British poetry and politics

This poetry video from Britain is called ‘A Cut Back’ by Carol Ann Duffy. It says about itself:

The Poet Laureate reads to Channel 4 News her poem “A Cut Back”, revealing her anger on the cutting of all government funding to the Poetry Book Society.

By Andy Croft in Britain:

21st Century Poetry: Round up

Monday 20 February 2012

In this paper last month, columnist John Pilger complained that British writers in the 21st century are “in thrall” to what he describes as a sociopathic zeitgeist.

“No Orwell warns that we do not need to live in a totalitarian society,” he wrote. “No Shelley speaks for the poor, no Blake proffers a vision.”

He quoted critic Terry Eagleton’s recent observation that “for almost the first time in two centuries, there is no eminent British poet… prepared to question the foundations of the Western way of life.”

Pilger and Eagleton need to get out a bit more.

British poets have arguably never been more concerned to interrogate the foundations of the way we live than at present.

This does not mean of course that they write all the time about politics. But how often did Blake ever write about current affairs?

Not all Shelley’s poetry was about the poor.

A good place for comrades Pilger and Eagleton to start might be Tom Leonard‘s new CD Selected Poems (FairPley, £10).

Recorded live at the Scottish TUC last April as part of Glasgow’s May Day celebrations it includes 23 of his best-known poems, including Six o’clock News, Being A Human Being, Blair’s Britain, It’s Aw The Fault Of The Unions and the wonderfully blunt A Humanist, “The universal human is inclusive and absolute, there is no individual outside it./This sense of the universal human is the home of all those who have won through to become themselves./And much trouble in the world is caused by those who remain self-sequestered in their perceived province of the exclusive.”

The CD also includes five songs from Brecht‘s play Mother Courage And Her Children “translated” into Glaswegian Scots by Leonard.

As Mother Courage speaks in the voice of a working-class Scotswoman, the Thirty Years War becomes the war on terror: “Wi aw its dangers an stray bullets/this war drags on from day to day the war could last a hundred years yet yer common sojer willny win/Pure crap his food, his gear his rucksack the regiment docks hauf his pay/an though it might strike you a wonder/this war will never go away!”

If Leonard is not sufficiently “eminent” to appear on the intellectual radar of Pilger and Eagleton, presumably even they have heard of Carol Ann Duffy?

Her new collection The Bees (Picador, £14.99) is a beautiful, musical book which buzzes with eloquent anger and wisdom.

Her bees are mythological, biblical and literary, derived variously from Plato, Mandeville, Tolstoy and Shakespeare.

The “bronze buzz of a bee” represents poetry and prophecy, fertility and sweetness, natural order and unnatural disaster.

As Duffy writes in The Woman In The Moon, “what have you done, what have you done to the world?”

Since the book contains many of Duffy’s laureate poems, it is partly a record of the Blair years.

That means it is partly a book of poems about war, among them Politics, Passing Bells, Big Ask and Last Postwritten for the last surviving British soldiers to have served in the first world war – and The Falling Soldier, after Robert Capa‘s famous Spanish civil war photograph.

It’s also partly a book of elegies for English landscape and history, notably John Barleycorn, The English Elms, The Counties and The White Horses.

But above all it’s a book about environmental catastrophe.

The bee, which in Egyptian mythology was a link between the natural world and the dead, is now an emblem of ecological disaster: “Where the bee sucks,/neonicotinoid insecticide in a cowslip’s bell lie.” Poor old Atlas is “crouched on one knee in the dark/with the earth on his back… the billions there, his ears the last to hear/their language, music, gunfire, prayer.”

And this is Duffy’s take on the traditional Parliament Of Fowls: “The cormorant spoke: ‘Stinking seas/below ill winds. Nothing swims…’ The gull said: ‘Where coral was red, now white, dead/under stunned waters…’ The macaw squawked … Rain. Forest. Fire. Ash. Chainsaw. Cattle. Cocaine. Ash… and the albatross/telling of Arctic ice/as the cold, hard moon calved from the earth.”

A reaction to this is here.

Bill Moyers Interviews Rita Dove on the Power of Poetry (Video). Bill Moyers, Moyers & Co.: “Bill welcomes former U.S. Poet Laureate Rita Dove, who this very week received the National Medal of Arts from President Obama. Dove served two terms as Poet Laureate, the youngest and the first African American to be named to that prestigious position. Through an intimate conversation and select readings, Moyers and Dove explore American history, language, culture, and ideas”: here.

2 thoughts on “British poetry and politics

  1. Star poems win Kit awards

    ARTS: Two poems published in the Morning Star have won Poetry Kit Awards for 2011, Star poetry editor Jody Porter revealed today.

    The poems were Hindenburg Heart by Simon Barraclough and Orgreave by Ian Parks.

    Hindenburg Heart comes from Barraclough’s collection Neptune Blue.

    Orgreave recounts the eponymous battle during the 1984-85 miners’ strike seen through the eyes of one of the pickets’ children.


  2. Pingback: English poet Michael Horovitz interviewed | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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