Workshop, 12th July 2016

What, the true-blooded British versifier may be wondering, will Brexit mean for poetry ? Lots of lamentations to a lost brotherhood ? Oodles of odes to the sudden lack of Grecian-style Chinese-made urns ? Rousing recitations of Henry V and Rule Britannia ? We shall have to wait and see, for poetry rarely steps up in the moment and usually casts its retrospective eyes on yesterday. For every Charge of the Light Brigade, we have a hundred Lays of Ancient Rome.

A select few met for this week’s workshop, the others presumably enjoying a pleasant evening of West London sunshine. Anne Furneaux got us underway with remembrance of her childhood fantasies, complete with listening cups, self-walking furniture and a cameo from Peter Pan. Daphne Gloag has been leafing through a book on Emperor Hadrian, and encountered a familiar figure who still makes his presence felt, while John Hurley has been writing a load of rubbish and is worried about how to recycle it. Finally, Martin Choules has some advice for all teenage scribblers, his past-self included. And inbetween, there were many discussions and tangents about the elephant in the referendum:

Only a fool would deny that recent events were entirely centred around immigration, which is surprising when one considers that the practice has been going on since Homo sapiens first came out of Africa much to the chagrin of their new neighbours the Neanderthals. Britain has been constantly ‘invaded’ by ever more-interesting people since the last ice-sheets receded, and this result will provide this other Eden with a moat against the envy of less happier lands – after all, without the foreigners around, who else can we blame when we lose at football ?

All of which brings up some uncomfortable memories from the Archive. A long-standing member and avid poet was Enoch Powell, who alas is remembered today for his 1968 speech on the subject of immigration – yes, that speech. He read out a draft a few days before, to the applause of Philip Larkin and the gasps of Paul McCartney. All others present remained silent. Mr Powell did go on to explain that his mention of “the River Tiber foaming with much blood” was an allusion to Virgil’s Aeneid, and that he was merely raising legitimate concerns about what may happen, not what should happen, but he did himself no favours by favourably quoting a constituent claiming that “in 15 or 20 years’ time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man.” Surely a politician of all people must understand that impressions are hares and minutiae are tortoises, only the hare doesn’t bother catching forty winks and has taken the tape before the tortoise has done up his laces.

And yet, there was another speech of his nine years earlier, the sort of speech that should be career- and history-defining in the right way: on the floor of the House, he responded to the killing of 11 Mau-Maus at Hola Camp in Kenya, blasting many of those present who would dismiss the victims as ‘sub-human’ and that ‘things are different down there’. In light of the Rivers of Blood that would later torrent, it is a pity he did not heed his own words of how unacceptable it was to claim that “because the victim was such-and-such, therefore the consequences which would otherwise flow from his death shall not flow.”

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