The P word – some thoughts on poetry and politics

September 25, 2015 § Leave a comment

Politics in Britain, despite the best efforts of the establishment, has come alive this summer.  It made me reflect on the poet’s responsibility – and how some have articulated, or wrestled, with this.

Here are a few of them:

‘Do not feel safe. The poet remembers.’ – Czeslaw Milosz, ‘You Who Wronged’ (1950)

‘Only the very stupid or the very deprived can any longer help knowing that the documents of civilization have been written in blood and tears, blood and tears no less real for being very remote. And when this intellectual predisposition co-exists with the actualities of Ulster and Israel and Bosnia and Rwanda and a host of other wounded spots on the face of the earth, the inclination is not only not to credit human nature with much constructive potential but not to credit anything too positive in the work of art.’ – Seamus Heaney, ‘Crediting Poetry’ (The Nobel Lecture’, 1995)

‘It’s possible for me to write about the dead of Treblinka and Pompeii—included in that are the dead of Dungiven and Magherafelt. But I’ve never been able to write directly about it.’ – Derek Mahon, interview in The Paris Review (2000)

‘[T]here are many who share my experiences, who might think my same words, but who never have the opportunity to express them … to be able to write the poem, get it published, read it to an audience. I get to do that. And it’s part of my responsibility as a poet to do that, for those who do not get the chance to speak. That’s poetry of advocacy.’ – Martin Espada, ‘Poetry and the Burden of History’ (interview, 2000)

‘I once gave a workshop and I asked the women poets there, If you went back to that little town you’ve come from — these were from small towns — would you say, I’m a poet? And one of them said, If I said I was a poet in that town, they’d think I didn’t wash my windows. And that stayed with me for so long, the sense of the collective responsibility of someone as against the individual thing it takes to be a poet.’ – Eavan Boland, PBS Interview (2012)

Do you have comments from poets, or lines from their poems, which resonate with, or unsettle, you?

 

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