Sunday, 21 June 2015

Michael Foot

''Men of power have not time to read; yet men who do not read are unfit for power.'' - Michael Foot

Michael Mackintosh Foot (23 July 1913 – 3 March 2010) was a far left British politician and leader of the Labour Party from 1980 to 1983. He was an ardent supporter of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and British withdrawal from the European Economic Community. A passionate orator, he led Labour through the 1983 general election, when the party obtained its lowest share of the vote at a General Election since 1918 and the fewest parliamentary seats achieved since before 1945. He was the only Labour Party leader for whom I actually felt a soft spot. 

I liked Michael and considered him a friend, not least because he was an ardent Byronist. Anyone who knew Michael would like him. Not all would consider him their friend. I naturally have his book The Politics of Paradise: A Vindication of Byron on my bookshelves weighed down with kindred tomes of the poet and his contemporaries. Radical in his political thinking, Michael Foot was a fervent traditionalist when it came to literary history. He believes in continuity and the ahistoricism of critical judgements. He doesn't hesitate to use phrases like "the greatest English tradition" (referring to Chaucer, Spenser, Shakespeare and Milton), and throughout the foot-notes to this book he conducts a dialogue with his fellow critics, whom he refers to as the "companions .. who have shepherded me along my path." We get guided in the direction of "treasures" and "delightful volumes"; editions and commentaries are "splendid" and "indispensable." The rhetoric of enthusiasm for the critical canon generated by a legion of Byronists is refreshing from such as Michael who was probably the most progressive politician on the far left in my lifetime. 

I most frequently found him out walking his dog on Hampstead Heath where he would wave his walking stick and issue a greeting. Curiously enough it was the same topic which introduced me to Spike Milligan, whom I regarded as a close ally and friend, and Susannah York where there was an instant mutual attraction, that brought me into Michael's hemisphere: CND and associated anti-war activities. He knew where I stood on most things and I certainly knew where he stood. Our conversations were about more mundane matters and for that we were both grateful.

My abiding image of him is our last sighting of each other, not on Hampstead Heath, but in Charing Cross Road where we greeted each other and, as he walked off toward the junction with Oxford Street, he waved his stick in the air. "See you again," he cried. But it will now have to be in paradise.

The Outsider

The outsider is at the periphery,
Gazing cautiously within.
He is invariably outside
The group, the circle, the clique.

He is the perennial stranger,
The one set apart
Whose only sin
Is to be true to himself.

I am that outsider.

I think you’ve got to be eased into poetry – you’ve got to get in at the shallow end and then start swimming toward Byron (if you can) – and, if you can't, I shall whisper encouragement along the way from the periphery. For I, too, am an outsider; yet one who remains ever thus because that is where I am and what I am. Colin Wilson, whom I vaguely knew (we corresponded) recognised my "outsiderness" and who better than the author of The Outsider based loosely on such as Sir Oswald Mosley whom I met and knew. I met so many outsiders in all walks of life and political persuasions back then. Colin was a great fan of Sir Oswald. Such as this will plunge you toward the periphery if you are not already there. When Colin died I remembered the iconic 1956 photograph of him seated and reading against a tree on Hampstead Heath. An image of pure poetry. In many ways are we not all outsiders looking in at the swirling meaningless mediocrity of humdrum existence where oblivion effaces the essence of the soul? My journey, I suppose, has been one of the soul in revolt against the intellect; a pursuit which hopefully might have met with some small measure of success.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

The Poppy

Poppy came and said hello;
There were no other fellow
Red tops to sway in unison,
In the breeze, in June again.

Just one single solitary,
Lonely, lively, little poppy.

I said hello to the red flower;
And spent much of that hour
Listening to its silent song
Unaccompanied by a throng.

The hour waned and the flower
Flamed as if alive with blood.

Then it sadly waved goodbye
In that late afternoon mud
Of muddled, mingled death
Where trenched corpses breath

Ceased and
Breathed no more.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Bicycle Rusting

Bicycle Rusting

Fat ladies kayaking,
Flags a fluttering,
Surfboard sitting,
Lifeguard lurching,

And a bicycle rusting with nowhere to go.

Fat ladies sinking,
Old man viewing,
Clouds a coming,
Sea's a summering,

And the black lady's munching an apple.

Sea breeze singing,
Seagull a bringing,
Sand a shifting,
Salt a sifting,
Spokes a rusting,

And a bicycle leaning with nowhere to go.

Monday, 1 June 2015

Essix Gails

Essix Gails

Who are they?

Chloe Goodman who is not
Lauren Goodger who is not
Gemma Collins who is not
Gemma Arterton who is not
Charlotte Rampling who is not
Nikki Grahame who is not
From Essex but Watford
In Hertfordshire.

Or so she says ...