Monday, 14 June 2010

England, My England, Three Cheers for St George

A reader has emailed to say he was surprised to discover I had another blog that I write especially with other gay men and women in mind. He was even more surprised to discover that he 'quite enjoyed reading it. and will do so again.' For anyone else who may be interested, follow the link:

I am proud of being an Englishman and sick of being told I shouldn’t be by the so-called ‘politically correct’ brigade. During the World Cup some households have been flying the flag of St George...but some people have complained, suggesting that it will offend people from ethnic if they don't have teams participating as well as England. Given that St George is also known and respected by Muslims only serves to underline the ignorance of some people.

The poem does not appear in any of my collections so far. It has already provoked some protest emails, one from a Muslim man who implied I am racist and complained that English nationalism makes people like him feel excluded. Well, I don’t think that is anyone’s intention and it’s certainly not mine. As for my being racist, regular readers will know better. I have Muslim friends and others whose culture of origin is homophobic but who have no problem with either my sense of national pride (they cherish their own national/cultural identity) or sexuality.

Regarding social exclusion, I guess gay people have known our share. Yes, things are better now than they used to be...for some of us. Even so, I, for my part, resent the kind of socio-cultural-religious homophobia I frequently encounter from people who choose to live in the UK because it offers them a better deal than their own country yet persist in complaining about our ‘liberal’ way of life; these may well be in a minority, but it is a significant and (very) vocal minority. Sorry, but if they don’t like how we do things in the UK (or the West generally) no one will stop them returning to their own country.


England, my England, where are you now?
Once, I ran in green fields, played conkers
in the school playground with friendly peers
who hadn’t even learned to spell, let alone
discover the meaning of prejudice, bigotry,
racism and homophobia

England, my England, where are you now?
Once I’d shop for sweets in a corner shop
that’s an ugly, costly apartment block now
among other carbuncles that have sneaked
into High Streets and side roads like thieves
in a corporate darkness

England, my England, where are you now?
Once you offered safety in numbers that now
would gobble me up like a swarm of locusts,
forcing an entry to trains, planes and buses,
making it their business to expose my bones
to political scrutiny

England, my England, where are you now
that let ambition get the better of humanity
and now must pay the price for aspiring
to a supremacy sure to be brought down
for its sheer audacity, while (still) declaring
an empathy with globalisation?

England, my England, where are you now
that sucks up to hawks where once it flew
with eagles, leaves crumbs out for doves
where it feasts on cake and caviar, deceiving
itself and all of us who eagerly devour
the latest opinion polls?

England, my England, where are you now?
Falling apart, a unity bought with the blood,
sweat and tears of centuries, even politics
caving in to those who shout the loudest where
this or that smooth tongued religion assumes
the moral high ground

England, my England, my love, pride and joy;
let the locusts feed on me, my spirit dare take
its cue from a bold re-working of our history
into a 21st century that may yet see its crumbs
shared out evenly, a divided humanity declared
its own worst enemy

Where now, once my England, in a world
that’s lost its way?

Copyright R. N. Taber 2009

Sunday, 13 June 2010

The Poet's Song OR On Flushing Out the Devil in the Detail

Update (May 2016): Find below, the link to an interview I gave Benjamin Richter, an international student of Multimedia Journalism at the University of Kent in Canterbury; it was an interesting if a little daunting experience and he has agreed that I can share it with you as a number of readers have expressed an interest in how and why I approach poetry the way I do. Meeting Benjamin was a particularly enjoyable experience as I, too, was a student there some 40+ years ago. The Department of Journalism is based at its Medway campus and Benjamin is currently living in my home town of Gillingham where I was born and lived until I was 14 years-old:  
[NB You may need to copy this link into your browser for it to work.]

The poem below is especially for ‘Steve N’ who first read it in an anthology, The Poetry Now Book of Kennings, Poetry Now, 2001. (Poetry Now is an imprint of Forward Press.) The alternative title was added later.

Glad you enjoyed it, Steve. I also appreciated Steve saying that ‘as someone with many gay friends’ he particularly appreciates my including poems on a gay theme in general collections, alongside poems on various other themes, rather than ‘marginalising’ them in separate gay collections. Other straight readers have also been kind enough to say they enjoy many of my poems, ‘even the gay stuff’. One man wrote in recently to say how the inclusion of a gay section in a collection borrowed randomly by his wife from their local library came as ‘something of a surprise, to put it mildly’ but they enjoyed reading the poems. It appears that he and his wife subsequently had a ‘lively’ discussion about gay issues…which has to be one of the best compliments I have ever received.

Feedback is always welcome, especially along these lines. I suspect a fair percentage of gay readers would agree with another who emailed me to say that ‘gay material deserves its own collection to reflect gay culture.’ Fair enough but, to my mind, ‘gay culture’ implies a degree of separatism. I’m an integrationist.

Whatever, I see myself as no more or less than someone who happens to be gay and subscribes to no particular culture, religion, philosophy or politics. Mind you, I don’t sit on fences either. Well, not to the extent that I am glued to them; I have always been prepared to jump down on one side or the other as and when it seems appropriate. I will always express a point of view while, at the same time, listening for and trying out new voices.


I am a Painter of Dreams,
my brush, a pen – words
all the paint available, tackling
the unassailable to bring within reach
of unquiet heart, restless soul,
images of life and love,
vision of a goal beyond perimeters
of time, space - humanity’s crude
conception of grace

I am a Painter of Dreams,
bringing you mine, intruding
on yours, winging heaven’s
elusive towers that flicker in a mist
of aspiration, inviting inspiration,
daring us to home in, defy
the rude mentality of a classroom
morality - humanity’s crude
conception of spirituality

Look, see hear, taste, touch, smell.
I am a Painter of Dreams, who
means well but often offends
who dare suggest I speak for all
that seek gold where the rainbow ends
for, like Pandora’s Box, our secrets
once let fly - each to their own;
Painter, dreamer, shades of light
or ships in a cruel night

Senses, falling apart at the seams
for a Painter of Dreams

[From: First Person Plural by R. N. Taber, Assembly Books, 2002]