I have discovered (a) my link to The Guardian’s website from yesterday’s post about the Poetry Book Society got corrupted and doesn’t work, and (b) that anyway, The Guardian hasn’t put Carol Ann Duffy’s poem of protest about the Arts Council cuts in the online version of today’s paper. So I’ve typed it out myself, believing as I do that this is news and not a copyright issue, and here it is – if you’re not familiar with what the British Arts Council has recently done, or with some of the references, you’ll have to look them up separately (The Guardian gives a helpful set of footnotes, but again, only in the printed paper).

Anyway here it is – properly angry, immensely clever, entirely brilliant. What a woman, and what a poet. ( And if you don’t get the reference to Louis MacNeice’s original, you can find his inspirational poem here.)

A CUT BACK, by Carol Ann Duffy

It’s no go the LitFest, it’s no go up in Lancaster,
though they’ve built an auditorium (still quite wet, the plaster)
a bar, a bookshop, office space … well, they won’t need wheelchair
All we want is a million quid and here’s to the Olympics.

London’s Enitharmon Press was founded in 1967,
but David Gascoyne and Kathleen Raine are writing now in heaven,
with UA Fanthorpe, John Heath-Stubbs; dead good dead poets all.
The only bloody writing now’s the writing on the wall.

It’s no go the national art, it’s no go cake with icing.
All we want are strategic cuts, it’s no go salami slicing.

It’s no go the Poetry Trust, it’s no go in East Suffolk;
Aldeburgh’s east of Stratford East. As Rooney says, oh f-fuck it –
because it’s no go First Collection Prize, it’s no go local writers.
We’ve been asked to pull the plug, the rug, by coalition shysters.

National Association of Writers in Education?
No way, NAWE, children and books, the train’s leaving the station.
It’s no go your poets in schools, it’s no go your cultures.
All we want is squeezed middles and stringent diets for vultures.

It’s no go the pamphlet, the gig in Newcastle no go.
All we want is a context for the National Portfolio.

Three little presses went to market, Flambard, Arc and Salt;
had their throats cut ear to ear and now it’s hard to talk.
They remember Thatcher’s Britain. Clegg-Cameron’s is worse.
Deathbyathousandcuts.co.uk, the least of which is verse.

It’s no go the avant-garde, it’s no go the mainstream.
All we want is a Review Group, chaired, including recommendations.

Stephen Spender thought continually of those who were truly great;
set up the Poetry Book Society with TS Eliot, genius mate.
But it’s no go two thousand strong in the Queen Elizabeth Hall.
Phone a cab for the Nobel laureates as they take their curtain call.

It’s no go, dear PBS. It’s no go, sweet poets.
Sat on your arses for fifty years and never turned a profit.
All we want are bureaucrats, the nods as good as winkers.
And if you’re strapped for cash, go fish, then try the pigging

11 Responses to “A CUT BACK”

  1. Elizannie Says:

    Thank you so much for this, Belinda. Hope you don’t mind if I share it through my blog too. As a fan of both MacNeice and duffy and definitely anti-cuts this poem should be spread far and wide.

    The way that the cuts are affecting both the ‘Bread and Roses’ of society at the moment bring to mind the poem of that name by James Oppenheim. You can read about it in the blog by my alter ego, Clarice, here: http://villiersroad.blogspot.com/2011/03/bread-and-roses.html

  2. admin Says:

    I will be delighted if you pick this up on your blog – and thanks for the link.
    Oppenheim’s ‘Bread & Roses’ poem reminds me of a quote from Stella Duffy in this morning’s Guardian, about the Poetry Trust: this is what she said.
    “Maynard Keynes created the forerunner to the Arts Council during the Second World War, both to keep making work/work spaces available for performers, musicians and dancers who had lost their work and workspaces, and to give the people hope. Spirit. When Churchill was advised to cut funding for the arts to divert money to the war effort, his reply was, “Then what are we fighting for?”

  3. Hedgie Says:

    Thanks for posting this! I missed it in the Guardian. I’m also reposting it on my blog.

  4. Elizabeth Welsh Says:


  5. Keith Says:


  6. admin Says:

    I’m delighted by the response to this post, though not surprised – it’s such a brilliant poem. Thanks to everyone who’s contacted me, and let’s hope some of these absurd cuts are eased or themselves cut back.

  7. Sam Troost Says:


  8. admin Says:

    Thanks for the link, Sam – just as well I’ve never been tempted by a news-responsive poem of Wendy Cope’s, then!

  9. agl Says:

    Wendy Cope’s a hoot isn’t she? ;-)
    Meanwhile, I couldn’t find the Stella Duffy Guardian article online but the Keynes/Churchill quote can be found on her blog at:

  10. Tim Young Says:

    I thought the Duffy poem to be both mediocre and outmoded, a lethal combination. As i’ve said elsewhere, Lancaster organizations have been lavishly funded by the ARTS COUNCIL OF ENGLAND for three decades or more, and to complain about cuts seems peculiarly elitist and out of touch with the national attitude. There is a much bigger picture in cultural terms to be perceived by some people it seems, awful poetry name-checking long in the tooth taxpayer funded arts organizations is a bit of a poor show really.

  11. admin Says:

    Thanks for your comment, Tim – I’m pleased to have such a thoughtful & thought-provoking response, even if I don’t agree with it.

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