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Letters

Vol. 21 No. 14 · 15 July 1999

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The Stephen Lawrence Case

As a lawyer working on employment law cases, including race discrimination, at Plumstead Community Law Centre, near where Stephen Lawrence was murdered, I was disturbed by John Upton's lack of knowledge – or apparent lack of knowledge – of all the other murders of ethnic minority people in the area (LRB, 1 July). Rolan Adams was stabbed to death on Bentham Road, Thamesmead on 21 February 1991. Rohit Duggal was stabbed to death on Well Hall Road, Eltham – the road where Lawrence died – on 11 July 1992. On 6 January this year, Rafique Khan was stabbed to death in his shop near the Law Centre. None of these sites is very far away from the HQ of the British National Party on Upper Wickham Lane, Welling. Mr and Mrs Lawrence have done all the citizens of South-East London a favour by making a fuss about their son's murder and not giving up – a point which John Upton appears to have overlooked.

It was relevant of Upton to tell us that Macpherson believes the double jeopardy rule should be removed, but didn't Macpherson also start to tackle the knotty problem of evidence in cases involving race? I would have found the article more helpful if we had been told a bit more about the substantive proposals which Sir William made. My feeling is that Upton isn't as close to the problems of racism and the reality of racial murder as some other lawyers are, and his judgments are a little academic. Points about insufficient evidence come up over and over again in race cases. Delays abound. It is time we tackled both.

Chris Purnell
Orpington, Kent

How many of us, I wonder, finding ourselves in the position of the Lawrence parents, would admit that we had behaved rashly in using whatever device came to hand to bring the murderer of our child to justice, in the knowledge that six years after the event the criminal and his accomplices are still at large, and the police officers whose negligence and incompetence (by their own minimal admission) allowed them to go free are enjoying unconfined retirement and immunity from investigation or prosecution? Didn't the Lawrence parents behave as most of us would have done, if not always consistently or with due regard to the niceties of the legal system?

Victor Winstone
Bideford, Devon

Very Exacting Solidarities Indeed

I'd been following the exchanges provoked by Terry Eagleton's assault on Gayatri Spivak with great interest when I encountered the letter from Mustapha Marrouchi (Letters, 1 July). A particularly devastating polemic, I thought: vigorous, well informed, and spiced with some rather good jokes. But then I would think that – for the letter is an almost verbatim, complete transcription of my review of Spivak's previous book, published in the New Statesman in February 1994. Maybe, in line with the old clichés about imitation and flattery, I should be pleased that someone thought a five-year-old book review of mine was worth plagiarising in the LRB. (I have received an apology from Mr Marrouchi.) On reflection, I'm afraid the recycling of my old words is mainly testimony to how repetitive debate has become in the new, and supposedly innovative, field of post-colonial studies.

Stephen Howe
Ruskin College, Oxford

Virtual Hand-Bagging

Frank Kermode’s Diary about literary journalism (LRB, 27 May) reminds me of a little-known cultural achievement for which Baroness Thatcher is entitled to such credit as seems appropriate: aborting the possible creation of a second New Review. During 1978, as a member of the Arts Council Literature Panel, I would work through applications for Writers’ Grants from poets and novelists in the form of a small amount of published material and longer excerpts from projects to come. The overall funding was tiny enough. Nevertheless, the policy seemed right. How better to help writers still finding their way to the creation of original work?

The Literature Panel also had the job of approving grants to literary periodicals, and it was during 1978 that Ian Hamilton’s New Review, even in its drastically reduced format, was held by the Council to be finally beyond financial rescue. But (I then wondered) supposing it had been from the start funded generously enough for its contributors not to have had to languish in the queue behind printer, paper-supplier, London Electricity et al: so generously indeed that they could have been paid really well? Wouldn’t that make better use of Council money than doling out minimal sums behind closed doors in the form of Writers’ Grants? An editor with a reputation to establish would make the decisions, not a group of Council appointees none of whom could be identified as responsible for any particular judgment. The Literature Panel came to accept this argument. It invited Robert Gavron and myself to come up with a suitably costed proposal for an Arts Council literary periodical of the quality and size, though perhaps not the frequency, of the New Review. In the spring of 1979, the Panel approved our scheme and at once formally recommended it to Council. The next meeting was scheduled for June. Informal comments from the top brass promised well.

The General Election intervened. Its result seemed to confront the Council with a number of problems, among which the direct funding of a new literary periodical was so far down the list as to be scarcely visible. ‘Absolutely not the right moment,’ we were told. I still think of what happened as the virtual hand-bagging of a promising idea.

Graham Martin
London SW3

Only in the Balkans

Peter Wright provides eloquent confirmation of Misha Glenny’s thesis that the Balkans are impenetrable to well-meaning visitors (Letters, 10 June). After ‘a bit’ of time spent in Greece Wright has concluded that the Greeks would like to do to the Albanians in Greece what Milosevic did in Kosovo. The country has received 300,000 Albanian immigrants since the collapse of Communism, and remarkably little overt racism has resulted (the total population is only 10 million). We are in the process of legalising Albanian workers. The Greeks of course have their share of chauvinism but it is pretty mild compared to what goes on in more ‘developed’ Northern European countries. There is no racist nationalist party in Greece such as those in Britain, Germany and France. Not one of the top six parties in Greece made the eviction of Albanians an issue in the recent European elections. I vividly remember the violence of racist attacks against Greek Cypriots in Britain, where I grew up as an immigrant, and we were not associated with a spectacular rise in crime as members of the Albanian community unfortunately are in Greece.

Luke Prodromou
Thessaloniki

Plum-Arse

I am grateful to Paul Muldoon (LRB, 1 July) for alerting me to plamas (‘flattery’, ‘cajolery’, ‘buttering up’). It is a word my Irish mother often uses in a verbal mode. I’d always thought it was ‘plum-arse’, as in ‘You’d think that Tony Blair could plum-arse them all into agreement, he’s certainly got the mouth for it.’ I wonder if Muldoon, or indeed anyone, can help me with latchico, a word I encountered while working as a hod-carrier for mainly Irish builders in Coventry. It was a craftsman’s disparagement for a cowboy operator – a bricklayer who couldn’t lay a straight run, say, or a carpenter who made a shoddy job of his tongue-and-groove. Local Warwickshiremen also used it, so it may be a Midlands usage or building argot, like blind (‘to scatter a light covering of sand over slabs or tiles’), rather than an Irishism.

Giles Foden
London N1

I enjoyed Paul Muldoon's Diary until I came to his disparaging remarks about the Welsh spoken at the poetry reading in Criccieth. I also felt his snap judgment about the relationship between Welsh and Anglo-Welsh poets was incorrect. For centuries, Welsh-language poetry has been a guerrilla poetry, persecuted by the establishment but running freely in the hills and woods. In the last twenty years Welsh and Anglo-Welsh writers have realised that they are on the same side, tramping the same woods and hills. It is fortunate for Paul Muldoon that Anglo-Irish literature is, in contrast, accepted by the literary great and good, or he wouldn't have had two pages in the London Review.

J.G. Owen
Caerphilly

Tennis Lessons

Edward Said is sure that tennis is in decline (LRB, 1 July) but I cannot agree that – in Britain at least – commercialism is ruining the sport. The obnoxious and sexist Tim Henman reminds us that whatever the problems with footballers or cricketers, people without a well-to-do background can get to the top in these sports. Commercialism has ended the amateur attitudes which pervaded most British sports. Tennis, and to an extent golf, remain exceptions.

Keith Flett
London N17

Hand and Foot

‘In the years since North,’ John Kerrigan writes (LRB, 27 May), ‘the idea of “opening up" has become a leitmotif’ in Seamus Heaney. Kerrigan traces this through Seeing Things by plotting the variations on the words ‘opened ground’ in specific poems. However, his close attention to textual reworking makes only passing reference to a curious formal feature common to the poems he cites as evidence: they are all sonnets of sorts. Of the poems Kerrigan discusses, Heaney first breaks sonnet ground in ‘Act of Union’; it is ‘ploughed’ again in the first two Glanmore sonnets and the ‘Ground of being’ becomes ‘A half-door/Opening directly into starlight’ in ‘Squarings’ xl.

An accomplished sonneteer, Heaney has been highly selective in his use and placement of the sonnet form. That ‘Act of Union’ appears ‘near the heart of North’, as Kerrigan notices, seems to me especially poignant. For a volume generally associated with the free verse of the ‘bog poems’ to be able to accommodate what Kerrigan calls ‘a double, irregular sonnet’ is itself a significant act of union, as Heaney constructs a tense negotiation between freedom and form. Still, this isn’t the only structural act of union at work in the poem. What Kerrigan reads as a ‘double, irregular sonnet’ is really two fairly standard English sonnets, though some of the rhymes Heaney chooses involve a degree of phonetic liberty. Here Heaney is using the sonnet form as an ironic gesture. The English pattern (both sonnets conform to the English pattern, each rhyming ababcdcdefefgg) is a formal symbol of the colonial Other, ‘the tall kingdom over your shoulder’, which the poet embodies, both literally and metaphorically.

In the first two Glanmore sonnets from Field Work, the ground which had been ‘raw’ in ‘Act of Union’ is again deliberately penetrated, though this time the encounter is more gentle (‘the turned-up acres breathe’). Like ‘Act of Union’, the ‘Glanmore Sonnets’ are centrally located. In a way, they serve much the same purpose as the bog poems did in North – they are the volume’s pièce de résistance and lend it a structural and thematic focus. However, where ‘Act of Union’, and North in general, concentrate on the violence of ‘union’, the ‘Glanmore Sonnets’ offer an opening which is more consensual. At least in part, they signify Heaney’s relaxed attitude towards metrical verse. Their central location in Field Work can be seen as a formal indicator of the poet’s intention to engage the iambic line of English tradition after the free-verse rebellion of North.

Jason Hall
London N6

editorial note

We introduced an error into John Kerrigan's article: the revised text of the first Glanmore sonnet can be found in the book under review, Opened Ground (1998), and not in Field Work (1979).

Editor, ‘London Review’

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