Sunday, August 14, 2011
Poets in the parlour or on the barricades?
Reading Carol Ann Duffy's poem on the murder of three men in riots in England, I began to wonder about politics and poetry and especially about the political or polemical poem. Yes, we write about our lives, our memories, the contents of our subconscious and so on and it could be argued that to do so with an absolute respect for the meaning of words is a political act in itself in a world in which meanings are routinely twisted to conceal the truth. On the other hand, we are in danger of becoming parlour poets - maybe this has already happened - with little relevance to anything or anybody outside our precious selves. Carol Ann Duffy uses imagery, alliteration, rhyme and near-rhyme in her poem and I think this matters. In an article on Poetry International Web in 2002, Ko Kooman wrote of political poetry that "that which makes it poetry is always some intrinsic poetic quality which has no relation to any purpose or goal."
I am not advocating here that we give up writing our personal poetry in favour of political poetry. I am not advocating anything at all. I would suggest though that the political or polemical poem deserves a place in the repertoire. Might current references shorten the shelf life of a poem? In my opinion, no - because poetry doesn't actually have a shelf life. For 99.9 per cent of us, the people who hear or read our poems during our own lifetimes are the only ones who are ever going to hear or read our poems - and that still applies whether we are published in books or win prestigious prizes. So poetry is for today, not tomorrow.
I have only written one deliberately political/polemical poem, about trafficking of young girls in the sex industry but I mean to write more and the composition of a polemical poem will be one of the options for participants in my Write One Poem workshop in October.
You can read Traffik by clicking here. It's the final poem on the page.