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.

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


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.


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.

CN melbourne3 1

'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.

CN 500 hours Typhoon16 9

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.

CN mays and trumpsDh7xYElXUAAiNZS 450x293

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.

CN bombing

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.

CN YemenFlyBombsAhmedJahafdigital2016copy

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.

 CN 9d85ef96a7a94ba28ef02dfac1f70927 18

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.


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!


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!

To My Wife, from an Israeli Gaol
Monday, 21 May 2018 09:12

To My Wife, from an Israeli Gaol

Published in Poetry

To My Wife, from an Israeli Gaol

by Chris Norris

'She kept saying: “You have to go. You have to go”', recalled one aunt, Ahlam, 30. ‘She was the most dedicated of all of us.’
Wesal, 14, was shot dead on Monday, one of more than 60 people killed as Israeli snipers fired on protesters. The teenager has left behind a family who are grieving, but who also feel purpose in their loss.‘Now she is dead, I’m ready,’ said another aunt, Anwar. ‘After what she did, we are not afraid.’
- The Guardian, May 19th 2018

I don't know what to do, dear heart,
I don't know what to say.
It's just that when those settlers start
Bad-mouthing us I stay
And bad-mouth back, or else take part
In stone-fights, like the day
Last year when bits of martial-art
Bravado let me play
The hero and appear street-smart.

But that was months ago, my dear,
When things were bad but not
As bad as now. Months on, I fear,
The toll of all those shot
And killed or maimed will mean that we're,
As per their master-plot,
A remnant doomed to disappear
From this old trouble-spot
With just the rubble left to clear.

They use live bullets on us now,
Live rounds designed to kill
As many as their 'rules' allow,
Those rules that let them spill
Our blood as fast as they can plough
It back beneath the hill
Of our wrecked homes. And yet, somehow,
It reaffirms our will
That no one break the Nakba vow.

My dear, such things I've seen that it's
As much as I can do
To grasp how readily this fits
With all that we've been through
These seven decades; how it commits
Us fighters to pursue
The path that most directly pits
A cause both just and true
Against the next live-bullet blitz.

For I've now witnessed genocide
As the unspoken plan
For stretching Israel's borders wide
So that our dwindling clan
Might lay their nationhood aside
And finish what began
In turf-wars duly sanctified
By taking the Koran
Or the Old Testament as guide.

But argument's no use when they're
Dead-set on just the same
Brute tactics as were brought to bear
Against them in the name
Of a Volk who refused to share
The land with those who came
Of ‘alien stock’ so must go where,
As here in Gaza, shame
And suffering are their daily share.

The Warsaw Ghetto: that's the place
That always comes to mind
When each new grab for living-space
Leaves other folk confined
To the fast-tightening embrace
Of borders watchtower-lined
And justified on grounds of race,
Or creed, or claims enshrined
In some scriptural database.

And so they drive us, ever more
Grief-toughened, out to meet
The wire, the guns, the daily score
Of deaths, the forced retreat,
And this new bloodbath of a war
That sets us Gaza street -
Trained skirmishers to face, offshore
And inland, those elite
Shock troops with weaponry galore.

So what else should we do against
These Axis powers – US
And Israel – that have us ring-fenced
On every side, and press
So hard on us that we're incensed
Enough to turn distress
Into the rage of victims tensed
In pogrom-readiness
For harms that can't be recompensed.

One thing I know: we'll not be done
With fascism in all
Its protean forms till we've begun,
Backs hard against the wall,
To lift our gaze from the short run
And look to the long haul
When every lying tale they've spun
Becomes a conscience-call
For David's stone against Goliath's gun.


Poets, jump the class divide! Dark Times Revisited
Tuesday, 15 May 2018 10:30

Poets, jump the class divide! Dark Times Revisited

Published in Poetry

Image: Côr Cochion Caerdydd (Cardiff Reds Choir), have raised their voices in song, campaigning for peace, freedom and justice.

Dark Times Revisited

by Chris Norris

Oh why do we not say the important things, it would be so easy, and we are damned because we do not. - Bertolt Brecht, ‘Song About My Mother’

Singers, d'you think Bert Brecht was left tongue-tied
When asked, 'In these dark times just what
Have we to sing about?', and he replied
'About the dark times, you sad lot!

Make that your theme and you’ll be bona fide,
Since then the coin will drop: you’ve got
To change your tune, come out on the right side,
And now get real, like it or not.

You poets too: take Heine as your guide,
Kick Rilke out, prepare to blot
Your lyric book, help turn the fascist tide
By giving truth your last, best shot.

That way, with luck, you'll jump the class-divide
Before the system goes to pot
And not have all the comrades asking why'd
That fellow-traveller lost the plot?

Old clever-clogs Adorno (can't abide
His kind of high-falutin' rot)
Says poetry post-Auschwitz ought to hide
Its face and now yield up the spot

Where poems once assumed generic pride
Of place. His point, in short: it’s not
Ethically thinkable for those clear-eyed
About the Holocaust to trot

Out yet more poems after genocide
On that scale. Yet there's still a slot,
A good-faith role, for poetry applied
To making plain what they forgot,

Those lofty lyricists, or simply shied
Away from since it seemed too hot
For them to handle. Such self-occupied,
Self-serving stuff's exactly what

Strikes ears more finely tuned as open wide
To Heimkehr tropes the Rilke-swot
Takes broodily to heart. It's that bromide
Turns poet-activist to poet-sot!’


Poetry on the Picket Line

Windrush: a reckoning
Wednesday, 09 May 2018 21:22

Windrush: a reckoning

Published in Poetry

Windrush: a reckoning

 by Chris Norris

 On 18 October 2017, Wilson was detained at the Wolverhampton Home Office reporting centre where she had been reporting on a fortnightly basis since August 2015. She was put in a vehicle that reminded her of a ‘meat van’, because it had no windows, and taken to Yarl’s Wood for six days; she says this was the worst experience of her life.

She called her daughter from the detention centre and cried uncontrollably down the line. ‘I said: “Get me out of here, Natalie, please get me out of here”.’ After six days she was put in another van, and when she got out she realised she was being taken to a building next to Heathrow airport; she was told that she would be put on a plane the next day.

It was only at the last minute that she was released, given a travel warrant for train tickets and let out to make her way back to Wolverhampton. ‘The planes were taking off over my head; I had to put my hands to my ears because of the noise’, she said. - The Guardian, May 5th, 2018


The good ship Windrush brought us here,
Seven decades back and more.
They greeted us with many a cheer,
With ‘Welcome’ flags galore.

The Windrush docked at Tilbury pier,
The news had gone before.
Our lives ahead shone bright and clear
With jobs and hopes in store.

Yes, we had lots of things to fear,
We travellers knew the score,
The smile that hid the racist sneer,
The threat you can't ignore.

We'd left behind our homeland dear
To cross a foreign shore,
A flag-adorned yet strange frontier
Like a half-opened door.

We'd known them long enough to know
Their double-dealing ways,
Those crafty Brits who'd run the show
Since old colonial days.

We knew they'd got us over so
We'd help with some new phase
Of labour-shortage, plus the glow
Of public pride we'd raise.

Besides, we knew how touch-and-go
It can be when some craze
Like that wears off, or jobs don't grow
And we're put out to graze.

Then it would be a case of slow
Boat home, or seeking stays
Of judgment while the call to throw
Us out hit law's delays.

Yet now what strikes me, looking back
Across those seven decades,
Is just how long they took to crack
Down on us renegades.

For that's their chief line of attack,
The endless press tirades
By every soul-corrupted hack
Who'll dish the dirt in spades.

Still they held off, that Tory pack,
For so long that the shades
Of prison lifted till our lack
Of papers struck their aides.

Then it became their task to track,
Through spying and dawn raids,
The hundreds who'd soon get the sack
From their long-serving trades.

Those seven decades: a time of grace
They've come to seem when viewed
By those, like us, who've had to face
The witch-hunt that ensued.

For now it's hostile looks in place
Of feigned solicitude,
And Tory placemen keen to chase
Out migrants they once wooed.

This whole land seems a holding-space
Where we've long sat or queued
While some weird Kafkaesque court-case
Takes lifetimes to conclude.

Maybe they planned it from first base,
Those bureaucrats who screwed
Things up by wiping out all trace
Of our old Windrush brood.

Or maybe there were decent guys
In the Home Office then
Who'd not destroy our family ties
With one stroke of their pen.

But now they're planning our goodbyes,
Those brutal-hearted men,
As if it was their greatest prize
To send us back again.

They think the moral law applies
To human beings when
They're British-born but can't arise
For folk classed ‘alien’.

So their big project’s to devise
A native regimen
Where those born under foreign skies
Are deemed an allergen.

women nurses

No thought those politicians spare
For all the time we've been
Your porters, nurses, respite care
Providers, folk who clean

For you, bus-drivers, car repair
Men, ambulance-men, canteen
Staff, railway workers, below-stair
Domestics, skilled machine-

Tool operators, firemen, fare-
Collectors, cooks, routine
Home-visitors, and our fair share
Of writers, teachers, screen-

Familiars, voices known on-air
From far back, and their teen-
Age grandkids rapping songs that bear
The mark of years between.

It's you, the politicians, whose
Destructive hand we see
At work each time the morning news
Repeats our Windrush plea.

Why bring us here, it says, why schmooze
Us with your oratory
And tempt us on that cut-price cruise
To shame and poverty?

Why, decades on, decide to use
Your utmost powers so we,
Your guests, should feel the tightening screws
Crush out our life-debris?

And if, back then, we'd read the clues
On that Tilbury quay
Who knows which future life we'd choose,
Which hostile fate we’d flee?

CN Yarls Wood Pic Darren Johnson

'Structures don't take to the streets!' May '68: a structuralist riposte
Wednesday, 25 April 2018 09:32

'Structures don't take to the streets!' May '68: a structuralist riposte

Published in Poetry

May ’68: a structuralist riposte

by Chris Norris

A cloud no bigger than a man’s hand crosses the English Channel from Paris, and then, in an instant, the trees, the orchard, the hedgerows, the field of wheat, are black with locusts. When at length they rise to fly on to the next parish, the boughs are bared of all culture, the fields have been stripped of every green blade of human aspiration; and in those skeletal forms and that blackened landscape, theoretical practice announces its ‘discovery’: the mode of production. - E.P. Thompson

‘Structures don’t take to the streets!’ - graffito on wall of the Sorbonne, May 1968

OK, point taken: it's not 'on the street'
You'd find them, all those 'structures' that we went
On endlessly about till soixante-huit
When we skulked in our academic tent
(Or so the story goes). We'd failed to meet
Our one great chance and challenge heaven-sent
To end the left's two-centuries-long defeat
By making good the two decades we'd spent
On theory-talk.

perpignan 1 2

Small wonder should they greet
Us lot, those militants, with slogans lent
An added force by dint of our elite
Normalien credentials, native bent
For high-flown chat, and tendency to treat
The world as theory's oyster. We'd frequent
Only those streets (they said) where a discreet
Escape-route helped us twisters circumvent
Our own past calls to action. Then some neat
Debating-trick did service to augment
Our cultural capital, and take the heat
Off any failings that we might repent
Were they not wiped clean from our record-sheet
By the fine structuralist expedient
Of counting subjectivity a cheat
That's foisted on us when we represent
Ourselves as 'free'.

La liberté est le crime qui contient tous les crimes

Thus all our thoughts repeat
The lie that has us willingly assent
To ideology's absurd conceit
Whereby the hoodwinked subject rests content
With a fake ‘freedom’ that would have him beat
Its own unyielding bounds. How orient
Ourselves to action if the driver's seat
Of willed intent contains a subject pent
By structures that perpetually secrete
The solvent of each self-constituent.

That's the idea: that all those Althusser-
Primed theorists could do, faced with the May
Événements, was to disown all share
Of agency, urge strikers to delay
That premature revolt, and so declare
The present conjoncture not one that they
Could possibly endorse. Then they'd compare
The current prospects with the grisly way
Things go whenever passions start to flare
And, as so many times before, betray
The white-hot zealots to the black despair
That comes of hopes and dreams long kept at bay
By the same powers that soon must conquer their
Ill-timed charade.

18418534 5MLIV

                   Yet I'd still say,
All these years on, that you'd best spare
Us street-averse soixante-huitards your pay-
Back accusations of our taking care
To hide ourselves behind a great array
Of abstract propositions framed to bear
Whatever weight of evidence might fray
Our threadbare theory-hope. It's you who err
Most grievously if you take that cliché,
'No structures on the streets', as if to square
Accounts with real-world history and play
The role of less-deceived. Who more aware
Than us how world-events will often stray
Far wide of anything that the armchair
Philosopher might dream hors de mêlée
Since structures don't emerge out of thin air
But just when subjects meet the come-what-may.

a cause indifference generale

Quick recap for the faint of heart or weak
Of memory: 'structure' signified the site
Of struggle, contestation, and critique
Where subjects found a leverage-point despite
Appearances. It seemed to show a bleak
Since language-based determinism quite
Devoid of all idea that we might speak,
Act, criticise, and thus relieve our plight
As drifters up the croc-infested creek
Of any ideology that might
Recruit compliant minds.

may 68 graffito 3

              That's how the clique
Of New-Right, mostly ex-left types indict
Us true soixante-huitards, we who still seek
A way to get the basic issue right,
The one that comes to us from Ancient Greek
Philosophy and yet remains the blight
Of system-builders as of those who'd sneak
Free-will back into some (it seems) airtight
Construction through a small but handy leak
Of subjectivity. No inner light
For us old structuralists, no high mystique,
Like Sartre's, of a freedom shining bright
With existential promise through that freak
Of nature, human choice. Hail the White Knight
Who comes (though often by the most oblique
Or complex ways around) to wing our flight
From the iron grip of causal laws that wreak
Destruction on our human will to slight
Mere circumstance and end the losing streak
We suffered as if fate had fixed the fight.

Prenez vos désirs pour des réalités 1968

My point: that structuralism helped us see
Beyond that Sartrean fix by letting go,
Once and for all, the thought of subjects 'free'
In the sense 'really, deep down, prone to no
Impediments of kind or of degree
To their free choice: 'defend the status quo
Or strive against it!'
             That's the reason we
Took language as our model, or – you know
The story well enough – the master-key
Of structural linguistics. This we owe
To Saussure, Jakobson and company,
Plus Althusser who managed to bestow
On Marx a reading that could claim to be
Both rigorous and well equipped to show
Our own conjuncture with the clarity
Such thinking brings. The syntagmatic flow
Of speech is like the combinatory
Of actions and events, an ordered row
That bears the mark of willing agency,
Whether to hold in place or overthrow
Such order. Yet it shows unconsciously –
So structuralists maintain – the sous-niveau
Of differences and contrasts that decree
How speech or actions signify although
The speaker, like the agent, won't agree
That what they've said or done makes sense on so
Arcane a set of terms.
            Think: why should she,
The militant, however street-wise, grow
Conversant with depth-codes of strategy,
Or speaker venture nothing till, below

The surface utterance, he too can trace
The signifying systems that elude
Our conscious grasp? For else they’d slow the pace
Of speech, or thought, or action, and preclude
All access to the generative space
Where subjects somehow find the aptitude
For words and acts that promise to displace
The ideologies that once subdued
All stirrings of revolt. So we gave chase
To errant signifiers, or pursued
Those fleeting signs – exposed to us by grace
Of Marx and Freud, plus insights late accrued
From Althusser and Lacan – that the case
Is not at all as it's naively viewed
By those who take our words and deeds at face
Acceptance but, more tellingly construed,
Half-yields to ideology's embrace
Yet kicks against it.

may 68 graffito 3

                  Hence the multitude
Of symptoms that would promptly self-erase
At its behest if not for us, the brood
Of old-school structuralists who opt to base
Our strategies and methods on a clued-
Up symptom-reader's grasp. This shuns the race
From thought to deed, reminds us what ensued
In ‘68, and bids we play our ace
Card to warn just how easily a mood
Of premature euphoria takes the place
That, we say, falls more aptly to a shrewd
Since theory-guided project to retrace
The structural constraints that had us screwed.


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