‘No word for it’: Postcolonial Anglo-Saxon in John Haynes’s Letter to Patience

Jones, Christopher
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The Southern African Society for Medieval and Renaissance Studies (SASMARS)
This article examines a specific instance of the use of Anglo-Saxon (also known as Old English) in the English poet John Haynes's book-length work of 2006, Letter to Patience. In part, therefore, Letter to Patience constitutes an example of Anglo-Saxonism, a phenomenon which can be defined as the post-Anglo-Saxon appropriation and deployment of Anglo-Saxon language, literature, or culture, an appropriation which is often difficult to separate from the simultaneous reception and construction of ideas about actual Anglo-Saxon culture. It is often assumed that Anglo-Saxonism is a conservative or reactionary discourse concerned with stabilizing and policing English, British or even Anglo-American senses of identity. Certainly Anglo-Saxonism has operated in the service of such agenda, most particularly during the nineteenth century, while in other periods Anglo-Saxonist reflexes have been driven by imperatives no less politicized, such as legitimizing the break of the English church from Rome, or checking the British monarchy and promoting parliamentary liberty, as a tranche of good work has shown. In contemporary British politics, discourse that invokes the idea of 'Anglo-Saxon' is still largely the preserve of the far right, where the construct is usually deployed as a marker of whiteness. This paper will argue that by orienting Anglo-Saxon towards postcolonial Nigeria, and observing what happens when the linguistic root of Englishness travels. when the valency of terms like 'native' and 'migrant' becomes complicate, Letter to Patience subverts established patterns of Anglo-Saxonism and opens up a rather novel possibility for postcolonial Anglo-Saxon afterlives.
‘No word for it’: Postcolonial Anglo-Saxon in John Haynes’s Letter to Patience,1017-3455,The Southern African Society for Medieval and Renaissance Studies.