Skip to main content

Duffy Unleashed

Taxpayers of Britain cannot complain - their money is not being wasted by the new laureate. Carol Ann Duffy has been reading poems on the BBC, and editing sections of "leading" poets for newspapers, of late, often with a war theme. I've been there, done that. Good to see someone else - belatedly - pick up the baton and run with the anti-war and poetry theme - Tim Kendall alert! Was it just me, or was Muldoon's poem particularly cryptic, even for him? The problem with writing poems about Panther's Claw, or any other part of the Af-Pak campaign, is that it isn't out of the fog of war yet - and such ambiguity, while good for at least seven types of poetry - may not be the best for anti-war verse. Owen, of course, knew what he was against. Douglas - that sublime sociopath - knew what he saw, and liked and loathed it. But they saw war.

In the case of Iraq, the initial attack was illegal - that was the point of contention. However, the current Helmand struggles, over or not, are not "illegal". They don't seem even to be immoral. It's war, sure, but more to the point, nation-building. I think the British government, if it wants to continue to have a war, needs to support the troops properly, and also care for them without being cheap, on their wounded return. A nation either supports its troops or not.

GB - and thus, Duffy - wants it both ways, I fear - wants to support the valiant men, and the idea of valour, especially in aged men of World War I - but also wants to question empire and imperialism and warlike behaviour. Lord knows, many of us do. We like the idea of just wars, and good soldiers - it's the power struggles and ideology that make us uneasy. So, the laureate's efforts are noble, and actively engaged - but what is the message? Is it that war is bad, but warriors, finally, decent chaps? That way lies Newbolt, not Hugh Selwyn M. But again, it is the English poetic tradition to opt for the idea of decency (Edward Thomas) not atrocity, is it not?

Meanwhile, this inquiry will be a whitewash with red tint. How can the establishment police its own in such a way? The head of the inquiry has told the BBC oaths are not required, since no one would be "wicked enough" to lie in public. I see, so they might be wicked enough to start an illegal war, lie to a whole nation, but not be capable of a mistruth? The presumption of innocence that attends such events would be laughable if not so pitifully inadequate.


Paul said…
I agree about the have-cake-and-eat-it approach here Todd. I also think most of the poems are - well, bad...

And I'm slightly more sceptical about the whole approach. I have blogged on it at the Dark Mountain project website. You may be interested in this new initiative, which aims to bring writers together around a genuine understanding of the perils faced by civilisation as the 21st century unfolds:

Popular posts from this blog

Review of the new Simple Minds album - Walk Between Worlds

Taste is a matter of opinion - or so goes one opinion. Aesthetics, a branch of pistols at dawn, is unlikely to become unruffled and resolved any time soon, and meantime it is possible to argue, in this post-post-modern age, an age of voter rage, that political opinion trumps taste anyway. We like what we say is art. And what we say is art is what likes us.

Simple Minds - the Scottish band founded around 1977 with the pale faces and beautiful cheekbones, and perfect indie hair cuts - comes from a time before that - from a Glasgow of poverty and working-class socialism, and religiosity, in a pre-Internet time when the heights of modernity were signalled by Kraftwerk, large synthesisers, and dancing like Bowie at 3 am in a Berlin club.

To say that early Simple Minds was mannered is like accusing Joyce of being experimental. Doh. The band sought to merge the icy innovations of German music with British and American pioneers of glam and proto-punk, like Iggy Pop; their heroes were contrived,…


Wheeler Light for 'Life Jacket'.

The runner-up is: Daniel Duffy - 'President Returns To New York For Brief First Visit'

Wheeler Light currently lives in Boulder, Colorado.

Life Jacket

summer camp shirtsI couldn’t fit in then
are half my size nowI wanted to wear
smaller and smallerarticles of clothing
I shrunk to the sizethat disappeared

of an afterthoughtin a sinking ship body
too buoyant to sinktoo waterlogged for land
I becamea dot of sand


With the death of the poetic genius John Ashbery, whose poems, translations, and criticism made him, to my mind, the most influential American poet since TS Eliot, 21st century poetry is moving into less certain territory.

Over the past few years, we have lost most of the truly great of our era: Edwin Morgan, Gunn, Hill, Heaney and Walcott, to name just five.  There are many more, of course. This is news too sad and deep to fathom this week.  I will write more perhaps later. 

I had a letter from Ashbery on my wall, and it inspired me daily.  He gave me advice for my PhD. He said kind things about a poetry book of mine.

He was a force for good serious play in poetry, and his appeal great. So many people I know and admire are at a loss this week because of his death. It is no consolation at present to think of the many thousands of living poets, just right now. But impressively, and even oddly, poetry itself seems to keep flowing.