Poets and Politics
January 31, 2012 § 8 Comments
Our discussions about narrative in the previous post has got me thinking about the social role of poetry. There has been lots around about this lately, mainly at the social control end of the spectrum (Michael Gove and Vladimir Putin each having a go at that old chestnut the ‘canon’).
How does the poet respond to all this? How does his or her political stance in relation to the world influence what he or she produces? I ask because I’ve just read an old essay about Lorca which asks the same question – albeit in a different, more dangerous, setting to current education agendas.* In it, Manuel Duran argues that Lorca – unlike Mayakovsky or Steinbeck – ‘does not depend on social movements for his place in history’, but instead tries ‘to hold himself aloof from history, or to encompass all of history, which amounts to the same thing.’ This, Duran says, is not an abrogation of social responsibility: Lorca wishes to describe, to bear witness, to suffering. ‘It is this breadth of sympathy and imagination that makes Lorca a “democratic” poet, a universal poet, rather than any determined historical commitment on his part’.
I think poets are the products of their social as well as their personal experiences; and that, as a result, the poetry they produce is all political in some sense or another. Poetry isn’t a polemical form of writing: it observes. Equally, though, it chooses (sometimes consciously, sometimes not) the camera angle, the lighting, and who gets the best lines.
*Manuel Duran, Lorca: A Collection of Critical Essays (Prentice-Hall, 1962), p13.