Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Sea | Poetry | Not About What It Is About

Poetry's perception in the modern world is often influenced by the internet's lack of filtration. This is never highlighted more potently than when a high-profile tragedy sweeps the media. When Oscar Wilde quipped that 'all bad poetry is sincere', he may well have been thinking of the sort of earnest glibness one finds at websites like 9-11 Heroes and whatever Donna McCord thought she was doing here.

There are many reasons for why these poems fail as pieces of art. It is partly because they are written in a rush to be current, it is partly because they are too emotionally engaged to be aesthetically measured, but it is mostly because these sorts of poems are written by people who are not in the habit of reading poetry. As a result, we often get rhyming chunks of crassness that feel like Dr. Seuss' Guide to National Tragedy.

"So as hurricanes go, Katrina was tough." Was it really, Donna?

Beyond the poetaster's compulsion to rhyme however, there is also the sense that, when writers try to engage artistically with something that they have only seen news footage of, their only recourse is to reach for metaphors. Metaphors like "then you slithered away on the belly of the night, lapping at the shore while licking your greedy fingers" (source).

The problem with this is, even in the most adept of hands, metaphor will rarely work in describing a national tragedy, because there are practically no vehicles big enough to carry the tenor. This is particularly prevalent when describing the sea - a subject which has dominated English poetry since the dawn of our language, a language which has received the majority of its influences from sea-arrivals. Discussing the sea appropriately is especially important in a year where humans have done unprecedented damage to it, and it has done unprecedented damage to humans.

This is why, for someone like me, the only way to write about such tragedies is to not write about them. This is not the same as ignoring them, but as writers we must train our empathetic scope to engage with the things that are conceivably within our imaginative realm before we go hurtling towards disrespectfully dealing with things we have only heard of in passing. 

To this end, I have attempted to demonstrate my point by writing a poem about something that it is not about. In that aim, I may have failed, and it is for you to comment upon yourselves, it's a free net after all. What I do hope to provide however, is a starting point for a discussion about how poets are to engage with issues that transcend linguistic cleverness.

Los Ausentes
March 11th 2011

'Being here, it is just impossible for us to imagine what it was like.'
Connie Sellecca

Joe Buttafuoco
contemplates breaking his birthday tradition of visiting the birthplace of Dee Snyder. Joey’s letterbox breaks even this morning between colourful cards and zealous death threats.

Nina Hagen
wakes; her manager has filled her room with exactly fifty six red balloons. She no longer bothers counting them. Somebody has sent her a hand knitted zeppelin.

and Deng spend the day at home with beautiful Grace and delicate Chloe. The family as one work on a Hokusai jigsaw puzzle.

Frau Schill
spends the day away from the window television unplugged photographs coaxed from loft boxes telephone bleating, upturned at the table.

Jesus Ramirez
counts every olive tree in the bosque del recuerdo stopping just short of two hundred, deaf to the troubled trickle of the memorial’s moat.

arrive early the tang of cheap caffeine wincing through a protracted morning briefing and having missed breakfast I know this will be a bad day.

Phil Brown
Poetry Editor

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