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POLITICAL POETRY - WHO READS IT?

I mean, really reads it; as opposed to its polemic.
Can we appreciate a poem for itself without agreeing with its subject or viewpoint?
Personally, I am sceptical. To be a little solipsistic for a moment, I have posted several satirical poems and songs targeting Cameron, Osborne, Johnson, Gove, Farage, Trump, Benn, Miliband and Corbyn.
What characterises the comments made on these is that virtually no-one critiques the poetry but either offers general support for the attack on the subject ("spot on, John") or invites me to jump off a cliff for attacking a national treasure.
It leads me to the conclusion that the poetry has become irrelevant since readers/listeners only "see/hear" the polemic.
Wotcha fink?
Tue, 13 Sep 2016 11:18 pm
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i find that with most poetry that offers an opinion, be it political or anything really. people like to bicker, you'd probably get the same response if you just posted the opinion as a sentence. i have dozens of poetry books (mostly from the last ten years) and i cant think of one single political poem included in any of them. i like that poetry is vague, it invites imagination and asks you to craft a scene in your mind. if something is overly one sided (even just for humours sake) i suppose its just to precise and exact for me. also, and i will state this again for dramatic effect, people LOVE to bicker.
this is just a personal opinion, im not a fan of politics anyway so maybe others feel different. to me, your most affecting work is the human portraits you put forward.
did this make any sense. probably not but i stand by it.
Wed, 14 Sep 2016 11:48 am
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Political poetry is like religious poetry, in some sense. Yeats said that politics is about the argument with other people, and poetry is about the argument with yourself. And religious poetry aimed at convicting the reader is the same as political poetry aimed at changing someone's mind.

But a lot of the best religious poetry - John Donne, say, or Gerard Manley Hopkins, or even a fair number of the ancient Hebrew Psalms - is often not directed at the reader but is a conversation with the divine - which those of us who aren't religious might wish to see as a conversation with another part of the self. It's questioning, or questing, rather than polemical.

I suspect the same is true of political poetry. Not that there isn't a place for the polemical - but that is perhaps more in the immediate circumstances rather than something that will last forever.

Politics in general, as opposed to party politics, or immediate issues, is very much about the way we live as a society, and some fine poets are 'political' in this way. Ian MacMillan's poetry comes to mind in this regard: he often writes about the mining communities of South Yorkshire and the tragedy of the pit closures. See such a poem as 'Pit Closure As Art.'
Thu, 15 Sep 2016 02:17 pm
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Interesting observations. But the question remains for me, "Can we appreciate a poem in which its political stance is diametrically opposed to our own political values?"
Fri, 16 Sep 2016 06:40 pm
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If it is polemical, presumably it is not the poet arguing with him or herself thus is less reflexive therefore less of a poem?

I have just posted a discussion about one of my favourite poems, Gray's Elegy, which I have long considered political in the sense that, for me, the poet raises our awareness of the potential that lies within us all, and that for many remains unfulfilled: some mute inglorious Milton here may rest, some Cromwell guiltless of his country's blood.

Is that - the bringing such to our awareness - political? The fact that some critics complained that the topics he raised remained inconclusive suggest to me that he was, indeed, in engaged in, if not an argument, then a discussion with himself.

I consider it in the light of the recent grammar schools discussion:
http://www.writeoutloud.net/public/newsgroupview.php?NewsGroupsID=3&NewsThreadsID=1995
Sat, 17 Sep 2016 03:16 pm
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John,
I tried to comment on this some days ago but, strangely, couldn`t get started.

I think because politics is in such a confused state at the moment that we`re all in a fuzz.

Politics is deciding pathways so it will always be polemical if we think that path is wrong.

For me the present problem is the enormous growth in Labour party members...who are they?...who recruited them, and for what reason?...It is said that the intention is to turn the party into some sort of quasi Marxist left wing
sort of outfit, But - after Russia - which electorate is going to fall for that?...I`m fascinated to see how it turns out.

Poetically, political poetry is a happy hunting ground for satire...and vituperation...(never give a sucker an even break)

`Morally` in any sense at all `Feed the hungry` will always sound better than `free the entrepreneur` (even when the entrepreneur is providing more bread)...It`s all about starting off from basics...Somehow it has a sort of `religious` sense to it. (which is why communism was much more cruel than capitalism...they were convinced that the cruelty was for our ultimate good)
Mon, 19 Sep 2016 02:31 pm
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I'd feel more persuaded, Harry, that political poetry was appreciated for its poetry if ever I'd read comments like. "Disagree completely with the imperialist tone of this but what a cracking poem; pictorial imagery, lyrical beauty, suitable structure etc" but I never have.
Thu, 22 Sep 2016 02:56 pm
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I can appreciate the works of people whose politics don't chime with mine - if we go historical there's Pound and Eliot and closer to home, Larkin - yet their work is excellent.

Regarding political poetry I've read lately - on facebook mostly as there are so many who think they are poets but their work is purely political doggerel and pretty terrible really - albeit they get heaps of 'likes' from the other doggereleurs.

Political poetry has a limited shelf life - the Brexit vote rendered a number of mates' stuff obsolete as Cameron and Gove and Osborne and Bojo (remember them?) fell by the wayside.
I think I did one about Corbyn getting elected first time around - worthless as poetry but got a few laughs and 'right on Comrade' remarks as I performed it.
Still there's room for everything and as a good poet pal once told me - "at least they ain't out smashing windies"(he is Scottish)
Thu, 29 Sep 2016 06:15 pm
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For me, Rick, the most effective political poetry is indeed at the very simple levels of slogans. For instance, I can't recall any political poem as memorable as
"Hey, hey, LBJ;
How many kids did you kill today?"
Or
"Mrs Thatcher, milk snatcher,
Hands off student unions".
Or
"We don't want to fight
But by Jingo if we do
We've got the ships, we've got the men
We've got the money too".
Thu, 29 Sep 2016 06:34 pm
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I appreciate that this is not the place for one's pomes but this thread has wormed this out - I wrote it in 5 minutes (and it reads exactly like that) - I never thought it would see the light of day again - here, to my eternal shame 😃

"In drear rancid halls of dismal gin
Drinking through tears at a Corbyn win,
And plotting to regain the riches they lost
Yet not at a cost
To themselves but the people of Britain
Their constituents they shit on
Some will turn their coats appearing to be willing
To swallow their pride and take JC's shilling
Others too yellow to fall on their swords
Will worm a services rendered place in the Lords
I'm stuck for a rhyme for those upstanding members
Unsure, waiting orders from their masters the bankers"
Thu, 29 Sep 2016 06:58 pm
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(I must admit I'm still sniggering at the idea that 100,000 Marxists have recently joined the Labour party - if there were ever more than 10,000 in this country I'd be very surprised (and I used to be one...))

Fri, 30 Sep 2016 11:36 am
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Lancashire County Palatine Tourist Bard

Who reads political poetry?
Might I suggest anyone who reads:

The Lamentations of Jeremiah, Alcaeus, Beowulf, La Chanson de Roland, Shakespeare, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Robert Southey, Robert Burns, Walt Whitman, WH Auden, Wilfred Owen, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1964 campaign speech -similarly President George H.W. Bush, Federico García Lorca,

Or
“You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you'll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.”
Siegfried Sassoon.
Wed, 16 Nov 2016 10:05 am
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Yes! If we can appreciate poetry about love, sex, death, faith, culture, that is different from out own values, why not politics? What makes politics so different? Isn't it an ego thing? It depends on the quality of the poem, for me. Some of the ropey poems about our invasion of Iraq - I might agree with the sentiments, but they are so overstated and obvious I would have preferred it if those poets had supported the invasion instead! Obviously, if someone writes a poem praising something truly abominable, then no, but you know what I mean. For example, I voted Leave for lunatic Bennite reasons, but that doesn't mean I couldn't appreciate poems supporting Remain. Depends on the poem.
Sun, 18 Dec 2016 03:56 am
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The issue is what is political. Quite a number of poems are political, but if judging is now required, they should be judged for their poetic verse and method of language and not whether you agree. However, we must feel free to tackle these big issues of today and through rhyme and reason we have a way for better than a true sword. The written words, spoken words, song of words have changed more things for the better, through enabling us in so many ways. In this world of post-truth the written word is needed more than ever, whether a play, a poem, a song or book. The wrong political view does kill human life ever day.
Tue, 20 Dec 2016 12:52 pm
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I think you're endorsing what I'm suggesting AM when you say that the wrong political views kills life every day. Are there examples of wrong political poetry which you like because of the poetry?
Tue, 20 Dec 2016 09:04 pm
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John, maybe true. I will have to do more research.
Tue, 20 Dec 2016 09:42 pm
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So I do not really agree with some of the Irish poets nor various obvious Scottish ones. But I certainly admire their poetic work. Even Heaney admitted he avoided saying what he may have been thinking and distanced himself from the clearer political lens used by the Dublin poets of the revolution, but surely not their legacy as writers.
Tue, 20 Dec 2016 10:05 pm
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I don't go out of my way to read political poetry, but i love reading poetry which is written in a political context, or contains topics, issues, but is not overt in ya face dogmatic sloganeering. A poem about a single mum and her daily life, a glimpse of war, are the types of political poetry that attract me. But if it's awkwardly polemical, then ofcourse the poetry or language of poetry will disappear under the deluge of polemic.
Sat, 20 May 2017 08:13 pm
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In the circles in which I spin political poetry is reduced to "I hate Tories/I hate Trump/ And here's one I wrote on the bus..."

And the ensuing garbage is dull, tedious, didactic, utterly predictable yet if the 'poet' manages to insert crude rhymes for 'suck' and 'sock' the crowds will whoop, cheer, holler approval and roll onto their backs begging for more.

It ain't even 'street poetry' it ain't graffiti, it's the smugness of chucking a bucket of red paint at a wall and "O what a good boy am I!"

My good friend Jim Higo does a marvellous pome about the hypocrisy of millionaire Jamie Oliver preaching to hard working (often) single parents about their feeding quick food to their families - it is political to its elbows in satire - not all political poetry is necessarily crap but the spoken worders intoxicated with the exuberance of their own verbosity are reducing it to that.

Entropy rules 😞
Sun, 21 May 2017 07:09 am
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and shouting.
Tue, 23 May 2017 12:36 am
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oh yes - plenty of that - shouting and then as rapturous applause rings out it's, "Buy my book it's only five quid!!" 😞
Tue, 23 May 2017 09:00 am
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I have spent hours poring over the dictionary definitions of
'policy/politics/political/polity/police etc. etc. ETC. and have basically concluded that, in my opinion, there is no poetry that is not 'political'. We poets absolutely seek to present our 'policies' and influence how others think and act in their relationships with themselves and other persons, and therefore, collectively, the State.

'Political Party Poetry' is a different horse altogether.

What a comeback for a great question! And so relevant this week.Well done, Daisy.
Tue, 23 May 2017 12:46 pm
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schotanus

Even if people react only to the contents, this does not mean the form does not matter. Possibly, if you put the same message in a weaker form, your message might not come across.
However, in my country (the Netherlands) there are websites where people post light verse commenting on the news of the day, and there the rhyming, the pun and the eloquence certainly are criticized.
On the other hand, in main stream art poetry (some people call it serious poetry, but I don't agree to that frame, so I prefer this contradictory fomula) a political message in a poem is suspicious. Times are changing, but autonomism long has been the leading poetic trend. Possibly, also in your country. So if you are not writing light verse, a political statement in a poem might be seen as a signal that the poem is not meant as real poetry, but just as a vehicle for blunt messages. I am wrestling with that myself. I do not agree to that vision, but I am certainly brainwashed with it.
Mon, 5 Jun 2017 06:33 pm
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Political poetry isn't good but poetic politics is worse.
Tue, 6 Jun 2017 12:29 am
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Lancashire County Palatine Tourist Bard

If it's
about,
for,
or by
people...
it's political...and I read it!
Sat, 10 Jun 2017 10:54 am
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Nice topic. I have read this political poem several times, but our poetry nights don't run to critiquing our work, just the odd comment, so maybe someone would like to look at this as a poem.

PURSUE TRANSPARENCY

In veils of secrecy the captured states
Obscure the havens of the ultra-rich,
Who claim to hover in their global cloud;
Untouched, untaxable and out of reach.

They slip through loopholes spun, in legal webs,
By spider lawyers, lobbyists, - with bribes.
They loot our assets; dodge, evade and hide;
And multiply their influence round the globe.

What chance our representatives can stand
Against the surge of this corrupting tide;
Pin down each corporate body to the land;
Blow veils aside; disperse the global cloud?

Manhattan and the City do not fall.
These are the murkiest havens of them all.
Sat, 10 Jun 2017 08:12 pm
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In general, my biggest bugbear with political poetry is its predictability. I always try to be objective, and as such will give any poem a go regardless of whether I agree or disagree with its message. I've seen a few poems by far-right authors and they were dreadful; on the other hand by far the vast majority of "political poems" are left wing, and I have rarely experienced surprise from any of them.
This is changing a bit. But generally it seems to me that the political poet is driven first and foremost to deliver a message, and chooses to do it via poetry second.
6 days ago
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Can we appreciate a poem whose message we diametrically oppose, asks John. I hope so. To do otherwise would be to cut off a large section of poetry from many people's appreciation. An analogy might be with religion. Although I am disinclined towards most aspects of religion, and am not a person of faith, I gain great enjoyment and interest from religious music, art, buildings and discussion.

I suppose the other main problem with much contemporary (Western) political poetry, is its falsity. So often it seems poets feel they are being subversive or brave in attacking Trump, Theresa May, Farage etc, when the truth is that this is standard fare now, and cannot be in any way compared to the genuinely brave protest poetry from Nazi Germany, Communist Russia, Apartheid South Africa, and the like. We can criticise elected governments all we like, without ever once having to fear a reprisal. Artists in countries like North Korea or Iran, on the other hand, face abuse, imprisonment and even the constant fear of death, for their words. Here, we choose soft targets and, understandably, avoid offending those who may genuinely respond with violence - if only more poets, comedians, and journalists were more honest about this. I remember a few years ago a political poet I know used to read a piece he had written "about the rise of a certain political party," and as he said these words, audiences would murmur in knowing concurrence - the whole affair being a hammed up delusion that they were all somehow uniting in something principled and subversive, as if by naming the party they would be risking getting into bother. He was presenting the thing as if he were some sort of Soviet dissident, careful to speak only in hints and euphemisms. Why could he not simply have said it was about Ukip? What did he actually think would happen?
There is a long tradition of satire, political lampoon, and comic writing in British writing, but I feel we should be honest when we are engaged in this sort of thing (and considering the comparative safety and acclaim they enjoy as opposed to their counterparts in totalitarian states and war-zones, British political poets can rarely be said to be engaging in anything other than these things) instead of presenting it as something brave or controversial.
6 days ago
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Simon's posting of his opinion piece has brought Freda's poem to my tardy attention.

He complains of political poetry's predictability, though I am not clear if that is a personal dislike or a suggestion that predictability renders it non-poetic, or just uninteresting.

Whilst competition judges often suggest they are looking to be surprised, predictability (familiarity, regularity, so forth) can be a virtue in poetry. Take nursery rhymes, for instance with their constant re-reading and repetition; or our re-reading of a favourite poem. There can be comfort in predictability.

That said, I think there is something in Simon's assertion, in that some 'political' poems do seem to be written in a rather 'on the nose' manner. Perhaps more poetic, and cleverer, are those whose allusiveness and ambivalent qualities bring that smile to the lips of those who appreciate good writing, repaying further reading to elicit the subtext(s). I like to be treated as an intelligent, free-thinking reader and, yes, to be challenged.

At one of our Marsden jazz festival poetry jams a couple of years ago Jean Bennett read her recently-penned nursery rhyme, a chilling riff on Rock-a-bye baby, alluding to the shortcomings of council children’s services with specific reference to a tragic case of the time. And it was brave of Jean to read at that point for all sorts of reasons. Very powerful use of a cosy, familiar nursery rhyme to jolt the reader/listener into a new way of thinking.

I can also appreciate a good on-the-nose political rant, especially if it reinforces my own prejudices. I like a predictable political rant from 'the other side' too, as long as it brings an ironic smile to my lips.

For me, Freda, in this piece perhaps your political concerns edge you more towards rant than poetry. For instance, I’d prefer the word veils not to be collocated with secrecy. It already is, in most readers’ imaginations. Perhaps let the reader do some of the work. And the assertive nature of the writing – stating everything as fact (they loot our assets…) –makes it sound more of a rant, for me. Suppose it were written more interrogatively, might that bring out more of your considerable poetic skill and engage the reader more?

Simon, is yours a heartfelt treatise, or a rant about political poetry? Whatever, you pose some interesting questions.




5 days ago
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"Simon, is yours a heartfelt treatise, or a rant about political poetry?"

A heartfelt rant, perhaps? :)
5 days ago
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I guess mine is in the rant category, Julian
I had read the excellent factual book 'Treasure Islands' which describes the tax havens in which money is hidden away. It is the result of a lot of investigative work, and makes chilling reading. I was feeling pretty depressed when I got near to the end of it, but the final chapter is more upbeat as it describes what can be done about it.
Essentially I made a list of his points and used it as a first draft but explored the metaphors he introduced himself.
I think that political dialogue can be asking questions, leaving the answers open ended, but at times, based on actual reporting of what is happening, there is a need to make statements about how we can address problems that worry all of us, rather than just wring our hands about it.
A land tax, for example, would tie the companies to the land in order to make them accountable for their use of the infrastructure they depend on.
I think these are legitimate points to make, but I also wanted to use the language and weave the metaphors within the poem as a construction.
At the time I wrote it there was much less knowledge about tax havens, and the complicity of the City of London, so that it is such a popular place for ill gotten goods.
I agree it is not asking readers to make up their own minds.
5 days ago
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So as per usual the South African is 4 days late to this conversation (African Time you know) ;-D

I don't think this subject only relates to political poetry but also to music.

People tend to get stuck on the person/ group/ party/ country or race that is supposedly "Targeted" in the poem or song.

I really agree that we should appreciate the artistry behind such a poem or song in stead of trying to dig into the "hidden message" that the poem or song is relaying to the reader or listener.

Yes traditionally (Especially here is South Africa) poems and songs (Lets be honest, songs is but poems with music added to them) was and still is being used to promote political agendas, which I think might have given political poetry a negative connectation as not being art.

However I think if we really read a poem out loud and it sounds beautiful then it is beautiful and it is an art.

So that's my 50 cents, (Disclaimer this would be South African cents so it might not be worth much)
11 hours ago
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