the soldier-man’s disgrace.
For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Chuck him out, the brute!”
But it’s “Saviour of ‘is country” when the guns begin to shoot;
An’ it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ anything you please;
An’ Tommy ain’t a bloomin’ fool — you bet that Tommy sees!
Rudyard Kipling

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Yes indeed sir!
Viz the appalling treatment of the late Corporal Major of the Life Guards, Denis Hutchins *. An absolutely disgusting performance by the Northern Ireland Judiciary, which should hang its head in internal shame!
The Irish do not do Reconciliation, but only Revenge! They are beyond Redemption.

(* Mentioned in Dispatches, Northern Ireland.)

Last edited 2 years ago by SULPICIA LEPIDINA
Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago

Sargent Blackman – a Horrific case of the solider in combat getting home to then be tried as if this happened in some peaceful civilian street.

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Excellent, thank you.
I had almost forgotten good old Gunga Din. An epitaph for Empire so to speak.

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

“ Up Guards and at e’m.”

Lee Jones
Lee Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

I understood, I was was being ironic.
I’m not a great fan of Kipling, but that makes him no less great as a poet. What a poem says to me personally outweighs any foolish political interpretation given by someone with an axe to grind. I don’t care what they get from a poem.

Andrew McDonald
Andrew McDonald
2 years ago
Reply to  Lee Jones

Crikey. How did you get on with Donne and Milton on first acquaintance? I found quite a few of Shakespeare’s sonnets a little obscure first time out, too, but luckily the teacher was able to assist. But you’re assuming poems have ‘meanings’, which may be an error.

Lee Jones
Lee Jones
2 years ago

You have misunderstood me, I meant no such thing.

Fred Atkinstalk
Fred Atkinstalk
2 years ago
Reply to  Lee Jones

The concept is that the person who wrote the poem, and the person ‘explaining’ it are demonstrating their intellectual superiority to you. And you owe it to them to acknowledge your gratitude to them.

Of course the very worst thing you could do is to suggest that the poem might not actually have any artistic merit : God forbid you should not praise the emperor’s new clothes………

Lee Jones
Lee Jones
2 years ago

That is certainly one concept of poetry, one that is dismal and empty, I do not share it.

Jonathan Andrews
Jonathan Andrews
2 years ago

The strength of students of literature is also its greatest weakness.

I teach mathematics and in mathematics everything must be explicit. Reading between the lines is not allowed. Life is not like this; the unspoken is important.

Those who understand literature (I love stories but only see what’s obvious) can do this, can read between the lines. Very often literature can offer us meaning that science cannot approach.

But, the room for manoeuvring with bullshit is great. The opportunities for charlatans is wonderful, especially for critics who know a few long words.

Kate put out a book and we can take it or leave it. Do you like the poems or not? If you didn’t, don’t spend any money on her next. If you did, put down that dosh. Who the hell thinks they have the right to make moral judgements? Are they wiser and kinder than the rest of us?

I couldn’t read this. I have a slight working connection with Kate from long ago and I am sad to see her put through this but sadder, it seems, to accept the views of the wise.

Kirsten Walstedt
Kirsten Walstedt
2 years ago

This was such a wonderful phrase: “Wide assertions may balance on very slender, tweet-sized proofs.”

Gayle Rosenthal
Gayle Rosenthal
2 years ago

The difficulty with poetry is that it decontextualizes an idea or a feeling. Mohammed Assaf’s “pain” should not be laid at the feet of the whiteness. It rightly belongs at the feet of his fellow religionists. Modern academia has lost the capacity of sensitivity for it has been replaced with rank sentimentality.

Richard Kuslan
Richard Kuslan
2 years ago

Words strung together without form or meter or rhyme do not constitute poetry. This is poetry:
‘T is melancholy, and a fearful sign
Of human frailty, folly, also crime,
That love and marriage rarely can combine,
Although they both are born in the same clime;
Marriage from love, like vinegar from wine-
A sad, sour, sober beverage — by time
Is sharpen’d from its high celestial flavour
Down to a very homely household savour.
— Byron, Don Juan

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago
Reply to  Richard Kuslan

Quelle coincidence! I happen to be reading Don Juan at the moment – halfway through Canto 5.

Richard Kuslan
Richard Kuslan
2 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

Wonderful to know of it! A delight in every Canto, every line!

Fred Atkinstalk
Fred Atkinstalk
2 years ago
Reply to  Richard Kuslan

I am sure you will find a body of opinion which says “it is poetry if the writer says it is.” Total crap, of course : so many modern soi-disant poets have nothing worth saying, and yet manage to say it at length, and very badly.

Richard Kuslan
Richard Kuslan
2 years ago

The author of the essay above! Your comment reminded me of Byron’s skewering of Wordsworth (in Don Juan, Canto 3), but modern “poets” far exceed the depths to which Byron though Wordsworth (and Southey et al) had sunk.
‘Pedlars,’ and ‘Boats,’ and ‘Waggons!’ Oh! ye shades
    Of Pope and Dryden, are we come to this?
That trash of such sort not alone evades
    Contempt, but from the bathos’ vast abyss
Floats scumlike uppermost, and these Jack Cades
    Of sense and song above your graves may hiss—
The’little boatman’ and his ‘Peter Bell’
Can sneer at him who drew ‘Achitophel’!

Annette Lawson
Annette Lawson
2 years ago

I agree with Simon Diggins’ “interesting and very sad article”. I was saddened that Kate Clanchy is so patient with what sounds like a really egotistical and difficult Parmar alternative universe especially for children’s poetry in a classroom where there is unlikely white domination. And what about class there too? Add to that the astonishingly varied backgrounds and experiences of the children and indeed, their poetry must be a revelation as I thought that whole idea of pain arriving before oneself a kind of miracle.

Dustshoe Richinrut
Dustshoe Richinrut
2 years ago

Participating in the arts is really taking up hobbies. Hobbies are to be enjoyed. It would seem that those who oppose the West are dismissive of hobbies. They are dismissive of the enjoyment of the arts. Technology, which democratised the arts in the 20th century, has, unfortunately, now become a hindrance to the enjoyment of the arts. The seeping of everything political is now on every channel.

Stuart MacDiarmid
Stuart MacDiarmid
2 years ago

Where can I buy a copy of the book?

Miriam UĂ­
Miriam UĂ­
2 years ago

Still available on Amazon now.

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago

Perhaps it’s time for the classic?

Vitai Lampada*
(“They Pass On The Torch of Life”)

There’s a breathless hush in the Close to-night —
Ten to make and the match to win —
A bumping pitch and a blinding light,
An hour to play and the last man in.
And it’s not for the sake of a ribboned coat,
Or the selfish hope of a season’s fame,
But his Captain’s hand on his shoulder smote —
‘Play up! play up! and play the game!’

The sand of the desert is sodden red, —
Red with the wreck of a square that broke; —
The Gatling’s jammed and the Colonel dead,
And the regiment blind with dust and smoke.
The river of death has brimmed his banks,
And England’s far, and Honour a name,
But the voice of a schoolboy rallies the ranks:
‘Play up! play up! and play the game!’

This is the word that year by year,
While in her place the School is set,
Every one of her sons must hear,
And none that hears it dare forget.
This they all with a joyful mind
Bear through life like a torch in flame,
And falling fling to the host behind —
‘Play up! play up! and play the game!’

(* You know who?)

Last edited 2 years ago by SULPICIA LEPIDINA
maram.khalif
maram.khalif
2 years ago

deleted by commenter.

Last edited 2 years ago by maram.khalif
Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
2 years ago

I couldn’t help making the unlikely comparison between ‘cancelling’ and paedophilia! I know: weird but that’s what happened: so my statement is true.
The victims are blameless but the perpetrators ascribe a guilt to them: the perpetrators of cancelling do the same to blameless writers. In both cases the innocent are vilified in the most shameful manner.
The perpetrators are mentally sick in both cases and while they can be likened to the foulest filth that can be dredged up from the a..hole of hell they are also to be pitied because they are sad, disfunctional, deluded and above all mentally ill: in both cases.
The real villains of the piece are those who side with the evil doers: publishers and the bishops are more interested in protecting their own greedy interests than supporting the heroes. Instead they support the perpetrators of this evil. They have no excuse because they are sane, intelligent, educated people. They stand at a crossroads like Potius Pilate, side with the degerates and go on to crucify those who bring truth and beauty into a sick world.
So I submit: my analogy isn’t as crazy as it appears at first. For evil to prevail it only requires good (people) to remain silent: true, but for evil to flourish it tequires the powerful to acquiesce.. 1930s Germany also springs to mind with its book burning but that’s a whole other analogy.

Last edited 2 years ago by Liam O'Mahony
William Shaw
William Shaw
2 years ago

The meaning of a poem is a personal interpretation based on the life experience of the reader.
The attempted universal interpretation of its meaning by a critic from a different culture should be given the importance it deserves, which is to say, very little.

Dan Gleeballs
Dan Gleeballs
2 years ago

I think I’ll stop commenting on Unherd. Articles like this are too irritating. There’s just no point in trying to make a counter argument.

Last edited 2 years ago by Dan Gleeballs
J Bryant
J Bryant
2 years ago
Reply to  Dan Gleeballs

Sorry to see you took down your original comment (which I upvoted). You made a compelling argument for the value of the West’s literary and cultural contributions.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago
Reply to  Dan Gleeballs

You are not limited to countering the article on Unherd BTL – you can just throw out any thought you may have; ideally somewhat in topic, but it does not have to be much. Every time I log on here I am amazed to find I have not been banned – you can get away with a lot here……

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Oh is that so?
Only yesterday the Censors were all too busy ‘sanitising’ the Chivers piece ‘for your protection’.

Last edited 2 years ago by SULPICIA LEPIDINA
Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago

maybe I have earned the ‘local crazy guy’ status and am left alone by the mods

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Yes Sir, you have indeed acquired that accolade. Well done!

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

That’s because most people in this parish are not ranting-on in an incoherant, illogical manner and often downright unaware of the agreed facts of many particular cases. Some rantings on one or two of the forums i ocassionally peek into make me wonder if they ever went to school or have even read the original article. I really do sometimes wonder if we should have to reach a certain level of education to be allowed to vote. “Its Good to Talk” and sometimes even better to listen.

Graham Stull
Graham Stull
2 years ago
Reply to  Dan Gleeballs

Don’t give up, Dan! We need you!

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago
Reply to  Dan Gleeballs

Try a hot bath and a glass of the ‘red infuriator’ and you will feel fine.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago
Reply to  Dan Gleeballs

I for one esteem your commentary, and hope you persevere.

Fred Atkinstalk
Fred Atkinstalk
2 years ago
Reply to  Dan Gleeballs

Your mistake, if I may make so bold, is to imagine that there is any point in offering a counter-argument (or indeed dignifying the article with comment).

Look at some of the key features of the article :

Written by a Teacher (those who can, etc):
Written by a “poet” (as an aside, it is easy to produce drivel and claim to be a poet – if they wrote similar drivel musically and claimed they were a “composer” people would just laugh)
It invokes children (above criticism)
It invokes immigrant children (totally immune from comment)

This has inspired me to formulate a new principle – the railway compartment test. If someone’s makes you thimk that you would not wish endure sharing a long railway journey with them – walk away!!

Dustshoe Richinrut
Dustshoe Richinrut
2 years ago

Riveting stuff!


. to be continued (no doubt).

Is it so hard today to be happy? Are the very young at least learning to laugh?

Did not the professors of woke and poetry and all the other twittering adults, ‘hundreds of them’, not enjoy life through watching television back in the day, back in California or wherever, 
. when they was kids? Why sound off so grim?

Do TVs still exist? I don’t know. I just don’t like the mention of Twitter without mentioning television.

Laura Pritchard
Laura Pritchard
2 years ago

Well there’s some evidence that young people get their ‘feed’ from elsewhere but I’m pretty sure TV is still the dominant message maker. I’ve thought about this argument that things shouldn’t exist if they offend many times. When I grew up, most entertainment then would now be considered to be offensive to women even though it was after the feminist revolution of the 60’s. But I also had a very clear idea of my own identity, rights and ambitions, to the point of being a bit naive about the actual opportunities that might be out there for me as an adult. So I wonder where my mindset was formed. It was probably from my family. It certainly wasn’t from the art and culture I imbibed. Maybe there was the odd ‘revolutionary’ figure that gave me ‘hope’ or ‘inspiration’ to fight the great ‘patriarchy’ but it wasn’t necessary for me to be shielded from the other stuff. As I grew, I learned that the history I was taught was a bit iffy but that’s the joy of living and growing. I’d be adrift now if I hadn’t gone through that process of ‘indoctrination’ and then awakening. It’s a good thing. There’s some very strange psychological trauma at work in the sequence of events that have cancelled this poet. I’m pretty sure anyone without this trauma who has experienced adversity, lived with it and hopefully found a way out of it would be pretty insulted at the suggestion that they will be endless victims of oppression because they lived and grew up in a time when everything wasn’t ‘perfect’.

LCarey Rowland
LCarey Rowland
2 years ago

well my mind misgives some transformation, yet hanging in the stars, shall twitterly begin with this write’s revels.

Chris Eaton
Chris Eaton
2 years ago

I always find it ironic when people in Academia, like the author, write these kinds of articles being critical of other academics when the differences between them are actually quite small.

Fred Atkinstalk
Fred Atkinstalk
2 years ago
Reply to  Chris Eaton

It genuinely would never have occurred to me to include schools in the term ‘academia’ or to call a school teacher an ‘academic’. Would primary schools and teachers merit the description too? If not, why not?

If I were to ask someone what they did for a living and got the answer “I am an academic” I would not expect to discover that they were a schoolmaster, and would wonder why they were ashamed of their profession – because I venture to suggest that the majoriy of us owe a far greater debt of gratitude to our teachers than we do to ‘academics’.

Oliver Wright
Oliver Wright
2 years ago

Um, in the correction at the end, shouldn’t “Palmer” be “Parmar”?

Oliver Wright
Oliver Wright
2 years ago

Parmar is straight out of Pseud’s Corner.

Last edited 2 years ago by Oliver Wright
Smalltime J
Smalltime J
2 years ago

The ridiculous suggestion in this article that Parmar (a widely published poet and literary critic, a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, an academic at a Russell Group uni) is attempting to “cancel” poetry by taking a critical view is the worst kind of culture-war pandering, as is this article’s final paragraph which implies that Parmar has accused Clanchy of “virtue signalling”. To be clear, if you actually read Parmar’s piece, it is clear that it does nothing of the sort.
The article comes across as sour grapes at a bad review in a serious academic piece which would be nothing more than embarrassing for Clanchy were it not for her emphasis on the academic’s foreignness, her (false) presentation of the article as a series of personal attacks on white established poets (if you actually read the piece you see that the writer is very sympathetic to Carol Ann Duffy and Hannah Sullivan, though she criticises Clanchy), and criticism of Parmar for “sternly” asserting that Britain “is not (nor has ever been) tolerant or kind towards non-white people”.
It’s hard to escape the view that the article was intended to provoke the very racist comments which we see in this comments section, presumably as a way of ‘punishing’ her reviewer. Why else are these comments still up weeks after publication.
Selection of racist comments:
-Professor Sandeep Parmar is clearly just another brahminical woke racist 
-Why on earth do we succour such people who so obviously hate us? Both should be returned to the subcontinent
-Repatriation would be a bridge too far for me, but I understand the sentiment.
-Both should be excluded from UK life.
-It’s as if Western Christian culture is not allowed to exist anymore. It is ironic that so many people from other cultures want to be here in the first place.
“Take up the White Man’s burden—
Send forth the best ye breed— [continues]

Err… well done Kate?

Last edited 2 years ago by Smalltime J