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23 June 2021updated 30 Aug 2021 3:19pm

Letter of the week: The power of words

A selection of the best letters received from our readers this week. Email letters@newstatesman.co.uk to have your thoughts voiced in the New Statesman magazine.

By New Statesman

What a heart-warming and moving column by Louise Perry (Out of the Ordinary, 18 June). How right she is that Western romantic poetry could have been so very different. And how beautifully is her assertion proved by Fiona Benson’s Vertigo & Ghost. At 7.30 this morning, as the rain complained outside, I was reading this extraordinary and powerful collection. From a rich clutch of birth and mother-and-child poems in Part II, I would especially commend “Wildebeest” (“Now ruddled with blood/and laid on my breast –/dark-haired like your sister,/incarnate, loved”), “Afterbirth” (“milk squeezed/from my breasts/in a sore yellow paste/all this for the stranger/sleeping/in the crib”), and “In the Milk Days of Your Sister” (“You put your hands/each side of your sister’s fat cheeks/in a gesture entirely your own,/and you tell her that you love her/and my poor exhausted soul/for love of you, bows down”). Part I is a searing indictment of what women endure, and makes Part II immeasurably more moving.

Alastair Llewellyn-Smith

London W3

Familial love

Louise Perry’s column (“Out of the Ordinary”, 18 June) condemns commercial surrogacy as exploitative and profiteering, ignoring that genetic parents’ love for children born through that process is equal to that of Perry’s for her newborn son.

As importantly, a woman who makes an informed decision to assist genetic parents in having a child, whether for commercial or altruistic reasons, has at least nine months in which to come to terms with that decision and prepare for the birth. The emotional bond between mother and baby that Perry so eloquently describes is therefore very rarely present.

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She makes a valid point in respect of the exploitation of the “poor women of the Global South”, but to argue that commissioning parents should be denied the opportunity to have a child to love when the science is readily accessible is misconceived.

Tim Langton

London W4

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We send our congratulations to Louise Perry on the birth of her baby, but we are saddened that her joy has not prompted feelings of empathy for those who struggle with infertility.

We are parents to an egg donor and surrogate baby who was born after a stillbirth, multiple miscarriages and failed IVF. Our gestational surrogate is a mature, intelligent woman who made a considered choice to help us have a baby. Of course, our experience does not tell the full story, and exploitation in surrogacy arrangements most certainly does exist. But why is Perry so sure that the traditional mother-child bond must be elevated above other relationships? Shouldn’t we celebrate parental love in all its forms? We would love Perry to meet people who have gone through surrogacy so that she can see the overwhelming joy and love – as well as the moral, emotional and legal challenges.

Alice Jolly and Stephen Kinsella

Stroud, Gloucestershire

Out in the cold

Because today’s media casts Russia as a pariah and a threat to the West, I was sceptical about reading Emily Tamkin’s article, but I was pleasantly surprised by her even-handedness (“Trapped in the Cold Web”, 18 June). The only sentence I would contend is a quote from Dylan Myles-Primakoff, who states that “since Putin’s return Russian foreign policy has treated the US as an enemy”. I would suggest the reverse applies: US foreign policy has treated Russia as an enemy. However, I am heartened to read that Sergey Lavrov and Antony Blinken had a cordial first meeting and now official communications are in place. Think of the Good Friday Agreement: no progress could be made before the government talked to Sinn Féin.

David Beaver

Liverpool

Economic relief

As George Eaton writes, the devastating effects of the pandemic caused Boris Johnson’s government to “embrace a form of nationalist Keynesianism” (“The new capitalism”, 18 June). But that the Tory party will allow such spending to continue is unlikely. The by-election result in Chesham and Amersham revealed again the problems with putting “One Nation Conservatism” into practice.

Biden’s $1.9trn relief bill shows the economic illiteracy of the Tories, who believe “a rebranded version of regional equality” (“The rise of the new Toryism”, 28 May) is sufficient to sate the needs of those suffering the effects of low pay and irregular work. The Labour leader has no choice but to attack Tory economic thinking.

Bernie Evans

Liverpool

On future health

Martin Rees and Steven Pinker are aware of the practical problems in attempting to implement medical eugenics (“Waging on catastrophe”, 18 June). What concerns me is the notion that it is immoral in principle – by voluntary and painless methods – potentially to reduce hereditary disabilities, but highly desirable, for example, for taxpayers to subsidise parents who produce many more children than they could afford, and to deny or ignore significant genetic variations among humans. In previous years, humanitarian socialists, from JBS Haldane to HJ Muller, had no such reservations.

David Ashton

Sheringham, Norfolk

Poetic standards

It is impossible to read the third part of Dante’s Divine Comedy and imagine that the purpose of this great work is anything other than profoundly religious (“Dante in the dock”, 11 June). However, Dante’s earlier guide is the shade of the pagan Roman poet, Virgil, establishing a pre-Renaissance symbiosis that embraces both the classical world and medieval Christianity.

The separate states of the Italian peninsula allied either with the Holy Roman Emperor or the Papacy. This was the great ideological divide. Dante had been deeply involved in the governance of the city state of Florence in a fractious period in which there was some democracy but also strict rules to prevent corruption. The normal perception of him is that he was the soul of probity.

It is ahistorical to say that in exile Dante depended on “handouts”. He lived as the beneficiary of patronage, a standard aspect of courtly life. In Verona his main patron for many years was Cangrande della Scala; Verona’s allegiance was with the emperor, but it is not clear that Dante simply switched parties. He remained devoted to Florence, though unwilling to accept humiliating terms for his return.

Now Florence celebrates Dante. It is a regrettable feature of our times that we believe we should “repair” past damage according to present standards. Dante had a place in hell for the arrogant.

Ann Lawson Lucas

Beverley, East Yorkshire

Novel idea

By no stretch of the imagination could Ewan Tavendale be described as the “hero” of Sunset Song (Correspondence, 18 June). His soul does return home, but it is his wife Chris Guthrie, taken to be an embodiment of Scotland, to whom he returns, and who is the central figure of the novel. Their marriage represents the tension between lowland and highland peoples, one of many themes. Chris’s story reflects the nation’s relationship with class, education and religion as well as with the land itself, and the passing of a historical way of life – the sunset of the title.

David Forbes

Glasgow

Traveller’s legacy

Douglas Kennedy is smug about his masked-up Covid-19 travels but shows no concern for his carbon footprint (Diary, 18 June). Like Covid, climate change will kill people all over the world, but it’s unlikely that Kennedy will be one of them.

Margaret Lowndes

Askrigg, North Yorkshire

Choice words

Rachel Cunliffe treats lightly reports that we are swearing more (First Thoughts, 18 June). It amazes me that feminists fail to recognise the sexist nature of virtually all swearing. Etymologically the F-word may be gender-free, but it is used by men not least in derogatory references to women; the C-word is by definition used in anti-woman references. There are many arguments against coarse language but its sexist nature should be enough to expose and oppose it.

Michael Meadowcroft

Leeds

Painting it blue

Kate Mossman shows cultural awareness beyond her years, so it was disappointing to find her so distracted by the life rather than the work of Joni Mitchell in her piece on Blue (“Songs of freedom”, 18 June). Perhaps she can restore the balance in four years’ time by delivering a study of Mitchell’s masterpiece The Hissing of Summer Lawns, a work of art that can stand comparison with anything by anyone, including Bach, Shakespeare and Michelangelo.

Ric Cheyney

Talsarnau, Gwynedd

Joni Mitchell’s music has been a constant companion for the half-century since I found the cash to buy Blue, after hearing it one night at a friend’s flat. Back then LP covers had a reputation as a surface on which joints could be rolled. But Joni’s albums – to say nothing of her paintings – require a clear head, to listen to the way she delivers the words. Her words can be enjoyed on their own, reading the lyrics on album covers or in the booklets that accompany CDs.

Les Bright

Exeter

Sporting fashion

Jason Cowley rightly praises the England football manager Gareth Southgate (Editor’s Note, 18 June) but misses one fundamental aspect of his positive impact: his image. The beard and waistcoat combo is one of the key styles of summer 2021.

Keith Flett

London N17

All credit to Gareth Southgate on his analysis of “what it means to be English in an age of fragmentation and polarisation”. I wonder if he might apply some of those analytical skills to opposition tactics and ways of putting the ball into the other team’s net?

JD Macarthur

Edinburgh

Radical patriots

In The Wind in the Willows, Moley had a statue of Garibaldi at Mole End (“How Italy was made”, 18 June). Good enough for me.

Andrew Jones

Wirral, Merseyside

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This article appears in the 23 Jun 2021 issue of the New Statesman, How Brexit changed us