A Satire on Deceit
By ANTHONY HOWELL.
MY PART IN the downfall of everything
Kicks off with my genes. Who knows what
They may have been a party to
That brought about the inexorable loss
Of some original state harmonising
With the earth, with beasts and birds
And blooms in the Nativity of Time?
Expulsion from this previously integrated realm
Must have seemed complete by 1933
For any cavalry officer who had seen
Service in the Kaiser’s army
Fifteen years before, but who now
Found himself held back at the Ministry
Next to a gutted Reichstag. Here,
For the lack of authoritative stamp,
My Jewish “Opa” cooled his heels
In an anteroom as General Goering addressed
The rest of a Zionist delegation.
Brandishing a wad of clippings, Goering
Launched into a harsh denunciation
Of those among the populace responsible
For spreading anti-Nazi propaganda
In Britain and America – gross exaggerations,
Detailing atrocities that constituted
Fabrications. “Put a stop to these
Libellously false reports immediately
Or I shall not be able (or inclined)
To guarantee the safety of the Jews.”
One among the summoned pointed out
That bits of what the papers said were true,
Friends had been subjected to attacks,
Others murdered. “Use a plane
And shavings fall,” said Goering.
After that, my grandfather was sent,
On the Reich’s insistence, to London;
Charged with the task of calming down
The press, but with an urgent mission
Of his own, which was to caution those at the helm,
Non-Jewish leaders and prominent peers,
That the fascist flood would overwhelm
European Jewry pretty soon.
Emigration was the only way
To counter this, with the National Home
In Palestine the appropriate place
Of refuge. At a later meeting
Back in Berlin, one Hauptmann Von Buelow
Quizzed him: Did he not agree
That Zion and Valhalla
To be pretty closely related?
This was a kinship to be exploited.
Mastery and destiny might grow
Sturdy in stature, if in separate lands.
Send us off, please, begged the eager Zionists.
The Reich was half-inclined to let them go.
Later on, my uncle and my father,
Lederhosened lads then, in Berlin,
Blond and blue-eyed, both of them,
Were stopped by other boys and urged
To join the Hitler Youth. This taken in,
Our family got out. Their flight
Was booked that very day. Let us however
Return to the Hauptmann’s insight:
Hebrew and Viking both seem “preferred”,
Both vouchsafed a secure abode;
Being “chosen”, more than merely good,
Vindicated, even “Antinomian”; each with a hand
On the plane that bears down on the wood
So that shavings fall. Justified in
Choosing to protect the useful criminal,
After the war, for instance;
Recognising power’s “aura”, blest indeed!
With Grace a state – of being – not
An aspiration or to be attained,
But yours in essence, birthright of your race.
Clearly this was the mindset governing the
Project for the New American Century,
Seeded as it was with dual citizens:
U.S. Israelis, taking their cue
From the Stern Gang, steeped in atrocity:
Murderers loathed by the Major my father
Became. No Zionist he, but emphatically
A Briton now, although a refugee;
Roundly condemning that terrorist cell,
Because they destroyed the King David Hotel
With fellow Brits in it during the Mandate.
The killers were the fruit of genocide;
Orphans of the killed, who mocked that passive
Herding to the gas that characterised
The “cattle” of the Holocaust.
In them a fiercer wish, a more aggressive strain,
A sabra spirit ripened, armed with spikes.
The prickly pear epitomised these kikes.
More at one with the sword than with the slain.
So chosen chose the chosen, wiping history
Clean of past aggression, retribution, guilt,
While bound as in a tryst to some new Axis.
Armed to the hilt though in their sense of right,
Choosing to lead, choosing America also;
Deeming U.S. leadership to be
“Good for America and for the world.”
To think of oneself, therefore, as a mine
Armed with pins intended to destroy
The sadly inept, almost rudderless
Progress of that leaking barque Democracy.
Dark union of Mossad, the C.I.A.
And assorted skulls and bones, with their techniques
For washing brains, their operatives
Automatised – in order to be dropped
Into the field of ever blacker ops.
Ops that see destruction as regenerative;
A view espoused by the Pope in Sade’s Justine,
Ops that are cloaked in deceit. Take Nero’s Rome
In ashes, and the Christians who became
His torches – blamed for setting all aflame.
Take Luther’s friend, then enemy, Agricola,
Who preached that faith alone permitted Grace,
That such a state enabled one “to grow
Guiltless forever, like a tree
That buds and blooms, nor seeks to know
The law by which it prospers so…”
Agricola rejected the commandments,
For souls should relate to the Gospels alone,
There being no Old Testament in Christ;
A view that appeals to the powerful now.
All that’s asked for is to be devout.
Prosper then, press forward with the plane
And let the shavings fall as bodies fall
From blazing towers. And blame it, blame it all
On those you use for torches.
Be devout though solely in your aim.
You have a goal. Pursue it. Serve your god.
But after all, your god is Mammon.
He is arse and arsenal. Isn’t his purse
As vast as the pit is bottomless?
Doesn’t he deem his war-chest more than vast
In respect of what’s needed to blast
Everything in the Middle East
To smithereens? Thusly to increase his grip
On time which is what money is,
He can bribe Nayirah as a witness
So that she may testify before a wide-eyed Congress
That she has seen Kuwaiti babies
Taken out of incubators, causing them to die.
Daughter of the ambassador to the U.S.A.,
Didn’t she get a penthouse off of Daddy
For blurting out that lie which galvanised
The rest of us with this concocted crime?
Sheik and rabbi, president and priest,
All go along with the protocols of the Elders.
Time is oil. Power is time,
And money worships profit.
So if a war is what you seek to profit by,
Make it happen, let your fleet be bombed
By “Kamikaze” pilots, human drones.
You are immortal, you are the old man,
The one in the mountains, old, but showing none
Of the signs of age, directing your assassins
So that they penetrate deeply, deeply
Into the encampment of your enemy –
Or was the myth a slander from the start?
Those suicidal pot-heads from the mountains,
In the main, Crusader fabrications:
The murder of King Conrad of Jerusalem
More than likely set up by the Lionheart.
This is not to say that such sheer perfidy
Is characteristic only of the West;
Those engaging in another’s game
Play by their opponent’s rules.
Apartment blocks blow up, get flagged
As Chechen fouls – when wired by
A covert State administry. Today
All deal in falsity, taking on the uniform
Of the foe, doctoring the evidence.
The truth being simply what one cannot know.
Blow up your own citadel to justify
The ransack of another sovereign land.
Gag protest – in the name of (your) democracy.
Try on the jackboot, even as you preach
“Lead us not into dictatorship.”
My part in the downfall of everything
Includes my inability to do anything
About all this, though I live beneath the cloud
Of a Cabal, though the times are rotten
And the secular fail, I do nothing,
Coping merely with my own conspiracies,
Petty sins, white lies, but little more.
My father fought and died. Our generation
Ambles through an age of drab permissiveness,
Insulated from each distant war
Waged on others by the very affluence
Milked from these stings and their violence;
Careless of how loathed we are
For siding with some nest of wasps
While we try on garments in the mall.
It’s evident, though, that your
Enemy’s enemy can become your pal.
And thus it is that Eretz Israel
Reinforces Isis via the choppers of the Yanks,
And this is all down to think-tanks
Such as the PNAC. It sure smells
Like a coup to me and to Wesley Clark
And Cynthia McKinney. Voice after voice
Gets raised now, that of Barbara Honegger,
Susan Lindauer’s also, calling for an end to it,
An end to the deceit. That wily knight
Bertrand de Born – wasn’t he
Surrounded? Wouldn’t he keep
His foes at bay by setting these against
Themselves, each at a neighbour’s throat?
It’s past belief, the sins religions mask;
The earth a promised land until we trashed the place;
Restoring it, our Herculean task.
Understand that others stoke divisiveness,
And harems aren’t laid on for one in Paradise.
Since its heyday in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, satire as a poetic form has fallen out of fashion. Of course, in other fields, there are still plenty of satirists. Private Eye continues to mock the establishment and spill the beans on cheats. Stand-up comics ridicule our politicians and media stars. There are plenty of films, plays and musicals that deal in derision and the criticism of human pretensions, foibles and iniquity. The satirical vein is still very much in circulation. But poetry itself, the principle organ of mockery in Roman times, appears to have lost sight of this cutting tool with the advent of the romantics. Sincerity replaced wit as the yard stick in the nineteenth century, and resonance achieved through depth of feeling became a more urgent concern.
Then, in its turn, modernism reacted to this humanisation of the world – perceiving its emotional relationship to experience as dangerously persuasive: a form of rhapsodic exhortation that could be used to enlist youth in the projects of empire; and so romanticism gave way to the experimentation of the twentieth century, with its emphasis on the material nature of the medium, and then came the social commitment of the thirties that established a return to narrative, which led to the milieu splitting into camps advocating language or concern. And these days, in the age of creative multitudinousness, there are a host of post-modernist varieties to choose from, and plurality seems to prevail. However, while ranting has come into its own, there is not much in the way of satire. Clive James is one of its few exponents in contemporary poetry.
Observing this, I found myself returning to Dryden’s Absalom and Achitophel, a satirical masterpiece, in which the poet develops an extended metaphor replacing the events of his own time with an incident drawn from biblical history that comes alive thanks to his brilliant gift for portraiture. This has inspired me to try my hand at the genre, though admittedly I have adapted it to my own sense of contemporaneity and the requirements of today’s “ear”, as I see them. I felt no desire to write in rhyming couplets or in a form demanding strict metrical regularity. To do so would be to hark back too directly to the achievements of the seventeenth century, producing an imitation that would come over as a cliché. Instead I decided to work with a five-line stanza which may sometimes use rhyme without fixing on a scheme – and this owes something to the verse of F. T. Prince. What does seem important to retain though is a sense of one’s subject. With satire, there is a beast in view. It might be a satire “On the monarchy” or “On religion” or indeed “On love”. My subject is derived from a fascination with shady deals and my unwillingness to take very much at face-value. Spike Milligan’s writing helped me with the title and with a way of setting about the project. — A.H.
Anthony Howell, a former dancer with the Royal Ballet, was founder of The Theatre of Mistakes and performed solo at the Hayward Gallery and at the Sydney Biennale. His articles on visual art, dance, performance, and poetry have appeared in many publications including Art Monthly, The London Magazine, Harpers & Queen, The Times Literary Supplement. He is a contributing editor of The Fortnightly Review. In 2001 he received a LADA bursary to study the tango in Buenos Aires and now teaches the dance at his studio/gallery The Room in Tottenham Hale. He is the author of a seminal textbook, The Analysis of Performance Art: A Guide to Its Theory and Practice. Details about his collaborative project, Grey Suit Online, are here.