Books Magazine


By Ashleylister @ashleylister
Hello 2021, what you knowing? Let's hope, as we roll over into the new year, that per my fanciful illustration below, the emblematic white bird of hope really does carry a promise of liberation from this horrid plague. Positivity, if you please...đŸ¤�


per AstraZeneca ad liberatum

It has become a tradition of mine (from music journalism days) to collate and save a cultural 'Best Of' list at year-end, as much a short-hand reminder to myself as anything. 2020 was horrendous in so many ways, but artists kept right on creating and what they conceived was instrumental in keeping us entertained and inspired. Here, then, are my plaudits for those works to which I shall keep returning long after everything else has disappeared in the rear-view mirror. I think of it on this occasion as a 'Least Worst of 2020': Film - Lovers Rock (Steve McQueen), Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (Jason Woliner), Pixie (Barnaby Thompson). Literature - Small Pleasures (Clare Chambers), A Theatre For Dreamers (Polly Samson), That Old Country Music (Kevin Barry). Music - The True Story Of Bananagun (Bananagun), Old Flowers (Courtney Marie Andrews), Reunions (Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit). TV -Normal People, Roadkill, My Brilliant Friend. Unclassifiable - NHS, Zoom, Camembert (Rustique). Worst Of - Coronavirus, Conspiracy Theorists, Brexit.

That's right. We left the European Union as the madness that was Brexit rolled over into statute. It is often joked that a fait accompli is a fate worse than death, and so I fear it may prove for Little England in the years ahead. I'm offering up two poems today. The first is a 'found' poem on the theme of Brexit and "getting our country back". It derives from a newspaper article that the great A.A. Gill wrote on the eve of the 2016 referendum. Gill, a stalwart of the Sunday Times in the 1990s, was married to Amber Rudd for a number of years and was formidably opposed to Brexit. He was also notoriously dyslexic and dictated all of his pieces, including the one I have based this poem on. He wrote it as a scathing essay and I bookmarked the article at the time because I thought it was so powerfully written, poetic even in its imagery and  phraseology. Sadly (or not) Gill never lived to see our exit of the UK from the EU because he died of cancer in the interim. I've turned a part of his article into a poem. It's not quite verbatim, as I had to make a few minor additions and deletions, plus the obvious structural changes, but the 'voice' is very much his and I hope it stands as a tribute to a great writer as well as a sign-post to a nation's folly.
Getting Our Country Back – a Found Poem
It was the woman on Question Time that really did it for me.
She was so familiar. There is someone like her in every queue,
every coffee shop, outside every primary school in the country.
With her weatherproof expression of hurt righteousness, she’s
Britannia’s mother-in-law, big sister, and distressed daughter.
The camera panned in close on her as she shouted: “All I want
is my country back. I’m for Brexit. Give me my country back.”
It was a heartfelt cry of real distress. The rest of the audience
erupted in sympathetic applause. It was a captivating moment,
show-casing the constant mantra of all manner of Brexiteers.
But I thought: “In reality, back from what? Back from where?”
Of course, I know what they mean. We all know what they mean.
They mean back from Johnny Foreigner, back from some brink,
back from the future, back-to-back, back to bosky hedges and
dry stone walls, country lanes and church bells and warm beer,
skittles and football rattles, cheery banter and clogs on cobbles,
back to vicars-and-tarts parties and ‘Carry On’ fart jokes, back to
Elgar and fudge and proper weather and herbaceous borders
and cars called Morris, the News of the World, Victoria sponge.
Back to 22 yards to a cricket wicket and 15 hands to a horse and
3 feet to a yard and four fingers in a Kit Kat, back to gooseberries
not avocados, back to deference and respect, make do and mend
and smiling bravely and biting your lip and suffering in silence,
oh and patronising foreigners with pity just for not being us.
Yes indeed. We all know what “getting our country back” means.
It’s snorting a line of that pernicious, debilitating drug, nostalgia.
The warm, crumbly, honey-coloured, collective 'yesterday' with
its fond belief that everything was better back then, that Britain
(England, really) is a worse place now than it was at some foggy
point in the past where we achieved peak Blighty. It’s the belief
that the best of us have been and gone, that nothing we can build
will ever be as lovely as a National Trust Georgian country house,
no art will be as good as a Turner, no poem as wonderful as ‘If’,
no writer a touch on Shakespeare or Dickens, nothing will grow
as fine as a cottage garden, no hero be greater than Lord Nelson,
no politician better than Churchill, no view more throat-catching
than the White Cliffs and that we will never manufacture anything
as great as a Rolls-Royce, bouncing bomb or Flying Scotsman again.
The dream of Brexit isn’t that we might be able to make a brighter,
new, energetic tomorrow. It’s a vain desire to shuffle backwards to
a regret-curdled inward-looking yesterday. In this Brexit fantasy,
the best we can hope for is to kick out all true entrepreneurs, those
work-all-hours foreigners, and become caretakers to our own past
in this stagnant self-congratulatory island of moaning and pomposity.
As for the conspiracy theorists, those who think that Covid is a hoax, that mask-wearing is a socialist agenda to emasculate free-will, that the Black Lives Matter movement is really a Marxist revolution in the making, that Global Warming is just duff data....fuck them for their sheer, unrepentant idiocy. 
It gave rise to the second weird little poem, based on bonkers speculation that followed a claim in by astronomers in September that traces of phosphine gas had been detected in the make-up of the climate of Venus. Such an occurrence might well point to the existence of microbial organic life on the seemingly uninhabitable sister planet to our own. The evidence was speculative at best.


Venus, our 'evil' twin planet

Nevertheless, given that phosphine is a by-product of methamphetamine production, the wackiest of conspiracy theories starting circulating almost immediately, surely the most tenuously extreme example of that popular 2020 tendency for...
Following The ScienceToxic and heinous, the meth labs of Venus.Last place in the galaxy you'd want to takeyour sweetheart on holiday unless you werean addict, or an astral drugs lord checkingprogress with a facility's construction or the quality of crystal production.
Though I speak bleakly, I tell true. My loveris blue, burns like a star with a phosphine glow.Christine is that ice within the fire to courseabout my person, blazing slow but surelytaking me down to pure essence of being.I'm following the science and am freeing
my soul to float to oblivion beyondall reasonable care, one with the poisonof this caustic atmosphere. Crinkle, twinkleheartless planet, as it span from cosmic dusta paradise was somehow lost. Heed me well:what shines so bright in heaven in fact is hell. 
Thanks for reading. Don't get rolled over, S ;-)
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