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Poetry is justified

Author: joe

Thursday, 10 November, 2005 - 14:30

For Percy Bysshe Shelley poets were 'the unacknowledged legislators of the world'. Dylan Thomas said, as he sang, that -

'song
Is a burning and crested act,
The fire of birds in
The world's turning wood,
For my sawn, splay sound'.

Baudelaire claimed the poet's mother would cry to God, 'Why not have given me a brood of snakes rather than make me rear this laughing stock?' - but the poet's perfect diadem is 'made of nothing but pure light... of which our mortal eyes, for all their might, are only a mournful mirror, a darkened glass'.

I say this by way of justification - it seems necessary always to justify poetry. P.P. O'Shaughnessy wrote a poem called 'Justification':

In the face of suffering,
Poetry
Is silent,
Irrelevant,
Or lacking grace.

In the face of poetry,
Suffering
May sometimes
Take second place.

At the very least this modest appraisal tells us something about the complicated relationship we have with the expression of human thought in forms which forge from words aesthetic beauty and clarity, and which, from time to time, play their reader as the spirit of the world plays Coleridge's Aeolian Pipe.

This is not to mention the fact that poetry is certainly one of the oldest forms of artistic communication which humanity in its every generational incarnation turns to for comfort and for proclamation. Poetry requires us, whether we read it or write it, to become Protean, to swap our identities for those of others, and to reflect on the abyss which separates each individual from another. It requires us, in a way that the visual simply does not, to 'be someone else'.

It is therefore a good thing that children are encouraged to write poetry, and for that poetry to be published and shared and returned to other children. To allow the creative act to be practiced, rather than merely 'told'.

So when a 14-yr-old boy writes a poem which tries to assume the voice of Adolf Hitler and express that human's viewpoint and his attitude to the Jews, should we be appalled? The Liverpool Riverside MP, Louise Ellman clearly is, despite the fact that she clearly hadn't read the full poem before making her opinions known. Or like a number of bloggers (most of whom have obviously not read the full text either), including one who claimed that this is an example of the UK sinking into its own excrement. I wonder if the recent bill outlawing 'glorification of terror' is an example of that excrement? And perhaps we should also ban Paradise Lost on the grounds that the poet has clearly tried to empathise with Satan, and in doing so has glorified the ultimate act of terror by trying to overthrow God and His Kingdom of Heaven, and incited hatred against the entire human race?

I would argue that Gideon Taylor, the boy in question, has a better grasp of what a poem is than carpet-bagging MPs and the blogger clones endlessly repeating each other's entries.

And by the way, it the least relevant facet of this case that the boy's poetry was the kind of doggerel you expect to find in juvenilia.

I hope Baudelaire is correct that 'the oblivious Poet lifts his pious arms, and blinding flashes of his intellect keep him from noticing the angry mob'.

Categories: poetry, censorship,
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