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Sonnets are racist says SalfordU

Salford University has banned sonnets and suchlike “products of white western culture” from its creative writing course to “decolonise the curriculum”. I say ‘banned’ but they say they merely

“simplified the assessment offering choice”

and I have to admit there is a sense in which ‘simplified’ is the mot juste.

Frequent readers of Samizdata will now be expecting Niall Kilmartin (a.k.a Bilbo Baggins) to inflict some of his own poetic doggerel on you, but as none of mine even try to be any kind of sonnet, I will instead quote Neo’s response to the news.

My grief is deep, as deep as oceans vast
But virtue has its own reward, and so
I’ll give up sonnet-writing, and the past
Can sink beneath the waves of gloom so low.
Old Shakespeare, with his bootless bootless cries,
No doubt was white and certainly supreme.
Let’s stamp him out, and “colonization” dies.
We’ll show fidelity to the new meme.
Oh Wordsworth, even more forlorn are we.
Bereft of your old counsel, now we stand
On their less wise and quite unpleasant lea
Without the comfort of tradition’s hand.
The poems they write today are stupid shite
And sonnets are too challenging to write.

[If you compare with Neo’s original you will see that Niall get-the-scansion-perfect Kilmartin has made a tiny change at the start of the fourth-last line; feel free to comment and/or upbraid me any who wish. I have also skipped Neo’s link to the meaning of ‘shite’, assuming British readers know it, and transatlantic ones can deduce it from the context and from a certain rather obvious homonym. 🙂 ]

Neo has not offered an example of the modern, de-colonised poem that must now be written instead. Commenters are welcome to fill the lack with genuine examples or their own spoofs, or to share much loved poems, or just to give their opinions.

It was foresighted Robert Conquest who wrote, decades ago, that alongside ‘War is Peace’, ‘Freedom is Slavery’ and ‘Ignorance is Strength’, there was another essential slogan of totalitarianism that Orwell had (surprisingly) omitted:

Rubbish is Art

and of course, its corollary: Art is Rubbish (and racist and …).

21 comments to Sonnets are racist says SalfordU

  • William H. Stoddard

    I would like it better if the ninth line began “O Wordsworth,” that being the traditional poetic form of the vocative. Though to be sure, Wordsworth himself left off the “O” and just wrote “Milton! thou shouldst be living at this hour.”

  • Ben Dhonau

    I can see a good reason why sonnets are discouraged: the requirement to make them rhyme and scan which demands both knowledge and skill. How could creative writing students be expected have or acquire them?

  • WindyPants

    I’m gonna fuckin’ stab ya!!!

    I genuinely heard this in an altercation between two “post-colonial” Englishmen and I wondered long and hard about whether the poetry was intended. Given the circumstances, I don’t think I would have had the wherewithal to check whether my speech patterns scanned quite so well!

  • Y. Knott

    One of my kids tells this tale. We’d just moved from a place of ‘rarefied atmosphere’ to a far-distant place whose denizens were a little more down-to-earth. The new school year commenced, and one teacher of a literary bent decided to start the year by seeing if the class could be inspired to write poetry, so duly wrote the opening line “I feel so blue, I feel so sad…” on the blackboard. The class duly set-to on the assignment, and afterwards, as young teenagers will do, compared notes. They unanimously agreed that the winner of the poetry ribbon of excellence for that assignment was a boy whose second (and only) line was, “I guess that’s just too fucking bad.” Teacher’s reaction has not made it this far.

  • NickM

    I know it’s not a sonnet but this sprung to mind for some reason…

    What men call gallantry, and gods adultery, is much more common where the climate’s sultry.

    From Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage – Byron.

    William. Over dinner last night my wife (a translator) tried to explain the vocative to me. Fucked if I’m any the wiser (do I need to be?) but then she probably thinks the Argand Plane is the MoD pissing money up a rope (again). Like whatever.

    My favourite (and only) complex analysis joke is:

    I named my dog Cauchy because he leaves residues at every pole. Well it’s the only chuckle I ever got out of complex analysis.

    Just out of sheer curiosity has anyone named Hilbert ever actually opened a hotel? I’d love to stay on the top floor…

  • William H. Stoddard

    NickM: In a lot of languages (German, ancient Greek, Latin, Russian, and Sanskrit, for example), nouns have extra little markers that tell you what job they’re doing in a sentence. English only does this for pronouns—”I” and “he” and “she” are the subject, “me” and “him” and “her” are the direct object—and not very much there. But other languages have a lot more, and when you’re learning them you have to memorize the different forms.

    The “vocative” is the form of the noun you use when you’re speaking directly to someone, to get their attention (from Latin vocare, “to call”). You might think of it as a grammatical equivalent of “Hey, NickM!”

    Lewis Carroll alludes to it:

    “O Mouse, do you know the way out of this pool? I am very tired
    of swimming about here, O Mouse!” (Alice thought this must be the right
    way of speaking to a mouse: she had never done such a thing before, but
    she remembered having seen in her brother’s Latin Grammar, “A mouse—of
    a mouse—to a mouse—a mouse—O mouse!”)

    Here the first “a mouse” is the nominative form, used for the subject of a sentence; “of a mouse” is the genitive, used for something that something else belongs to (“the tail of a mouse”); “to a mouse” is the dative, used for the indirect object or for movement toward something (“Alice spoke to the mouse”); the second “a mouse” is the accusative, used for the direct object of a sentence. And “O mouse” is the English translation of the vocative.

  • NickM

    Well, William,
    Thank you! That makes sense. And may well be useful. I have an idea for a book. It’s about the history of mathematical terminology. A side to this is quite linguistic and I’ve very vaguely thought about whether or not equations have semantic elements… I have no idea if that is profound or nonsense. Or maybe both or neither. But I do find it very curious that a huge number of mathematical things can be expressed very differently whilst being logically the same. Examples include, obviously, Hamiltonian vs. Newtonian Mechanics or even the difference in Calculus notation between Newton and Liebniz. The weird thing about the latter is that whilst the newtonian (yes, small “n”) is very rarely used it is used a lot in planetary astrophysics.

  • Fraser Orr

    Isn’t the English language they teach and, come to that, Salford University, in fact the very idea of “University” itself, all “products of white western culture”? Perhaps Salford University should decolonize itself out of business.

  • William H. Stoddard


    I copy edit scientific papers professionally. And one of the first things I learned, when I was getting started, is that every mathematical expression has a grammatical character, and can fit into the syntax of a sentence in a specific way. If, for example, it has a relational sign such as = or (“implies”), that’s most often a conjunction (A => B is read “if A, then B”).

  • Stonyground

    Presumably western culture isn’t so dominant due to it being innately superior to other cultures? It must be because the all the other cultures are being suppressed, that must be it. Or could it be that other cultures are being prevented from spreading cultural memes that do have value because that would require cultural Appropriation and that would never do would it?

  • Too working class for sonnets, but here’s a somewhat coarse limerick.

    There once was a lady named Jill
    Who used dynamite sticks for a thrill
    They found her vagina in North Carolina
    and her hips and her tits in Brazil.

    If it was good enough to be quoted by George VI, it’s good enough for this place.

  • Salford “University” ought to be left behind instead of sonnets, and it doesn’t deserve to be called a university at all, nor a “diversity”, it’s attempting to be a homogenous, exclusionist monoculture – so it should be Salford Monoversity instead…

  • Mark

    @ John Galt

    I think I need to make that more inclusive:

    There once was a person who identified as Jill
    Who culturally appropriated dynamite sticks for a thrill
    They found his vagina had colonised North Carolina
    and her hips and her tits had taken slaves to Brazil

    Or perhaps something by sonnet and share.

  • Fraser Orr

    Who culturally appropriated dynamite sticks for a thrill

    Funny Mark, however, I want to challenge the word “thrill” in this line. One thing I have found about some of the more extreme woke is that they are never very happy, and never seem to get any joy out of life aside from a nasty species of schadenfreude. It is so bleak and depressing around those folks it’d make Wuthering Heights seem like a paean to joy. Which brings me to the same conclusion I had about the equally self loathing, funless southern baptists — I wouldn’t subscribe to your religion even were it true.

    Doesn’t it get exhausting being so angry, outraged and despondent all the time?

  • Modern hogwash Mark 🙁

    “Educating Rita” taught me everything I needed to know about assonance in modern poetry. I prefer mine to rhyme. On second reading it’s probably better written as:

    There once was a lady named Jill
    Who used dynamite sticks for a thrill
    They found her vagina in North Carolina
    and her hips and both tits in Brazil.

    …because you should avoid repeating words in the rhyme was what my Junior school English teacher told me, long ago when the world was young.

    Your “sonnet and share” pun makes up for it though.


  • Mark

    @Fraser Orr

    “Doesn’t it get exhausting being so angry, outraged and despondent all the time?”

    I do my best to ignore it – I simply don’t touch soshul meeja and avoid
    the lame stream media like the plague – but short of living in a cave on baffin island, I just can’t avoid it: Debased, soulless, mindless pig ignorant hate for the sake of hate. Even Der Sturmer would be embarrassed to publish it!

    @John Galt

    Indeed sir, my talent for scansion is embarrassed only by my lack of fashion sense. My normal selection of outer attire would make a ford edsel look elegant.

    I’m probably better than what the unwitting lab rats at this “university” are likely to be subject to once the curriculum has been suitably “improved” though!

  • Penseivat

    Perhaps examples of non English sonnets, and rhymes should be more actively promoted:

    There was a young girl from Tashkent,
    Who certainly knew what it meant,
    When tribesmen asked her to dine,
    And plied her with wine,
    She knew what it meant, but still went.

    Tried to think of a place in Africa ending in “ent” but couldn’t find one, hence Eastern Europe.

  • Mark



  • Ferox

    For a slightly darker contribution:

    There was a young xir from Tehran
    Who identified as a swan
    Xe thought xe had wings
    But while testing the things
    Went straight from the roof to the lawn

    or maybe

    There was a young xir from Tehran
    Who identified as a swan
    Xe thought xe could fly
    But when was forced to try
    Went straight from the roof to the lawn

    Take that, OWM!

  • Penseivat


  • NickM

    There once was a chap named Putin,
    Who couldn’t resist putinng the boot in.
    But, so shite were his tanks,
    It didn’t even need the Yanks,
    to make him much less high falutin’.