10 January 2012

A Cold Eye





Despite Scottish poet Richie McCaffrey's recent suggestion that poets should read as much poetry as possible, sometimes it is a relief to return to one solid mind, much revered, consistently instructive. Although Richie is right, of course. I especially appreciated his assertion that poets should always read and support the journals and magazines they submit to. In my guise as editor of New Linear Perspectives, I once received a submission from an American poet who shall remain nameless. Shortly after, an NLP e-newsletter was sent out, whose mailing list said poet asked in no uncertain terms to be removed from. I suggested he stay on the newsletter mailing list if he expected his poetry to be considered for publication. He sent back an e-mail in large font, blue ink, which said "Fuck you, asshole". This comment itself was poetic in its way - shame that feisty sentiment didn't find its way into his poetry.
   Back to the point; one solid mind. I often return to Michael Donaghy's poetry. Gutter published my geeky paean to the man last year. He was once my teacher at an Arvon Foundation course in Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath's old place in Yorkshire. I didn't really know him, he wasn't a friend. He was like a hero at the time - I was only 15 or 16. He has become even more of a hero since, as his image grows, expands, mystifies with time. More of him in a moment.
   I've been discussing with my friend the Artist the merits of activism recently. A lot of middle-class acquaintances seem to be taking the world's problems on board and saying something about it. Part of the discussion pointed toward a feeling of embarassment - an almost cringeworthy nature - to some of these outpourings from privileged westerners. However, another side of the argument centred upon righteous anger, and a feeling that there was a need to express it in some way. At the moment I feel myself leaning more towards a sensation of indignation, but the problem still remains - how to express that. Certainly, I am no political poet; the likes of the extremely erudite George Szirtes have fought for, and stand blazing, on that platform. But there is no harm in attempting to express this indignation through poetry. This all sounds wishy-washy, I know, but there is a deeply old-fashioned, very British spirit at work (perhaps even a sort of guilt) that disallows activism on the premise that is rather infra dig. De trop, as I said sniggeringly to the Artist. But it isn't really, on second thoughts, a time for sniggering. Everyone has the right to speak out. Should everyone speak out? I can't answer that question. However, poetry as an artform is bound to pose a series of questions, and create a platform at least for speculation.
   Sally Evans of Poetry Scotland recently published one of my poems, about the London riots of Summer 2011. Later she sent me an e-mail suggesting I send it to Alan Morrison of The Recusant, a socialist poetry journal, who are about to release The Robin Hood Book, an anthology of poetry and writing that takes its name from the "Robin Hood Tax". He duly accepted it, and also one of my father Willie Giles' poems - he writes his 'end-of-capitalism' blog The World According to Willie here. These poems could at least be a way for 'kith and kin', as Morrison puts it, to question actions they feel may be unjust and thus place the argument in the public sphere.
   Michael Donaghy wasn't a political poet either. He was too wise, perhaps. Too fun. He saw beyond mere politics to a subtler fabric that binds and undoes the universe. However, his poem 'Blinder' has a sinister tone that encapsulates a current world counternarrative. It is as suggestive as it is menacing.
   Who is the dark prince, "standing in the shadow of the sun?" "He is a great prince, taking the form of a thrush,/ He made the market. He makes it crash". What a horrifying figure; a latterday Colossus ("And he is big. Oh, he is global") - disguised as something rather appealing. He knows exactly what we are up to, "and has already read and censored this":

He is bright foam on the wave,
sustained cold fusion in a plasma cocoon,
and incurable virus, a pocket watch.
His eyelid opens and he snaps it shut.
He casts a cold eye. He eyes you up.

from Blinder, Michael Donaghy

That cold reptilian eye is a suitably nightmarish image and I think a successful way to suggest that something's not quite right. No answers. No blatant flag-waving. Just under-your-skin, in-your-bones imagery that may lie dormant momentarily. It may just wake up.