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A dearth of poems about historical figures

In bygone ages, writing poems about prominent figures from the past was popular. That doesn't seem to happen very often now. We don't even seem to write much about contemporary prominent figures, whether it be politicians, sports personalities, media stars, well-known saints and sinners, royalty, or whoever. Why don't such people grip our imaginations? Is it because we are more individualistic now, more inward-looking? Has the age of satire meant that our capacity to admire is reduced?

One example, which ties in with the current 70th anniversary. Churchill. He could be an awkward cuss, and his right-wing domestic politics are not for me. But this nation owes an incredible debt to him. He had extraordinary qualities of leadership and was genuinely inspirational for the generation which lived through it all. But it's difficult to imagine anyone putting a poem about Churchill on WOL.
Fri, 18 Sep 2009 09:50 am
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So why don't you get the ball rolling then Dave?

There's no reason why the historical figures you mention cannot be written about. The thing is, all 'famous' people had lives away from the media. How do we really know what went through their minds and how they truly lived their lives away from the public eye. Any written word about them can only ever be based on personal knowledge of the person or that which has already been written in some form. Also, each individual to write about them would be hard put not to place their own thoughts on the impact that person had on their life.( In my opinion. )
I suppose a poem such as you mention might create a lot of further discussion and indeed argument because of individual views and insights but why not?
Go for it!
Fri, 18 Sep 2009 11:18 am
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steve mellor

I don't often dip into these discussions, but I have a poem I wrote about Obama, just after he was voted in.
I was in Ohio last year, in the last week of the election, and you could feel the anticipation. The greatest fear of the people I was staying with was the he'd be shot.

If you think this subject fits the bill, I'll post it as a blog. I'm sure it's not the greatest piece of literature, but it may unblock more able minds.

Steve M.
Fri, 18 Sep 2009 11:59 am
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I for one think you should post it steve. I was a part of the majority that feared he would get shot, and followed the election with a morbid interest. At the time I was running a project with a group of mature students on the subject of assimilation and seperation and studying a film adaptation of Lorraine Hansbury's 'A raisin in the sun', and had the opportunity to read Obama's wife's dissertation/thesis - it blazed a trail across the internet, if you've read it you'll know where I am coming from.
Fri, 18 Sep 2009 01:36 pm
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Yes please Steve. Having Obama in the White House is so reassuring and hopeful after what the world has had to put up with.

Point taken, Janet. I've just been given Carlo D'Este's tome on Churchill and maybe the Muse will alight when I'm reading that. Trouble is it's 800 pages so you may get something about 2011.

The biography before that was Richard Oram's life of King David I of Scotland. Admirable and fascinating man. But for some reason it just doesn't get the poetic juices flowing. That personal reaction seems to be part of something wider - we do still admire people, but we tend not to write poems about them.
Fri, 18 Sep 2009 02:22 pm
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Most of us are no longer as naive about 'history' as previous generations were. We are exposed to more depth about great figures from many diverse sources, some of them hopefully accurate. The same applies to celebrities in general, past and present. I think any poet has the right to put forward a subjective 'interaction' with a 'famous' person providing that the personal slant is clearly obvious.

I'm tempted to try one myself.
Mon, 21 Sep 2009 12:38 pm
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I hope it's alright but I've posted a piece that I wrote months ago, before Obama was actually elected, so I thought it would set the ball rolling so to speak. Like many, my biggest fear was assassination. Secondly the impact on the Black America if he actually cannot deliver. Regards anyway. Graham
Mon, 21 Sep 2009 05:57 pm
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Cynthia - anybody has the right to put forward anything they Goddamm like.

I also have the right to dislike it however...
Tue, 22 Sep 2009 12:24 pm
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Russell Thompson

Going back to Dave’s original question, I’ve frequently been antagonised by this, too. It’s not just historical figures, but I think there’s less tendency now to even set poems in the past (or, at least, any further back than reminiscing about how great the 1990s were). As you say, I think it’s part and parcel of a wider issue about people thinking only within the box of their own lives and experiences. Not that this is a bad thing per se, but there does seem to be a disproportionate amount of poetry that’s set in The Now and involves – to use a phrase I keep stumbling across - ‘observing the minutiae of everyday life’. As Steven W says, we can write about anything we goddamn like – and yet it seems that we very often don’t. If you see what I mean.
Tue, 22 Sep 2009 12:43 pm
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I agree with you Mr Russell Thompson. Time to pull out the dusty old history books and clear away the cobwebs?

Still waiting for Dave's Churchill. Have you managed to make a dent in the 800 pages yet.

And what does it matter if someone doesn't like a poem that has been blogged? As long as the writer enjoyed writing it or got something out of it, or both. everyone is attracted to different genres and styles, and some just like experimenting. The site would be an incredibly dull place if everyone tried to write to please everyone.
Tue, 22 Sep 2009 12:55 pm
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Sorry Nicky - the target date was some time in 2011! Seriously, I do hope to have trundled through it before Christmas, but that may depend on the length of the next reading group book.
Tue, 22 Sep 2009 01:03 pm
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I think this is an interseting question. I think we did become embarrassed about history in this country as it became associated with nationalism and a colonial legacy about which we became rightly revisionist. I myself have a great interest in history and believe that without understanding the past we cannot hope to make sense of the present. I also agree that much contemporary poetry (even mine!) is too often given to introspection but then which of us don't sometimes use poetry as therapy? Inspired, I've posted a couple of historical poems of my own, I'm always pleased to hear what people think.
Thu, 1 Oct 2009 08:40 pm
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E. Dowd

The last words of Marcel Marceau

Sometime passed before
those stood by the bed knew. His
face still eloquent
Thu, 1 Oct 2009 08:52 pm
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“As we go on in life, torn between light and shadow, encountering injustice, violence, misery, we still have one weapon against despair – to make people laugh through their tears,” he mimed with complexity.
Sun, 11 Oct 2009 08:20 pm
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