There are plenty of authors who, despite being born in Not England, have nevertheless overcome their deficiency of not speaking the Mother of Tongues to write some of the most memorable novels in English ! From Joseph Conrad to Jung Chang via Jack Kerouac (Quebecois, since you ask). By the way, Vladimir Nabakov and Kazuo Ishiguro don’t count, as they were already fluent while still in short trousers.
But poets ? There are a few in our current times, though one wonders if writing in the modish free verse might make things a little easier for them. However, if searching for evidence of mastery of weather-obsessive rhythm and warm-beer rhyme, then one need look no further than the pop charts, where the likes of Abba, Neneh Cherry, and super-producer Max Martin have dominated the discoteques of Albion for decades. Hmm…come to think of it, is it only the Swedes who are so good at English ? Well, there’s always Björk, though who knows what on earth she’s going on about…?
Anyway, this week’s workshop was a monolingual affair, but none the worst for it. John Hurley spun a yarn about childhood friends ending up on opposite sides of a bank balance, and Pat Francis told us about a very precise woman watching the slapdashing children. A stowaway’s dreams crashing down was recounted by Peter Francis, while Alan Chambers has been shouting about the waterfall that wants to drown him out. Owen Gallagher has been pondering the source of the Latin flair in an Irish village, while Michael Harris has been seduced and consoled, but has he been resolved ? Perhaps Daphne Gloag could tell him, although she does seem rather preoccupied by her lunch, and Anne Furneaux is imagining the Top Brass in the RAF having less of moral dilemma than we might wish for. Finally, Martin Choules is determined not to let an irrational fear get in the way of his phobia.
Oh course, back in Sir John’s day, a respectable gentleman was expected to be proficient in French, Italian, ancient Greek, and maybe even a smattering of German. The Royal Navy may have been busy exporting the Common Tongue to all nooks of the empire, but once a grand tourist had disembarked from the packet boat at Calais, then it was as much use as a teapot in a vineyard. It wasn’t as if the locals of Geneva or Venice were hoping to write the next crowd-pleaser to sweep the music halls of Hackney. Byron’s witty epigram about catching cold while swimming the Hellespont would be quite lost on the Hellespontese. But English’s day would come…and then it would go, and one supposes in future centuries the lyrically gifted of these wet and windy islands shall have to turn their fine novels and couplets in Arabic or Mandarin, or maybe even Swahili or Tagalog.