Recently, I wrote a post about how government bodies tend to view poetry. Indeed, I would say that given funding cuts to poetry and writer’s societies on both sides of the English Channel, the view tends toward jaundiced misunderstanding rather than outright aggression. The image embedded in the piece was that 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 Eliot‘s in the Abbey. Eliot, the banker, the poet, and editor of Faber and Faber mentored and supported Hughes. Eliot’s writing was of the monumental type, and clearly directed to posterity, it lacked intimacy. I will admit that my favourite Eliot is 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 both ignored and later chided for their melodramatic utterances. They are however heard and regarded by the martyr Thomas À Becket. They are not in the play to provide a dramatis personae or as part of a construction, they actually make the play. I decided that I would add a section of the recording here for those interested in how T.S Eliot used the women.
Aside from Eliot, 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 look for women-writers with whom I can resonate. I think maybe Anna Livia as written by Joyce has for me 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.
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, and 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 Dhomhnaill‘s 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 that image which they have fashioned can adapt, and move with the reader through their lifetime and be always different and always challenging.
That government appointed funders (petty bureaucrats) do not recognise the place of poetry in our societies is a worrying symptom of post-literacy, politics makes a career from twisting language from its meaning. 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.
Learn. The winter trees.
Hoarfrosted crown to root.
And learn too of the zone
where a crystal steams
and trees merge into mists,
as the body in recollection of it.
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.”
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/
‘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.