“Telling lies to the young is wrong” – Yevtushenko


Telling lies to the young is wrong.
Proving to them that lies are true is wrong.
Telling them that God’s in his heaven
and all’s well with the world is wrong.
the young know what you mean. The young are people.
Tell them the difficulties can’t be counted,
and let them see not only what will be
but see with clarity these present times.
Say obstacles exist they must encounter,
sorrow happens, hardship happens.
The hell with it. Who never knew
the price of happiness will not be happy.
Forgive no error you recognize,
it will repeat itself, increase,
and afterwards our pupils
will not forgive in us what we forgave.

“Lies” by Yevgeny Yevtushenko, translated by Robin Milner-Gulland and Peter Levi. From the Selected Poems in the Penguin Modern Poets series, 1968.



“Communist doctrines were a great lie.”


One way to commit evil is simply “not to think,” but willed ignorance of evil already means “the ruin of a human being.” Those who tell Solzhenitsyn not to dig up the past belong to the category of “not-thinkers,” as do Western leftists who make sure not to know. The Germans, he argues, were lucky to have had the Nuremberg trials because they made not-thinking impossible. This Russian patriot advances a unique complaint: “Why is Germany allowed to punish its evildoers and Russia is not?”

Solzhenitsyn discovers yet another cause of totalitarianism’s monstrous evil: “Progressive Doctrine” or “Ideology.” In one famous passage, he asks why Shakespeare’s villains killed only a few people, while Lenin and Stalin murdered millions. The reason is that Macbeth and Iago “had no ideology.” Real people do not resemble the evildoers of mass culture, who delight in cruelty and destruction. No, to do mass evil you have to believe it is good, and it is ideology that supplies this conviction. “Thanks to ideology, the twentieth century was fated to experience evildoing on a scale of millions.”

From “Solzhenitsyn’s cathedrals” by Gary Saul Morson, in The New Criterion.

Image c/o Wikipedia.

Brian Higgins and the iniquity of his oblivion.


“THE INIQUITY OF OBLIVION blindly scattereth her poppy, and deals with the memory of men without distinction to merit of perpetuity.” So wrote Sir Thomas Browne, a writer who has not had the full weight of said iniquity fall upon him and managed to remain partly in the light of literary remembrance. Those of us stricken with the vanity that we may be remembered after our death for our poems, novels, plays, paintings, songs or whatever, never find out, of course, though we know the odds are in favour of the poppy.

Such was the case with Brian Higgins (1930 – 1965), poet, mathematician, teacher, rugby player, freelance journalist and dole wallah. Higgins published three (hardback) collections, two of them during his very short life (The Only Need and Notes While Travelling), and one posthumously (The Northern Fiddler). His poems had appeared in reputable magazines and anthologies, including The Faber Book of Twentieth Century Verse, so he was not exactly an obscure scribbler while alive. His portrait was painted by Patrick Swift, one of the leading Irish artists of the day, and he knew many of the more successful writers of the period. This included George Barker, himself a permanently half-remembered poet, who wrote a foreword to The Northern Fiddler.

Read on at The Fortnightly Review.

Poem in Land of Three Rivers anthology.

Land of Three Rivers

I have a poem, “The North Sea At Tynemouth”, in the new Bloodaxe anthology, Land of Three Rivers: The Poetry of North-East England.

Being interviewed by the RLF on poetry and the writer’s life.

‘After a while most of us find we’re doing the same stuff; I tried new things.’


What has it been like being a poet and publisher the past couple of decades? These are some of the things I talk about in this interview with poet, Geoff Hattersley, for the Royal Literary Fund.

Listen to the whole podcast.


Towards the new gulag one vote at a time.

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzheitsyn.
Solzhenitsyn’s short masterpiece should be essential reading for all young people. It’s a reminder (or perhaps the first encounter for some) of the horrors of communism in the Soviet Union. Socialism, communism, Marxism, whatever you want to call it, ends inevitably in labour and death camps or in complete social collapse, as is happening now in Venezuela.

Here’s the blurb from Penguin Books about One Day…

Bringing into harsh focus the daily struggle for existence in a Soviet gulag, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is translated by Ralph Parker in Penguin Modern Classics.

This brutal, shattering glimpse of the fate of millions of Russians under Stalin shook Russia and shocked the world when it first appeared. Discover the importance of a piece of bread or an extra bowl of soup, the incredible luxury of a book, the ingenious possibilities of a nail, a piece of string or a single match in a world where survival is all. Here safety, warmth and food are the first objectives. Reading it, you enter a world of incarceration, brutality, hard manual labour and freezing cold – and participate in the struggle of men to survive both the terrible rigours of nature and the inhumanity of the system that defines their conditions of life.

Though twice-decorated for his service at the front during the Second World War, Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008) was arrested in 1945 for making derogatory remarks about Stalin, and sent to a series of brutal Soviet labour camps in the Arctic Circle, where he remained for eight years. Released after Stalin’s death, he worked as a teacher, publishing his novel One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich with the approval of Nikita Khrushchev in 1962, to huge success. His 1967 novel Cancer Ward, as well as his magnum opus The Gulag Archipelago, were not as well-received by Soviet authorities, and not long after being awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1970, Solzhenitsyn was deported from the USSR. In 1994, after twenty years in exile, Solzhenitsyn made his long-awaited return to Russia.

If you enjoyed One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, you might also like Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We, available in Penguin Classics.

‘It is a blow struck for human freedom all over the world … and it is gloriously readable’
Sunday Times

For a more detailed and more gruelling read, there’s The Gulag Archipelago, also by Solzhenitsyn.