I have thought quite a lot lately about jacking in poetry. Besides my dysfunctional health, the main reason is the frustration at poetry’s gated community who situate themselves far away in the wildlife of their own comfort; their liberal stance and inability to help us live a little bit better life by being the provocative fairground mirror to surrounding events. The somewhat disingenuous basis for the argument that, the reason most people hate poetry is because it doesn’t achieve what it sets out to do (i.e. be universal), means that its self-made pedestal is built on sand. I think a lot of poetry is an escape from life, not an engagement with it. By a lot, I mean that which is published in the magazines, whether online or in heavily over-submitted under-subscribed hard copy versions. There are glimmers of hope from across the Pond (Danez Smith, Eve Ewing, Terrance Hayes), but not a lot like that is prominent here in the UK poetry scene, and I would argue we are in the same shit pit as the US.
The actor Riz Ahmed, when asked where he saw the problem in the lack of diversity, answered ‘those who don’t believe there is a problem’. I would extend that to those who perceive it is a problem, but don’t feel it relates to them, and thus do nothing about it within their interests and responsibilities to the poetry world. Unconscious bias is thus the reality when confronted with the ‘why I did nothing’. Unfunnily enough, you often find answers to why this is so from the business world (know thy enemy, right?). In an article in Fast Company, the way business can better address bias in the recruitment process is being aware, self-conscious of our own biases – that is something we all have and must manage. “When we are aware of our biases and watch out for them, they are less likely to blindly dictate our decisions.”
Stuart Charlesworth’s poem ‘But now’ reflects the dissatisfaction I have with this poetic disjuncture of bias and inaction very well. I will leave the poem to show this, but a quote from a V&A Director within it, neatly sums up the situation we are in, and therefore how poetry should be better at responding to it. ‘the terms and conditions have changed/ and we cannot continue the same’. The T&Cs are constantly changing, it is the nature of the social etc., dialectic. By not being aware of our bias, and how we therefore ‘opt out’ of acting, means that those who believe there isn’t a problem will one day see, “the little men come goose-stepping/ out of the palm of your hand and into your home.” I don’t think I’m going to give up poetry, at the moment, but I do wonder if efforts would be better placed in another area of writing, which is more receptive to change, and aware of its own bias.
Stuart Charlesworth was commended by Pascal Petit in the 2018 Brittle Star Competition. He is a nurse, and a committee member for Café Writers, Norwich. He has an MA in Creative Writing from UEA and his poems have appeared in Butcher’s Dog, Cake, Ink Sweat & Tears, Lighthouse, Poetry Review, The Rialto and Under the Radar. He is working on a first collection.
leaving his post
as the V&A director,
because of the European Union
is speaking on Radio 4:
the terms and conditions have changed
and we cannot continue the same
while the last gallant knights of Great Britain
— you know them, you’ve seen them on your phone:
the #IAmProudToBeBritish —
the last gallant knights of Great Britain
— and for ‘Great Britain’ please read
spotless white sun —
the last gallants boldly meme crosses,
hijabs and poppies,
same as they do in France and Sweden,
America, Russia and anywhere with a signal
and honestly, I would much rather
draw my curtains shut on their thumbing
and privately conduct a careful study
of the accumulation of dust
in the grooves of my second hand vinyl
and ruck up the carpet,
strutting like Freddie Mercury,
try to swing the lowdown dirty
blues of Bessie Smith —
but now, when you can hear the packing
of bags through your Bluetooth connection;
and now the little men come goose-stepping
out of the palm of your hand and into your home.
Image (top right) ‘Fiddling While Rome Burns’ by Shena Tschofan
Clever poem – love that last line. Obviously judging from Stuart Charlesworth’s biog he has had no problems breaking into the gated community.
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Hang in there, Pete. You’re needed more than you might imagine. Reaching the parts, etc.
Song, let them take it,
For there’s more enterprise
In walking naked.
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Thanks Brian. I’ll try. Hope all’s good with you. P
Agree with Brian H. Keep going, & keep reading: Oppen, Zukofsky, Olson, Loy, Forrest-Thomson . . . They help me. And amongst the living: Raynard.
Agree with Brian H. Keep going & keep reading: Oppen, Zukofsky, Olson, Loy, Forrest-Thomson . . . they help me. And amongst the living: Raynard.
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