Whatever you’re thinking, you’re wrong. I went there so you don’t have to. Poetry’s greatest strength (and weakness) is its accessibility. Anyone can do it. Anywhere. Anytime. You can probably see where this is going.
The only artform comparable to poetry is standup. If you’ve been, ahem, ‘privileged’ to be at an open mic where someone attempts it in the deluded belief that all it requires is to get up there and comment on the news, you will understand how five minutes can, indeed, turn into a Breughelesque vision of infinite hell.
No-one would attempt to perform a piece of music in front of an audience without practising a lot and rehearsing, would they? Actually, scrub that. I’ve been in open mics where that does seem to be the case; again, so you don’t have to. My own personal record is seeing a bloke (and, trust me, it’s usually a bloke), get stuck and restart the same Neil Young cover nine (yes, NINE) times.
So, brace yourself for a journey into a world of wonder.
The poetry of Liz Truss
Where did all this start?
Inevitably, it was the fault of social media. Someone on that Twitter they have now, whilst descending into the Dantesque pit that is Liz Truss Supporters Groups, found the following spontaneous literary ejaculate.
Ever suspicious, I delved to check whether it was a spoof. I’m no fan of the popular trope that all Brexiters are idiots … but step forward one Bill Sutton, who may be real, though his profile has the look of a bot about it: all the posts are photographs or memes, the only things it follows are Antifa/Pro-Trump groups. He does, however, engage occasionally with some comments, particularly regarding criticism of his spelling which, he believes, is a “lefty” thing to do.
There’s also another poem by Sutton:
Attached to the original post is a link from the author urging us all to join his own Keep Britain British Facebook group which, he says, needs “new members so we can sort the leftys out”.
Interestingly, the group only has one rule: “No hate speech.”
Also, as if determined to play to his own derogatory stereotype, the profile declares it is a group made by Keep Britan British (sic).
Bring on the rhyming couplets
A cursory analysis reveals the common tendency of novices to default to rhyming couplets before seeming to lose the thread after four lines once Rishi Sunak is mentioned. At this point, issues of spelling create an admirable cloud of ambiguity in what had, up to that point, been childlike in its clarity.
Sunak is, it appears, “a back stabbee”. Is he being stabbed, as the spelling suggests, or is Bill just pants at spelling? Whatever could it be about Sunak, that has caused this apparent sensory disturbance? Why might someone who wants to “Keep Britan British,” (and who objects to athletes taking the knee), find anything they don’t like about the former chancellor?
For that matter, who, and what, might “Mrs thartcher mach 3” be? The abandonment of capitalisation, punctuation and form suggests they might be a fan of e.e.cummings. Is he related to Dominic? Whatever the truth or otherwise of this may be, Bill’s mates in the Liz Truss supporters group seem to think it’ll only be found on GB News …
This stuff writes itself, which is maybe a reason no one in their right mind should write about it. However …
Where’s all the right-wing art and literature?
Is there much poetry out there in praise of Truss?
No. There isn’t.
This hits on a question that has always baffled me, but perhaps shouldn’t: where’s all the right-wing art and literature? Go to a poetry night, and it’s all vaguely liberal. You might get the occasional drift from supporting women’s rights into anti-Islamic rhetoric, but, as Christian churches usually get a kicking too, this fits into a centuries-old tradition of anti-clericalism in Western art.
Currently, while the Right wages culture wars on the BBC, Channel 4, or, indeed, anyone who might possibly disagree with whatever it is Nadine Dorries believes in, there are few artists of any note who have aligned themselves with 21st-century Toryism.
During the Brexit arguments, Ringo Starr and Michael Caine expressed their support for leaving the EU, usually from the comfort of one of their homes in the USA or Monaco. Roger Daltrey of The Who, opined that musicians whose freedom and ability to tour in Europe were being constrained should stop moaning. Well, he doesn’t have to fill in all those forms, does he?
Notoriously, Mumford and Sons banjo player Winston Marshall attracted a storm of social media criticism for his support of right-wing writer Andy Ngo. On 7 March 2021, Marshall tweeted of Ngo’s book Unmasked: Inside Antifa’s Radical Plan to Destroy Democracy: “Finally had the time to read your important book. You’re a brave man.” The tweet was soon deleted and he “took some time away from the band.”
Where are the right-wing poets?
The almost total absence of the doers and makers of what people actually like in our culture could be a signal that maybe, just maybe, being of a right-wing view might have drawbacks. However, those who hold such views frequently blame their lack of success on “woke elites/gatekeepers/liberal cadres” and so on. Faced with such claims, former Mock The Week host Dara Ó Briain sums it up quite succinctly:
“People got angry that there weren’t enough ‘rightwing jokes’, whatever they are, and seemed surprisingly uncalmed by my regular response that if they wanted different jokes they should just write them themselves and go on stage, because the nursery slopes of comedy are a pretty free market, and we’ll see them after they’ve done a few years on the circuit.”
But is there any more poetry about Liz Truss?
What other poetry there is about Truss is mostly by people who hate her. There’s Stanley V Collymore’s Liz Truss – The idiots, idiot! On a website called deepundergroundpoetry.com which compromises itself, not only by raising questions about his punctuation and meaning, but also by claiming that everyone except him, it seems, is “gullible and very easily manipulated morons”, because we don’t share his, er, niche view that Ukrainians are “the children and grandchildren of the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Galician) who were fanatical Nazis”.
Stanley V Collymore turns out not to be the former Liverpool and Nottingham Forest striker (thankfully) but a pseudonym for a political blogger called politicoacademic. I was so far down the rabbit hole at this point I needed Mines Rescue, so I left Stan (or whoever he was) to his output of 933 poems.
Are all political poets extremists and/or unhinged?
Fortunately not. Less extreme, but no less tedious, there’s one Rikin Parekh (a successful illustrator of children’s books), with a bittersweet ditty called Move On (retweeted by an account called Mr Blobby Fans 4 Hard Brexit*), plus Helen Bonaire-Ryan’s thoughtful, if somewhat predictable, Please Be Advised. This latter offering seems to obey an unspoken rule at open mics that what many poets think an audience wants to hear is their own, fairly well-established consensus, read (or preferably shouted) back at themselves. In couplets.
Millennials too get in on the act. There’s Tomfoolery whose wannabe TikTok video poem ‘Feeling Faint’, concerning Kate McCann’s collapse while Truss was on camera during a hustings, clearly seeks to go viral, as the young people say on that internet they have now. He’s had five likes in three weeks.
More nuanced, there’s one Hugo Williams in May’s Spectator, with quite a crafted, if vague, piece entitled Love Poem, which, though tagged by Google as about Liz Truss, meanders thoughtfully around the topic of breaking up or leaving without mentioning the new alt-right sex siren once.
Is the poetry terrible because Truss is?
There is no relationship between subject and quality here. In fact, in my experience, having sat through five years now of doggerel about what a great guy Jeremy Corbyn is/was/might have been, I’ve concluded that it’s nigh on impossible not to write bad poetry about saints or sinners. In fact, topicality is usually the kiss of death to creativity given the importance of context and audience. Doesn’t stop people though.
I need oxygen now. I haven’t put links. Don’t go there. *My notes say this, but I couldn’t seem to find it later. It may have been in one of my fever-dreams, which seem more frequent since researching this article.