Friday, January 12, 2007

"no sane reader wants any war poetry"

Todd Swift writes in response to an article in the TLS:

Firstly, no sane reader wants any war poetry at all - surely, it's only a necessary evil of combative times. What they expect, if there is a war, is that the poetry written during wartime will, at the very least, "handle" the pressure of experience placed on language and the living (and dying) at that time;

Secondly, the requirement to "challenge your assumptions" rather begs the question of what those are, in the first place. Poetry is not a debating chamber, only. If one's assumptions are that Christ died for our sins, that one shouldn't kill, that war is a last resort - well, one hardly wants or needs Satanic verses espousing a holocaust simply for the sake of throwing off dusty old ways for shiny new ones. T.S. Eliot's sublime Quartets are blessed with very much establishing convictions, not simply shaking an apple tree to see if any Vicars fall;

Thirdly, the rather simplistic idea that only poetry anthologies with self-evident titles contain a "political agenda" is a little old-fashioned. Every poetry anthology constitutes a micro-canon, and therefore establishes and defends its own set of values, hierarchies and traditions;

Read the rest here.

Todd's point is that the war poets are there, but not necessarily in the places the TLS is looking. But I'm not sure I agree with Todd when he says, "no sane reader wants any war poetry". No sane person wants war, but we want the poetry about it, because we want to remind ourselves of what we do in the name of peace.

And while we're on the subject of war poetry and Nthposition, here is one from the anthology Todd is talking about, that also features in the film, Voices In Wartime. In the film, Bentham reads the poem out herself and if anything can convince one of the need to hear poetry read, this should do it:

War - the concise version

Rachel Bentham

contention between people
this is how we begin
specific conflicts
armed hostilities

the "art of war"
– it’s certainly not a science,
but doesn't art create?

strategy and tactics
been in the wars?

war baby
war bride
war crime that which violates
international laws of war as if laws are effective
in wartime

war cry
war of attrition
war of nerves
war grave

war weary, just reading the words.*

More war poetry on an ongoing basis

*Wasted a lot of time trying to keep the formatting of the poem but it ain't working. Sorry. More things to figure out.

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