To celebrate LGBT History Month, 2013, Polari is publishing a daily series of LGBT Heroes, selected by the magazine’s team of writers and special contributors.
Kenneth Allott – Poet
by Daniel Milford-Cottam
As a child of musicians, music has always been part of my life – and a major absence. When you are born totally deaf, you have to find substitutes for the soundtracks and tunes that would normally define your formative years. Fortunately, I could read before I was three, so I had access to books, subtitles on television, and words. One day, aged 14 and the only student in my deaf school to be doing GCSE English Literature, my test paper included a very strange, angry, yet sympathetic late 1930s poem, Aunt Sally Speaks, by Kenneth Allott which began:
Who have been educated out of naïve responses,
The hoodoo of love, the cinderella of class,
Knowing that everywhere man has the same clock face
The same moody defences…
Despite not understanding it for months, I repeatedly read it. Somehow, it seemed to speak for my isolation, my friendlessness, my frustration with those around me with no clue how to handle me. I was realising that I was not like other people, yet barely understood what “gay” was. Only Allott seemed to empathise, and he spoke in riddles. Would I too have to “emulate the gloss and selfishness of china till the clocks fly away?”, hiding my true self, my hyper-sensitivity, my naïveté, my vulnerability, my emerging sexuality from an unsympathetic world? I related to the lonely photographer narrator of Lament for a Cricket Eleven, the second Allott poem I found (and his best known) which includes lines such as:
Oh for a parasol, oh for a fan,
To hide my weak chin from the little man.
One laughed for a fortnight and went to sea,
Like a sun one follows the jeunesse dorée*
What I am doing, I am doing for love.
When shall I burn this negative
And hang the receiver up on grief?
The unhappiness resonated, and made me feel less alone. The third Allott poem I found, a year later, was The Statue. In contrast with the relatable anger, helplessness and sympathy of the first two poems, Statue was phantasmagorical, romantic and tender, addressing a genderless “you” with great affection. I soon found out that although he was twice-married, he rarely specified his love’s gender. There is nothing that I would not offer you, My silken dacoit, my untranslatable. Eventually, aged 18, beginning to properly come out to myself and to others, I found an incredibly rare copy of his Collected Poems. The angry sympathy of the original poems gave way to reassurance that although I would never meet Kenneth Allott (he died in 1973), he would not have cared one jot what I was. The ultimate message of his writing was:
Phosphor shall rise above a moon of sorrow
And we shall know such a day as never was.
Tomorrow, or a day after tomorrow,
Do what you will and when, love whom you please.