ARTYFACTS: Roy Hutchins: Poetry as polemic…

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Roy Hutchins: Poetry as polemic…

Went to an abridged reading of the Old-Etonian Heathcote Williams The Poetry Army, had four stools, four readers and Roy at a mike stringing it all together. It was a polemical piece that strung together snippets of poetry from a full range of English and foreign poetry trying to claim that poetry has changed the world. It’s a riposte to Auden’s famous line from his poem In Memory of W, B. Yeats, “For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives In the valley of its making”.
So poetry stopped the Vietnam war, the building of more nuclear power stations in japan and nuclear proliferation. It was also the cause of the Arab Spring and the Occupy movement. I think not. Sure poetry, or more correctly poetry & songwriting, given these readings, can contribute to political change but the proposition is, as Auden claimed, deeply suspect. The piece is classic Williams, with absolutely no sense of balance. Pure polemic.
Everyone in the audience was surely thinking the same thing - too one sided. No mention of the explicit fascism in Pound, Yeats or Eliot. No mention of the poetry in National Anthems or of uncomfortable ideologies. No mention of Anglo-Saxon poetry that worships war and warriors. No mention of the poetry in the Koran that calls for death to Infidels. And here in the UK, no mention of the Poet Laureate, who HAS to pen a poem to the Queen and play a curiously obsequious game. No mention of the misogyny and homophobia in rap.
It was just too polemical, too long and too homogeneous. Also, single loines or couplets start to sound like epigrams and mottos when read out of context. Poetry suffers badly from being cannibalised. Performance is different from poetry. It needs variation and structure, not a relentless 50 minute reading, either from paper, or an ear-feed. In the end, this was not performance, just people ‘reading’. Couldn’t the four readers on the stools have made the effort to learn the lines?
To be honest the young Spoken Word artists have conquered this space. Go see Scroobius Pip if you want real, contemporary subversion. This had the feel of a old-school, bookshop poetry reading, not an edgy political event.


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