The Politics Of Poetry

I don’t think many people – even some artists – understand the role of art in the human mind. There are many fanciful things said and quite a few believed to excuse the behaviour of artists which taken in the round are little more than men behaving badly. On a purely non-academic surmise women artists are not quite as flaunting of their being as the men, probably because so many of the men have a woman to keep them grounded and put up with them, whilst the women rarely do.

I am sure people are born with a higher ability than others in various arts but I am also sure there are very intellectual reasons why artist choose their lives. Few artists are ‘joiners’ and the vagaries and passions of society are rarely of interest to them. And then some see their art as the deepest expression of their thoughts. Which is where the talk I give about politics and poetry takes it lead. Shelley was not being facetious when he said poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world, because they talk about the universal and strip away the transient parts of society.

They are the ultimate commentators –  at their best brutally honest, unafraid, writing to be listened to and effective. But the point of the poetry is not the writing or the words or the life of the poet, but the listener. If the listener is there everything has meaning.

Precarious Irrelevance

It is only when tragedy strikes, or in the heat of a crisis, that everything gets stripped away and the people and actions that are really important present themselves to us in brutal clarity. I thought of this when my father got in touch with me last year after ignoring me for thirty years, in his debilitating illness, and wondered then what it was he wanted to know. Why he suddenly wanted to meet me.

And in my mother’s illness I have been scanning in all her work and asking her questions to make sure that I know everything I can about her life. But luckily I have always had a clear vision of what is important to my life, and my mother’s work has always been significant and something of a treasure. I have been immensely fortunate in being brought up with an artist because the world of money never intrudes upon our minds but as a nuisance and never draws us away from feelings being centre stage.

It is as natural for me to live through my loves as for the rain to fall from rain clouds, as important for me to know that it is the nature of love to suffer for in suffering you know it is love, and to long for peace with something approaching reverence whilst understanding it will never come to us.

As  Shelley said, some of us bleed from the thorns of life and I have watched one such since I was a child.

Communicating With The Impossible

I am always told not to think of animals in anthropological terms, as if to imbibe them with some facets of human character were absurd, degrading or misleading to the animal and myself. Like the journalist who said on the radio his aunt would hear her budgie tweet and say ‘ Listen! every word clear as a bell!’ to loud laughter.

When you cannot talk to another person you look for expression and gesture and try to find common themes (obviously food) with which to build some form of communication. David Attenborough’s famous encounter with Amazonian people showed how a smile and hand gestures were almost universal.

It seems to me you can always go too far, but if you are dealing with nature and you know she doesn’t speak your language, communication relies upon your emotions.  Percy Bysshe Shelley wanting to be the west wind, men learning  to feel what is in the mind of a hunting wolf so they can breed sheepdogs and the ancient longing to feel what it is like to be a bird.

Emotion and imagination are how we communicate with a tree, with the sea, with the earth itself and as time goes on their sensitivity is being intensified by science. Because most times, the need to understand is even greater with those parts of nature to which we cannot directly communicate.

If I Could Write . . .

I would of course be brilliant. I would be Zola reborn, I would be deep yet brief like Chekhov, I would be passionate and sparse like Steinbeck, I would be wide-ranging and evocative like Fast. There would be a hint of Byron in my irony and humour, the politics of Mary Ann Evans in my choice of subjects. I would not have the unbelievable circumstance of Hardy but choose rather the unremitting brutality of Hugo. I would want to capture the human condition as Thackery and Balzac, but leave readers with the delicate wisdom of Emily Dickenson.

At times the passion of Emily Bronte, at times the fluidity of Durrell. I would capture the instincts in a awkward moment like Singer and the beating heart of actions like Dostoyevsky. And after the pain I would soothe like Li Po, expound like Gandhi, entertain like Dickens and end with sending ripples of laughter and nods of agreement through my readers like MacNeice.

I would conjure like Cervantes and Lorca, touch depression like Solzenitskin  and lift the spirits like Moliere. If I could write I would have a touch of Shakespeare and a pinch of Jermiah and I would prophecy the human race into Shelley.

But I am me.

In Writing We Trust

If it is in you the art will come out. You will starve, wear rags and let others take the plaudits but you will create no matter what. Because the most important thing is to create. Because you only have this time in which to create and once it is over the chance is gone forever.

And that is why moments matter so much. That is why the smallest time has ‘all importance’ because together they make up all the time you have. It isn’t about making a name for yourself, that is largely a matter of chance or whether those with the ability to make you famous see money or sex in you. It about doing the work.

It is the mark of the true artist that even with money they still live at that standard, low or high, that enables them to create. They can still be irascible and temperamental, unsociable and difficult but that is the way they are because their work is everything.  Love Shelley for his work but he was an awful father; enjoy Hardy for his brilliant novels but he was a terrible husband; artists are flawed socialites.

And those that let money rule them and get carried away by the plaudits are destroyed as artists.

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November 2018
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