Does poetry, as Auden wrote in In Memory of W, B Yeats, make nothing happen? It is frequently a bone of contention. Auden himself says far more in that great poem, such as that poetry is "raw towns that we believe and die in" to be dismissed on the basis of a line. In any case I don't think he was suggesting that poetry is naturally quietist, or that it has nothing to say about politics and public life. He was in reaction to the Spanish Civil War and the imminent outbreak of World War II. But as for making things happen, being an instrument of something else, he was sceptical and maybe more than sceptical, in fact morally distrustful as any believer in raw towns might be.
I had much sympathy for that view. Like Keats I distrusted and hated poems that had a palpable design upon us. Surely poetry did not instigate action: it was action. I am not so sure of that now, at least in this sense: that poetry addresses the human condition and that such a condition cannot exclude anything that is a part of it. I still have some difficulty with the idea that poetry should be partisan (surely poetry comes from a place of profound ambiguity) but if partisanship too is part of the human condition, or, rather, if we appeal to the human condition that embraces the partisan rather than renders itself a servant to it, the profundity, grace and precariousness thatn are the essential qualities of poetry can be maintained and explored.
That's a long introduction to give to three fine political poems by a young Indian poet, Chandramohan S, who sent them to me by email. They strike me as powerful, intelligent, witty and sharp. I asked if I could post them here and he said yes, so here they are.
Life has to go on
(For the Paris Terror Attack)
Who are the suicide bombers sneaking into a poem?
Maybe it was the vernacular river
Buried deep under a sign board
That had seceded from the poem
To become a landmine.
Maybe it is the tongue
Spoken by the vanquished minority
Bend like a question mark
To touch the feet of the despot
Before triggering a fireball.
Maybe the loud explosions were
The shrieks of vowels and consonants
Perennially silenced in the national anthem.
More poems have to be written.
Life has to go on.
“In my rear view mirror is the motherfucking law” –Jay Z -99 problems
The camera tells us.
Keep your hands where I can see them.
Write your love letter.
You are under surveillance when chalk scrapes
On the black board,
When we walk in straight lines, march in tune
To the drum beats of uniformed discipline ,
While lip syncing to the national anthem.
A procession becomes a mime
Pretending its hands are tied,
Blank placards-invisible chains.
Elegy for the slain bloggers
You see some people are afraid
You heard what happened to him?
So we have decided to collectively
Scream against this darkness,
Our sound waves collide.
If we are in sync
The troughs bottom up
The crests add up
We are heard loud enough.
If our screams are
Not in sync
We cancel each other out
Our shadows intersect,
The void of the Umbra.
We become him.
Conform or perish.