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Posterity and all that.

Recently, I wrote a post about how government bodies tend to view poetry. Indeed, I would say their view tends toward jaundiced misunderstanding rather than outright aggression, but I could be wrong. The image embedded in the piece was of a woman placing flowers  at Ted Hughes‘  memorial stone in Poet’s Corner at Westminster Abbey.

Ted Hughes’ stone was placed in close proximity to that of  T.S Eliots in the Abbey. Eliot, the banker, the poet, and the editor of Faber and Faber  mentored and supported Hughes throughout his career. Eliot’s writing was of the monumental type, and clearly directed to posterity, it lacked intimacy. I will admit that I do like Eliot. Especially in his play, Murder in the Cathedral. I have for years tangled with the voices of the women, the chorus. This then is poetic-posterity. These women of Canterbury are doom-sayers, they are the Greek chorus. They are ignored and later chided for their melodramatic utterances. They are however heard and regarded by the martyr Thomas À Becket. I have added a section of the recording here for those interested in how T.S Eliot used the women.

I find it quite difficult to relate to women characters that are written by men, as there is an absence somewhere that I regard as experiential. I think maybe that Anna Livia Plurabelle by James Joyce has a similar resonance to the Canterbury women written by Eliot. There is a quality of universalism in words mouthed by women, but written by men. The woman’s experience and perspective is absent, this hardly matters to a newspaper commissioning editor or poetry editor, as they believe that a male poet can voice a woman’s experience just as well as the woman could herself. And therein lies the problem: the established male writer in whom a lot of money has been invested is likely better than a woman writer at things because he has been put on a plinth by the old boys and there he will stay head-stuffing on all subjects for a bored media who hate the arts anyway. He can even aspire to the godly and they will lap it up and reward it.

Posterity seems to have increasing importance to those writers who have criticised Carol Ann Duffy in recent weeks. It took 341 years for the English people to countenance a woman laureate, then her laureateship is attacked by the guardians of poetic dogma, who not once sought to define (say) Ted Hughes’ Laureateship,

Conversely, Carol Ann Duffy’s work which speaks so clearly to many today may seem stale to posterity. I have no idea whether this would distress her.” (Allan Massie)

The idea of poetic posterity being defined by intellect is risible. The life of a poem is defined by the resonance of the image (or images) that are captured within the form of the poem. It is not a question of the perceived intellect of the poet, but of how the poem illuminates the reader. Nuala Ní Dhomhnaills images are fine hewn and unforgettable, as are Plath’s, as are the images created by Anna Akhmatova, by Margaret Fuller, by Stevie Smith, or by Ágnes Nemes Nagy. The fact that a certain coterie of critics are glued to the idea of posterity whilst mistranslating the idea of popularity (or populism) wholly misses the point of poetry. It is not about how wordy and intellectual the poet, but how the poetic image can adapt and move with the reader through their lifetime and be always different and always challenging.

Government appointed funders do not recognise the place of poetry in our post-literate society. Political artifice dominates popular media and culture. I have never been so bored with the empty drone and bitching of it. I have never understood why men in suits whose drone tone shows a spectacular boredom are mirrored by a craven and fussy media. Evidently boredom is de rigeur for the modern male. It’s a mystery to me why people glue themselves to televisions watching the latest bitchy power struggle or political scandal. Their words are dead wood and they reek of impotence to be frank about it.

I am adding here two excerpts of poems/prose which I will properly attribute next week. I want the reader to investigate the images and form therein,  and then possibly wonder at how stupidly gendered and egotistical the intellectual poets’ profound disconnect with their reader actually is become.

Poetry and Poetic Prose, two excerpts.

Excerpt #1.

Trees

Learn. The winter trees.
Hoarfrosted crown to root.
Immovable curtains.
 .
And learn too of the zone
where a crystal steams
and trees merge into mists,
as the body in recollection of it.

Excerpt #2

Travels

I.

 I came to a land where freedom had been realised or was at least believed to be very close to its full realisation. For the people here the word freedom could consequently not be applicable to themselves but only to other peoples who had not yet discovered the happiness-making formula that means the realisation of freedom. In this land,therefore, the people talked much and with a strong sympathy for all the people beyond the frontiers of their own land who were not free. It was said that one ought to exert oneself to  the uttermost in order to liberate all the lands and peoples of the earth. On the other hand, it would hardly have been the right thing if it had occurred to some compatriot to longingly, invoke, for example, the concept of freedom in an internal context to himself or any of his fellow-countrymen. To be sure, it was not forbidden by law to use the word freedom in that last-mentioned way, but a universally sanctioned convention in reality liquidated the word from any contexts other (than) external ones.

Since everything in this land was so new, so thrillingly and inspiringly new,  I became like a child, reborn, receptive and avid for knowledge, and also became involved in teaching in a school. By day and by hour I received proof which confirmed that freedom really was being realised  in this land as in no other. On the way to work, in buses, trams and underground trains the workers sat studying books which promised them the chance of experiencing freedom completely realised in their own lifetimes; a mother married to a simple sailor told me with eyes moist from emotion that there was every reason to expect that her son would attain the rank of admiral one day, and everywhere there was testimony to the fact  that here women were acknowledged as beings equal to men with all their human rights acknowledged; among other things the fact that within the military profession they possessed the rank of captain, major and even colonel.”

EDIT  18/02/2012:

Excerpt # 1 was Trees by Ágnes Nemes Nagy , from Between Dedalus Press (Dublin) and Corvina Press (Budapest) 1998. In translation by Hugh Maxton.

Excerpt # 2 is by Mirjam Tuominen , The short prose Travels , is from Theme with Variations, published in 1952.

Murder in the Cathedral , the women , http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MxA_3qyN1lk 

T.S Eliot and the death of poetry ,  https://poethead.wordpress.com/2011/12/08/t-s-eliot-and-the-death-of-poetry/

Creative Commons Licence
Posterity and all that‘ by C Murray/Poethead is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at poethead.wordpress.com.

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5 Comments

  1. teenylove says

    Sitwell’s poem blossoms.

    Let the men quibble.

    As for government funding, poets may be better off without it. There is an implicit pressure. May have been a factor in Hart Crane’s demise.

  2. Of course ! The sound of self-important nit-picking and intellectual quibble has funded many dine-outs ! However, it is unusually unfair to young girls and to their poetry to present to them a world of literature that has the imaginative resonance of a piece of old-trout. The academic approach to poetry in Ireland is about as relevant as the gender-balance of women-writers at editorial and academic levels.

    = Poetry is the preserve of the clever male bore and does not easily countenance the POV of women-poets for therein is unexplored territory and speechlessness ! There are honourable exceptions.
    🙂

  3. teenylove says

    Women have not yet reached the full awareness of how their devaluation for so many centuries has affected their self-image. There are women genius poets we’ll never know about because they don’t recognize the high level of their writing (I know one personally). But we’ll get there; that is, if the planet survives our onslaught.

  4. unfortunately lots of women do not question the manner in which academic knowledge is taught to them. For instance , I was taught that Sylvia Plath was a ‘suicide’ and that Elizabeth Barrett-Browning was anti-feminist (in relation to Aurora Leigh) There was little contextualisation or argument, these were accepted methodologies. My response was to go off and find the books that I liked and to ignore received thinking by those teachers who discounted women-poets.

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