You know, as I stroll around the clean and airy streets of this fair borough, by chance catching the eye of an acquaintance, offering a cheery wave and perhaps interrupting their progress down the Queens Highway for a brief chat, I believe everyone agrees with me that there is only one subject worthy of consideration: What does the EU referendum mean for Poetry?
In the Leave Camp, parallels with Switzerland are high on the agenda. If Britain so to offer more of an arm’s-length relationship with the EU, as does the home of cuckoo-clocks, triangular chocolate and well-stocked nuclear shelters, then we should look to the way they do things. The Swiss we are told, cite the British as having created their Tourist Industry, the key event being a notorious Chalet Holiday on Lake Geneva in 1816. So imprinted on the collective consciousness was this near-legendary trip that for many years it was impossible to take a Thomas Cook Coach Holiday to any Alpine resort without being offered a thick volume of Gothic Fiction and a quart of Laudanum on departure from Dover. The implications are clear; leave the EU and Britain will naturally open itself up to coach parties of hallucinogen-swilling Romantics in Empire-line frocks and velvet suits, disturbing the peace with their rambling nocturnal declamations and assertions of post-apocalyptic societies populated by monosyllabic human salmagundi roaming the countryside and frightening the peasants. In the words of Messrs Hall and Oates, I can’t vote for that.
Something I can vote for is the success of tonight’s workshop. John Hurley launched us into memories of an abandoned Hotel near his birthplace in Ireland. Owen Gallagher brought back a poem about TVs (Transvestites, that is) in the RC (Church, that is). Alan Chambers has been working up an older piece revolving around five words of conventional greeting. Peter Francis brought another poem by Mrs Francis, who could not be with us, on the subject of Gaudairenca. Nick Barth brought us something of a polemic on the Balkanization of, well, the Balkans. Martin Choules has written a collage poem containing lines from The Golden Journey to Samarkand by James Elroy Flecker. The form he used (in which each stanza’s last line is the next line from the quoted poem) has a name and I have the Ferranti Pegasus working on finding the specific term for it. Daphne brought back the opening poem from her ‘Time’ sequence, presenting us with Past, Present and Future. Finally Ariadne brought us her greatly enjoyable children’s poem – the tale of Lucie Lu and the Pumpkin Pirates.
Back to the referendum if you can stand it; I know how much I am asking of you.
The Remain camp has, I am afraid to say adopted fear as a weapon by spreading concern among my fellow creatives as to what precisely will happen to the Poetic License if we go it alone. Under first the Lisbon Agreement and then the Maastricht Treaty the rights of poets have been enshrined in EU Law. Current Legislation protects the poet’s right to use such such techniques as beginning a sentence with a preposition; mixing a metaphor; combining feet or rhythms (for example combining an Amphibrach with an Anapaest and a clipped line ending); starting a line with a lower-case letter; certain forms of assonance and half-rhyme; enjambment; protection of both the Petrarchan and our very own Shakespearian Sonnet forms, and so on. In fact, there is an enormous amount of detail I could go into here. It is likely that at least two thirds of the EU legislation Nigel Farage rails against on the British Statute is specifically applicable to poetry and prosody. If only this was better understood by the British public, perhaps we might have obtained the vital de-prioritisation of subsidies for the Iambic Hexameter at Maastricht, a measure which only benefits French poets and a handful of strolling Basque Troubadours, who by the way gave up strolling years ago because they can afford to drive Mercedes-Benzes. I recall the frustration at the time; John Major was clearly not interested in pressing the issue and hard-working British poets lost out as a result.
The great concern we should all have is that Michael Gove is in the Leave Camp. Should EU Poetry protections be removed my guess is that he will not be able to keep his hands off the Poetic License and a decade of mandated A-B rhyme schemes and tum-ti-tum metrics will follow. A poetic brain-drain is inevitable and the best and brightest will leave the country to join prestigious Poetry Workshops in English language-friendly cities such as Amsterdam or Copenhagen. There, the opportunity to work on highly paid projects such as Eurovision Song Contest entry lyrics will make it all but impossible to attract our best poets back to the UK any time soon, and a generation of fine writers will be lost.
You know what to do. Vote early, vote often and if you have been, thank you for reading.