Wednesday, June 15, 2016

There can be no poetry after Brexit

I am English, Midlands-born; to paraphrase Bellow. This is my land, and I find deep and unexpected connections in an ancient, mythical Mercia. I'm a poet of place, not distance, yet that tranquil English soil, sooted with the industrial revolution, which forged me, is a mythic one. I've spent more of my life now in the North, and more of it in urban cities than the suburban frontier spaces of the green belt from which I came. It seems that distance is always mythic, as is place. Yet England's soil, and England's green is something that I have a deep affection for - I have no known Celtic forbears (though my red hair, pale skin, blue eyes just indicates I've not been able to go back far enough.) I speak one language, have lived in one land.

And yet, my imaginative landscape is one that soars beyond the present. It is Jude the Obscure, looking down on the city below and imagining a better life for himself. It is the twin brothers in "On the Black Hill" imagining what it would be like to fly over the lands which they know so intimately. It is Dick Diver training in Switzerland, and being seduced by the glamour of first Nicole, then the starlet Rosemary Hoyt; it is the fake dreaming of Italiophile Ladislaw in "Middlemarch". For literature is boundaryless, boundary-free and it is the imagination that propels it so that even a parochially grounded world can become the whole world. You don't need a globalised literature - with characters flying indiscriminately between Lahore and London and L.A. - to see the beautiful horizon in the best writing.

It is not therefore that literature cannot exist in a post-Brexit England, its just that we have a literary firmament that doesn't require any lower ambitions than it has already. The stultifying class system remains at the backbone of too much English fiction; our manicured lawns and country houses at the heart of our romanticised nature poetry. I think Europe was an ideal for me even before I had been on the continent  - its there in the electronic-tinged music of "New Gold Dream" and "Heroes." If America gives us the vista of the road movie, and the deep rootsiness of "The Night they drove Old Dixie Down" and "After the Goldrush", Europe is at once an ancien regime, and a reflecting kaliedoscope of possible futures; modernism, to America's post-modernism.

After next Thursday, if the pin on the powder keg has been pulled and a majority of voters have exploded the grenade of splendid isolation all over ourselves, it is not so much that the reality of our Europe goes away - it is still there - but the possibility of what we in England, in Britain can be to drag ourselves from a sense of fifties puritan and 19th century nationalism that will become the dominant foreground.

There can be no poetry after Brexit, for the possibilities that exist in the best of ourselves will be gone - and faced with a drawbridge pulled up - and the mental closing of doors. We will be only good enough then for an antediluvian culture of diminished nostalgia.... our literary imagination will be like the lights going out all over the town.

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