I’m sure most of you will know Shelley’s poem, the Masque of Anarchy, written in Italy in response to the Peterloo Massacre. It was 1819 in Manchester, and a crowd of up 80,000 people had gathered to listen to the ‘radical orator’ (a term of disparagement by his opponents) Henry Hunt speak about widening the franchise and challenging the corrupt political system. Due to a massive over reaction by local yeomanry, fifteen people were killed and hundreds injured. Hunt ended up in prison for two years. A widening of the franchise has always been fought for, and against. (I personally think, we should rise up to lower the voting age to sixteen). (more…)
I can’t imagine there to be a poet who so enraged those in authority, that long after his death, his naked statue would have its testicles removed. Yet this was the lot of Percy Bysshe Shelley. As the late Paul Foot explains in his classic book, Red Shelley. “The naked Shelley was the subject of much sport each summer was at Oxford [University]. As a climax to what is known as Eights Week, the future leaders of the nation would mourn yet another disaster for the University College First Eight by squeezing between the bars of Shelley’s cage, and wreaking havoc on his statue. ‘We’ve got Shelley’s balls!’ was the plummy cry of triumph which would echo through the quadrangles at three or four in the morning.”
I don’t suppose that the Notting Hill posh heads of Cameron, Johnson, and Gove are great fans of Shelley, or similar modern poets so resistant to their right wing elitist values. Well, fortunately their short-lived bubble of power (remember they were only solely in office for a year), has been self-punctured. However, there is little to celebrate from such a demise; the country is in its greatest level of uncertainty for many years with Brexit, and the grip of the Right is still vice-like, especially with the battle raging between the Labour People’s Front and the People’s Front of Labour.
Poets have begun to respond to this exit from Europe and resultant political dislocation, with online magazines and anthologies from the likes of Well Versed (as usual), The Stare’s Nest, The Bogman’s Cannon, New Boots and Pantisocracies, and I Am Not a Silent Poet. Steve Pottinger is a stalwart of political poetry, whether with poems against tax avoiding corporations, or as with his poem here, Stabberjocky, holding power to account in the most surreal and satirical way. This reworking of Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky is a real classic in the making. So much so, that if Steve was to ever have statue made of him, I am sure that descendants of Shelley’s stealers would be on the lookout for Pottinger’s crown jewels. (more…)