Randall Swingler was a poet, novelist, librettist and editor of the radical literary magazines Left Review, Poetry and the People, Our Time, Arena and Circus. During the Second World War he served with the 56th Divisional Signals with the Eighth Army in North Africa and Italy. He took part in heavy fighting on the Volturno and Garigliano rivers, at Monte Camino and on the Salerno and Anzio beach-heads. For his part in the battle of Lake Comacchio, Swingler was awarded the Military Medal. His collections The Years of Anger (1946) and The God in the Cave (1950) contain some of the greatest poems of the Italian campaign. After the War, Swingler was blacklisted by the BBC. Orwell included him in the list of names he offered the security services. Stephen Spender attacked him in The God that Failed. In 1956 Swingler joined the editorial board of the New Reasoner and was on the founding board of New Left Review.
Written in ottava rima, these letters bring Swingler up to date with developments in poetry and politics in the fifty years since his death, addressing issues of biography and literary reputation, the Second World War, the Cold War, espionage, the War on Terror, and the rise of right-wing populism.
Extract I don’t know if you’re following the story, Or if you get much news in Death’s abyss; For all I know, today’s red-top furore Before you get to hear of it in Dis Is wrapping chips on Proxima Centauri. So though I’d rather give this stuff a miss To understand this note you’re going to need A bit of help to bring you up to speed. So much has happened since my previous letter I’m not sure how or where I should begin; What started as a comic operetta About the ins and outs of Out and In Has turned into a poisonous vendetta Which only the most venomous can win. I cannot be the only one who’s weary Of trying to conjugate the verb brexire. Brexeo, brexis, brexit may sound cheerful, But seems to be derived from britimere Which means to be both British-born and fearful, Or else brodire – hating those who vary From low-browed Brits, who thus deserve an earful Of tabloid-Latin cockney-scarecrow scary – Or else the evil liberal élite. Bramo, bramas, bramat is obsolete. It really isn’t hard to get the hang Of what you might call basic Ukipese: A kind of ugly patois bar-stool slang That’s eloquent with hate for refugees, Resentful and self-pitying harangue Part Mr Toad and one part Thersites, Afraid and full of hate! Who gives a toss? And who dare say, brerubescamus nos? This bitter lingua franca is now spoken By foaming, feral packs of the Undead Surprised in violent dreams from which they’re woken By slavering dog-whistles in their heads To smash the world and then complain it’s broken; The old palingenetic virus spreads, A plague of raw stupidity and malice From Washington to the Élyseé Palace. The monsters that your generation fought And left for dead have recently escaped From unseen Hades’ dim and dismal court; Now suitably repackaged and reshaped, They’re cultivating popular support And so far seem to think they’ve got it taped Appealing to the meanest and the basest – Though nobody’s allowed to call them. Perhaps there’s other ways we should describe This atavistic fear of those in need, The hatred of all those outside the tribe That looks uncommonly like common greed: But since good manners means we can’t ascribe To them such terms, perhaps we might proceed By calling them (I hardly think they’ll mind!) Ungenerous, ungracious and unkind. Arise ye starvelings, eat your fill of hate, The age of cant and superstition’s here, The half-baked promises that fill your plate With others’ crumbs will quickly disappear; Unreason in revolt must always wait In servile chains of hatred, greed and fear Until the day the human race has sussed We need not spurn the prize to win the dust. In case you think I overstate the threat, I’m writing this from Richard Desmond’s Britain, In which The People’s Will’s a household pet (A cross between a Pit bull and a kitten) That wants to do its worst, videlicet, Let off the leash when someone must be bitten; A dog who doesn’t know his master’s tricked him, A bully who believes that he’s the victim. From Golden Dawn and Jobbik to Svoboda, Alternative für Deutschland, all the way To Dacre’s acres there’s a noisome odour Of something dead, the perfume of decay And atrophy, a repetitious coda Of ancient music that won’t go away, But lingers like the primitive refrain Of fear and hatred pumping round the brain. These days the Walking Dead are all the rage, (And rage, of course, is crucial to their style), From Wilders to Farage they’ve fouled the age With ignorance and bigotry and bile, And yet there’s something of the panto-stage About the neo-fascist reptile smile: Pure Captain Hook, but with a generous sprinkle Of Davros, Vader, Mekon, Ming and Hynkel. Stage villains such as these, of course, provide Material for the best of our lampoonists, And broad-sheet leader-writers may deride These cynical and clever opportunists, But nothing seems to stroke their oafish pride So much as when they’re skewered by cartoonists; Their critics are the mirror on the wall That tells them they’re the smartest of them all. The Donald may be madder than a hatter (This man would make Caligula look sane) But mocking Donald only seems to flatter The fragile self-love of the Donald’s brain. In other words, it ain’t no laughing matter (It’s hard to ridicule the King of Spain) And nobody dare say if, how, or when The pen will prove more mighty than Le Pen. This toxic mix of violence and vanity That marches to the beat of threats and lies Delirious with fear of all humanity, The rhetoric of hate that glorifies The stirrings of a popular insanity Is one, alas, I think you’ll recognise, Who understood what you were fighting for At Anzio in 1944.
‘You can’t help but applaud.’
‘That Croft continues in this poetic crusade in spite of al the obstacles and with a defiant albeit bitter wit is remarkable and commendable.’
‘a masterfully interwoven insight into the complexities of modern life and politics of the last five decades.’
‘wit, passion and verbal dexterity... my poetry book of the year.’
Merryn Williams, London Grip