Thursday, 21 March 2013


POETRY COUNTS: Speaking for the
Blog 39 March 2013
James Watson Friends and contributors
NOTES IN PASSING: Poetry Counts: speaking for the silent
Quotable quote
Fishy business in China
Poems of Place (16)
Correspondence  Ned Baslow to Capability Brown

Editorial: stitching up the press before breakfast
A few descriptors come to mind in the light of the all-party, MP-majority launch of a royal charter to rein in the British press: fudge and stitch-up come most readily to mind. It’s what happens when politicians consider they are on roll of public popularity and establishment approval. In this case that ‘public’ for all intents and purposes has been the Hacked Off organisation who from their formation appear to have sought revenge as much as redress. It’s reported that among the politician conspirators plotting a midnight coup upon press freedom representatives of Hacked Off were present in Parliament offices. It is not reported whether a single publisher, editor, reporter or journalist was also present to offer counter-arguments in the desperate rush to hang British liberty out to dry.

No reverse?
The impact of what occurred in the ‘small hours manoeuvring’ (as the Guardian leader of 19 March described it), will be immense and possibly irreversible. Oh, and while we are nailing the British press to the straight-jacket of propriety (as defined by the great and the good) let’s drop in all Internet communications. What’s good enough for controlling the press is also good enough for every line and paragraph and picture published online.
    Hugo Riftkind in an article in The Times ‘This charter is out to get you as much as us’ (19.3.13) first speaks of ‘targeting an industry that is melting away…like butter in a hot palm’. Yet, he writes, ‘It’s not the tabloids that traduce reputations today, but Twitter. It’s not the Sun that reveals nude photography of the Royal Family, but American showbiz websites…’

Order, order
Will ‘exemplary damages’ soon be haunting (and crippling) cyberspace? It looks as though the amended Crime and Courts Bill will plough like a squadron of tanks into what Rifkind sees as the future, ‘a sprawling anarchic mess, in which anybody can do almost anything’. Most disturbing concerning what has been happening during the Ides of March is the breakneck rush to turn desires, passions, opinions, impressions, perceptions and prejudices into law.
    ‘Sometimes,’ believes Rifkind, ‘politics becomes a barrel rolling down a very steep hill. Once it gets going, all the good sense in the world won’t make it stop’. For that we have to thank Hacked Off, politicians either on the make or protecting their backs and some newspapers who ought to know enough about mission creep to regard legislation as anathema. Rifkind believes that ‘Born of the best intentions, Hacked Off has become a malign force. Every time they wheel out Evan Harris or one of those deathly professors I genuinely start to fear they’d be regulating the notes on my fridge if they could’.

Taming the digital Wild West?
It is difficult at the moment to share the optimism of media analyst Ian Burrell writing in the I (‘Leveson will be powerless to tame the digital Wild West colonised by bloggers’, 18.23.13), when  that ‘one thing we can be sure of: the new watchdog will be out of date before it even starts’. But we can hope, as Burrell points out how ‘even greater swathes of the news and information media will be operating in a digital Wild West where the saloons are everywhere and the regulating sheriffs have no jurisdiction’. Rifkind asks, ‘How did it ever come to this?’ chillingly adding, ‘Royal Charter or not, the published word has suddenly become the State’s business’.

Notes in Passing
Poetry counts: speaking for the silent
Poetry counts, or would do if Brian Patten’s lines could stir the people who count. Celebrating the 40th anniversary of Index on Censorship magazine Brian publishes two poems in Issue 4, Volume 41, 2012, A Message from the Silent and Fear of Teddy Bears. The first poem explains why the victims of persecution and censorship do not speak out, for they have loved-ones to protect: Speak out for us when like sleazy conjurers/Politicians vanish the truth/When rivers are poisoned, charities siphoned, wars bankrolled/Speak out for us/Whose tongues are nailed to the floor of our mouths by love/And whose lips are sewn together. The second poem is as redacted as the Pollard Review on the BBC’s Jimmy Savile Saga.
     Readers who wish to recover the blacked-out words are invited to visit the Index website for enlightenment, reminding us that in normal circumstances what’s redacted is permanently shut off from us. There is enough left in Fear of Teddy Bears to realise the horror so many teddy bears might stir in the hearts and minds of the holders of power: …Lukashenko squats the Web, and would control/Each threat of it. The implication is that somehow we are all – and that includes poets – to blame for looking the other way: while on a beach/Tourists bake in ignorance and, worldwide/Redacted words multiply like flies.

Spelling Malala
In celebrating its 40th anniversary Index ran a poetry competition, thus emphasising the connection between poetry and protest in contexts of persecution, exploitation, oppression and in the light of censorship. Rosemary Harris’ winning entry, Spelling Malala takes the topical story of the shooting in the head of Pakistani teenager  Malala Yousafzai by members of the Taliban; her crime? – demanding an education for girls. As she ‘fires unseen bullets from her mouth/each time she opens it those in control exclaim, What Devil, what God, puts brains in a girl? There’ll be no more I.WANT.TO.LEARN. much less I.WANT.TO.LIVE.
  Rosemary Harris picks up Brian Patten’s theme, the use of terror to command silence: Oh it is vital work, viral, one bullet in the right/soft tissue blasts shut a thousand mouths/myriad minds. One girl, one gun, one message. Both Patten and Harris are writing poetry but also making statements that take poetry out of intimate contexts and into the public arena, actions which in many countries would bring down on them the silencing hand of the law.

Politics of fear
A scan of the contents lists of copies of Index the extent, worldwide, and in a myriad forms, illustrates a universal redactive habit on the part of hierarchies of authority. Index 3 of 2012 features nine articles on censorship on campuses while edition 4 provides an international perspective on the censorship, and planned censorship, of online communication, summarised by Rebecca MacKinnon and Ethan Zuckerman in their article ‘Don’t Fear the Trolls’ as ‘the politics of fear’ dominating ‘the online environment’.
     The debates over free speech promoted by the Leveson Report have revealed a pulling back from the defence of press freedom as recent Watsonworks blogs have highlighted. Punishment for excess has become the name of the game, not yet a bullet in the head but certainly suggesting a risk – for poets, journalists, whistleblowers, bloggers, political campaigners and protesters – of having their tongues nailed to the floor of their mouths for the love of truth, or their version of it.
     Currently the hushed-up scandals of the past are at last being scrutinised under the light of day; a cause for celebration, perhaps. Yet, journalists being arrested in dawn raids in the UK can surely be viewed as another form of redaction, that is, a warning to communicators not to tread this path in future.

Quotable quote
'Libel law has served as a means to protect the rich and powerful, and London has become the defamation capital of the world as plutocrats from every corner of the planet ask the courts here to silence and punish their critics at home. Just this month, a London libel judge found in favour of a billionaire sheikh against a dissident Ethiopian journalist who is exiled in the US, where he runs a shoestring website about Ethiopian politics for an Ethiopian audience. Whatever the tribulations of the British tourist industry in recent years, ‘libel tourism’ has boomed.'
Mick Hume, ‘With Leveson and Libel, reforms are not enough’, Spiked, 28 February 2013.

Fishy business with China
By Alison Prince
First published in Voice of Arran, March 2013
When the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the dissident poet Liu Xiaobo in 2010, the Chinese government was furious. A spokesman for its foreign ministry described Liu as a ‘convicted criminal sentenced to jail by Chinese justice authorities for violation of Chinese law’ and said that giving him the prize was an act of ‘blasphemy against the peace prize.’ Norway was the natural focus of Chinese indignation, as it has administered the Peace Prize ever since Alfred Nobel, the Swedish dynamite millionaire, founded it.
    So China cancelled all imports of Norwegian salmon. Norway wasn’t bothered. It owns enough fish farms in Scotland to keep the China trade supplied - the only thing needed was an independent-sounding deal between China and the Nobel-free Scottish government. Nick Hunter of Oban Seil Farm, who has seen Norwegian salmon production shifted to Ardmaddy, writes to point out that the deal had strings attached.
    The Chinese foreign ministry stipulated that there must be no comment on Tibetan independence protests and no contact with the Dalai Lama or other ‘undesirables’, or the deal would be cancelled. Further, Nick claims, on orders from the Scottish fisheries minister, the then newly elected provost of Dundee University refused to host the Dalai Lama on his hugely popular visit. The ‘new’ exports to China were of course heralded as a big Scottish success. What price your human rights now? A straight swap for a load of farmed salmon, it seems.

Poems of Place (16)
Readers have pointed out that Editorial needs to gets is maths right as far as numbering is concerned. Blog 38 was racing ahead of itself. Sorry!

In the valley you can meet it
As a newcomer; it invites you
To reach out and touch it
As though it had the substance
Of these limestone walls.

Snipping all-day breakfast
On giddy slopes, sheep ignore it
With the same indifference
They show this divine morning:
The verges of a motorway
Would taste as sweet.

In voiceless woods, a solitary rook
Emits a single call,
Then tremulously thinks
Better of its irreverence.
I pause, listen to this amazing nothing,
Venturing this soundless scribble:
Could God be silence, And only that?

Ned Baslow to Capability Brown
Preparations for the Wickerstaff-cum-Fernhaven international festival of the arts now to be held in the summer of 2014 (as a result of the hip operation undergone by the Festival chairman and star of The Spectacles of Don Quixote Councillor Gilbert Stokoe MBE) are well in hand. Secretary to the Festival Committee, Ned Baslow continues with his campaign to recruit the best of British and international talent for this historical event.

Dear Mr. Brown,
As I know that you were planting shrubs and trees and generally tidying up the estate of the Duke of Devonshire at the lordly pile of Chatsworth (one of my family’s favourite picnic-spots, by the way), my committee is wondering whether you would consider some work on the side.

Doubtless you will have heard of preparations that are being made for the Festival of the Arts being organised by the Wickerstaff-cum-Fernhaven Pantomime and Light Opera Society. Its chairman, Mr. Gilbert Stokoe MBE could, if his extensive acres are taken into consideration, be ranked among the landed gentry of this county, particularly as very few titled gentlemen and ladies are willing to put up with the acrid smoke that all-too regularly issues from the Fernhaven Power Station and the Utility Pie and Tripe company.

Mr. Stokoe, who we affectionately call Lord Gilbert, has a couple of meadows that could really do with a make-over. The first of these has mixed use, being shared by a flock of sheep and the local cricket team. The problem here – for the cricketers at least – is the slope, which is in excess of 45% in places. The pitch itself is as flat as the Oval, but if a fielder is posted at square leg or if the bowler is delivering from the other end, at point or mid-off, it is impossible to see either the batsman or the ball.

This state of affairs prevailed for decades until the local team organised a match against the Toffs’ Eleven, which included a junior member of the royal family. Fortunately it was only his bodyguard, fielding at midwicket, who suffered concussion from a hook out of the blue; but as you can see Lord Gilbert will have to take drastic action if the Toffs are to return in future seasons. In short, we are planning to shift the cricket ground to an adjoining field, the slope of which is not in excess of 30% and to use the existing ground for a miscellany of arts activities – oratory, poetry reading, recitals and the re-enacting of famous battle scenes.

What we are hoping to do is to give the ground a bit of style, and this is where a really decent landscape gardener such as yourself comes in, if you are of a mind to spare the time to do us a few sketches. The valley views are wonderful. In fact as my wife Betty, who’s at present doing an Open University degree and is studying at this very moment The Creation of the English Landscape: the Brutal and the Benign, believes there are no better views in the entire world (though to be honest, she’s only left the country once, to Benidorm – and hated it).

As Lord Gilbert says of the view, ‘It’s magnificent – but it’s not Chatsworth!’ Can you make the difference? We imagine a few trees will have to be shifted in order to align with the Golden Mean and that, and I personally would be happy to see the complete removal of the pine forest which Lord Gilbert’s father planted to help the war effort. There are a couple of abandoned farm buildings in the way. Our Betty insists they stay as being tokens of the Age of Romance though in my opinion they’re simply ruins that should have been cleared up years ago. On the other hand, my boy Benjie and his friends enjoy pretending they are castles built to resist the Picts (a lot of whom were once active in these parts).

The Committee is keen to employ a master of landscape design having failed to interest Mr. Alan Titchmarsh of TV fame, and we would be very happy to mention your contribution in our programmes and leaflets, making sure that what for the mass of the untutored in these matters would seem to be the work of Nature, is actually the subtle product of your genius.
Confidentially yours, etc.
Ned Baslow.

Save the Ritz? Dad’s in hospital and 16-year old film buff and general layabout Clark Gable Stevens (Curlew to his friends) is faced with the biggest challenge in his life, rescuing his Dad’s cinema from the clutches of the developers. The obstacles are gigantic; the chances of success for Curlew’s Save the Ritz Campaign as likely as seeing a flight of pigs crossing the skies of Fetterton. Does destiny deter Curlew? Read on.

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