Is this the EDL poet? (Photo by Henry Langston)
Like a racist being handed a tin of Special Brew on a hot day, I was overjoyed to hear that the EDL had appointed their very own poet in residence last week. Yep, that’s right. An enigma known only as Stephen O'Smith created a real buzz on the Twitter-based fascist poetry scene by announcing that he would be delivering the group’s message in verse.
Had Carol Ann Duffy gone rogue? Was Andrew Motion anonymously flexing his secret extremist urges? Or was this wordsmith just your run-of-the-mill racist with a copy of BLAST stuffed in the back pocket of his Iceberg jeans? No one knew and, to be honest, no one really cared. Everyone was happy to just laugh along as the familiar stars of far-right absurdity seemed to be aligning.
But then something happened. A few days after he first broke onto the scene, O'Smith backtracked; dropping a few tweets that suggested the whole thing had been a prank. The jokee had become the joker; the artless moron had become the arch satirist. Bizarrely, he'd managed to make all the leftists who followed him, and whose political views he presumably shared, look like a bunch of dickheads. What I’d been reading wasn’t some sentimental chronicle of the EDL’s xenophobic cause; it was a weird, post-ironic piss-take.
Or was it? Maybe he'd just been spooked by the attention and decided that being Britain's foremost fascist poet wasn't worth the hassle. I decided to reach out and ask him myself:
...but even then, it would have been stupid to take his response at face value. I mean, even his Twitter handle must be a pseudonym (it sounds too obvious, its initials form the anagram SOS and there is no "Stephen O'Smith" listed in Anonymous' latest leak of EDL members' details). I decided to analyse his tweets to try to figure it out for myself. Either the following rhymes are the outpourings of an aspiring racist poet, or the evidence of a strange and self-harming new form of protest. I'll leave you to decide.
It all began on the 17th of June…
Smith unleashed his work, teasing us with plain verse before building to a furious crescendo that rhymed "land" with "hand". Drawing on the great John Milton, he then alluded to the final words of Paradise Lost, when Adam and Eve, cast from Eden, walk away “hand in hand”. By this, he seemed to allude to the EDL’s outsider status, the shame-faced retreat they’d been forced to make from the paradisiacal landscape of mainstream British politics.
Or he went on to www.rhymezone.com and thought 'That’s nice, I’ll have that' before hitting ctrl-V and sending it off into the ether. Who knows, it’s fucking poetry, mate, and in the words of your year 9 English teacher, there are no wrong answers. The important thing here is that at this stage in his oeuvre, Stephen certainly did seem sincere in his love for moronic fascism.
And he continued in this vein for the rest of the day. Here his use of the word "rallies" sends the rhyme scheme out of kilter to indicate the disruption caused by the EDL's rallies in their march to victory/bloodied stumble to continued impotence.
The average EDL member seems to have trouble comprehending the group's tactics, but clearly this is a man who understands the masterplan. So this is pretty much irrefutable evidence that Stephen O'Smith sits at the top table.
Then the Birmingham branch of the EDL piped up to corroborate Stephen O'Smith’s authenticity...
Which cast a strange light on the cracks that began to show when he returned the following day. Surely even members of the EDL couldn’t believe that there are enemy drones out there actively targeting the British? Or perhaps I’m being too optimistic. Plus, the rhyming was starting to sound as though it had been penned by Des’ree. Perhaps Stephen O'Smith was just woefully inept, but the whole Halal meat debacle seemed to be a giveaway: No self-respecting member of Britain’s far-right protest group would have taken the time and effort to educate himself on the finer details of Halal preparation methods.
However, I will hand it to Stephen for the fact that this series of tweets really does hint at how fickle the EDL’s xenophobia is. Is it the food they have an issue with, or the clothes? The physical proportions of their immigrant neighbours, or their skin colour? With just a couple of minutes between each tweet, anyone reading would start to feel vaguely terrified by just how quickly the target of Smith’s bigotry shifted. It remained unclear whether this was natural, or an intentional act of irony.
Talk of the troops seemed to be more in line with what you’d expect of an EDL poet: filtering the sentiments of the Military Wives through a prism of race-hate. That classic balance of mawkishness and fury suggests that O'Smith is the real deal.
By now, the pace was beginning to trail off, sentence order was going out the window and the rhyme scheme was sounding increasingly strained. I had my doubts: surely even an EDL member wouldn't try to rhyme "united" with "frightened".
But things picked up momentarily in the penultimate tweet, with a couple of exclamations and a call to arms. Although I was struggling to understand who he was addressing: We, the British? We, the EDL? You, the third-generation immigrant or You, the audience out there reading this tweet? And if "you are but none", what is it the EDL are set up to fight against? Nothing? No one? The void itself?
And then he delivered this…
The ruse had been blown out of the water. Stephen O'Smith had shown himself to be a complete joker. Sometimes there are wrong answers: Bradford isn’t brown; it’s uniformly grey, thanks to an intense period of redevelopment that took place there during the 1950s and 60s.
So yeah, it seems like the whole thing is a spoof, but who can be sure. If it is, it’s a dubious one, as confused and as full of contradictions as Tommy Robinson’s bloodline. One thing was for sure, though: I hadn’t unearthed the new Sam Riviere. At best, Stephen O'Smith is a rightful opposer of the EDL’s fascist cause, who’s found a slightly misguided way of expressing it, given the tensions mounting between the far right and those who oppose them in this country.
Follow Nathalie on Twitter: @NROlah
Read far superior writing in our latest Fiction Issue.