A First Manifesto of The True English (Poetry) Party, April 2005
I am standing in this General Election because I wish to cast a vote but will not do so for any of the three major Parties represented in this Constituency.
One test that I have applied in making this decision was to consider the position of those Parties with regard to the war against Iraq. Our participation in that war was a disgraceful act which imperils this country and for which I consider that a full apology and reparation should be made. The Labour and Conservative Parties dishonoured themselves and us all. I will not vote for either of them on this occasion.
I would consider voting for the Liberal Democrats, except that there is a further test which I have been applying in these situations for more than 25 years. When I look at the whole world and seek to cherish it, it seems to me that the human species in its very numbers and inventiveness is threatening its own existence and indeed that of all other living creatures. There are too many of us wanting too many of the wrong things. The simple and perhaps childish answer that presents itself to me is to slow down. I have done this to some extent in my own life, and have greatly enjoyed and I think benefited from doing so. None of the major political Parties sees things this way: they all persist in grossly consumerist attitudes. I will not vote for any of them.
So I am going to have to vote for myself again. At root I am a Sussex man, born and bred. But I have become something of a Cheshire man. I am certainly an Englishman; and that is where I am going to stand my ground. I hardly think of myself as British. As an Englishman I of course ally myself to some extent with people of the other countries within a United Kingdom which I think should now be brought to an end as a King- or Queen-dom. And I am obliged to ally myself more widely with countries of a European Union which I never wanted to join and am sure that we should leave.
There is to some extent an English nation. It has become weakened, and is held increasingly in some contempt. I wish it to be better defined, more whole, stronger.
There are two English things that I have some particular knowledge about and which I care greatly for: English poetry; and English land, the land of Eng-land. I call myself an English poet and husbandman. I cherish and defend English poetry by performing some of what I consider to be the best of it and by writing stuff of my own in what I hope are the best traditions of it.
My concern for the land is simple. It fed and feeds me; I am of it; and I try to pollute and spoil it as little as possible. The extent to which we in this country degrade and spoil and build on land which could be properly farmed seems to me a madness. We are a vulnerable island. I have a dream, a childish one perhaps, of a self-sufficient country.
And I do look wider. The health of the land and the oceans and the air of this planet are the concern of all of us for our own sakes and for those of all other living creatures. But we human beings lie and cheat and deceive ourselves and others as we roar on after more. I do not believe that there is a God, male or female, to help us find a better way. But I do harbour a hope that we may yet control the excesses of our human nature day by day.
Lastly to bring things down to earth a little, Cheshire earth, let me point once more at a specific blight that we have brought upon our lives here in the Constituency of Tatton. Our — that is man- and womankind's — immoderate desire for air travel results in the activities of Manchester Airport seriously polluting and spoiling the lives of many. I was in the forefront of the movement to prevent the building of a second runway. I lived in Mobberley under the flight-path for Runway 1 for ten years. I now live under the flight-path for Runway 2. In Mobberley I used to sing this song to myself to relieve my distress. I sung it to the Inspector at the Public Enquiry. I sing it to you now:-
Michael George Gibson, April 2005
During April, the following Letter and accompanying Poetry Manifesto went out to the Editors of over one hundred poetry and literary magazines and newspapers, and to other interested parties such as The Poetry Society.
I have an interest in English poetry from its written beginnings in Anglo-Saxon times.
English poetry may be quite easily identified and defined up until the end of the 19th century.
However, increasingly through the last century and into this things have been presented as poems which I think may not in fact be so.
If, as I believe is the case, we are in a muddle in our ideas as to what is or is not poetry or a poem, then it would be a good thing to work our way out of that confusion. The clearer is our discrimination in all aspects of life, the better.
I have asked The Poetry Society — which is, to quote its stated objectives, involved in 'advancing education in the understanding and use of poetry' — to define 'poetry' and 'a poem'. I have had no formal response. However, one member of the Society's Poetry Council has provided me with a personal response to my enquiry. I am told:
'There is poetry in everything
we say and do and if something is presented to me as a poem
by its creator, or by an observer, I accept that something as a poem.'
This seems to me to be beside the point.
To further the matter I have written a short paper for discussion. This paper, entitled 'On English Poetry and Poems' is reproduced below.
In order to further stimulate debate on the nature of English poetry I intend to stand at the forthcoming General Election, in the Tatton Constituency, as 'The True English Poetry Party'.
On English Poetry and Poems
There is some perplexity in people's minds as to what English poetry and a poem may be.
Poetry was and to some extent still is an important part of our culture and sense of nationhood.
I therefore propose to make a definition of English 'poetry' and a 'poem'.
In fact these terms were not widely used in English until the 16th Century: but I think that it is fair to apply them to some things which were made in this land in earlier centuries.
We have some written stuff from the 8th Century onwards which may be called English poetry.
In Anglo-Saxon times there were word-things then called 'lays' or 'songs' which were of essentially the same nature as the things later called 'poems'.
Anglo-Saxon lays and songs were made according to 'lay-craft', 'song-craft' or 'word-craft'.
The Anglo-Saxons spoke of their lay-craft or song-craft as one in which the parts of the lay or song were 'verses'. The word 'verse' meant a ploughed furrow both in the sense of its line and length, and in its turn to make another furrow.
These early makers also spoke of their verses having 'feet' and of their being 'metered'. Their verses were by and large of much the same length and had much the same amount of stuff in them as the others in a particular 'fitt'.
The word 'rhythm' was not used in those days but was implicit in the word 'song'. Their songs were markedly rhythmical — as is the case, one presumes, in all early cultures. This was so that anyone could partake in the song and often the dance that might go with it. This is why the word 'foot' was used in describing and defining the craft.
The metered verses of the Anglo-Saxon or Old English poetry were further shaped by means of a system of internal correspondences of consonants or vowels at the beginning of some of the words in each verse. This we now call 'alliteration'. It is clear that in most Old English poetry a verse would have in it four main beats or pulses which were linked by the initial sounds of the words rather than their endings — though this was not usually the case for all four beats in a verse.
In due course 'end rhyme' came to be used at the ends of some verses, and this system of shaping poetry eventually overtook the alliterative way during the Middle English period. But the metering out of verse into feet was always done. It is to word-things made up of metered and rhymed verses to which the words 'poetry' and 'poem' were later applied. There were of course other aspects of the use of language that came into the consideration of the nature of poetry: but these are not fundamental to a definition of 'poetry' or a 'poem'.
It was several centuries before any very different way of doing things was tried. Towards the end of the 19th century 'free verse' — from the French 'vers libre' — became a technique of writing. But I hold that the term is illogical, a nonsense.
The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms (1990) defines 'free verse'; as:
kind of poetry that does not conform to any regular metre:
the length of its lines is irregular, as is its use of rhyme — if any.
The definition is exact and right except in one respect: it contains a wrong use of the word 'poetry', which should be replaced by the term 'writing', or 'word-stuff', or somesuch.
In its original sense a verse, a furrow, was metered out and turned in accordance with a system of related furrows (which of course all accorded with the form of a field). This accordance was and is essential to the craft of ploughing and the craft of poetry. 'Free verse' is a contradiction in terms: a verse is by definition metered and therefore not free — it cannot be both.
There is something of the same confusion in the matter of rhyme. 'Rhyme' means 'identity of end sound in words'. Anything less — be it called 'half-rhyme' or 'part-rhyme' or 'para-rhyme' or whatever — is not rhyme, it is other than rhyme.
In the last hundred years writing styles have changed more quickly. Very different things are presented to us as 'poems'. Trying to find new ways of doing things and new things to make are natural human traits. It is also natural to look for the differences in things and to find words with which to describe and name them in order to discriminate between one thing and another.
'Songcraft', later called 'poetry', was and is the making of word-things according to certain clear, objective, defining and essential rules and techniques of metre and alliteration and rhyme. These things may be called poems.
To avoid confusion, word-things not made according to these rules but according to some different — and, one hopes, objectifiable — rules, should, as things of a different kind, be given a different name.
Michael George Gibson, March 2005
A main medium for the Party's shaping was my local newspaper, the
The Returning Officer at Macclesfield informed me that if I wished to go on the ballot paper as The True English (Poetry) Party I would have to register such a Party through the Electoral Commission. The Commission requires a copy of the Party's Constitution, a draft financial scheme, and a fee of £150.
I elected not to register on this occasion.
Though I did not chose to do so, I subsequently appeared as an 'Independent'.
When the Guardian staff asked me to take part in this meeting I was told that the candidates would have a minute to introduce themselves. I asked for a bit more time and was told that two minutes would be allowed. I eventually asked if I could do a eight minute presentation, to include a tune and a poem, and then step aside.
On the day of the meeting I came home to a message saying that this would not be possible. So I wrote the following Press Release:-
I arrived whistling at the Civic Centre in good time. The Guardian staff were at the door. The Editor, Miss Sue Briggs, said, 'Ah, here he is.' I handed her the Press Release and said, 'We will have the chance to say something in the paper, won't we?' She said, 'Yes.'
I went to the back of the quite full hall and fixed my button-hole in place. Martin Bell, in his 'trademark white suit' came round to speak to me. He offered what I thought was a rather noncommittal hand-shake and said something like, 'Are you really going to stand?' I assured him that I was. He said, 'It's a lot of money.' I said that I had put my money down that morning, and that the Editor had a Press Release.
It had been thought that T.V. might be present. In the event there was only one photographer. I took a seat at the far side of the hall.
Mr. Bell and the other three candidates went up onto the stage. He introduced them and then said that there was another candidate in the hall, but did so in such a fashion as to suggest that I might not truly be a candidate. He read the third paragraph of my Press Release and indicated where I was.
I stood and bowed to the audience of about 150. Then I raised my hand to ask to speak. I had it in mind to say, 'Mr. Bell I told you to your face, and it is written in the Press Release from which you have just read, that I am indeed a candidate, and the first to actually register.' He merely said, 'Later.' I sat down and remained silent though the whole two hour session.
When it ended I remained seated. One Knutsfordian acquaintance came over to speak. The hall emptied. I began to jot down an idea for a tune. Bell came round, went behind me, and carried on. Before the other candidates left I went up to introduce myself to the Labour and the Lib-Dem fellows. No-one from the Guardian remained to speak to. I left.
The next week I took a second Press Release to the Guardian offices:-
I also left this letter, which was not subsequently published:-
Early that week candidates were invited to Macclesfield to meet the Returning Officer. Mr. Osborne was unable to attend. The photo is courtesy of the Wilmslow Advertiser.
The Knutsford Guardian reported thus on the Friday meeting:-
I had informed Granada T.V. and B.B.C. Manchester of my game on the Heath on Sunday.
I set up early on a glorious spring day. Two photographers presented themselves, one a freelance.
I had already presented the Manifesto to one early comer, with this introduction:-
On Monday I left a copy of the Manifesto at the Guardian offices. In the Wednesday edition there was a two page election presentation under the headline 'You decide?: General Election candidates unveil their vision for a better Britain to win your vote in next week's crucial battle for the Tatton seat in Parliament.'
I knew nothing of this.
The four other candidates offered 100 words on each of five topics: National Health Service; Education; European Constitution/Euro; Crime; Immigration.
Further into the paper its readers were offered this:-
The Northwich Guardian also ran this:-
In its edition just prior to the Election, the Knutsford Guardian carried these pieces:-
To Read Part 2 please click on the panel below: