Chris Norris

Chris Norris

Christopher Norris is Distinguished Research Professor in Philosophy at the University of Cardiff. He is the author of more than thirty books on aspects of philosophy, politics, literature, the history of ideas, and music.

Too noxious to endure: two poems on Trump's visit to Britain
Friday, 07 June 2019 16:26

Too noxious to endure: two poems on Trump's visit to Britain

Published in Poetry

A Silence

by Chris Norris

There's words for right and words for wrong,
There's words that give you hope
And words that help you get along
When you can scarcely cope.

There's words that tell of black despair,
Of torment, grief and shame,
And words of love that, unaware,
Convey you're not to blame.

My father faced a living hell
In Burma, World War Two,
But never found the words to tell
What horrors he'd been through.

The fighting talk, the Churchill note,
The passions duly stirred;
The daily letters home he wrote,
Then burned them, every word.

Two decades on it was, and we
Just stood and watched as they,
Those censored sheets we'd never see,
Went their intended way.

It's a cliche, I know: 'just wish
I'd got to know my Dad
But he was so, like, standoffish
I missed what chance I had'.

The words it was that told him: stick
It out, fight the good fight,
Get through this terror-zone, then kick
Word-habits: lips shut tight!

Words failed him in so many ways:
Consigned those Burma years
To the war's margin, filled his days
And nights with nameless fears,

And turned the verbal barrage round
From pointing at 'the Hun'
To the 'red menace' that they'd pound
With word-blitz, bomb and gun.

'Man of few words', the standard tag,
Or 'post-traumatic stress',
Though he'd have been the last to drag
Up stuff like that, I guess.

One thing I know: he'd not have stayed
So quiet when they rolled out
The full red-carpet state parade
On D-Day, just to tout

How close it was, our special tie
To Donald Trump's regime
Of fascist hucksters out to try
Their luck with our home team

Of quislings, place-men, public-school-
Bred demagogues, and all
The hate-filled tabloid hacks who'd fool
Us into playing ball.

If he'd lived on to see what they
Now made of it, not died
Of 'chest complaints' held just at bay
Since Burma, he'd have eyed

Those bastards up and told them: 'you're
The kind we fought back then,
Gut-fascists, Trump's fifth-column corps,
Lord Haw-Haws born again'.

There's things that words just can't describe,
Things so barbaric, vile,
Or hideous that a diatribe
Spews out out like so much bile.

And then there's times when words fall short,
As with some crass event,
Like Trump at D-Day, when a snort
Of rage best says what's meant.

But times there are when words alone
Can break the solitude,
Strike eloquent the silence-prone,
And stem hate's monstrous brood.

 

A Puzzle Solved

by Chris Norris

I tried and tried to figure out
Why Trump's face seemed a blend
Of mouldy orange, childish pout,
And chimpanzee's rear end.

And then I figured: it's that O-
Shaped mouth, that aperture
That, anus-like, emits a flow
Too noxious to endure.

It winks and blinks, and then it speaks
Those words of hate whose stench
Reveals how baby’s nappy leaks
When sphincter fails to clench.

That's what we mean, us folk who think
He’s talking through his arse,
Since how else reckon with the stink
From that foul underpass?

It's his anus mirabilis,
Year of the Spouting Rear,
When every liquid fart says: kiss
My arse, then lend an ear.

For it's not eloquence nor wit
That issues from this small
Round mouth of mine, but fascist shit
Lapped up by lickers all.

rawImage

 

An Election (26th May 2019)
Tuesday, 28 May 2019 14:43

An Election (26th May 2019)

Published in Poetry

An Election (26th May 2019)

by Chris Norris

Time was I clung to the idea
That it was not our style,
That fascist stuff; 'won't happen here,
The folk would run a mile'.

I thought our character showed clear,
Displayed this sceptred isle
As a land free from any fear
That 'hi' might change to 'Heil'.

That seemed to show the world that we're
Not folk you can beguile
By some shift of strategic gear
With new foes to revile,

New 'enemies within' to jeer,
And other ways to trial
The fascist line of yesteryear
On today's rank-and-file.

Think how we raised a wartime cheer
For Winston Churchill while,
Post-war, he'd be out on his ear
And choking on his bile.

We batted back the 'traitor' smear,
Returned it with a smile,
And thought: you types may domineer
But we're the xenophile

World-welcomers whom no frontier
Can henceforth domicile
Within the shit-filled Twittersphere
Where Farage tops the pile.

* * * * *

That's why I took a sanguine view,
Said ours was not the sort
Of country where some newborn crew
Of fascists could import

Old strategies to launch a coup,
Revive the beast we fought
The last time round in World War Two,
And teach what Hitler taught.

But now the fears are coming true,
The lesson's gone for naught,
The bigots and the racists queue
To pay their leaders court,

The tainted tints red, white and blue
Bedeck hate's juggernaut,
And who's to say what we can do
To counter its onslaught?

That's how the Farage movement grew
So fast, and how its short
Though lethal term in office threw
Dark shadow-lines athwart

Those native qualities I knew,
Or made-believe, or thought
Self-evident till I saw through
That 'We're exempt' retort.

For now the truth is out: they too,
Those sober Brits, disport
Themselves in fascist ways and slew
Far right when swine exhort,

When times are hard, when witches'-brew
'Solutions' are most sought,
And when it falls to some last few
Diehards to hold the fort.

 

Letter to Marx on Mayday
Tuesday, 14 May 2019 09:23

Letter to Marx on Mayday

Published in Poetry

Letter to Marx

by Chris Norris

A spectre is haunting Europe – the spectre of Communism. All the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre; Pope and Czar, Metternich and Guizot, French radicals and German police spies. - Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto

The London tomb of German philosopher Karl Marx has been vandalised for the second time in two weeks. The words ‘Doctrine of Hate’ and ‘Architect of Genocide’ were daubed in red on the grave of Highgate Cemetery’s most famous resident. A marble plaque was also smashed up in the ‘senseless, stupid, ignorant’ attack, said the charity which runs the cemetery. - The Independent, February 16th 2019

 When Marx evokes spectres at the moment he analyses, for example, the mystical character or the becoming-fetish of the commodity, we should not see in that only effects of rhetoric, turns of phrase that are contingent or merely apt to convince by striking the imagination . . . . One would still have to reckon with the invincible force and the original power of the ‘ghost’ effect. One would have to say why it frightens or strikes the imagination, and what fear, imagination, their subject, the life of their subject, and so forth, are. Jacques Derrida, Spectres of Marx, trans. Peggy Kamuf

 

Not the first time they've done it, daubed your grave
And headstone with their slogans, nor (I guess)
The last, since what the daubers really crave
Is killing you twice over, just to stress
How dead you are and see that we repress
All thought of you. So they'd ensure there's no
Marx-revenant to spook the status quo.

Can't blame the spray-can mob if they behave
Like manic exorcists afraid you'll mess
With minds and lives or, phantom-like, enslave
Their psyches to the alien duress
Of thoughts long kept at bay yet none the less
Ghost-scripted in advance to overthrow
The staged routines of their ghostbuster show.

No wonder, then, if they unite to stave
Off that Old Mole whose challenge you address
To 'the old powers of Europe', those you gave
Due notice that they'd need to reassess
Their options: hunker down and acquiesce
In old iniquity, or strike a blow
For justice, truth, and how things ought to go!

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Small wonder, too, if commentators rave
About 'the Marxist threat' while some confess,
In mumbling tones, that maybe it's less grave
Than the life-blighting, terminal excess
Of rampant capital, and some say Yes!,
Instead of the ghost-panicked cry of 'No!'
Led by execs from Screw-the-Plebs & Co.

You conjured those old powers in dim conclave,
Pale ghosts of yesteryear in antique dress,
'The second time around as farce', who'd save
Appearances by closing ranks to bless,
Not curse, the heirs of inbred idleness
And unearned wealth whose family fortunes grow
In tandem with the wealth-producer’s woe.

It's all there in your Manifesto, all
The ghost-talk, spooky stuff, and hints of what
Your reader-sleuth, Jacques Derrida, would call
The strange 'hauntology' that keeps your plot
From going stale or turning out to blot
Its future copy-book by offering too
Precise or confident a forward view.

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A brilliant reader and the last to fall
For totalizing tropes, yet maybe not
Alert to how such scruples may forestall
That ringing call-to-arms that hit the spot
With millions, that Exordium that got
Their spirits up and got your message through
As preface after preface joined the queue.

Most likely we were in for the long haul,
You thought, since those in charge were sure to squat
On their ill-gotten gains, hold us in thrall
To their class-laws, keep fixing the jackpot
By new financial instruments, and tot
The profits up for them, the chosen few,
While us wage-slaves had donkey-work to do.

That's why the spectral metaphors enthrall
Those canny exegetes who'd seek a slot
Marked 'radical' or 'Marxist', but with small
Desire to see their prospects go to pot
Through concrete claims, predictions on-the-dot,
Or any realist reckoning where 'true'
And 'false' hold good despite that phantom crew.

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Still it's the daubers on their post-pub-crawl
Defacing binge, or some befuddled sot
Put up to it, who show how you still gall
The queasy consciences of those who'd swat
Your life and work aside as commie rot
Were yours not just the kind of name-taboo
That haunts them like a just-missed rendez-vous.

Yet we've him too to thank, that eagle-eyed
And keen-eared reader, for his curious tale
Of how your friends and foes have always vied
On ground enveloped by a vapor-trail
Of phantoms, ghosts, and such beyond-the-pale
Since immaterial beings as you'd find
Sure signs of an enfeebled state of mind.

Religion: set its comfort-role aside,
Its stock of opiates to countervail
Life’s miseries, and then it’s open wide
(You’d have us know) to Feuerbach’s wholesale
Debunking demonstration of its frail
Since humanly projected, myth-enshrined
Source in the infancy of humankind.

Yet they’ve come back, those figments certified
‘Fake goods’ in your long quest to place the grail
Of social hope where any earthbound guide
Must seek to place it; where succeed-or-fail
Remains an outcome on the human scale
Of making-good and not a scale divined
By occult knowledge, God- or ghost-assigned.

For it’s your ghost the vandals can’t abide,
The thought of you just waiting to regale
Their own and future ages with your tried
And tested theses, concepts fit to nail
Harsh truths the ruling class long sought to veil
By any mystic means, or hide behind
A screen of wish and willfulness combined.

They desecrate your grave because you died
Just once, the headstone shows, so still they quail
Lest you live on through energies supplied
By hopes and fears that tell the vandals they’ll
Forever be re-scheduling your bail-
Conditions if your death’s not underlined
And sealed by spray-can, signature declined.

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All images are taken from I’ll have the Last Laugh Yet! which is available online here or from bookshops for £8.99 plus p&p. 

Mayday poem: The Company Board
Thursday, 02 May 2019 14:45

Mayday poem: The Company Board

Published in Poetry

The Company Board

by Chris Norris

The propertied class and the class of the proletariat present the same human self-estrangement. But the former class feels at ease and strengthened in this self-estrangement, it recognizes estrangement as its own power, and has in it the semblance of a human existence. The class of the proletariat feels annihilated; this means that they cease to exist in estrangement. It sees its own powerlessness and the reality of an inhuman existence.
- Karl Marx

Co-opting an individual usually involves giving him or her a desirable role in the design or implementation of the change. Co-opting a group involves giving one of its leaders, or someone it respects, a key role in the design or implementation of a change. This is not a form of participation, however, because the initiators do not want the advice of the co-opted, merely his or her endorsement.

- Harvard Business Review

Wherever co-determination brings members of works councils still more closely together with management, a new stratum of industrial functionaries to some extent sharing management prerogatives makes its appearance... a privileged upper stratum of the working class.
- Labour Party NEC Report, 1967

 

They asked me to sit on the company board,
To 'make sure that our voices were heard',
Since the rumblings had grown
And we'd hardened the tone
When our overtime pay-and-a-third
Was withdrawn overnight
And they told us outright
Any strike-threats would just be ignored.

It's an old trick you bosses have always preferred
When forced out of your comfort-zone:
If the plebs feel ignored
And your plans are shop-floored
Then just nobble a few of their own
Trusty mates and you'll see.
How the fuss will soon be
Laid to rest and their leaders deterred.

That’s your ruse: tea and biscuits, advise we postpone
The planned walk-out, then say you've explored
Our main points word-for-word
And all present concurred
That there should be some token award,
Some one-off cash bribe
To the rancorous tribe,
Not in justice but goodwill alone.

For we've learned our best lessons at nobody's knee
Except comrades who taught us to fight
By close-watching our bosses,
Discounting our losses
And hoping that things would go right
Should old lessons apply
And they not satisfy
Our demands with a flat guarantee.

So my answer's the same, now as always: 'nice try,
But remember, I'm wise to your wiles.
If you think we'll be stopped
By your plan to co-opt
Me and others with hand-outs and smiles,
Then you've got us wrong-typed
And the smiles may be wiped
Off your corporate face by and by.

You’ll go wrong if you think the way you made your piles –
Like old partners sold out on the sly,
Or some rival waylaid
By a trick of the trade –
Makes an accurate guide to how I
And my mates will respond
If you think we'll be conned
And go down in your 'Problem Solved' files.

For there's nothing we hate like a loyalty betrayed,
Or a union pledge quietly dropped,
Or a management wed
To Old Nick found in bed
With ex-comrades cash-bribed to adopt
The self-same tune you piped,
You smooth-talking, pin-striped
Boss-class sods who thought you had it made.

If I told you there might be inducements beyond
Getting rich or just keeping ahead
Of the next boss in line,
Then you'd tell me that mine
Was some high-minded tosh I'd been fed,
Or some half-witted stuff
For those not bright enough
To make good on their first stock or bond.

So when us lot combine it's to toughen our spine
In ways other than your kind of tough,
To affirm a just cause,
To tear down Tory laws
That give you lot free rein to play rough,
But also to show
Just how well things might go
If you bosses weren’t such bloody swine.

So, my comrades, please know that we needn't kowtow
To the pinstripes or seek their applause
If our attitude's not
Strictly sign-on-the-dot,
Or if there’s a humanity-clause
That declines to equate
Our own optimal state
With a high rate of capital flow.

For if they get their paws on the rights that are yours,
Rights hard-won against devil knows what
Boss-class tactics to throw
Us on Poverty Row,
Then we might as well take what we’ve got,
What we’ve managed to stash
Of small hand-outs in cash,
And have blacklegs patrol the shop-floors.

 Cartoon by Bob Starrett, official cartoonist for the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders Work-In, 1972. Chris Norris's most recent collection, The Trouble with Monsters, is available here.

For Jeremy Hardy
Wednesday, 06 February 2019 09:48

For Jeremy Hardy

Published in Poetry

For Jeremy Hardy (1961-2019)

by Christopher Norris

The only way you can ever accuse a Conservative of hypocrisy is if they walk past a homeless person without kicking him in the face. 

It seems a shallow observation, but . . . . the Tory Conference are not an attractive lot, are they? I mean, if all those people were born in the same village, you’d blame pollution, wouldn’t you?

- Jeremy Hardy

Every so often you'd go off on one,
Some comic spree, some rant untamed
By tact or prudence, but allowed to run
Its course unchecked and shrewdly aimed
At all the follies, lies, good deeds undone
And bad deeds done, the crooks unnamed,
Campaigns of race-hate in the Mail or Sun,
The rich made richer, paupers blamed
For being poor in column-inches spun
By Tory rogues, the famous famed
For infamy, the press reforms begun
Then swiftly dropped, the guiltless framed
While swindlers celebrate a tax-case won
With tax-man help, and those you lamed
Or skewered with a word-cartoonist's pun
That left their public image maimed
And them unable to enjoy the fun
Through witlessness or brain inflamed
By their long pent-up rage at all those un-
Kind taunts for crimes they still disclaimed.
There's bad guys still, but after you there's none
So sure they won't be mocked and shamed,
Caught bloody-handed with a smoking gun,
Or by some Hardy-jest out-gamed.

Shayari: the progressive power of Urdu poetry
Thursday, 24 January 2019 10:18

Shayari: the progressive power of Urdu poetry

Published in Poetry

Shayari

by Christopher Norris

In a Delhi hockey stadium in December, about 100,000 people of various ages, genders, and classes flooded in for two days of poetry, debates, food and calligraphy sessions. It was Jashn-e-Rekhta, a three-day Urdu cultural festival, and its popularity reflects a wider appreciation for Urdu poetry. Shayari, historically associated with the politics of resistance, is experiencing a revival in the face of rising Hindu nationalism in Delhi.

- The Guardian, 11th January, 2019

It's seventy years ago and more
We knocked the Raj for six,
Rose up and showed you Brits the door
For all your knavish tricks.

We settled our historic score
By a well-practised mix
Of old-style liberation war
With new mass politics

On such a scale it wiped the floor
With you lot. Just for kicks
We'd pitch our Hindu gods galore
Against your creed that sticks

To its one God plus hell in store
For us poor heretics
With small room in our oddments drawer
For Christ and crucifix.

That's where the poetry comes in,
The Urdu kind they call
Shayari, with its liberal spin
On credal stuff, its all-

Sorts god-squad, lack of zeal to win
More converts, love of small
Observances, and sense that sin
Goes deepest when we fall

For big ideas. Then we begin
To live our lives in thrall
To loons and bigots as we pin
Our faith on the cabal

Of those who make the loudest din
Though love begs we forestall,
Through Shayari, the kind of tin-
Eared rant that sparks a brawl.

It's plural, polyphonic, not
The kind of preachy style
That tries to get you thinking what
They're thinking all the while.

That's why it makes you feel you've got
To go the extra mile,
Pull dogma down, and have the lot -
All creeds and values - pile

Right in and put you on the spot,
Thinking how versatile
We are, we Hindus. We've a slot
For every god on file,

And no desire for some big shot
To bless or to revile
Those variants of the master-plot
No creed can reconcile.

But now we've Modri's BJP,
His far-right thuggish crew
Of Hindu nationalists who agree
That nothing else will do,

That only Hindus should be free
To have a point of view,
Since they alone possess the key
To all that's good and true.

Muslims and Christians they decree
Unfit to lick the shoe
Of anyone who bends a knee
To Modi's retinue.

It's pogrom, strife or killing-spree,
The goal his goons pursue,
With mindless unanimity
The flashmob-bonding glue.

So it's no wonder Shayari's
Got this big role to play,
This power to fight the same disease
We fought, back in the day,

When British nabobs came to seize
Our wealth, us easy prey,
And taught their bag of tricks to these
New leaders gone astray.

Shayari brings no guarantees,
Just clues along the way,
And no death-threats should you displease
The one God they obey.

Urdu, not Hindi, helps appease
Old grievances and lay
The lingering ghosts whose harsh decrees
Preach vengeance come what may.

It's the home-tongue of many, known
To Muslims in the main,
But in the Hindustans a zone
Apart where poets gain

A sense of all that's theirs on loan,
Not theirs by that old bane
Of language-lore, the will to own
By rights some proper strain

Of poet-speech. A lordly tone,
With priestly sect in train
To castigate the error-prone,
Goes clean against the grain

Of Urdu Shayari and the bone
It picks with all who'd feign
God's voice for edicts far outgrown
Once poets tap that vein.

A Day's Work
Monday, 15 October 2018 10:18

A Day's Work

Published in Poetry

A Day’s Work

by Chris Norris

Will not even the massacre of children in Yemen end the silence over the murderous complicity of the British government? They were little kids on a bus on the way back from a picnic, no doubt laughing and raucous as large groups of children tend to be, and then they were burned to death. At least 29 children were among the 43 slaughtered, an atrocity perpetrated by the aircraft of Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies.

Consider Britain’s role. According to the Campaign Against Arms Trade, our government has supplied the grotesque Saudi dictatorship with £4.7bn worth of arms since the war in Yemen began. Just months ago it feted the Saudi dictator Mohammed bin Salman: unveiling a joint £100m aid deal, granting this tyranny humanitarian PR, while BAE Systems announced the sale of another 48 Typhoon jets. It gets worse: British military personnel are directly involved in helping the Saudi war effort – to what extent remains intentionally murky.

- Owen Jones, The Guardian, August 10th 2018 

The U.K. government’s attempts to protect weapon sales to the Saudis are unsurprising given the numerous ties that BAE Systems, which holds a ‘near-monopoly position’ in the U.K. defence industry, has to the U.K. political establishment. Chief among these ties is BAE’s link to U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May, whose husband and close political adviser, Philip May, works for the Capital Group, BAE’s largest shareholder and thus the largest beneficiary of the company’s arms sales abroad.

- Whitney Webb, MintPress News, May 2nd 2018

He's back, your Dad, back home from work, so go
And hug him, then make sure to say
How nice it is to see
Him home, and hope things went OK,
And how you love him, just to let him know.

Remember: please don't ask again what he
Does daily, how he earns his pay,
Or what he has to show
For all those long hours he's away
While we wait home for him, us three.

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For then he'll think you're trying to replay
That ugly scene not long ago
When he was on TV
And those protesters sank so low
As to yell 'How many kids d’ya kill today?’.

They'd Googled him, found he was CEO
Of British Aerospace, which they
Instantly took to be
Their all-time big chance to waylay
The monster and upend the status quo.

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'What's your reply?', they'd say, 'what lies d'you tell
When your kids want to know which line
Of work you're in, or where
You got the money for that fine
Sharp suit and car that show you're doing well.

Or maybe they don't ask you because they're
Afraid to know, afraid to dwell
On what might undermine
Their rosy view of you and spell
A truth too hard for those young souls to bear.

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Or else, perhaps they know but want to shine
In Dad's fond eyes so try to share
Your pride in arms you sell
To vile regimes with not a care
How many kids must die so your kids dine,

How many men and women go through hell
On earth so you've a chance to sign
More contracts and declare,
As ever, that you must decline
All questions aimed to ring a conscience-bell.

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Us, we're the tiresome kids you never had,
The ones who won't shut up, like those
Tame interviewers, or
The ministers who hold their nose
When the next shipment goes off to Rhyadh.

We'll give them evidence they can't ignore,
Your kids, and make them see their Dad
Minus his usual pose
As one who can do nothing bad
Since merely servicing another's war.

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As if to say: when people come to blows
And someone flogs them guns galore
Where fists were all they'd had
To beat each other up before,
Then there's no blaming him for all their woes.

One day they'll find out how you made your pile,
Those kids of yours, and think the worse
Of ignorance-is-bliss
Parental tricks that let them nurse
Their frail illusions for a little while.

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Perhaps they'll wish they'd had the luck to miss
That TV footage, ostrich-style,
Or, failing that, rehearse
Some way to keep a truth so vile
From dragging them into your own abyss.

More likely they'll be eager to disperse
The shades, forget your bedtime kiss,
Refuse to reconcile
Across the years, and think just this:
It’s kids you killed, not us, with cause to curse.

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To the Wrong-Siders
Tuesday, 09 October 2018 12:24

To the Wrong-Siders

Published in Poetry

To the Wrong-Siders

by Chris Norris

There is something in human history like retribution; and it is a rule of historical retribution that its instrument be forged not by the offended, but by the offender himself. The first blow dealt to the French monarchy proceeded from the nobility, not from the peasants. The Indian revolt does not commence with the ryots, tortured, dishonoured and stripped naked by the British, but with the sepoys, clad, fed and petted, fatted and pampered by them.

The Tories in England long imagined that they were enthusiastic about monarchy, the church, and the beauties of the old English Constitution, until the day of danger wrung from them the confession that they are enthusiastic only about ground rent.

- Karl Marx

dave simonds cartoon on b 001

You've got the dosh, you bankers, but we've got
The hands-on savvy, things we've learned
The tough way, both by catching up with what
Marx had to say, and by hard-earned
Experience; stuff you do, you banker lot,
But seem routinely unconcerned
To figure out because the master-plot
You bank on might be overturned
If word got round and we were primed to spot
The hedge-fund hikes, the bridges burned.

new cabinet

You politicians, you with lots of clout
Who fix things, line your pockets, lie
To save your skins, boss everyone about
Except the boss-class; by-and-by
We're going to kick you scheming bastards out
Because we’ve figured how and why
You came to pull that con-trick off without
Sufficient brain-power to apply
For any sort of job save lobby-tout
Or weapons salesman on the sly.

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Then there's all the arms-business CEOs
In league with you who'll trade
With any blood-crazed tyrant (lots of those
Around just now) or any renegade
Regime so long as it's a deal that goes
To further swell the pile you’ve made
From conflicts stoked and armed by devil knows
What back-hand bribes, and with the aid
Of ministers not anxious to disclose
How life-style so outstrips pay-grade.

Trump Inauguration NH 25

We'll hunt you down and then we'll make you pay,
All you sharp-suited types who kill
Or maim kids by the dozen every day
When missiles miss, as missiles will,
Yet put your own kids off the scent when they,
As children do, attempt to fill
The day-job details in: you'll hardly say
'Well, kids, I have this special skill
At mechanized mass-murder, so hooray,
There's always lots more blood to spill!’

anti corbyn tabloids

And then you tabloid journalists, you scum
Who thrive, dung-beetle-like, on fare
Most readers puke at; one day soon we'll drum
You out, announce you've done your share
Of harm already with your drive to dumb
The issues down, so best prepare
To keep the peace, keep noses clean, keep mum,
Or maybe even show you care
By blowing Murdoch Inc to kingdom come
With inside knowledge if you dare!

5a61c99ffc7e939a2a8b4567

And what’s to say of you, you Eton-bred
And Oxbridge-educated thick
Rich heirs of rank or privilege who head
For a safe seat, then take your pick
Of cabinet posts, and then go off to bed
With racist nut-jobs keen to kick
The migrants out, deport all Muslims, shred
The social contract, and – to tick
Your last box – have the tabloids seeing red
Should broadsheets ridicule your schtick.

LAzy academic

You academics, don’t imagine you’ll
’Scape whipping or get off the hook,
No matter if you did some out-of-school
Campaigning stuff, or sometimes took
Time off ‘research’ to join a march, retool
Your own self-image, cock a snook
At campus activists or, height of cool,
Now dedicate your latest book
To all those comrades, past and present, who’ll
Find faults they’ll kindly overlook’.

old new labour

And lastly you, the mischief-making clan
Of old New Labour types who've had
A spell in office, sold out, and now plan
Your comeback with some tips to add,
Like ‘send the unions packing when you can’,
‘Keep business sweet’, ‘be quick to glad-
Hand CBI chaps’, and ‘make sure to pan
Those Trots or Corbynistas mad
Enough to still keep faith with what began
When have-nots twigged why times were bad’.

So you're the bunch lined up to get the boot
First off when crunch-time comes, when it's
A case no longer of which lies best suit
Your purpose, or which scam best fits
Your game-plan, but of finding out a route
From what’s long kept us in the pits
Of hope betrayed where slogans substitute
For action to what finally permits
The struggles of the past to bear late fruit
Before the fascist backlash hits.

You’ll need some help, so here’s a few quick tips:
Get out more, change friends, get street-wise,
Read Marx, keep watching politicians’ lips
(They move? You’ll know they’re telling lies),
Learn dialectics, note stock-market dips,
Ignore what trusty guides advise,
Stay tuned, forget old maxims, get to grips
With false ideas, and analyze
Your preconceptions lest they should eclipse
The light that newly strikes your eyes.

Of course we offer no firm guarantees
You’ll make the grade: you may just lack
The brains, or stamina, or want to please
Your latest boss, or soon head back
To old thought-habits, or mislay the keys
Marx gave you, or just fail to crack
The codes that let our class-oppressors seize
Their chance to cultivate the knack
Of catching us in weaknesses like these
That throw us constantly off track.

Yet, not to be excluded, there’s the small
But crucial room for choice by grace
Of which you chronic loiterers might haul
Yourself out of the limbo-space
Where you’ve so long consented to play ball
With fools and rogues. So learn to face
This simple truth: that when the empires fall,
From Rome to Wall Street, there’s no place
For those who hang on till the curtain-call,
With options open just in case.

 Cover Stefan Siegert laughing Marx resized1

 The above image is by Stefan Siegert. It's called Laughing Marx and is on the cover of I’ll have the Last Laugh Yet!,  available online or from bookshops for £8.99 plus p&p.

Bertolt Brecht Offers Advice to Waverers about Attending the Great Anti-Trump Demonstration (London, July 13th, 2018)
Friday, 22 June 2018 22:29

Bertolt Brecht Offers Advice to Waverers about Attending the Great Anti-Trump Demonstration (London, July 13th, 2018)

Published in Poetry

Bertolt Brecht Offers Advice to Waverers about Attending the Great Anti-Trump Demonstration (London, July 13th, 2018)

 by Chris Norris

You say: ‘it’s not my business, my concern,
Nothing to do with me. My vote
Went to the good guys, those who’d turn
The horror-show around’ – I quote
Your own words back at you – ‘and spurn
This monster Trump’. But that, please note,
Is just the opposite of what we learn
From the last time they pushed their boat
Way out, those fascists, while we chose to burn
The one frail craft that stayed afloat
Till its name ‘socialism’ sank astern
And Hitler had us by the throat,
Us Germans. So don’t kid yourselves: you’ll earn
No thanks if your Trump antidote
Is that old ‘30s nostrum, ‘just adjourn
Things till they find some new scapegoat’.

CN trump pome

You tell me he, the monster, has his friends
And allies in your country, quick
To jump aboard the Zeitgeist as it tends
Once more to swing far-right and tick
All boxes on their list. How soon it ends,
That swing, depends on how you pick
Your moment, see which course it recommends
By way of strategy, and stick
Together till some twist of fortune sends
The monster close enough to kick
Its teeth in. If such vulgar talk offends
Your bourgeois-liberal ears, then flick
Back eight decades: thinking of Hitler lends
The mental jolt it takes to click
And really grasp what Devil’s dividends
Accrue when good folk miss a trick.

CN Trump pome 2

My point: you have that chance, don’t let it go.
The monster’s fellow-monsters thought
It high time to invite him over, so
Make sure it doesn’t go for naught,
That lesson from the past. It serves to show
What happens when those folk who ought
By rights to rise en masse and strike a blow
For liberty sit back and thwart
All plans to give some tyrant the heave-ho
Through mere inaction. Blame their short
Attention-span, their wishing to lie low
Where risk’s involved, or just the sort
Of knack we have for feigning not to know
When there’s some Trump-type juggernaut
Ahead. One thing’s for sure: the status quo
Won’t long maintain your life-support.

CN pome trump 4

So now you’ve got this bunch of quisling Brits,
These fools and rogues in government,
Who’ve sold out to the monster, as befits
Their monstrous natures, sent
Our old friends packing, torn up any bits
Of customs-law that can’t be bent,
Dragged parliament and country through the pits
Of Trump-style racist hate-talk, spent
Two years in vain attempts to call it quits
With wiser allies who’d prevent
This looming shipwreck, done the moral splits
With every thug or dodgy gent
From sundry vile regimes, and – hypocrites
Unmatched - made sure that, if things went
Off-track, they’d have their own skin-saving kits
And thus no real cause to repent.

CN Trump pome 3

The Brexit scam, Trump’s visit – just in case
You’ve not caught on, they’re intertwined
At every checkpoint in the global race
For some ‘new order’ of the kind
That our flag-waving Brexiteers embrace,
Along with all the millions blind
To what’s afoot. Once more, they dare to base
Their claim on ethnic grounds combined
With junk-Romantic crap like ‘spirit’s place
Of earthly dwelling’, redefined
In racist terms. That’s what you’ve got to face,
You waverers, and get behind
This bid to occupy the fight-back space
Our craven parliament’s consigned
To Trump’s fifth-columnists. Let their disgrace,
Not yours, be always kept in mind!

CN pome TAT

King Lear and the Fool in the Storm by William Dyce
Wednesday, 13 June 2018 16:32

Tragedy: a caution from Brecht

Published in Poetry

Tragedy: a caution from Brecht

by Chris Norris

Our representations of human social life are designed for river-dwellers, fruit farmers, builders of vehicles and up-turners of society, whom we invite into our theatres and beg not to forget their cheerful occupations while we hand the world over to their minds and hearts for them to change as they think fit.
- Bertolt Brecht, Brecht on Theatre, ed. Willetts

Great theoretical obstacles prevent us from recognising that the concreteness with which life is depicted in Aristotelian drama (drama which aims to produce catharsis) is limited by its function (to conjure up certain emotions) and by the technique this requires (suggestion), and that the viewer thus has a stance imposed on him (that of empathy) which prevents him readily adopting a critical attitude to the things depicted.
- Brecht, Journals, ed. Rorrison and Willetts

Before you talk of 'tragedy', just think:
It goes right back to Ancient Greece,
To Oedipus and all
Those boneheads who
Brought upsets sure to call
Down retribution without cease
Even to the umpteenth generation, link
By bloody link, till civil peace
Required that empires fall,
That heroes stew
In their own juice or haul
Themselves offstage for a short lease
Of fate-tormented life. So, in a blink,
You've got the gist: it's sheer caprice,
The way things go in small
With folk like you
And me or states in thrall
To divine wrath. So why increase
The sum of woes by kicking up a stink
With social change your Golden Fleece,
Or your device to stall
Word getting through
That though you won't play ball
Just yet the cost of your set-piece
Display's to boost the stock of Creon Inc?

My point: that tragic stuff's a clear non-starter
If what you really want’s to bring
Real change about and smash
The bourgeois state,
Not just to tap a cache
Of maudlin sentiments. They ring
True only if you're keen to give your heart a
Quick tug at every feeling-string
That answers to the trash
Put out as bait
For fools with each rehash
Of some old plot. The tragic thing
Is just their age-old need to play the martyr,
Enjoy vicarious suffering,
And relish how the clash
Of love and hate
In rival clans can dash
A glorious career and fling
It on the pile of heroes whose life-data
Involve just that which has them swing
From high to low, then crash
As gods or fate
Prescribe. They cut a dash,
Those tragic figures, but they spring
From dullard stock: good comedy's much smarter!

It's that ‘catharsis’ notion we should blame,
That Aristotle-backed idea
Of tragedy as what
Requires a well-
Designed dramatic plot
To generate 'pity and fear'
In a well-tempered audience. They'll tame
At one remove the wild career
Of passions that are not,
As primers tell,
Allowed to grab a spot
Stage-centre lest such violence steer
The soul on stormy sea-tracks apt to claim
More victims. Better they appear
As just 'our human lot'
In forms that swell
With pathos yet have got
Nothing of use to say when we're
On strike, or unemployed, or blind and lame,
But don't need Oedipus or Lear
To tell us just how hot
The inner hell
Of lives long gone to pot
For reasons squarely in the sphere
Of politics, beyond that tragic frame.

It makes you think, rage, argue, answer back!
That's why a comic twist best goes
With taking Marx to heart
About the need
To change things, not let art
Or art-talk lead us by the nose
So we make up in chatter what we lack
In will-to-change. All that high shows
Of tragedy impart
Is a fool's creed
That puts the feeling-cart
Before the action-horse and throws
The glove in sooner than defy the pack
Of moralising frauds or those
Whose sermons always start
And end up keyed
To narratives that chart
The self-same tale. Its downbeat close
Is meant to show how tragic odds just stack
Up steadily like hammer-blows
That no-one can outsmart
Since they exceed
The power of life or art
To hold at bay. It's fate bestows
All weal or woe: ours just to take the flak!

A stupid doctrine, surely you'll agree,
And one that just might tell us why
A so-called tragic play
Like 'Hamlet' had
Its audience making hay
And prone to split their sides, not cry,
When viewed by Soviet workers brought up free
Of bourgeois notions. So this guy,
This Hamlet, with his way
Of acting mad
Through having lots to say
About himself they'd classify
As clown, as joker, one the bourgeoisie
Might count the pinnacle of high
(Since tragic) art, while they,
An audience glad
To find such stuff passé,
Could give the comic side a try.
They’d set their more inventive wits to see
What novel tactics might apply
In order to convey
How such a sad
Though risible display
Could yet be made a means whereby
The tragic’s stripped of bourgeois dignity.

That's why I say leave tragedy alone,
Or anyway make sure you treat
It with the cheerful kind
Of insolence
That comes of wit combined
With tactics picked up on the street.
Such ploys are best, most intimately known
To those whose long tale of defeat
In the class-wars may find,
At times, a sense
Of clouds still dark yet lined
With silver. That’s why they can greet
The tragic ethos of high hopes long flown
With comic strategies to cheat
The fate of lives consigned
To impotence
By the same turn of mind
That led those dumb-clucks to repeat
The Attic horror-show. So they'd atone
For deeds enacted in the heat
Of passions mute and blind
Whose recompense
Required the double-bind
Of guilt pre-rigged to have us beat
Until the tragic mode’s one we’ve outgrown!

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