Great British Poetry-Part 1

Great British Poetry-Part 1

‘All the ingredients are equally important, treating one ingredient better than another will leave a bitter, unpleasant taste’ – Benjamin Zephaniah

On National Poetry Day, we at the Great British Community have been trawling through some of Britain’s finest works of literary art. From Rudyard Kipling to Benjamin Zephaniah we can proudly boast some of the most passionate and socially enthralling poetry to ever grace this planet. But what were the roots from which such colourful flowers bloomed? From where did British society manage to create such a beautiful social canvas for these wordsmiths to paint their magic? Perhaps the truth to these questions is encapsulated within our history and the beginnings of our nation as expressed by the words of Rudyard Kipling.

 Rudyard Kipling: The River’s Tale

But the Romans came with a heavy hand,
And bridged and roaded and ruled the land,
And the Romans left and the Danes blew in –
And that’s where your history books begin.

Daniel Defoe also eloquently reminds us that Britain has always absorbed and created through accumulative intellectual and cultural wealth. From being invaded, to colonisation, to various waves of migration, we have collected, stolen, borrowed and accommodated. As culture, architecture and knowledge amalgamated in Britain so did our language. We have reaped the benefits of cultures beyond our geographical reach yet always within our collective identity and hearts.

Daniel Defoe: The True Born Englishmen –

Thus from a mixture of all kinds began
That Het’rogenous Thing, an Englishman:
In eager Rapes, and furious Lust begot,
Between a painted Briton and a Scot:
Whose gend’ring offspring quickly learned to bow,
And yoke their heifers to the Roman plough:
From whence a mongrel half-bred race there came,
With neither Name nor Nation, Speech or Fame,
In whose hot veins new mixtures quickly ran,
Infus’d betwixt a Saxon and a Dane.
While their rank Daughters, to their Parents just
Received all nations with Promiscuous Lust.

For Englishmen to boast of generation
Cancels their Knowledge and lampoons the Nation.
A true born Englishmen’s a Contradiction
In Speech an Irony, in Fact a Fiction.

We hope to celebrate all that has been created within our artistic community and embrace its depth and development. In more recent times a variety of British poets have also used this emotive medium to capture their audiences attention towards many of the issues surrounding race and diversity in the UK.

As part of the infamous ‘Anthology’ textbook, for those educated in state schools during the early 2000’s John Agard’s ‘Half-Caste’ will be part of their first introduction to poetry . It is perhaps one of the first pieces that come to mind, for many people, when thinking about poems exploring issues of race and identity. It represents these juxtapositions both in its content as well as the language (a mixture of British English, Caribbean and Creole), and challenges the reader to reassess how they perceive people of mixed race.

John Agard

– Half Caste –

Excuse me
standing on one leg
I’m half-caste.
Explain yuself
wha yu mean
when yu say half-caste
yu mean when Picasso
mix red an green
is a half-caste canvas?
explain yuself
wha yu mean
when yu say half-caste
yu mean when light an shadow
mix in de sky
is a half-caste weather?
well in dat case
england weather
nearly always half-caste
in fact some o dem cloud
half-caste till dem overcast
so spiteful dem don’t want de sun pass
ah rass?
explain yuself
wha yu mean
when yu say half-caste
yu mean tchaikovsky
sit down at dah piano
an mix a black key
wid a white key
is a half-caste symphony?

Explain yuself
wha yu mean
Ah listening to yu wid de keen
half of mih ear
Ah looking at yu wid de keen
half of mih eye
an when I’m introduced to yu
I’m sure you’ll understand
why I offer yu half-a-hand
an when I sleep at night
I close half-a-eye
consequently when I dream
I dream half-a-dream
an when moon begin to glow
I half-caste human being
cast half-a-shadow
but yu must come back tomorrow
wid de whole of yu eye
an de whole of yu ear
an de whole of yu mind.

an I will tell yu
de other half
of my story.


Perhaps one of the truest and greatest celebrations of what it means to be British is portrayed best by Benjamin Zephaniah (Please re-fresh if the video doesn’t appear):

Despite some uncertainty and hesitation surrounding modern British identity we must remember and celebrate that this eclectic mix is nothing new. We began by embracing what the world had to offer and continue to develop along such lines. To be British is to be diverse, adaptive and open to growth.

Great Britsh Poetry Part 2 will be on-line tomorrow!

– Ian Werrett and Ollie Sheldrick –

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