Dichterbriefe – Folge 11: Brexit Poetry – Christophe Fricker schreibt Boris Johnson

Christophe Fricker schreibt jeweils am 1. des Monats einem Dichterfreund, dessen Buch er gerade gelesen hat. Die Texte sind eine Mischung aus Offenem Brief zu Lyrik und Gesellschaft, bewusst parteiischer Rezension und vertrautem Austausch. Und damit hoffentlich auch weniger langweilig als Rezensionen, die ihre eigene Voreingenommenheit vertuschen.


Dear Boris,

You may now be Her Majesty’s Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, The Right Honourable Boris Johnson, but – to paraphrase the words of a Michael Gove aide – you are not my friend; these monthly missives go out to poet friends of mine whose books I have recently read, but I will make an exception today because your qualities as a poet are under-appreciated.

Your ludicrous limerick about Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan did cause quite a stir – and in and of itself should have disqualified you from being in charge of UK diplomacy; other achievements received little attention, including your hymn to the cathartic effects of reading a poem – which does not seem to have had the cathartic effects it describes: Some say it could ruin poetry forever while others suggest that it might have spoiled your chances of ever becoming poet laureate. Then there is the Pindar poem you commissioned for the 2012 London Olympic Games, which you recited to everybody’s delight, and of course your actual book of poetry.

But all of this is trivial. Your true poetic qualities lie elsewhere. You are a street artist who has travelled the length of the country in a bus with stuff written on its side that is more detached from reality than any decent poem has ever been. German Naturalist author Arno Holz was quite liberal when it came to numbers, pronouncing that »seven trillion years before my birth, I was an iris.« In its brazenness, your claim that 350 million Pounds are transferred from the UK to Brussels every week surpasses even Holz’s line. Other street artists have been quick to react.

Standing outside your bus, you have shown your prowess as a performance artist, inspiring your audiences to break out in rhythmic chants of »Out! Out! Out!« and even impromptu metronomic marches. I have written at length about my experiences with people on the campaign trail whom your poetry has propelled into some form of trance so I shan’t repeat these things here.

Former New York governor Mario Cuomo once famously said that »you campaign in poetry, you govern in prose«, and by being both effective and inconsequential, your Brexit campaign has been an outstanding example of this kind of endeavour. It was successful in that you won the fight, and pointless in that most of the lines written on buses – both real and metaphorical – were renounced within a few hours after the final result. They will still inform the approach your European counterparts will take to future negotiations.

The fact that you ended up in government after all and that your key allies have been appointed to Theresa May’s confrontation cabinet too is an indication that we should turn to William Carlos Williams rather than Governor Cuomo. In »The Ivy Crown,« Williams asserts: »We will it so | and so it is | past all accident.« A poet’s utterances create the world that others will have to live in. Who would have thought that a Tory politician should ever vindicate Williams’s beautiful lines?

Poetry will survive your forays into its territory. It has survived the lyrical outbursts of another fuzzy-haired celebrity and the inadvertent lyrics of an American politician whose skills at diplomacy you seem to want to emulate.

Poetry still has the resources to tackle big contemporary issues, including the achievements of hard-working individuals across Europe that have been assaulted by your fanciful world of word craft: seven decades of peace (and counting!), the ability to exchange ideas freely across European borders, the joy of working together on addressing the world’s most urgent problems.

Given the resilience of poetry, I am not worried, in spite of your best efforts.



Christophe Fricker. Foto: © Chiara Dazi
Christophe Fricker.
Foto: © Chiara Dazi

Christophe Fricker, geb. 1978, schreibt über die Möglichkeiten von Freundschaft, die Grenzen des Wissens und die Unwägbarkeiten der Mobilität. Mit Tom Nolan und Timothy J. Senior veröffentlichte er den zweisprachigen, illustrierten Gedichtband »Meet Your Party«. 2015 gab er die »Gespräche über Schmerz, Tod und Verzweiflung« zwischen Ernst Jünger und André Müller heraus, die das Deutschlandradio eine »Sensation« nannte. Frickers Buch »Stefan George: Gedichte für Dich«, eine Einführung in das Werk Georges, stand auf Platz 2 auf der NDR/SZ-Sachbuchbestenliste. Für den Gedichtband »Das schöne Auge des Betrachters« wurde er mit dem Hermann Hesse Förderpreis ausgezeichnet. Alle bereits erschienenen Folgen von »Dichterbriefe« finden Sie hier.

4 Kommentare

  1. Delightful and appropriately snarky :). In a just universe, Johnson would respond and we would be treated to one of the most important poetic spectacles of the century. But the circumstance occasioning this letter perhaps precludes such justice.

    I hadn’t read any of Johnson’s verse before this, but I’d like to point out this bit from one of the poems you reference:

    If you’ve got a carcinoma
    Try a line or two of Homer
    And a gumboil on the ass
    Can be cured with Lycidas

    For Homer, Apollo’s province is poetry and panacea, epidemic and epos. Reading the first two lines, we might be beguiled into thinking Johnson has exhibited nuance, concisely evoking Iliad I. We might wonder whether his specific mention of carcinoma, the predecessor to the telomeric immortality of our most vicious and virulent diseases, gestures at Hector’s body, miraculously aseptic as it lies in Achilles’s tent. From there the specious promise of κλέος ἄφθιτον, undying glory set in contrast to the botched rituals which mortals hope will ward off death.

    Reading the second couplet, the illusion breaks down. We realize that 1) one cannot get a gumboil on one’s ass; 2) Lycidas, a memorial by the young Milton for an acquaintance he barely knew, is practically antithetical to the project of poetry as salve; 3) if one did get a gumboil on one’s ass, it would mean one’s ass had teeth, as though one could talk out of it. Proceeding from the Apollonian to the absurd in two rhymed-ish couplets, Johnson admits it is not from the expected orifice that his song issues.

  2. Absolutely brilliant! A spiv and piss artist as foreign minister: a reflection on the ethical dungheap that Britain has become. I just hope he doesn’t try to join the Poetry Society; then we’d have to have him in a Stalinist auto-critique seminar … (Does this blog do winking smileys?)

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