The politics of poetry

katrinaThe poem below was written in response to the Katrina disaster of 2005. Poetry, as Keats famously pointed out, is about beauty and truth, in other words it is about life in all its aspects because there is no area of life where beauty and truth are irrelevant. All that we value in our lives is concerned with beauty and truth. That includes the relationship we have with our loved ones, with our fellow citizens and the world’s wider population. We are all in this together and we have rights and responsibilities as individuals under the charter of the United Nations.

So how should a poet engage with the world, a poet obsessed with love and beauty? The answer, I believe, is so simple, as William Burroughs would say: the poet is no different from anyone else, the poet should be engaged with his immediate circle and his wider world. Beauty and truth are synonyms. Lies are ugly. Poetry celebrates beauty and denounces ugliness and does so by employing the stylistic tricks of its trade, or should I say, of the medium, just as journalists do theirs, film makers theirs, artists theirs, musicians theirs. Politicians also have the tricks of their trade, and we should be wise to them. Always! Beauty is truth, truth beauty, that is all you need to know!


Paradise Lost

Your words,
       Mr President, have grown charcoal-
               brittle, they stain your lips
       as you speak them, and bring no
               comfort to those who hear;

let us
       at the very least, carbon-date
               your thoughts, your notion
       of what is right and wrong,
               your black-and-white

world,
       we who have not drowned
               but who looked on in horror
       as you abandoned a people
               who were surplus to

requirements!
       Where were you when the saints
               came marching in and the waters
       rose and the wind howled and
               the levees which had kept

despair
       at bay were finally breached?
               A serpent appeared in the rose
       garden and said DO NOTHING
               as your daddy did, surrender

dignity,
       surrender truth and, as your
               daddy had done, botox
       the lies until you can smile
               in the face of death,

turn up
       your nose at the stench of decay,
               turn a blind eye on the strangers
       upon whose kindness your office
               once depended. Democracy is in

the eye
       of the beholder, but the dead are
               disenfranchised. Katrina Katrina
       to the tune of an old blues song, on
               a blue piano, until the end of time.

6 September 2005

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