24 October 1991

Douglas Oliver’s Penniless Politics

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About Douglas Oliver and his New York poem Penniless Politics Published as ‘Poet of the lower depths’, the Guardian, 24 October 1991.


Any adequate account of British poetry in the eighties would give prominence to Douglas Oliver’s The Infant and the Pearl. In this remarkable long poem Oliver revives the stanza and allegorical atmosphere of the late medieval poem, Pearl, to fashion a prism through which to view the British scene in the first years of Margaret Thatcher’s leadership.

 The poem pursues its quest with the help of a blue Bentley equipped with ‘adjustable futurity’ and full of Tory politicians and other ‘television wraiths’ which swirl and crackle on the unreliable video screen. A corrupt and unreformed Britain slides by outside the window, a ‘hoar-frost land’, its distant hills ghosted with ‘Churchillian blue’, and its society governed by a gruesome parody of ‘chivalric hierarchy’: the poor and the immensely rich all over again, but no ‘golden chain of charity’ to join them.

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