Site Meter

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Mote and Beam

This kind of thing makes me feel like someone on Harry's Place fisking John Pilger or George Galloway's latest pronouncement, but following a link from Silliman to Manchester poet Tony Trehy's site I came upon this post on a conference in Plymouth recently on Poetry & Public Language. It's always amusing to encounter critics who think that reading a Seamus Heaney poem is helping them save the planet, but those as impregnably wedded to post-avant Maoism as Trehy inhabit a different ecosystem altogether. Trehy takes exception to Richard Kerridge discussing a poem by ‘mainstream’ writer Kathleen Jamie and the eco-smarm it triggers:

Anyway, the most damnable phrase of the paper comes at the end: “poetry could not have any subject matter more important than this {climate change}”. I don’t think I have actually come across this thing called ecocriticism – though maybe I have since nowadays sticking ‘eco’ on the front of anything makes it the thing of the moment. The paper was illustrated with a poem by Kathleen Jamie (Frogs), a range of excerpts form J R [sic] Prynne and from a forthcoming work by Tony Lopez. It is instructive that the only ‘transparent’, mainstream poem mentioned in the whole conference came here. It was flagged up as an early Green poem. Prynne was analysed primarily as an ‘eco-difficulty – “insistently rejecting apocalyptic discourses” and I couldn’t tell how the Lopez fit into the original thesis. I have had a number of conversations in the past about how the mainstream conservativism of British poetry renews itself – since the 1970’s it has been through the appropriation of dialects and regionalism and communities of identity (Black poetry, Gay & Lesbian poetry, etc), and here we have its next potentiality: environmental poetry. If they aren't doing it already, I expect eco-poems from Armitage, Duffy and Motion are coming to Waterstone's soon. Subject matter – the very idea is fundamental to pre-modernism – which no-one can disagree with, a poetry fit for the curriculum, a poetry a government department could probably even draft access performance targets for. At one point, Kerridge declared that all the natural sanctuaries have been violated. Though this is one of those apocalyptic declarations that are supposed to sadden us and rally us to save the planet (without any ideology that could actually achieve change): I find sanctuary in the City so the notion that natural ‘sanctuary’ has been violated, its viscous threat punctured, is a source of some relief.

{Quotation ends}

In other words, ‘Your discourse on nature is commodified and impotent and your concept of “sanctuary” deeply embarrassing, but knowing better than you I am allowed to use the word to deprive you of it and parade the fact that not having heard of something grants me ethical immunity to its polluting effect (though your particular ecosystem can choke on a slick of plastic bags anyway).’

Still, his phrasing suggests a handy definition: a poem is a punctured sanctuary.

Government Access Performance White Papers Choke Natural Habitat of the Lesser-Spotted 'JR Prynnite'

No comments: