The incredible unembarrassability of Craig Raine


It’s a rare day when a poet trends on Twitter, but then the Craig Raine poem that appeared in the most recent edition of the London Review of Books was a rare piece of work. Called Gatwick, it’s a thigh-rubbing evocation of an old man’s desire for young female flesh in airports; although with lines such as “She is maybe 22,/ like a snake in the zoo” and “I want to say I like your big bust,” it’s hard not to suspect that Raine’s muse would be a happier creature by far if an overdue bout of erectile dysfunction could unchain her from the poet’s dribbling lust.

Of course, the theme itself is not an unusual one – Gatwick is more spectacular in its badness than in its crassness. Thanks to the marvel of masculine unembarrassability, I know more than I need to about the sexual tastes of many men of letters: Tess of the d’Urbervilles taught me that Hardy was a boob man, and with the help of the magnificent 1982, Janine, I could probably plan a highly successful night in for Alasdair Gray. But maybe Raine has detected that the world is not quite so hospitable to his horn as once it was, and one of the themes of Gatwick’s gammy lines is a pricking sense of shame undercutting the licence he feels he can claim as a literary figure. “I can say these things, I say,/ because I am a poet and getting old./ But of course, I can’t,/ and I won’t. I’ll be silent.”

Whether the young women of terminal 4 who must now go unpropositioned feel quite the same regret is questionable, and perhaps it would have been happier for all concerned if the LRB had tactfully made Raine’s silence a little more complete. Twitter, however, had plenty to say, some of it in verse. Padraig Reidy offered this tribute: “To be fair to Craig Raine/ most poetry’s about perving/ The trick is not not make it sound/ so unnerving.” But Gary Bainbridge found the positive in the potentially excruciating: “isn’t it just lovely that we’re all chatting about poetry?”

This is a longer version of a piece that appeared in the Guardian Review, 6 June 2015. Photo by Nathan Rupert via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons.


Statement in response to London Young Labour Summer Conference Motion 8 supporting the decriminalisation of sex work

The London Young Labour summer conference takes place this Sunday. Among the motions to be voted on, motion 8 deserves particular scrutiny from feminists: it is titled “Standing up for sex workers’ rights, supporting the decriminalisation of sex work.” It is principally concerned with committing LYL to opposing the Nordic model. A number of feminist activists, academics and frontline service providers have collaborated to critique the claims and evidence offered in this motion.

As a feminist and a Labour Party member, I am publishing the full document below and hope that any delegates attending the LYL conference will consider it carefully before voting. It is a detailed and thorough rebuttal of motion 8, and very much worth reading in full. However, the conclusion is a particularly powerful explanation of why the Labour movement should never legitimise an industry founded in exploitative power relations:

as feminists we believe that women who sell sex are fellow human beings who operate under the constraints and limitations of all human life. Most of them are neither superior, sexually liberated entrepreneurs, nor weak and defenceless victims. They are responding to the demand created by men and catered to by pimps and traffickers (among others), a demand which can and should be delegitimised through the introduction of legislation that signals that sexual exploitation is not an acceptable “service” to purchase, even if the money exchanging hands seems to make it a “free” transaction on behalf of the class of people thus being exploited. The protection of those who sell should not be conflated with the legitimisation of those who buy. Those within the Labour movement who fail to distinguish or even acknowledge these two very different constituent elements of the sex industry, and who do not identify which holds the power, should explain their position better and more honestly than they have done in this motion.