(in Middlesborough) makes these policy statements on its web site:
does not think 'difficulty' in poetry
is a virtue
or that poetry is a place in which to hide.
argues that if poetry does not belong
it is not poetry.
You can work this out for yourselves, I doubt, once you start to take it
apart, it bears examination by intelligent people.
And from a review of one of its books, it quotes this, 'In this collection,
to adapt Auden's phrase, poetry makes something happen.' Hardly an adaptation
of Auden, it contradicts him. And it's an odd thing to say. What does it mean
that poems in this or that book 'make something happen'? Make what happen?
How? Prove it.
In an interview with Andy Croft for the Morning Star online
(February 2008), Jon Andersen, editor of Seeds of Fire says this:
I don't think
we can or should expect every
poem to be a
call to the barricades, but, if a poet's
contains no whispers of race, class,
war, then they're not living in the
same world as
the rest of us. Or maybe they think
For [USA poet Martin] Espada, the task of poets in the modern world is to
reconcile language with meaning:
People in the
US are hungry for meaning, culturally,
Poetry of the
political imagination is a matter of
and language. Any progressive social
be imagined first and that vision must
find its most
eloquent possible expression to move
oppressive social condition, before it can
be named and condemned in
persuade by stirring the emotions
is not whether poetry and politics
can mix. That
question is a luxury for those who
it. The question is how best to combine
politics, craft and commitment, how to
artistic imagination equal to the intensity
experience and the quality of the ideas.
There is more subtlety here, but are poets in this book ahead of the game
really, 'imagining first'? And who's listening (so that there is an effect)?
In his introduction to the book, Jon Andersen says, 'We must no longer abide
the notion that poetry should limit itself to the creation of pleasant
illusions or the exploration of isolated pain.'
Who is this 'we'? What might 'no longer abide' mean? Does he mean
dictatorship by people who think his way? And where has he been, who has he
been reading? And not reading?
The chimera of 'pleasant illusions or the exploration of isolated pain' - as a description of all other
poetry - isn't worth a response, while yet an open discussion of all of
poetry's ways and means, its necessities, it's strangeness in our psyche, its
music, how the process elates and humbles, demands and denies, connects and
misses, should never be closed off, should it?
Nor is it historically or currently the case that whatever the
non-obviously-political-poetry a person may write, this hasn't and doesn't
put down a marker or speak for whatever the poet's political affiliation,
solidarities or courage.
I could be on firm ground if I suggest poems of political protest, of social
concern, of agit prop, have rarely transcended their moment. This isn't even
a negation, the moment demands what the moment needs, but in terms of
longer-term consequence for us as human puzzles, surely something besides is
necessary to us. Anyway, it happens. I have myself written poems of the
political or cultural moment, but it's not what I do best, it's not my
necessity Ð which isn't either 'pleasant illusions or the exploration of
If risk bringing myself into this, it is not to defend my own work but to say
we are a mixed bunch, we humans, we poets, and the capricious angel of
'poetry' isn't owned by any one or group of us.
Sadly, the way the book is set up by the publisher and editor ghetto-like in
politics, does ill justice to the range of poems and to some in particular.
And are readers to bring critical thought to the book or to love it wholesale
because of its stated credentials?
Perhaps I should have begun this review by saying I am myself broadly a
member of this club politically; it could be thought lately that Capitalist
exploitation is falling apart, but it's not, it is being propped up to
continue in the same old ways; so that what hurts in this book will hurt
again, injustice, incidental and long-term brutality will be the order of the
Whether these poems or any poems 'make things happen' differently is
something else. Perhaps some do. I have marked poems in this book that seem
to me mere prose statements, others tell the story but are forgettable as
poetry, some sing and get a hold on me, others spell out sanely and clearly,
sharply as poems, how this or that was or is.
How involved in what they describe all the poets are, how near or far their
experience and understanding, what it does for them to have made the poem,
what it does for readers, whether the world is changed in any way, these are
for me open questions.
And I recommend this book. It should make for make for significant reading
and discussion, as one of the many possibilities poetry has in store for us.
There are, for me, some memorable poems. To quote from one, untypically complex, mid-way through,
Tim Seibles' 'Night Flight', 'I spend a lot of darkness / trying not to give
up/ on being human, listening / to the engines of powerful things / moving us
around:É.' The listening here, the not knowing, the wondering, there isn't so
much of this in the book as to make me think it's all here, what matters.
And there is a wonderful poem by Doug Anderson, 'Bamboo Bridge', where a
group of soldiers, himself it seems really there, one of them, come upon a
naked young woman, who doesn't see them, then does.
© David Hart 2008