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A Rant Against Gold - Review of a poem about the history and significance of gold

'A Rant Against Gold' is a five character conversation in verse between a Loco London gold dealer, a daytime tv jewellery presenter, John of the Apocalypse with his Scarlet Woman and the widow Tut Ankh-Amun. It takes an ironic look at the significance of gold in history and the contemporary world. It was written by Stewart MacNally and I had the opportunity to photograph and video a reading of the piece during the Hay Festival 2011.

The piece was read - or performed - by two persons: Stewart MacNally himself and the actress Dora Clouttick. Written as a poem, the piece has theatrical character. The presentation features an alternation between the two readers - perhaps actors, and on display were a number of 'props': two gold bars, various pieces of gold jewellery and gold coins.

Dora Clouttick and Stewart MacNally reading  'A Rant Against Gold'
Dora Clouttick and Stewart MacNally reading 'A Rant Against Gold'

What makes the 'A Rant Against Gold' interesting is the fact that the writer used to work at the Bank of England and is an expert and consultant in the China gold market. It's an intriguing piece of writing that combines insider knowledge of the subject from a financial viewpoint with the subtlety and inspiration of an imaginitive poetic mind. There are many references to the growing influence of China on the gold market.

In his pinstripe suit and gold-coloured tie, MacNally looks an unlikely poet but in the reading he plays the part of a city financier or dealer. In this sense both writer and piece seem to defy categorisation.

The first part shows that gold, whether secular or religious, from archaeological sites or from ruined abbeys, is, because of its perceived value constantly re-smelted into tradable ingots. There is a long litany of responses where the male and female voices play up to the role of gold both as an economic store of value and as an adjunct to feminine beauty.

At one point the two characters of John of the Apocalypse and his Scarlet Woman 'marry' with the exchange of a wedding ring, leading to a long diatribe on how gold is won, and the metric tonne of arsenic and mercury pollution each ring will leave behind.

'A Rant Against Gold' is densely written, and listening to it for the first time, I grasped perhaps only a third of the references. But it contains many powerful images and indeed a large number of obscure but fascinating facts. The text needs to be read a few times in order to 'extract' more of its meaning.

At one point for instance I learned that all the gold ever mined would only just fill an Olympic swimming pool.

There is a semi-humorous section about the Hacienda club where the creation of gold 'as stars collapse to the size of Greater Manchester, like drunken footballers on ecstasy'.

There is a chilling comparison to the salvaging of body parts and the salvaging of the gold from the vaults below the Twin Towers on 11 September, 2001, 'People leaping hand in human hand, uninsurable against Acts of God, between the furnace and the void.'

The piece was performed to a small audience in the appropriately spartan Salem Methodist Chapel with its excellent preaching acoustics, during the Hay Festival 2011, and went largely unnoticed by the mass of visitors. Stewart MacNally has said himself that he is not in the business of writing poetry for fame and fortune but simply to achieve a creative goal.

As I listened, I found it a curiously educational experience. Many of the facts about gold embedded in the text have stuck in my mind and I certainly will not think about the yellow metal in the same way again. One of the many 'nuggets' was the phrase 'auri sacra fames' - 'the accursed hunger for gold' - which MacNally told me is a phrase from Virgil.

gold ingot and necklace
Gold ingot and necklace on display during 'A Rant Against Gold'

I think the piece deserves further exposure to a wider audience, perhaps at an event devoted to poetry. It could also be presented as a semi-theatrical piece, with actors reading both roles.

To find out more about 'A Rant Against Gold' and the writer Stewart MacNally, please contact web@amcd.co.uk. A hard copy of the text can be purchased through www.amcd.co.uk

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