Last night you went to bed, listening to radio news that sounded faintly optimistic of a ‘Remain’ vote succeeding the in the EU referendum.
You woke at 5 a.m. to hear Nigel Farage cock-a-hoop, thrilled that his own project and the project of all those who support, admire and follow him, has trumped all the other ways in which the British people see their country – see its identity, its position in the world, its role, and its future.
It is not easy to be a political artist. By this, you do not mean it is harder work – for example- than being an office cleaner, a farm labourer working on the minimum wage etc. No, you simply mean that it is difficult to allow your heart or spirit the freedom it seems to require, to speculate, to hope, to risk, to enjoy the possibilities of creativity while also tethered and burdened by a political consciousness and attendant sense of responsibility.
This week you published two new poems on your website (you can find them here). You hesitate to call them poems and hesitate even more to call yourself a poet. You are not trained or familiar with all the technicalities of poetry, all the rhythmic devices and historical models etc.
Nevertheless, there is a certain kind of expression that you are sometimes compelled to make which looks and feels like poetry. It is usually a column of inspired, and unusually thoughtful words. They do not fall into ordinary sentences, but appear in a more ponderous procession, each weighed, each weighing itself, each with its own space and importance. Like flowers placed in an arrangement.
Still, they are only a reflection of your busy life and your lack of knowledge of poetry. They are perhaps not as ‘weighed’ as you would like. But, as you say, they are a necessary and occasional form of expression (you seem to average about two per year). Clearly there can be such a thing as a political poem. Pablo Neruda wrote some, you are sure.
And yet, poetry, and art in general, seems to require the maintenance of a slightly unworldly, other-wordly, out-of-this-worldly detachment form the grimy, banal and often gross characteristics of political machination.
Perhaps then, what the artist or the poet has to offer politics is a kind of grace, an alternative vision. Without being dragged in, compromised and tarnished by politics, the artist or poet must preserve and maintain their art, their poetry, even while artfully, poetically striving to assist politics – even that is only to show politics a new picture of itself (a parody, pastiche, a truthful mirror), or to remind politics of ways and means and values other than those in which it is mired.
On the other hand, politics, at best, is not mired but can even reach the heights of art and poetry. We hear this in the most inspired of speeches whose words and annunciations occasionally seem to fly on the wings of a zeitgeist. We also hear and see it in the promise, the generosity, the hope and inclusivity generated by what we might call the ‘best’ politics.
This morning however, you feel you have woken up to a victory of grime and fear, a victory over the promise, the generosity, the hope and inclusivity that has been the post WW2 EU project. It is hard to maintain hope while the result of the British EU referendum seems to bode ill for the entire EU project, and to confirm, consolidate and energise hard right wing political thought everywhere in Europe.
What will you, as an artist, do now? You read a little more of Bertolt Brecht‘s writings this week. His generation remain a model for you of how the best, most inventive, imaginative, sensitive and determined minds operate when politics descends into the mire.
But still, Brecht, like Walter Benjamin and so many other stars of art and thought, were forced to flee their homes and countries in fear of losing their voices, in fear of losing their lives. They tried, against all odds, and in the darkest of historical moments, to maintain grace, to maintain creativity, to make art and to contribute the most artful and poetic thoughts to the political scene.
Through crafted thought, true invention, and not a little sour laughter, they sought to cultivate humanity as a principle and thus to unite humanity, and NOT falsely distinguish and divide humanity into rich and poor, powerful and weak, proud and abject, ‘us’ and ‘them’, nation and world.