Friday, 9 January 2009
I want, in as much as I have a brain left, to start thinking about the lectures I am due to give in Newcastle, not in any structured way, but in the form of speculations that may not appear to add up to a single articulate whole. Not yet anyay. Small jigsaw pieces that may eventually add up to a picture.
These are just preliminary fragments. Semi-articulacies
My broad project is to understand whether political circumstances in Eastern Europe in 1989 have produced a new poetry. Why would they? How would they? The political dissident poet György Petri, wrote some time in the nineties: 'My favourite toy as been taken away.' Then he died. Why is it that a number of the major post-war Hungarian poets died soon after 1989? Did they lose not only a subject but a role? An audience? When people don't have shoes, said István Vas, they need poems. Once they have them they don't need them so much. Did that audience not need the poets?
This is only the more overt aspect of the project. Much has been written on political poetry under Soviet Communism, on reading between the lines during censorship, on the complicity of writer and reader beyond the official line in closed societies. Can you describe this, a woman asks Akhmatova as they queue at the Lubyanka prison. Yes, she says.
Heroic dissidence is a fascinating category, one partly glamourised in the West. I wrote about this for the Herbert conference in Krakow. It is a glamour we think we lack, whose absence we sometimes lament. Are we nostalgic for it? Do we lionise those we can project as heroic dissidents? Do we want dark times so we can write more luminous poems? Live more luminous lives?
Because this isn't exclusively a matter of poetry of course. Poetry is never an exclusive matter in any case. It is tied to the world or it's nowhere. 'Most people are not interested in most poetry,' Adrian Mitchell famously said, 'because most poetry is not interested in most people.' Well, yes, maybe, but what kind of prescription is that? How does a poem go about being interested in "most people"? Mitchell also wrote a poem about somebody being beaten up by the police or the secret services while a poet watches then "pisses off to write a poem about ants." But isn't that a case of the poet pissing off to write a superior poem about other poets pissing off. We armchair warriors. Armchair pacifists too.
Fragments, as you see. The beginnings of fragments. Here's another clip of Vidor's The Crowd.
Alas, and alas.