Tag Archives: culture

Writers and Free Speech

In “A Letter On Justice And Open Debate” https://harpers.org/a-letter-on-justice-and-open-debate/, the authors JK Rowling and Margaret Atwood (amongst many other authors and academics), speak out against what they label as “cancel culture”. They condemn the growing tendency to silence (or attempt to silence) those who express opinions which offend particular groups or individuals. And argue that the best way to deal with views with which one disagrees is by engaging in free and open debate, rather than attempting to silence those expressing such opinions.

The letter has provoked controversy. Take, for example this response from a WordPress blogger:

“there is no such thing as cancel culture. This is fans deciding they do not want to associate with sexist, racist, ableist, bigoted authors/artists/what have you, and deciding to not purchase future works from them.

It is also not censorship because the government is not coming in and forcing these authors to remove their books from store shelves or anything like that. Fans are simply refusing to support these artists anymore. Publishers have that same right. So do booksellers.” (see https://amberskyeforbes.wordpress.com/2020/07/08/cancel-culture/).

Whilst the blogger is correct that the government is not forcing anyone to stop stocking, publishing or buying books and/or expressing certain opinions, the fact that some authors are, for example removing their books from JK Rowling’s publisher is intended to put pressure on said publisher to stop publishing Rowling’s works. The publisher has (quite rightly) not bowed to such pressure. However, where they to do so, this could have the effect of depriving Rowling (or anyone else who expresses a controversial opinion) of their source of income. Sure someone as famous as JK Rowling would, in all probability find another publisher, but what about lesser known writers? In the latter case such people might well be deprived of their source of income. Depriving someone of their (legal) source of income is a big thing to have on one’s conscience is it not?

I do, of course defend the right of people to spend their income as they wish, and withdraw their books from particular publishers, for we live in a free society. However, actively calling for others to boycott the works of particular people (merely because one disagrees with something they have said) can very easily spill over into bullying. Society (or a section of it) does not possess the power to censor and/or ban opinions. It can, however create a climate in which authors (and others) fear opening their mouths in case they offend a particular group or individual. This is a very unhealthy state of affairs.

I have been told by one particular blogger (via a comment on their blog) to “educate myself”, as I expressed an opinion with which they took issue. My readers wont be surprised to learn that my response (had I voiced it, which I did not) would have been unprintable! The blogger in question was, of course perfectly entitled to their opinion (as am I). however telling people to “educate themselves” is not the best way to gain friends and influence people. Such statements come across as arrogant and are not the best way of encouraging free and open debate.

An acquaintence told me that he was thinking of writing a book on HIV/AIDS. The main character in his novel would be gay and HIV positive. However, my acquaintence (not himself being gay) was worried that where he to write his novel he would be castigated for writing about a subject of which he has no (direct) personal experience. Consequently that book will, in all probability never get written.

Of course when one writes or speaks about a subject about which one has no direct experience, one should be sure to do research prior to doing so. However, if someone wants to make a fool of themselves by writing a poorly researched book, or speaking on a subject with little knowledge of said subject, they have the right so to do. Of course we the reader/listner have the perfect right to point out their errors. Indeed it may be our duty to do so. But what neither the state nor society should do is to call for poorly researched books to be banned. Nor should either the state or society prevent people from expressing offensive opinions.

The advocacy of violence to achieve political or other ends is a criminal matter and anyone advocating it’s use should feel the full force of the law. However disagreeing with someone is not violence and its dangerous when people contend that the expression of measured opinion constitutes violence. As someone who is disabled (I am registered blind) I would be offended where someone to say that disabled people have no right to be employed, and that all anti-discrimination legislation should be repealed, leaving it to the discretion of employers whether to employ the disabled. However me finding this view particularly objectionable does not mean that the person expressing it has committed an act of violence. They have not. They have expressed an opinion which, in a democratic society they are perfectly entitled to do, and the best way of me dealing with their perspective is to argue against it. I may feel angry but the person has done no violence to me and I should not hound them on social media, nor should I call for them to be deprived of their source of income.

We live in a liberal society and long may we continue to do so.

I Started Early – Took My Dog, by Emily Dickinson

I have recently subscribed to the Poetry Foundation’s Audio Poem of the Day. The poem for Monday 6 July is Emily Dickinson’s “I Started Early – Took My Dog”, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/podcasts/75386/i-started-early-took-my-dog-656.

To me, Dickinson’s poem is full of erotic imagery:

“But no Man moved Me – till the Tide
Went past my simple Shoe –
And past my Apron – and my Belt
And past my Boddice – too –

And made as He would eat me up –
As wholly as a Dew
Opon a Dandelion’s Sleeve –
And then – I started – too –

And He – He followed – close behind –
I felt His Silver Heel
Opon my Ancle – Then My Shoes
Would overflow with Pearl –

Until We met the Solid Town –
No One He seemed to know –
And bowing – with a Mighty look –
At me – The Sea withdrew –”.

The above could be read as a description of the sexual act. In particular the poem’s ending, “the sea withdrew” does, I think need no further comment from me.

Dickinson was a deeply religious lady. Yet religion and the erotic are not mutually exclusive. But perhaps my interpretation is wrong, and the poem is what it says it is, a description of a woman’s trip (real or imagined) to the sea, and how the tide nearly overwhelmed her.

I would, as always be interested in the views of my readers.

My Poem “An Autumn Bird” Included on Dodo Modern Vidpoets

I was pleased to have my poem “An Autumn Bird”, included on Dodo Modern Vidpoets, (please see http://dodovidpoets.blogspot.com/2020/05/blog-post.html).

“An Autumn Bird” is poem 13, and can be found under the heading of Poems on the Page.

Kevin

Dog and Man

I see the sky
And ponder on biology
And culture, that maketh me.
Or am
I part
Of some great plan
For man?

My dog has a heart
Full of love for me.
He is biology
(As I am),
But is he part
Of some inscrutable plan
For dog and man?

I am told
That my dog has no soul,
Yet he is more loving than
Many a man.

Or is it art
That separates dog from man?
Perhaps we are part
Of some god’s great plan.

In the end
My old friend,
I think there is just
The great sky above,
And dust,
and love.

A Middle-class Lass, and a Ghetto Girl

A middle-class lass,
And a ghetto
Girl, both possess the power
To entertain for an hour.
Or, with their stiletto
To pierce the heart
Of men who obsess
Over a girl’s short dress,
And hide inside their art.

Value Added Tax (VAT) to be scrapped on e-books in the UK from December 2020

Today (11 March), the UK Chancellor announced in the Budget that from December 2020 Value Added Tax (VAT) would be scrapped on e-books and online newspapers. Currently (in the UK) print books are zero rated, whilst e-books attract a VAT rate of 20percent. So, from December of this year, print and electronic books will both be zero rated.

At this juncture it is not clear whether audio books will also be zero rated. The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) has asked for clarification on this point.

To read more about the zero rating of e-books please visit this link, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-51832899.

Culture Warriors can not be allowed to silence writers

a good article in “The Times”, entitled “Culture Warriors can not be allowed to silence writers”, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/comment/culture-warriors-cannot-be-allowed-to-silence-writers-znz2tg0qq.

The article describes how the author of “American Dirt”, Jeanine Cummins, had her book tour cancelled following accusations of “cultural appropriation” by some writers on social media.

I have a friend who was (perhaps still is) thinking of publishing a novel about AIDS/HIV and the gay community. However he is not himself gay and concerns about how his work will be received may, I fear lead to his book not seeing the light of day.

Unfortunately “The Times” is behind a paywall and anyone wishing to read articles must be a subscriber. You can, however set up a free subscription, and provided you cancel within the period stipulated on the newspaper’s website, your card and/or bank account will not be charged.

Can Books on Poetic Craft Turn you into a Poet?

A couple of days back, I fell into conversation with a jazz musician. We talked about jazz, his teaching of music and the jazz performance I had recently attended at my local pub. On me mentioning that I am a poet, my companion said that he had recently been given a copy of Stephen Fry’s “The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within, https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B003V4AT1C/, and that he had just started to compose poetry.

I have not read Fry’s “The Ode Less Travelled”, consequently I’m unable to comment on the book. I did, however say to my companion that whilst books on poetic craft may, in some instances, be helpful, its crucial to read as much poetry (of all kinds) as possible to enable the development of one’s own unique style. Such reading will bring one into contact with poetry which is not to your taste, however this is, nonetheless useful in honing the poets ability to compose verse.

I am not dismissing works on poetic craft. Indeed I have on my shelves “The Poet’s Voice and Craft”, which consists of a series of lectures by famous poets explaining how they go about writing poetry, and other aspects of poetic craft, (https://www.carcanet.co.uk/cgi-bin/indexer?product=9781857540208). Whilst I’d have no hesitation in recommending this book, in my opinion reading Keats, Housman, Blake, Larkin, Auden and a myriad other poets will prove of more benefit than pouring over numerous tomes on poetic craft.

Of course there is a danger that by reading other poets, we come to replicate them. One must always be wary of falling into the trap of (either consciously or unconsciously) trying to outWordsworth Wordsworth, or outBlake Blake, but by reading other poets and absorbing the poetic tradition, one learns, over time to develop one’s own unique voice.

I have been told that a number of my poems remind readers of Emily Dickinson, Larkin and a number of other poets. I have never (consciously) attempted to write in the style of any poet, but take such comments as compliments. We build on the poetic tradition. We can, of course augment it but, ultimately we are all part of the great cultural heritage that has gone before.

As ever, your comments are most welcome.

Kevin

Philosopher Sir Roger Scruton Dies

I was saddened to read of the death of the philosopher Professor Sir Roger Scruton, https://www.standard.co.uk/news/uk/conservative-roger-scruton-dies-a4332461.html.

Back in October 2018, I reviewed Sir Roger’s “How to be a Conservative, https://kmorrispoet.com/2018/10/14/how-to-be-a-conservative-by-roger-scruton-book-review/.

As I say in that review, the book offers something to both Conservatives (in the political sense of the word), and also to those who would not consider themselves as political Conservatives but who do, nonetheless cherish the English countryside and the traditions of this country.

“Pain and Renewal” anthology released by Vita Brevis Press

Vita Brevis Press has just released an anthology entitled “Pain and Renewal”, which can be found here, https://vitabrevisliterature.com/poems/vita-brevis-anthology-pain-renewal/.

Vita Brevis describe the anthology as follows:

“Pain & Renewal features a collection of incredible voices — from Pulitzer and Pushcart prize winners to brand new poets, it’s filled with moving poetry about the highs and lows of the human experience”.