Poet of Honour: Ruth Padel

Poet of Honour, an accolade by Ars Notoria and Word Masala Foundation, celebrates our best contemporary poets we should have read by now. They are iconic and a major inspiration.

I remember-not a long ago-Ruth lost her mother. Her heartbreak was felt by many of us as friends. So, her collection Emerald was timely. In the eighties, I managed high-end opticians in Wigmore Street at the corner of Wimpole Street, not far from where Ruth was born in the attic of her great-aunt’s house. Hence to me, in a way, her aura was always around the corner! I have also come to know her through Nehru Centre and friends. Therefore, to present her as our Poet of Honour for this Christmas is an exceptional opportunity for me. To be in the company of Imtiaz Dharker last Christmas made our festive outing exquisite. This year, I hope you will equally enjoy Ruth’s presence with us.

Ruth is one of seventy-two great-great-grandchildren of Charles Darwin. So, it is no surprise that she is drawn to science. Her experimental collection, The Mara Crossing, offers us the taste of it. If it occasionally feels parched due to hard science in the book, it also discharges gentle spirit and lyrical skips through many such lines as these:

You go because you heard a cuckoo call. You go because
    you’ve met someone, you made a vow, there are no more
    grasshoppers. You go because the cold is coming, spring
    is coming, soldiers are coming: plague, flood, an ice age,
    a new religion, a new idea. You go because the world rotates,
    because the world is changing and you’ve lost the key.

See how it resonates with our current troubled time!

London, UK – March 17, 2021: Ruth Padel, Poet . Ruth Padel renowed for her poetry has played music all her life. Her living room has music stands and an upright piano with music sheets at the ready. Her garden and its flora and fauna bring memories of her love for Greece. British poet Ruth Padel’s new book of poems Beethoven Variations, in which she folds personal reminiscences of her life, steeped in music, with acute reflects on Beethoven’s life and struggles. CREDIT : Kalpesh Lathigra for The New York Times

All great poets have a deep sense of music and how words assemble in line with that sate of mind. But Ruth’s understanding of it goes deeper. She grew up playing chamber music and singing, and took raga lessons. Singing and playing music of all kinds, especially classical and world music, informs her work deeply.

Ruth has interest in paintings as well and says, “I cannot paint myself but my poetry draws on looking and imagining, painting and drawing. The narrator of Daughters of the Labyrinth is a painter. There is also nature, science and the environment. (A little about my background, including Charles Darwin, here). I am a Trustee for New Networks for Nature, an alliance of scientists, environmentalists and artists who believe the natural world is central to cultural life; and am currently working on a book about elephants to follow my tiger book.” 

Ruth Padel has won the first prize in one of our most coveted awards, the National Poetry Competition. The quality of her work has remained timeless with much enviable consistency. Unfortunately, we lost her as Oxford’s first female Professor of Poetry with only nine days in an appointment. The unanswered question around it remains: would Derek Walcott have survived the post with all the allegations chasing him? Sir Isaiah Berlin would have been quick to point out the higgledy-piggledy nature of purist morality and its proponents!

All Ruth’s engaging journeys, stories and work collectively propose her as no ordinary Poet of Honour. Enjoy her presence at your Christmas table!

Merry Christmas!

-Yogesh Patel MBE

Poems by Ruth Padel


cute little legs of anonymous kid sleeping under blanket in bed
Photo by Tatiana Syrikova on Pexels.com

 ‘What is marriage but a little joy and then a chain of sorrows?’
                                                      Maria van Beethoven to Cäcelie Fischer

He goes to school dirty. They say his mother must be dead    
call him Spaniard because he is dark    
tease him about his name.  He leaves school

to play the viola
in the briary tangle of an orchestra.
He wears a sea-green coat, a wig, a little sword.
At home he writes concertos
pitching the wonders of modulation 
against his father’s blows.

Gliding north with her down the Rhine
on a winter concert tour, their one journey together,
she keeps him warm, holding his feet in her lap.

The Place without a Door  

black wooden door frame
Photo by ramy Kabalan on Pexels.com

Listen. There are dragons under cities
and monsters in white spaces on sea maps.
Sangatte is Gap-in-Sand. When we were there
we knew it was The Place Without a Door –
that commune on the coast of France
facing water which the English
call English Channel. A border
for which many men, and women, too,
have died. Mark the spot in my brother’s heart
where he built a cardboard shrine
for our wasteland jungle. Check the wall
where someone graffed, Nous voulons de l’air
pour nos enfants.
The cement octagons
where we hid at night to rush the axle
of Spanish lorries. The bridge where my brother
jumped that train into the tunnel.


tiger s reflection on water
Photo by Robert Stokoe on Pexels.com

Water, moonlight, danger, dream.
     Bronze urn, angled on a tree-root: one
     Slash of light, then gone. A red moon
Seen through clouds, or almost seen.

Treasure found but lost, flirting between
     The worlds of lost and found. An unjust law
     Repealed, a wish come true, a lifelong
Sadness healed. Haven, in the mind, 

To anyone hurt by littleness. A prayer, 
     For the moment, saved; treachery forgiven.
     Flame of the crackle-glaze tangle, amber
Reflected in grey milk-jade. An old song
     Remembered, long debt paid.
     A painting on silk, which may fade.

<strong>Ruth Padel</strong>
Ruth Padel

Ruth Padel is an award-winning British poet and novelist, Professor of Poetry at King’s College London and Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and Zoological Society of London She has published twelve acclaimed poetry collections, a range of  non-fiction -from wild tiger conservation to Greek tragedy – and two novels. One set in the jungles of India; and Daughters of the Labyrinth set on the island of Crete, where she has lived on and off all her life. ‘Moving, superbly written: Crete itself becomes one of the main characters in the story.’  (Irish Times, Best Books 2021). ‘Transporting, immersive, historically informative story-telling steeped in the history and folklore of Crete’ (Sunday Times).  Her poems have appeared in New York Review of Books, London Review of Books, The New Yorker, The White Review, Times Literary Supplement, The Guardian and elsewhere. Her latest collection, Beethoven Variations, explores a life of creativity and music. ‘Her imagery and imagination took me deeper into Beethoven than many biographies I’ve read’ (New York Times). ‘Bold,  breathtaking, spectacular’ (TLS).  In 2020, Ruth updated her 2012 collection on migration in We Are All from Somewhere Else, to include a poem on Syrian refugees to the Greek island of Lesbos, written in collaboration  with Syrian artist Issam Kourbaj. Images and lines from this work were chosen in 2021 as the 101st Object for Radio 4’s History of the World In 100 Objects, with these words which end her poem:
…and their stories our stories
steered by the small
star-light of cell phones

over waves like rings of a tree
rings of the centuries
rocking and spilling
on the windy sea
as if water kept its shape
after the jug has broken
one shining petrified moment

before the shattered pieces fall away.

To read poets honoured previously here is a roll call; please click on the name.

George Szirtes

Steven O’Brien

Nick Makoha

Fiona Sampson

Mimi Khalvati

Vijay Seshadri

Pascale Petit

Imtiaz Dharker

Vidyan Ravinthiran

Cyril Dabydeen

Tishani Doshi

Martina Evans

Sinéad Morrissey

Moniza Alvi

Ian Duhig

Raymond Antrobus

Keki Daruwalla

Mona Arshi

Christopher Reid

Piccadilly Style

The Edwardian look saw male fashion at its most elegant

By Stephen Hoare

Algy, the Piccadilly Johnny with the little glass eye, the subject of a popular music hall song by Vesta Tilley presents an enduring image of the male peacock. Miss Tilley, a small but feisty female whose cross-dressing routines on the Edwardian stage depict a stereotypical toff, carries resonance with today’s woke transgender issues. With white tie and tails, a gardenia in the buttonhole, a monocle, and an opera hat, the Piccadilly Johnny was a recognisable type that haunted the stage doors of theatres like the Gaiety, soliciting introduction to glamorous starlets or chorus girls.  

The Edwardian look, which roughly spans the period 1890 to 1920, saw male fashion at its most elegant. This is best embodied by the high lapelled, four button three-piece suit with high-waisted trousers and turn-ups. This would be worn with starched collar and cuffs and always a hat. At the height of Empire, tailoring workshops thrived on material spun in Yorkshire woollen mills while shirtmakers were well supplied with Lancashire or Egyptian cotton. A suit of clothes was often bespoke, with an army of high street tailors working for low margins, accommodating variations in style and design.

David Lloyd George and Churchill

Meanwhile, the boot industry based in Northampton and the hatters of Luton were gearing up for growth. Hats make an interesting subject in their own right with the bowler of billycock hat worn by the lower middle classes and the silk top hat worn by high status office clerks through to aristocrats. Winston Churchill famously wore a flat topped high crowned bowler hat – an anachronism even then – which along with his Havana cigars became a trademark during World War 2.

Men wearing flat caps and Billycocks. Horse Sale at the Barbican 1912 Robert Bevan 1865-1925, Tate

In the summer, the straw boater – a headgear made of pressed and stiffened straw trimmed with a wide black silk band was universally worn by all classes. Photographs of the crowded Edwardian city streetscapes often reveal a sea of straw boaters! For the first time, a wide choice of garments at affordable prices were available to a public eager to embrace respectability.  


Henry Poole and Co. Savile Row

For the upper classes Piccadilly was the Mecca and Savile Row had shown the way with tailors like Henry Poole and Co, Huntsman, and Gieves and Hawkes received royal warrants for their court attire and military uniforms. Well-cut clothes in the most expensive cloth were a luxury but payment could be on account and credit was easy to obtain. 

The Edwardian was defined by the clothes he wore. Like a uniform or badge of class, the working man was recognisable by his hard-wearing corduroy or moleskin trousers, waistcoat, collarless shirt, cloth cap and muffler. The blue-collar or office worker would be defined by a blue serge suit and bowler hat. Countrymen and farmers would wear tweeds.  

Edwardian working men’s fashion: Flat caps and moleskin trousers

The higher the status, the more variety would be contained within a wardrobe of perhaps a dozen tailor-made suits. The Edwardian style started off with high lapels which showed a small expanse of shirt and emphasised a high starched wing collar. The coat or jacket could be cut in a variety of styles. Sometimes cutaway, it could be trimmed with braid piping, and the sleeve cuffs would be fastened with two or possibly three buttons. After around 1910 lapels got deeper and wider and three buttons became the norm.

the Piccadilly Johnny was a recognisable type that haunted the stage doors of theatres

To complement the suit, the wearer would sport a short necktie or a bow tie made of Macclesfield silk with possibly a square of the same material used as a handkerchief arranged to tuck into the top breast pocket. High-waisted trousers, always supported by braces, were cut to finish in a fishtail high at the back. Over this was worn a waistcoat often in contrasting material. Discretely striped white flannel with mother-of-pearl buttons was a popular choice, or a light grey silk with small lapels. The waistcoat’s bottom pockets were made to accommodate a pocket watch on a silver or gold chain.

King Edward VII in country tweed

Woollen cloth for gentlemen’s suitings was a much heavier weave than today’s lightweight fabrics. Cloth came in a wide variety of types and textures with technical names like worsted, broadcloth, hopsack, serge, bird’s-eye, twill, barathea, pin stripe, tweed, flannel and much more.  Above all, the suit had to keep its wearer warm. The Edwardians wore a lot of layers because most houses and buildings were heated by coal fires. Central heating was a rare commodity only to be found in public buildings and stately homes, and, even then, far from ubiquitous.

  crowded Edwardian city streetscapes often reveal a sea of straw boaters!

Formal wear was a different story and gentlemen, perhaps aided by their butlers, could change their clothes according to the time of day. The morning for a stroll in the park or a visit to one’s club, the man about town needed a morning coat. By the afternoon, this had become a frock coat, a full double-breasted coat trimmed with silk revers.

Full Edwardian dress
Full Edwardian dress

A visit to the country would necessitate another quick change into a tweed knickerbocker suit, a sartorial informality equivalent of today’s track suit! The four button Norfolk jacket is recognisable from its integral belt which buttoned above the waist and kept in place by two applied bands of material which covered breast pockets. Knickerbockers or plus fours were short breeches which fastened at the knees with buckles and were worn with long socks and brown Balmoral boots.

Seasonal fashion, from the Edwardian, Gentleman’s Gazette

The sporting calendar, which included the Henley Regatta and the Eton versus Harrow cricket match at Lord’s, would require a blazer and white flannel bags. Club blazers, varsity blazers and totally spurious but colourful striped blazers proclaimed the wearer’s affiliations. The boater would be trimmed with club colours in the form of a club scarf or tie. Footwear had to match the informal register with brown leather and buckskin co-respondent shoes being de rigeur.   


From the Edwardian Postcard Project, morning coat, with a double breasted waistcoat and cravat

The evening necessitated a change to evening tails, worn with white tie and white pique waistcoat. Towards the end of the Edwardian era a lamentable trend crossed the Atlantic – that of the short silk faced dinner jacket otherwise known as a Tuxedo.

Our gentleman’s cutaway morning coat was a single-breasted tailcoat, either in black or grey, worn with a single or more likely double-breasted waistcoat of a fine cream or dove grey material fastened with pearl buttons. If a single-breasted black waistcoat was worn, this might be accompanied by a linen slip or under-waistcoat whose outer edges could constrain the cravat fastened under the neck with an ostentatious tiepin.   

the combination of black coat and jacket with pin-stripe trousers was a virtual uniform for civil servants, politicians, station masters and other important luminaries.

Trousers would be a high-waisted pin stripe in Cheviot wool and the combination of black coat and jacket with pin-stripe trousers was a virtual uniform for civil servants, politicians, station masters and other important luminaries. Today, the combination is still worn by hotel managers where it is an indicator of status and old-world formality.

Edwardian mashers with their Malacca canes

The Edwardian gentleman would wear a pair of cloth topped button boots or glace kid ankle boots. To set the ensemble off, a cane – usually a silver topped or horn handled Malacca cane – and a pair of gloves in lavender kid. The ultra-fashionable might wear a high-necked starched collar known as a masher. This would reinforce posture as well as indicating the wearer was one of that louche tribe known as the K-nuts! The music hall song I’m Gilbert the Filbert, Colonel of the K-nuts was a tribute to this unlikely fashion.

Stephen Hoare, author of Piccadilly London’s West End and the Pursuit of Pleasure

For the past twenty years, Stephen Hoare has been a freelance writer and journalist, writing about higher education, business schools and the public sector for The Guardian. He is a regular contributor to the Times’ special reports and author of many non-fiction titles including The Assassination of John F Kennedy and Hiroshima for Batsford’s ‘A Day That Made History’ series.

Stephen Hoare’s latest book is Piccadilly London’s West End and the Pursuit of Pleasure published by The History Press price £20.  ISBN 9 780750 995658. Stephen Hoare is also the author of Palaces of Power: The Birth and Evolution of London’s Clubland published by The History Press 2019. ISBN 978-0-7509-9076-9 price £25

The Magic of Madagascar

Wishing you a rewarding and sublime journey!

By Abhay K.

Madagascar is the world’s fourth largest island; after Greenland, New Guinea and Borneo. Madagascar is in the western Indian Ocean. Some consider Madagascar to be the Earth’s eighth continent because it has such enormous biodiversity. 

Photo by Abhay K.

Geologically, Madagascar broke away from Gondwanaland with the rest of the world’s continents alongside Africa 167 million years ago. 65 million years ago it broke off from the Indian tectonic plate and it has been isolated ever since. 

Photo by Abhay K.

Madagascar has a diverse landscape. There are narrow plains in the east, a chain of mountains in the centre and wide plains in the west.  Its variations in topography mean it has a variety of climatic regions. This has lead to the evolution of many unique species of plant and animal.

Photo by Abhay K.

The first humans probably arrived in Madagascar in boats from Borneo about 2,000 years ago. Later, migrants reached Madagascar from East Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, India and elsewhere. As a result, Madagascar has population made up of 18 different ethnic groups.

An ancient Indian graveyard in Madagascar, photo by Abhay K.

Members of all these ethnic groups speak Malagasy, with some regional variations. Malagasy is a rich language full of strong images, metaphors and proverbs. Most of them originate from Indonesian languages, but some words come into Malagasy from Kiswahili, Arabic and Sanskrit.

Photo by Abhay K.

Madagascar is a global biodiversity hotspot. Its unique flora and fauna are conserved in a network of national parks and protected areas consisting of over 120 places on the island.

Madagascar has made me a haijin

Madagascar has about 13,000 species of flowering plants out of which 89% are native to the island. Madagascar is also the homeland of the baobab tree. Out of the eight species of baobabs found worldwide, six are exclusive to Madagascar.

Photo by Abhay K.
Photo by Abhay K.
Photo by Abhay K.

There are over 150,000 species of invertebrates, including insects, centipedes, spiders crabs, mollusks and leeches. Incredibly, Madagascar also has 300 species of butterflies out of which 211 are native to Madagascar. There are 283 species of birds. 51% of these are only found on the island. Madagascar also has over 110 species of lemurs, from the pygmy mouse lemur weighing only 25 grams, to the Indri Indri, the largest surviving lemur only found here.

Photo by Abhay K.
Photo by Abhay K.

Madagascar has made me a haijin. When I arrived in Madagascar in March 2019, never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would start writing haiku. I began with usual length poems but soon felt that I was not able to capture and express the multiple layers of enlightenment I felt taking place within me as I woke up to birdsong, and looked at: mynahs, hoopoes, black Vasa parrots, red fodies, yellow wagtails, green geckos, colour changing chameleons, butterflies and dragonflies of all possible colours.

Bees sucked nectar from flowers and made beehives, while I was upside down on the grass in a yogic headstand pose, gazing at the sky.

Photo by Abhay K.

Long poems were inadequate to express the illumination I felt while travelling across Madagascar listening to the calls of the Indri-Indri bird (critically endangered), or watching silky Sifakas dance, or seeing turtles swimming freely in the emerald Malagasy sea, or watching the sun set through the alley of baobabs.

watching the sun set through the alley of baobabs.

I decided instead to wander around this new continent like a fakir and follow the tradition of Basho, Buson and Issa. As I did so it was as if I came to another island and another time and space.

Photo by Abhay K.

I had a chance meeting with Gabriel Rosenstock in Wardha, India in 2013 at a poetry festival and received from him a copy of The Naked Octopus: Erotic Haiku in English. On another occasion, Robert Hass sent me a signed copy of The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson and Issa from Robert Hass in Washington in 2018. I started reading these books only after arriving in Madagascar and found the short Haiku form to be the perfect medium to help me capture Madagascar’s exquisite and unparalleled natural beauty.

Photo by Abhay K.

These are my very first haiku and I have a steep learning curve ahead of me. Nevertheless, I hope you will experience the luminosity of the island which I am experiencing firsthand as you read this. I try to conjure up that beauty with these images.

a purple shower
of Jacaranda flowers
who needs a red carpet?

sea of innocence
exuding amber light
lemur’s eyes

an ascetic meditating
turned upside down
the baobab tree

giant eggs in drawing rooms
where have all
the elephant birds gone?

below a baobab
what a blessing!

how much
green gecko loves
the bright winter sun

dusk now
radiated tortoise
still grazing

calling out
to walk barefoot
the tsingy of Bemaraha

satanic leaf-tailed gecko
pressed against a tree
doubt you can find it

who could say
they’re not aliens
painted mantellas

flames of yellow
lighting up Ranomafana
moon moths

singing, flying, mating
they spend their days
Vasa parrots

Abhay K. in Madagascar

Abhay K. is the author of nine poetry collections including: The Alphabets of Latin America (Bloomsbury India, 2020). He is the editor of many poetry collections including The Book of Bihari Literature (Harper Collins, 2022), The Bloomsbury Anthology of Great Indian Poems, CAPITALS, New Brazilian Poems and The Bloomsbury Book of Great Indian Love Poems.

Abhay’s poems have appeared in over 100 literary magazines including Poetry Salzburg Review and Asia Literary Review, among others. Abhay’s poem Earth Anthem has been translated into over 140 languages. He received the SAARC Literary Award 2013 and was invited to record his poems at the Library of Congress in 2018.

Abhay’s forthcoming book length poem is titled Monsoon. His translations of Kalidasa’s Meghaduta (Bloomsbury India, 2021) and Ritusamhara (Bloomsbury India, 2021) from Sanskrit, won the KLF Poetry Book of the Year Award for 2020-21.

Abhay’s most recent book is called The Magic of Madagascar. It is published in English and French by Éditions L’Harmattan, Paris, 2021

The cover of Abhay K.’s book, The Magic of Madagascar

Photo by Abhay K.

Capitalism relies on people like Keir Starmer and Neil Kinnock

Strategic betrayals are always rewarded

By Phil Hall

In the Middle Ages in 1381 the mayor of London, William Walworth, killed Wat Tyler at a parlay with a knife by stabbing him in the stomach and then cutting off his head. The mayor’s coat of arms then became the Saint George’s cross with a dagger drawn in one corner. This should be the coat of arms for all traitors to progressive causes.

From the Anonimalle Chronicle cited by John Simkin of Spartacus Educational:

When the king reached St. John’s Fields he was joined by a fine company of well-armed men. And they kept the commons like sheep within a pen. Meanwhile, the mayor went to kill Wat Tyler. When he came to Smithfield he asked what had become of the traitor. He was told that Wat Tyler had been carried by a group of the commons to the hospital for the poor near St. Bartholomew’s and put to bed. The mayor went there and found him, and had him carried out to the middle of Smithfield and had him beheaded. The mayor had his head on a pole and carried before him to the king at St. John’s Fields.

When the commons saw their chieftain, Wat Tyler, was dead, they fell to the ground like beaten men, imploring the king for mercy for their misdeeds. The king kindly granted them mercy, and then they went home. The king knighted William Walworth. The same day he made three other citizens of London knights for the same reason. These are their names – John Philipot, Nicholas Brymber and Robert Launde. The king gave Sir William Walworth £100 in land, and each of the others £40 in land.

Of course, to some extent, we are all sell outs. So, when we say someone sells out what exactly do we mean? We mean they have a choice. What choices do you have in China? Stand in front of a tank?

There are good professionals of all sorts, often well paid, who contribute plenty to society: doctors, engineers, pilots, architects, researchers, chemists. Do their politics really matter? We need these people. The wealth of a country can be measured by the quality and number of useful, highly educated people it has.

Many honourable liberals fought colonialism the Nazis and apartheid and all forms of injustice, too. They didn’t sell out socialist dreams because they were never socialists in the first place. Liberals have fought for democracy in many places in the world at different times. In contrast, there are quite a few toxic, dogmatic and tyrannically minded people calling themselves socialists who couldn’t give a damn about democracy. Does it matter if they sell out or not?

Ralph Allen

The Bath entrepreneur Ralph Allen is an example of how strategic betrayals are always rewarded. At the age of 24 in 1716, the nosey parker opened a letter from James Paynter and betrayed the Cornish Jacobites. After this, he was awarded contracts to run post offices across England.

In British politics the ‘left wing’ Labour MP, Neil Kinnock convinced Joan Lestor to vote against Tony Benn in the key deputy leadership contest. He helped turned the tide against Benn in 1981 and so Denis Healey got into the Deputy Leadership. Kinnock received a lot of support from the media and won the Labour Leadership after his strategic betrayal. Even the Financial Times can make a clear analogy between the betrayal of Benn by Kinnock and the betrayal of Corbyn by Starmer. ‘Starmer faces his Kinnock moment.’ reads the FT.

Christopher Hitchens is a good example of a successful strategic betrayal. There are intellectuals who play the enfant terrible for a long time, but turncoat at exactly the right moment in order to get maximum advantage. Hitchens was lionised and well rewarded when he supported the Gulf War, praising George Bush and Tony Blair.

Even the Financial Times can make a clear analogy between the betrayal of Benn by Kinnock and the betrayal of Corbyn by Starmer.

The key to a successful strategic betrayal is that you are consequential enough to be in a position to betray trust in the first place. What most of these people are doing is clawing their way into visibility through socialist organisations in order to sell their souls at a profit. It’s important to show your willingness to stab a close left associate from the front or the back. Throw Jeremy Corbyn out of the party. Accuse him of antisemitism despite his reputation for being against all forms of racism. If you want to signal your willingness, demonstrate that you are utterly ruthless.

Once the sell outs have been noticed, they start signaling to the establishment. A For Sale sign lights up. We see this with Labour MPs: they make a little remark defending Israel here. They refuse to criticise US bombing raid there. They make a harsh remark about the current enemy of choice here: Russia, Libya, Syria, The Serbs

Michael White at the Guardian claimed that the explanation is quite the reverse. Benn was not betrayed in 1981, you see, Benn was a purist, an uncompromising ideologue. Benn was not a realist. For Michael White, Benn was a case of the self-styled perfect being an enemy of the good. Michael White, by the way, was the person the Guardian chose to put the pin into Benn after he died.

What the argument for compromise really stands for is the willingness to betray fundamental principles. Anyone arguing for real social justice and redistribution must be sidelined. The sellout, from the days of the abolitionists and before, always labels the reformer and revolutionary as a fantasist and Don Quixote and attacks them for being unrealistic.

Many of the enfant terrible in the left-wing alternative media in 2021 are just people looking for decent, well-paid, secure jobs in journalism.

When the teenager says: ‘I hate you, Mum’ she doesn’t hate her Mum. Not really. We know. The BBC knows, too. Novara Media was careful to be onside when it came to the antisemitism hoopla. Novara Media were signalling.

Novara insults people who deserve to be insulted, like Laura Kuenssberg. In private, many people in British journalism must have the same view of Laura Kuenssberg as Novara. Laura Kuenssberg’s over enthusiastic hatchet jobs on Jeremy Corbyn were not exemplary or balanced, though she was rewarded with the silver chaff of a journalism prize to throw people off.

Ultimately, Kuenssberg’s bias made her useless as a political editor. The BBC held on to her only long enough to save face. She is the equivalent of the manager sent out to fire everyone who is then, herself fired. Novara wasn’t being brave in criticizing Kuenssberg. It was merely boxing clever.

The real function of these seemingly strange and contradictory invitations is to help generate an intellectual immune response to socialist and revolutionary ideas.

A lot of intellectuals are invited to work in US universities despite their left-wing politics. They go, but we all know why. They are hired as a sort of vaccine. They vaccinate the US body politic against radical political analysis and activism. The real function of these seemingly strange and contradictory invitations is to help generate an intellectual immune response to socialist and revolutionary ideas. Slavoj Žižek and others are the political equivalent of the Pfizer vaccine.

But to betray successfully and get rewarded you have to be willing to go the whole hog. If you are merely tricked into changing sides rather than making a full-on strategic betrayal, you won’t be trusted or rewarded.

A good example of this was Clare Short, who was against the war in Iraq. She was the minister for foreign aid in the New Labour government (DFID).

Tony Blair did his best smiling impression of Mephistopheles and offered the good-hearted Clare Short an increased aid budget to help the poor of the world – in return for support for the Iraq War. Short agreed, but almost immediately regretted it.

Short at a rally in Birmingham in January 2009, in support of the people of Gaza, photo Faizan Bhat

Too late! She was then disappeared from media view almost immediately. Instead of the opponents of Blair, like Short, the BBC still constantly serves us up with his supporters, people like the hateful Alister Campbell, that dysfunctional crocodile.

If capitalism could buy everyone out, there would be no contradictions in capitalism. But that’s not the way it works. Capitalism needs to extract labour surplus. It lives for exploitation. It thrives on greater and greater levels of inequality. Corporations are not going to suddenly hire everyone and pay them a decent wage. Forget that. If you think that then you are either a disingenuous fool, or a liar.

Isn’t encouraging systematic strategic treachery the key to the political-philosophical contribution of John Rawls? Wasn’t Thatcher’s shareholder, house owning democracy just that? If you can give just enough people a stake in the continuance of the status quo, the status quo survives. It’s a balancing act. You don’t want to be too generous, but neither do you want to provoke an insurrection.

If capitalism could buy everyone out, there would be no contradictions in capitalism.

An act of strategic betrayal can soon disappear from view and get washed away out of thought and memory, because its result is only the destruction of what might have been. We, the supporters of Jeremy Corbyn and the reforming left in the Labour party are well aware of who betrayed our shared vision of a more equitable society in Britain.

Who knows what might have been?

The Butcher of Poland

by Garry O’Connor

Condemned to death and hanged in 1947, Hans Frank’s public repentance was unique among the leading Nazi criminals tried at Nuremberg. One psychiatrist pointed out Frank’s ‘beatific tranquillity merely hid his own tensions’. But what of such carefully acted out piety? Didn’t this hastily cultivated yet forceful and theatrical piety have something about it which was so patently flimsy compared to the much more formidable integrity and long studied piety of Pope Pius XII?

Both had their roots in South German and Italian theatricality. In the way Frank called attention to himself on every possible occasion he was no ordinary criminal. He was not only criminal in his acts and attitudes, which he acknowledged, but also he flaunted, in an egotistic, nihilistic way, a vanity of evils which today remain a significant part of our culture. Unlike Ribbentrop, who lamented he would never be able to write his ‘beautiful memoirs’, Frank wasted no time during the trial and had gone ahead. He composed his testament, Facing the Gallows, with a dedication from Goethe’s Werther, in quoting from which he subtly changed the wording to serve his self-serving account of ‘former and partial guilt’ – to make it sound as if God endorsed it, which was not in the sense of the original.

And now, faced with execution, commented the much younger but level-headed psychiatrist, Frank really felt spiritually liberated as never before. All he needed was sex, drugs and rock-and-roll, the fresh-faced and pleasant psychiatrist might have commented. His dreams took him ‘beyond the confines of his cell’, he noted. Frank transfixed him. He had not made up his mind as to whether Frank was sincere or not: he recounted that he saw ‘Vast vistas of endless sea, and high mountains of sky….’

Before the trial Frank had dreamed of Hitler, and that made him doubly resolved to take an upright stand and admit common guilt. It was all so realistic. Sometimes he had nocturnal emissions. In one dream he was stood at the seashore watching the waves, and then a girl appeared – he thought it was his daughter – then with the mountains and the yodelling and the vast spaces he awoke with an incredible feeling of emotional relief (this implies it was one of his sex dreams). He went on talking about how independent one could be of the restrictions of the environment if one had inner fortitude.

Unfortunately this Faust had not just an hour but nearly six months to wait in a state of suspended guilt and contrition before the crunch: his stand in the dock. Would he last the course? Would he be able to prove the depth and integrity of true penitence?

How long would it last? And had the lawyer and politician, now still intent on controlling the salvation of his body and soul, finally and forever renounced evil?

Facing the Gallows was later introduced and promoted by Gertrude, his wife, who remained loyal to the spirit of his life. It became a bestseller. Winifred Wagner found his account of Hitler ‘the best character study of Hitler that I have ever read’. It was to win him thousands of posthumous admirers, while some claimed, as one 1952 letter put it, ‘he was a great European in the finest sense of the word’. It was perhaps the beginning of a revisionism which is still a marked part of German culture, most recently in the works of Bernhard Schlink (The Reader).

Hans Frank (1900–46), was a German politician and lawyer, serving as Governor-General of Poland during the Second World War, having fought in the Great War. He studied economics and jurisprudence. In 1921 he joined the German Workers’ Party (which was later the Nazi Party), and became the party’s chief legal counsel and Hitler’s personal lawyer. After the Nazi rise to power in Germany in 1933, Frank was awarded several important posts, including President of the Reichstag and Minister of Justice in the Nazi government. In 1939, after the German invasion of Poland, Frank was appointed Governor-General, becoming the supreme chief of occupied Poland’s civil administration. A proponent of Nazi racist ideology, Frank oversaw the execution of hundreds of thousands of Poles, the confiscation of Polish property, the enslavement of Polish workers, who were then shipped to Germany, and the herding of most of Poland’s Jews into ghettos prior to extermination. Frank remained as Governor-General until the end of the war, although Hitler stripped him of his other posts in 1942. He was captured by US Army troops on 4 May 1945, and was indicted for trial before the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg. He was found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity and on 1 October 1946 was sentenced to hang.

Garry O’Connor has worked as daily theatre critic for the Financial Times, and as a director for the RSC, before he became a fulltime writer. As novelist, biographer and playwright Garry has published many books on actors, literary figures, religious and political leaders, including Pope John Paul II and the Blairs. He has had plays performed at Edinburgh, Oxford, Ipswich, London and on Radio 4, and contributed dramatised documentaries to Radio 3, scripts and interviews for BBC 1, as well as having his work adapted for a three-part mini-series. He has published two works on Hans Frank. His play The Butcher of Poland, published by CentreHouse Press, is available on Amazon Kindle and most other ebook platforms.

Open letter to Nick Bostrom

Never mind existential risk, what are your politics?

An open letter to Nick Bostrom, Director of The Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University

By Phil Hall

Dear Nick,

I think you should be using H. G. Wells’s version of futurology, the one he explores in his book Anticipations and elsewhere and move away from the narrower, logical-philosophical-statistical definition you seem to be relying on at the moment.

H. G. Wells was political!

Are logic and statistics really the correct basis for a useful futurology? Are they sufficient? Of course they aren’t! Not unless to be a Quant is to be a futurologist. Can you really put a more profound discussion of understanding of the nature of human beings and their society and culture in their environment to one side? There is no ceteris paribus here.
Our psychology, shared needs, expectations, values and cultures shape our world, especially in the time of the anthropocene. They do so far more than ‘science’ or ‘technology’.

Science and technology have no agency. They are not independent actors. Developments in science and technology are mere trajectories based on the culture and values of the people who control the development of science and technology. We haven’t reached a stasis where we can make assumptions about what these are and forecast trends based on abstract technocratic principles.

Science and technology have no agency. They are not independent actors.

We haven’t reached the ‘End of History‘. We are living under capitalism, which is full of contradictions. The market rules, which means the rulers of the market rule. It is impossible for people whose principal aim is profit, to harmonise that motive with rational action for the social good. The two forces are incompatible. The interests of the many and the few are irreconcilable. People who are exploited will always rise up together against the people who exploit them. These forces, science and technology, have no agency in themselves. They are the product of our culture and we have the agency.

Zuckerberg’s Meta.

The uses of technology are too unpredictable to extrapolate. Watch Mark Zuckerberg talk about The Meta, his new company. There is nothing new here. In fact, Facebook is also a great place for discussing politics and collaborating and social organising. A new Facebook called Meta will not, primarily, be about gaming or business meetings or hooking up. Gaming, business meetings and hooking up are just the activities that Zuckerberg values. Neither is Facebook simply a ‘social acid’ meant to dissolve opposition to capitalism in consumption and provide the illusion of connection. as Catherine Liu suggests. Facebook is also a catalyst for collective resistance to exploitation – like the telephone.

The job of economics is to make capitalism work. To identify existential risks to capitalism and work around them and make it function better. That’s not your remit.

I do like your analysis and extrapolations. They do provide insights into Artificial Intelligence and existential risk, but they seem bloodless, and abstract to me. Your insights provide a veneer of objectivity to something deeply subjective; individual and social behaviour. The job of economics is to make capitalism work. To identify existential risks to capitalism and work around them and make it function better. That’s not your job. To me, your insights are far too technophiliac and techno-centric.

high angle photo of robot
Photo by Alex Knight on Pexels.com

Where, in your work, is there evidence of a broader concept of futurology that doesn’t make easy assumptions about the nature of people and society? You seem to ignore many of the insights available to society we can find in sociology, history, anthropology, psychology, literature and art? Where is the evidence of any ‘input’ from these disciplines in your techno-centric analysis? You are the director of The Future of Humanity Institute. Before you try to project the future of humanity, define what you mean by humanity. I challenge you.

Where, in your work, is there evidence of a broader concept of futurology that doesn’t make easy assumptions about the nature of people and society?

The greatest power to transform our society and our environment and to direct our efforts comes from our subjectivity not post facto trend analysis. Statistical correlation only has validity when talking about human society when it demonstrates that it understands human society.

If you love nature and animals and people, you protect them and that can shape everything around you. You spend money in a different ways; on hospitals and schools and not on roads and spaceships. That, in turn, affects existential risk and the nature of the AI we develop. And by AI I don’t mean conscious artificial life, simply advanced, autonomous expert systems.

Before you try to project the future of ‘humanity’ into far futures, define what you mean by humanity, I challenge you.

If profit and power are the motivations of the people in charge, technology takes a different route. Futurology for the Soviets or the fascists was not the same as futurology for capitalism or fascism. Politics shapes our world. Yet you present your findings as if they were apolitical. That’s strange. H. G. Wells was highly political. What are your politics? Behind the techncratic facade, your politics shape your version of the future, just as H. G. Wells’ politics shaped his version of futurology.

You are writing your magnum opus. Kindly make your politics explicit in the prologue to that magnum opus.

Kind regards,

Philip R. Hall

Poet of Honour: Christopher Reid

Poet of Honour, an accolade by Ars Notoria and Word Masala Foundation, celebrates our best contemporary poets we should have read by now. They are iconic and a major inspiration.

Christopher Reid and Ted Hughes were good friends. Hughes is a profound influence on my poetics. Even Roger Elkin, another authority on Ted Hughes, did not miss it and wrote to me about it when he published my poem, Bottled Ganges, in Envoi. The point being Reid, when asked if Ted Hughes had any influence on him, replied diplomatically. Hughes had his unique voice, and his poetry demanded of readers to invest in his work. Reid’s poems are way different from Hughes’s. These are readily accessible. The words in his poetry invoke a real airy, sensual presence of images. Only in an award-winning Gujarati artist and poet, Gulam Mohammed Sheikh, I have faced such trickery by words. I find in Christopher Reid, his words also conjure up Sheikh’s magic and deliver us within ‘live’ corporeal distance of images. This is a unique experience in poetry whereby you feel you are virtually touching or experiencing the object. In your transference to the ambience, you are presented with smell, taste and the sensation of touch. For me, cherries have never been the same ever since reading Reid’s poem in The Red Anthology published by Waterstones! Since my son gifted me that volume and I read Reid’s poem, it has deflected me from the bags of season’s late cherries. Is this also the sort of old age Reid talking about in a poem here? Poetry and words, meticulously chosen and deployed, can endow us with some extraordinary experience! In many aspects, the physical invocation I found in those cherries resonates with The Tomato Vine here.

Besides his poems here, please discover Reid as a maestro in his poem ‘Late’, read by Tom Hiddleston (Loki to you):

-Yogesh Patel MBE

Poems by Christopher Reid

The Tomato Vine

red round fruits on tree branch
Photo by Yan Krukov on Pexels.com

The waft, the gasp, a tomato vine releases
each time a fruit is plucked –
in spiciness, akin to the greeting (Hey!)
brushed geranium leaves send up –
brings to my mind the more intricate mind
of George Herbert, who wrote:
Herbs gladly cure our flesh, because that they
                    Finde their acquaintance there.

He had his God, his Church, his herbal lore.
May I, who have none of these,
wish him one thing more:
a tomato vine, new from the Americas.

Let his fingers, putting aside prayer,
enquire along its ramifying green instead,
and let his nose be gratified to find
occasional hidden pungent
detonations of red.

Goats and Ducks  

Man withdraws and Nature enters:
goats and ducks in our town centres
show the way that things might tend
should this quiet time never end.
Following initial urges
to nibble hedges and trim verges,
goats and ducks, firmly in charge,
would then invite wild life at large –
roe deer, fieldmice, eagles, otters –
to join their band of urban squatters
and help to tidy up the mess
we left them in our hopelessness.
A thorough civic revolution
could be both their and our solution.
With this in mind, I wish good luck
to Brother Goat and Sister Duck!

Folk Wisdom

photo of an old man beside lamp
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Older and older
         is a tall order.

A widow’s lot
        is to be forgotten.

Old friends fewer,
       new ones unsure.

Once, letters from abroad,
       now the odd Christmas card.

Pains are sharper
       and hold faster.

Hearing gets harder,
       TV louder.

Tottery steps
      mean a taxi to the shops.

Days are briefer
      as a body grows sleepier.

A son phones, 
     then leaves you more alone.

Yet too soon cometh 
     Doctor Death.

<strong>Christopher Reid</strong>
Christopher Reid

Christopher Reid was born in Hong Kong in 1949. In a career of intermittent employment, he worked for a number of years in publishing, as poetry editor at Faber and Faber, and later, more briefly, as Professor in Creative Writing at the University of Hull. He has written and published more than a dozen books of poems, many for adults, a few for children. His most recent volumes have been Old Toffer’s Book of Consequential Dogs (Faber, 2018), a canine riposte to T. S. Eliot’s Practical Cats; The Late Sun (2020), a poetry collection; and Poems of London (2021), an anthology in Everyman’s Pocket Poets series. Having edited Letters of Ted Hughes (2007), he is currently at work on an edition of Seamus Heaney’s correspondence.

To read poets honoured previously here is a roll call; please click on the name.

George Szirtes

Steven O’Brien

Nick Makoha

Fiona Sampson

Mimi Khalvati

Vijay Seshadri

Pascale Petit

Imtiaz Dharker

Vidyan Ravinthiran

Cyril Dabydeen

Tishani Doshi

Martina Evans

Sinéad Morrissey

Moniza Alvi

Ian Duhig

Raymond Antrobus

Mona Arshi

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