Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Some reflections on political poems

If you write a political poem, there is a good chance that it will lose its topicality, or at least become somewhat dated, by the time it gets published (if indeed it does reach that fortunate end). I am thinking of a poem or three of mine which have , because contexts have shifted somewhat, gone past their political "due date" languishing for months in slush piles of various magazines. The slowness of reviews to consider, accept, and publish work acts itself as a sort of censor. This aside from the unwillingness of many reviews to venture into unsafe territory (call it middleclassness, apolitical bias, what you will.) If you need to rush a poem into print so that it have the impact of timeliness, you have to be either some kind of celebrity (at least in the poetry world), or lucky. The alternative is self publication -- blog or otherwise -- with its inherent limitations.

P.S. This post provoked some good discussion which has helped clarify my own views on this subject. Just click on "comments" below... Bravo, Rob, Andrew, Jill & Pearl!


Anonymous said...

Maggie's Farm No More: The Fate of Political Poetry by David Wojahn

The above article is in the current
Writer's Chronicle. It is good but a little Dylan-heavy.

Anonymous said...

Interesting point raised. That leaves open mic and other small poet gatherings to be a better place for timely poems.

Brian Campbell said...

Jilly: Thanks for the reference. Too bad the article is not one of those online! Maybe next time I stop by a good public library or magazine store, I'll give it a read.
Pearl: somehow I forgot about those. As the word publication originally meant "making public", I suppose readings could fit into that category... as could shouting it out in a drunken "pub" brawl. (Pls. excuse my punditing sense of humour...)

Andrew Shields said...

"Mudlark" does a thing called "Mudlark Flashes" where you can try to get "topical" stuff published.

Anonymous said...

Such political poems, especially the highly satirical ones, need to be published individually on an almost daily basis--in much the same manner as political cartoons/caricatures--in order to have maximum impact. Blogs, forums, batch e-mails, webzines and other internet outlets are unquestionably the best purveyors of such verse in today's world. After all, most newspapers and weekly magazines aren't too interested in even cartoons and comics these days, let alone satirical/political poems.

Publishing as a suite or batch, in the form of a book or chapbook, is the only logical alternative to the daily broadcasting of individual political poems. In this context, they can stand as a retrospective 'group assault' on a particular target or targets--e.g., the extreme right, the extreme left, Canadian federal politics, foreign diplomacy, etc., or any combination thereof--and (hopefully) attract an audience that is keen on both poetry and a mass representation of a particular political slant and/or area(s) of contention.

On a personal note, I've been gradually compiling a volume of such poems over the past two years, publishing the occasional one here or there. As one might expect, I mock all conservative, stifling elements of both the right and the left, and the hypocritical, envious and undereducated excuses for humans who inflict said elements upon us.

Here's an example of the sort of stuff I've been writing:

Poor Peter With The Small Peter

R. W. Watkins

Belinda's left you, Peter.
She's now on another's arm,
while you're left shovelling pails of shit
down on your father's farm.

You haven't touched a bite for days,
your bowels haven't moved;
while Belinda eats and shits content,
a smile upon her groove.

You're missing her wet cockpit;
you yearn for that backdoor;
while she's strapping on some burley man
who has at least six inches more.

You helped form a repressive party;
Belinda's Liberal now
—she needs a boy who's young and hung
to fill her big ga-zow.

(Summer, 2005)

Brian Campbell said...

Andrew: thanks for the link. I'll check it out.
Rob: I knew I would get a rise out of you with that post. I think though you're dead right there, esp. vis-a-vis satirical poems, but also more deadpan poems with political content. You make me think of Todd Swift's anthology, "Poets Against the War", a longterm project that remained relevant in the strict sense of the war it addressed because that war hasn't ended (nor will anytime soon, it seems) Also the anthology -- mentioned in my "Quebec Report" of a few days back -- Freedom: In Support of Prisoners of Conscience, edited by Endre Farkas et al. where nine poets banded together to make their voices heard on a single issue. Banding together seems to be one solution for those who want a decent (?) chance of their political poems being heard (?). Like the ol' Talking Union song: "The Boss won't listen if one guy squawks, but he sure better when the Union talks..."

Fun poem, esp. for those who know who Belinda Stronach & her Mr. Peter are -- unfortunately (for the poem at least) a select group that'll become more and more select as those two recede into political footnote status, which I expect they will. I like the cunning (cunnilingo, if you will) plays on words... cleverly put together. Thanks for sharing it.

Anonymous said...

Yes, you're so sadly right, Brian: my poem, like all satire, will lose its impact over time--unless, of course, it comes with tonnes of footnotes in a Norton Anthology (and that in itself subtracts from the power and humour of satire).

The success of satire of any kind, as I see it, is directly proportional to its intended audience's awareness of events, whether current or historical. The classic Kurtzman/Elder/Davis MAD issues of the 1950s (with Feldstein as editor and Gaines as EC Comics publisher, before the censors moved in and the bubble bursted) mean very little to Gen-X and even younger Baby Boomer readers today--let alone Gen-Y and Gen. Zed perusers--due simply to the fact that there is so much historical and cultural water under the bridge by this time. I can read those old stories and gags and get a kick out of 90% of them, but that's simply because my interests since childhood have led me to become quite familiar with so many aspects of that period (jazz, beat culture, rock 'n' roll, classic Hollywood, the blacklist, American politics in general, etc.). Most people my age, however, would not even understand a gag like Superman with "POST NO BILLS" inscribed upon his cape.

What really bothers me these days, though, is the obvious fact that the (roughly) 25-and-under crowd (Gen. Zed, as I dubbed them in a local newspaper article some years ago) can't even grasp the vast majority of satire focussing on contemporary society, due to their limited interests and lack of sociopolitical awareness. Hence the decline in popularity of MAD, The Simpsons, etc.

Brian Campbell said...


Well, Bombs Away then!

(How's that for a cryptic, multi-level-of-meaning comment?)