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Rogue States by Fred Johnston

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The phrase ‘rogue states’ has been conjured up with deadly purpose, by major world powers, in particular the United States, to describe weaker countries who have fallen out of favour with the West, some of whom enjoyed the role of client states for many years, or were permitted to rule despotically under the benevolent threat of ‘regime change’ if they in any way proved politically or economically difficult. Issues of human rights never entered into it. Johnston’s new collection of poems adopts the phrase and personalises it; serious illness is seen as a ‘rogue state,’ a usurpation of the lived ordinary, a demolishing of physical and moral routine, a form of invasion. In illness, as in civil turmoil, civilising rules are often turned upside down or disregarded, a powerful and selfish striving for survival develops. Other poems take on the mundane everyday, the speculative, and contemplate the uses of the poetic imagination in a society where, in the poet’s view, poetry itself is under siege and its use and importance reset. Politics and society can never be outside or beyond the poet’s critical reach. At a time when poets and writers in less humanitarian societies than our own can still suffer – and are suffering – imprisonment, the banning of their work, or much worse, we have, he would maintain, a duty to use our freedom to speak out against injustice, even at the risk of being labelled ‘rogue’ ourselves. 

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