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 The Scent That Captures That "1930s Moment"!

All material copyrighted to © 2014

or to the various credited sources © 2014



The only poetry exposed en masse today –apart from Pam

Ayres’ verbal palmistry and Shillingbury whimsy in Greeting

Cards –Roses are red/ Violets are blue and other nerveless

Violet verses– is that sponsored by corporations through

Advertising campaigns (or that which turns advertising

Copy into poetry, post-modern, naturally, commoditising

Austerity into apolitical conceptual art as text-speak),

Pop-ups on ipads and laptops, engorged with glamorising

Glossolalia, designer doggerel, pottage of rugged individualism,

Temptation-spiel… Christopher Caudwell dryly noted all of this,

At length, way back in 1937, in his Illusion and Reality:

His essential thesis being all ‘modern’ verse was inescapably

‘Capitalist poetry’ –or at the very least ‘bourgeois’, and had

Been ever since the Elizabethan Age, or… skip a page… More

Noticeably since the counterfeit Commonwealth concluding

The victorious Parliamentarian campaign, that outfoxing

Civil War –nowadays often called, quixotically, the ‘English

Revolution’, as if we’d ever go through with such a thing!–

And Cromwell’s regicide, which, far from heralding a New

Jerusalem for the Meek and Poor, and an end to the twin-

Tyrannies of property and poverty, did no such things,

Simply consolidated the Puritan Pumpking as ‘Lord Protector’

Ipso facto Monarch in all but name and particular trimming

Of laced collars (and figurehead of a Dynasty of crop-haired,

Crowned princes, but for the failure of his ineffectual son,

Richard, old ‘Tumbledown Dick’, to lift up the turnip-sceptre

Of Norfolk kingship), and summoned in Mercantilism,

Empire-building, sails harnessing the trade winds; and, by

The Enlightenment, the amplification to Capitalism,

The Calvinistic ‘Profit Motive’, Thrift and material

Abstinence through saving and accumulating coined symbols

Of moral worth, the mint of antinomianism, transacting

Material virtue for ‘spiritual’ interest, insurance schemes

For the soul sired in thorny hair-shirts of pocket-stitched

Puritans who put much stock by Capital, a Christian-karmic

Stockpile which should somehow serve as a passport to Salvation;

A mysticality of artifice (almost echoing those ancient

Pharaohs’ metaphysical protocol of entombing themselves

In pyramids surrounded by their worldly goods and riches,

As if somehow these things would translate with their spirits

Into an afterlife for furnishing –gold baubles, trinkets to turn

Into ghost-objects, celestial equivalents, discarnate accoutrements

Taking shapes in shadow-form from their earthly templates)...

And then the Industrial Revolution rooted itself into

The soil of the common psyche, so a new sprawling patchwork

Of clay-brick hedges sprang up and spiralled centrifugally

Into a Rationalist labyrinth swallowing up all once hoped

To be held in common –contrapuntal to all of this, clearances

And enclosures of those evicted by the land-grabs, resettled

Into tenements and slum districts of slate and stone carbuncles

Clustered round remorseless growths of poison-spewing blowholes,

Chimney-spouts, smokestack collosi sprouting up implacably,

Steeples of waste gathering round grinding mills, and foghorns

Blowing like landlocked lighthouses, factories spuming out

Putrifying gasses like washed-up whale carcasses; pitheads

Stacking high, spinning like upturned prams discarded in ditches…





Caudwell believed mostly all ‘modern’ poetry (his ‘modern’

Period pitching from the Seventeenth Century to the time in

Which he was writing, the third decade of the Twentieth),  

Was capitalist agitprop, mostly without knowing it, and often

In spite of consciously attempting to oppose such a system,

Yet employing tropes and metaphors useful for propaganda

Purposes of materialists; providing rhythmic ammunition

For industrialists; all blunderbuss and thunder for Napoleonic

Pyrrhic victory and Balaclava blunder (for every flag-unfurling

Trafalgar or saber-rattling Waterloo, there was a Tolpuddle

Transportation, and a banner-tattered Peterloo!)… Such

Was Christopher Caudwell’s rudimentary polemical claim,

Dashed off in a matter of months before setting forth to help

Defend a pelted Republic, where patters of automatic rain

Cut up his volunteering into death’s conscription, in Spain,

As his final dialectic was spliced into strips of paper grain…

Meanwhile, Wystan Hugh Auden, by thirty, in 1937,

Already a poet sire of his neurotic generation, survived

His brief spell of ambulancing on behalf of the Spanish

Republic, and turning his poetry to propaganda purposes

Of encouraging wider European opposition to the Francoists,

And he would live to write, at great length, and over many

Vistas and varied landscapes, from Spain’s sun-punished

Pastures to Iceland’s gabbro crags to Manhattan’s Giant’s

Causeway of skyscrapers, his pen would campaign across

The crumpled map of poetry and metaphorical politics…

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