Djelloul Marbrook: Don’t Believe the Libel that Poets Don’t Engage in Politics
Watching, we won’t see leaves break through the smooth finality of surface.
This strophe from Rusty Morrison’s poem, “History of Seed,”* explains to a wondrous extent the way we are beguiled into conflict. The sm-o-o-th finality of surface drew us into the Iraq calamity. The sm-o-o-th finality of surface bullshits us every Sunday morning on television. The sm-o-o-th finality of surface leads us down all kinds of dark corridors. The sm-o-o-th finality of surface is the stock in trade of the commentariat and the political class, of Wall Street’s predator class. The sm-o-o-th finality of surface wrapped the predatory British Empire in glittering blather about destiny and do-gooder racism.
It’s often said that poets don’t engage in politics. I think the people who say it are the same people who are so eager to write poetry’s obituary. Poets do engage in politics. It’s our narrow definition of politics that allows shallow thinkers to charge poets with disengagement. Politics is about the polis, the city-state or society, and poetry is very much about it. But when you define a thing so narrowly that it loses its meaning you are then able to spout all sorts of phony things about it.
The leaves do break through the smooth finality. That’s why the public is slowly becoming aware that the Iraq incursion was a gigantic swindle to make cronies rich. That’s why the public is becoming aware that Gaza’s gas fields, not Hamas’s rockets, are the reason for Israel’s bloodyminded attack on Gaza. The leaves are breaking through.
There is a deep-seated reason the press is always writing poetry’s obituary—it’s because poets (not journalists) speak truth to power. It’s because the poets penetrate the smooth finality of the Lindsey Grahams and think tanks of the world. And journalists don’t like being caught with their pants down. Poets, on the other hand, don’t give a damn.
The next time you hear the libel that poets don’t engage in politics, don’t speak out, consider this: it’s because they do that they’re charged with not speaking out, as Morrison’s excellent long line here amply shows. There is no way for television to comment on that sm-o-o-th finality because that’s what television’s game is, sm-o-o-th finality. Add an extra o and you’ll see how perfect this line ending on the word smooth is. Sm-o-o-o-th. Like the press, like the predators, like the pols. That’s engagement.
— by Djelloul Marbrook
*The quoted strophe from “History of Seed” appears in Randy Morrison’s Beyond the Chainlink, Ahsahta Press, 2014.