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England Has Poetry Police?

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Two police officers showed up at the door of Atherton, England, resident Dennis Swift last week with for curious reasons. One of them asked Swift if he wrote poems, and when Swift affirmed that he did, reportedly threatened, 'Well don't go writing any more." Yes, America, England takes its literature very, very seriously.

Well, not really. The police visited Swift, it turns out, because he'd gotten in hot water with his favorite football team, the Bolton Wanderers. Swift had grown angry when the team refused to sell his poetry collection, Football Rhymes of Passion, in their official store (despite alleged promises to the contrary). Words were exchanged -- some of them in verse--and in the process, Swift upset team management enough for them to call the cops.

The football club claims their complaint to police resulted solely from an online outburst by Swift targeting the sales executive who refused to sell his book, stating, "We have a zero tolerance policy to employees facing foul and abusive language."

But Swift wonders, quite reasonably, why he was singled out on a forum brimming over with foul and abusive language against Bolton's employees (the Wanderers were recently relegated from the Premier League for their terrible performance). He insists, instead, that Bolton management was upset about a series of poems critical of the team that he'd published online.

How scathing are Swift's poems? Not so scathing, really. In one example, he took Bolton's manager to task in rhyming couplets of something like iambic heptameter, also known as "fourteeners":

You came to Bolton Wanderers as our saviour and Messiah.
Your interviews are hilarious and your signings are utter dire.

Now, if there really were a poetry police, using fourteeners might get you a warning. C.S. Lewis once said of them, "the line dances a jig" -- and not a good jig.

But, as a fellow poet and passionate fan of (American) football, I think Dennis should carry on. And he should take heart from a quote by another Swift who was far more successful at protest. Jonathan Swift, the great Anglo-Irish satirist, once wrote, "He was a bold man that first ate an oyster" (wait, that's not it). Here we are: "When a great genius appears in the world you may know him by this sign; that the dunces are all in confederacy against him." Hang in there, Mr. Swift. But enough with the fourteeners, unless you want another visit from the "authorities."