States of Poetry 2017 - ACT | 'Patriotism' by Geoff Page


‘... the last refuge of a scoundrel’.
                                   Samuel Johnson

But here and there a whisk of it
does no essential harm:

an accidental win or two
in sports you never follow,

a minor decency observed
by those you didn’t vote for,

a set of figures showing that
we’re still not quite the worst

of countries with a moral fault
but clearly in the running.

The high point comes though when
a boy or girl who seems to hail

from Beijing or Bangkok
or even Addis Ababa

starts addressing you in diphthongs
first heard long ago

among your parents and their friends
who’d seen off a depression

and managed World War II,
that accent which is ours alone,

mysteriously quite unlike
all other Anglophones,

its vowels worn down by space and weather,
eucalypts and stones.

Geoff Page

My ‘Patriotism’ poem is as close as I get to a dangerous emotion. I find I can’t help liking the way the children and grandchildren of migrants and refugees take on (unconsciously, I think) a lot of the accent I grew up with in the 1940s (and in which I still proudly speak – though sometimes with an ironic smile as well.) – Geoff Page