The Anaphora controversy


Do many now remember the notorious Anaphora controversy? At the risk of causing insult, I’ll merely remark, for those who have advanced far beyond such techniques, that Anaphora is the deliberate repetition of the first part of a sentence for artistic effect.

Indeed I could do no worse that quote from a poem I penned at the time which perhaps illustrates the technique.


Why must I suffer?

Why must I go to the bother?

Why must I write the agenda?

Why must I whose means are slender, pour endless drinks into the truculent member

Why must I judge to a nicety

How to offend everybody as I run this accursed poetical society.


Indeed I might as well quote it, I wasn’t paid for it then and I don’t suppose I’ll be paid for it now.


But still, the controversy did indeed rage fiercely within poetical circles. In retrospect I don’t know why, it’s not as if it was a novel technique. It’s one of the oldest; well hallowed by time and used by orators and rhetoricians as well as poets.

Now a wiser man than me once commented than in any dispute, the less important the issues, the more intense the feelings generated. So you can immediately see how those poets with an assured private income and not enough to do should throw themselves body and soul into this dispute. I, like the other working poets, with patrons to pander to and a living to earn stood on the sidelines of the controversy, at least at the beginning. But slowly, inevitably, we were drawn in. I was perhaps one of the last to hold out. At the time I was secretary of the Society of Minor Poets. It isn’t a particularly onerous post, nor, to be fair, is it a particularly well paid one. The remuneration being limited to a bottle of wine presented to your spouse at the annual general meeting. Thus there was never any real competition for the task.

And also the Minor Poets are not a particularly fractious bunch. We’re far too busy trying to stave off the pangs of hunger and keep ourselves and our families decently clad. But even they got caught up in the controversy. Three times I had to end the minutes of a meeting with the words, ‘Uproar ensued.’

Now I blame Bagand Throng and Dilwin Cordslew. They were, at least in their own minds, leaders in poetical thought. Both had private incomes large enough to ensure they lived well and were never going to suffer the humiliation of having to work for a living.

Now I don’t want you to think I have some grievance with those poets lucky enough to have private incomes. I know some who will sit quietly in meetings, pay for the wine drunk by those temporarily embarrassed, and listen attentively to the conversation, speaking only when their contribution is worthwhile. If you ask them what they’re working on they will mutter something about ‘a little shallow versifying but nothing worthy of note.’

Then two or three years later they will publish a poem of perhaps three thousand lines. And each line will be exquisite, polished to perfection, and true poets everywhere will read it and weep to see their art so flawlessly executed.

Yet there are others with private incomes who sit on committees, harass your patrons and generally make a nuisance of themselves, whilst occasionally turning out enough mediocre verse to convince themselves that they are poets. Thong and Cordslew fell firmly into this latter category.

To be fair, if Thong could forget his pretensions and ever stopped standing upon his dignity, he had a nice knack when it came to writing comic verse. And Cordslew, for all his waffle and pontificating, could deliver comic verse with verve and good humour. So an evening where you had both of them present, in good humour, and with drink taken, could be immense fun.

But when they were sober, two more miserable wights you’d struggle to find.

When the controversy broke they immediately took opposite sides. As the debate grew fiercer they took to ranting and fist-shaking at public meetings, and several times the watch had to be called to restore order. In all candour I can no longer remember which of them was in favour of Anaphora and which of them was against. Similarly whilst they would stamp their feet and deliver furious speeches from the podium, not even the insults they heaped upon each other were memorable. Eventually, by either oversight or low cunning on the part of the organiser, they were both booked to speak at the same engagement. This led to fisticuffs on the stage and this time the watch were not satisfied with just banging heads together. The two miscreants were dragged away, thrown into the cells and next morning they were hauled before the magistrate. Even then, sat on the same simple bench in front of him, they still wouldn’t leave off their bickering and one of the beadles had to step in to restore order. Finally when decorum once more reigned supreme within the courtroom; the magistrate of the day glared at them both and announced that he had decided to hand over to a learned colleague who was better suited to judging the issues the case raised. With that he rose and left. Then into the court room stalked Chard Hunit.

Chard Hunit is tall. When presiding he wears his shoulder length hair with a headband. The long black samite robe with its stiffened shoulder guards gives him an immense presence. Both Thong and Cordslew quailed visibly; Chard Hunit is a magistrate, true enough. But he is also a performance poet of incomparable eccentricity. He gestured silently for the charges to be read and then each of the defendants was allowed to say something in their own defence.

Having listened to their stammering justifications he silenced them with a curt gesture and rose to his feet. Then he started to declaim;-

I am the law,

I am justice,

I am the anger of your fellow citizens made manifest in human form.

I am retribution.

We recognised it immediately; Chard Hunit was quoting one of the finest Judge’s speeches from that classic drama, ‘The Ten Speeches’. Rarely have I heard it so well delivered. Perhaps it was the setting, the props, or perhaps it was Chard’s physical presence. But still when he had delivered the entire speech, without notes, the court room burst into spontaneous applause. Chard bowed slightly and then turned to the two defendants.

They were found guilty and were condemned to perform a dozen comic numbers in a dozen public venues in the next month. The takings from these performances were to be used for charitable purposes at his discretion.

Chained together, the defendants were marched out. Chard watched them leave and then bowed to the court and left. After a brief interval the other magistrate returned, the courtroom, briefly transformed into a theatre, faded back into drab conformity, and normality once more settled like a shroud upon the proceedings.



Should you wish to know more of the career of Chard Hunit then you are advised by all learned jurists to purchase a copy of ‘A licence to print money’ forthwith.


11 thoughts on “The Anaphora controversy

  1. Out of interest, is there a name for whta Mr Trump does, namely….
    He’s been good; he’s been very good… etc. Or, obviously, in the case of the Mayor of London replace ‘good’ with ‘bad’?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I would leave it to an American to answer that one 🙂

      There was a little girl,
      Who had a little curl,
      Right in the middle of her forehead.
      When she was good,
      She was very good indeed,
      But when she was bad she was horrid.


      Liked by 2 people

  2. Another entertaining story and I’ve learned a new word – anaphora. I wish I’d had the chance at an English degree! Also my parents would quote that Longfellow poem to me ad nauseum when I was a child, but I never knew Longfellow was the author – I always thought they’d made it up. So that’s two things I’ve learned today. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. my mother also quoted the poem, and until I checked on it, I had never realised it was Longfellow either 🙂
      I suspect our mothers were of the same generation so obviously the poem had been popular at one time, perhaps when they were little girls
      But yes, anaphora, I first used it when Tallis complained in a book review he did that I’d told a tale about Benor’s exploits in Port Naain and hadn’t mentioned the Anaphora crisis. So I thought I better go back and check on what the crisis actually was 🙂 (It was something I did for Sue Vincent in a blog tour)
      I note that Tallis also commented “Similarly there was a bitter argument about Consonance and its place in modern poetry. I remember it well because it was my cynical use of enjambement to highlight the facile nature of the opposition that won the day.”
      I suppose at some point I ought to go back and find out what happened there 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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