Nicholas Murray, A Dog’s Brexit (Melos Press, £5.00).
Nicholas Murray’s ‘Get Real’ a verse satire on the coalition government was published in his fine book Acapulco, also from William Palmer’s Melos Press. That poem used a modified Burns stanza to show just how hypocritical the coalition was; in all it’s fine rhetoric about balancing books and its effect on ‘austerity Britain’. That collection also showed Murray’s quiet and precise skill as a lyric poet.
That lyric skill also showed itself in the pamphlet The Migrant Ship which presents the voices of those refugees crossing the Mediterranean, such as the refugee who comments ‘I spread them on my cloth:/ a tiny elephant of brass,/ a ring a ball of glass,/ a silver box containing nothing’; this latter being the object reached for when the boat eventually reaches Europe. Murray has a deep and sophisticated empathy for those caught in the vice of political events, and has the skill to use that empathy in both poignant lyricism and biting satire.
Murray’s new Melos pamphlet A Dog’s Brexit returns to the modified Burns stanza of ‘Get Real’. And Murray again uses that measure with real skill. The text is narrated by a ‘dog’ whose ‘hide’s a mellow shade of whisky,/ my temper’s generally frisky/ but not today’, and the canine sympathies are those of an unalloyed remainer. It’s targets are often the obvious ones: the ones who cry, ‘We want our country back, …’/ who handed it to tax-avoiding, fly,/ globetrotting firms not shy/ of battle// with mere governments – or workers/ flung like Christians in the circus/ to lions’ jaws’; the ‘Brits’ who live abroad and read The Daily Mail; and Nigel Farage and the UKIP MEPs ‘waxed fat on all their doles and fees.’ So Murray has little stomach for the hypocrisy he finds in contemporary British life. And little stomach for the hypocrisy he finds in the politics of Theresa May with her sycophancy towards Trump, and May’s wish to claw back legislation such as the Human rights Act.
In the final third of the poem, the canine narrator becomes more personal suggesting that the relationship between dog and human can be as exploitative as the relationship of human and human. Murray extends that sense of the scales being weighted against both rationality and equality, by railing against the voting system of the UK; ‘Your PM, May, the vicar’s daughter/ was voted for by just below a quarter. …[her] promises soon sent to landfill in a cart;’ I leave you to imagine the next rhyming word!
As such, this kind of text lays itself open to the criticism that its targets are too obvious, and that verse satire is, possibly, the kind of effete weapon that the ‘populists’ would both scorn and ignore in equal measure. In an age of social media and YouTube, on which American comedians excoriate Trump every night, and where the bizarreries of our political classes tumble across our 24-hour news with monotonous regularity, such writing might indeed seem effete and coterie; its medium too slow and ponderous. But the verse satire tradition of Horace, Pope and Swift has had its proponents in the 20th century. James Fenton and John Fuller both separately and together, in Partingtime Hall, have exercised their verbal dexterity with telling effect. Clive James best verse has often been of this kind. Nick Murray’s fine pamphlet is an important addition to that particular canon.