Saturday, 31 July 2010

The Giant and the Imp

How gullible is the United States?

Britain was called ‘perfidious Albion’, for its propensity to use countries for its own purposes, and betray them when necessary – for example, leaving the Dutch to fight it out against the French at the end of the Spanish Succession War in 1712. Since then it has thus been difficult, for both its enemies and itself, to conceive Britain as innocent or naïve. That doesn’t stop it being one of the good guys; only its self image is that of the clever and sophisticated, a state full of diplomatic nous (which fed into the idea, prominent in the first decades after World War II, that Britain would be Greece to America’s Rome – which itself contains a number of interesting assumptions).

But the United States is different; in every way! Thus we have American writers, and sympathetic overseas intellectuals, treating it as a metaphysical entity, that doesn’t have the same values or operating practices as other nations, and that, unlike them, acts in accordance with its ideals, enshrined in its constitution and destined for universal benevolence. American Exceptionalism, of course. And because it acts with the best of intentions it can be misled, led astray by bad leaders or perfidious friends.

This benevolent view even seeps into critical accounts of the country, or its favoured allies. One example is Jonathan Cook’s recent article on Israel,

Friday, 30 July 2010

Poem 8, from Stone

A body is given me – what am I to make
From this thing that is my own and is unique

Tell me who it is I must thank for giving
The quiet joy of breathing and living?

I am the gardener, the flower as well,
Never alone in the world’s prison cell.

My warmth, my breathing have already lain
Upon eternity’s window pane.

Imprinted on the glass a pattern shows,
But nowadays a pattern no one knows.

Let the dregs of the moment drain away –
The pattern’s loveliness must stay

Cartesian Spectacles

T.S. Eliot was both a great poet and a great critic, and a very clear writer; for me the clarity of a sunny day after the impenetrable winter storms of Joseph Brodsky – that wrecked the landscape; levelled it in mud and slush.

One of his talents was to appreciate different kinds of poetry, and to synthesise this taste into interesting criticism. In The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism he looks at the poetry, but is more interested to trace the development of English literary criticism, linking its growth, in part, to its understanding and appreciation of other writers and poetry. He quotes Dryden:

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

London

Give Me Some Facts!

The last post exhibited the very characteristics it was criticizing, and in their most extreme form: it said nothing about the historical content of the article; it was concerned only with a discussion about language. So what else did Linda Colley have to say?

The second part of the review, where she concentrates on James Belich’s book, Replenishing the Earth, is the most interesting. It summarizes its key themes, to show the continuing links between Britain and America during the 19th century, the contribution of British troops and money to the expansion of both America and the dominions; and the importance of emigration, for allowing the US to move westwards, and for raising living standards in the home country, and acting as a ‘safety valve for social, economic, demographic and even political pressures.’

…the US operated for much of the 1800s as a covert British dominion, part of the informal empire.

American manifest destiny was partially floated on British investment. Baring helped the US government purchase Greater Louisiana from the French in 1803, while ‘British money was crucial in the construction of American canals in the 1830s, of railways from the late 1840s, and the rapid development of mining industries and cattle ranching thereafter.’

There are a few paragraphs on how the huge migrations affected people’s identities, and their sense of themselves, before looking at some of the consequences of that investment of troops and money overseas:

This relentless outflow of public (and private) capital has to be borne in mind when considering… government expenditure and [contemporary] fiscal theories. As remains the case today, deflecting resources to overseas projects and adventures had sometimes damaging repercussions for policy options at home. By the mid 19th century Hilton notes, Britain’s educational expenditure had fallen well behind that of many other European states.

The major change in the 20th century was the reversal of these population movements, as the empire collapsed. However, the foreign adventures continue; for now Britain is a dominion of the US, part of its informal empire; and its massive projection of power.

And the consequences for the rest of the world? Bricmont, discussing this very question, contrasting our imperial past to now, and showing there are no easy answers in dealing with violence and oppression in today’s Third World (his particular target is Humanitarian Intervention), puts it well:

Back in the days when Europeans “had too many children” it was easy to send them off to populate the rest of the world. Some even saw this as away to avoid social unrest and revolutions, whose repression would obviously have entailed “human rights violations” comparable to those observed in numerous poor countries today. But when the population explosion in the Third World provokes crises, where can they export their excess population? To our countries, of course, but only to do whatever hard labour is needed at the bottom of the social scale.

Bad Names

What we do and how it is described are two different activities. The one is singular – you eat a chorizo burger at 1pm on June 4th at Borough Market – and cannot be repeated. The latter has many forms: we can describe it mundanely, in a piece of art, as a philosophical treatise, in biological terms, to give just a few examples; while these forms can be shaped and edited, almost at will, which we can then repeat and replicate…. The one is a hard solid fact, created by chance and circumstance; the other is subjective, endlessly flexible, and can be shaped both by imagination and rational thought.

Any attempt at description will involve interpretation, editing, and some corruption of the original activity. There is no getting away from this fact! What can we do?

Monday, 26 July 2010

So Simple

All ideas are simplifications. They aim to capture some aspect of the world, by isolating it. The question then becomes: is it too broad an idea, covering so many variables that it doesn’t explain anything; like the word democracy used to represent Ancient Greece, the USA and present day Afghanistan. Or is the idea too narrow, so that it distorts the subject – for example, all art is governed by class relations.

This thought came to mind last weekend when an idea of mine was described as too simple. Why?

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Mr Bell's on Form

We’ve had the squire. Now we have the aesthete:

Still Life with Potatoes

Some descriptions are too accurate.

Bell combined considerable sensitivity with the attitudes of the country squire…. (J.B. Bullen in the introduction to Art)

Your hear rather a lot of the country squire in Art:

Nietzsche’s preposterous nonsense knocked the bottom out of nonsense more preposterous and far more vile. (Bell is writing about the new spirit or new emotion that has created modern art, or more particularly Cézanne, his new Jesus Christ.)

Difficult to know exactly what Bell is referring to, but only a few pages later he comes up with some nonsense of his own:

There are moments in life that are ends to which the whole history of humanity would not be an extravagant means; of such are the moments of aesthetic ecstasy.

Nietzsche’s sophisticated and refined insights, albeit possibly misguided (so much rests on interpretation), about making our lives into works of art, is here turned into a vaudeville show.

Norwich

County Council, Symphony No. 2. Op. 35

Poor Edward! For some people the way they look replicates the way they think. The mind creates the face! All those thoughts at work fixing its final monument:

…once an idea was lodged in his head, he did nothing with it; he allowed it no interplay with other ideas or people…. Time and again, he tried to mould all-or-nothing answers which came to pieces in his hands before the clay was dry…. He simply lacked the agility of mind and the openness of imagination to play through the ramifications of a theme. He knew what he wanted to happen and he thought that this was enough to make it happen. (Ferdinand Mount)

And he lacked the power – Hitler and Stalin showed us what can be done when fixed ideas are matched with artillery.

Did Heath see ideas as musical notes, fixed and discrete entities which could be arranged at will; that he could play the country as he played the piano? The beauty of machines! But people are far more intractable.

All ideas have a degree of solidity, of fixedness: they are abstractions from the perceptual world. In the realm of philosophy or art there is a certain usefulness, and power, to these abstractions; but once outside these disciplines, amongst our more mundane concerns, these ideas need to interact much more closely to our lived reality; they must be constantly replenished with new experiences, that in turn shape and refine them.

And underneath always there are a person’s values; these are what count, and what determines our actions. For us, but especially for a politician, the question is how can these values be enacted; what ideas will suffice, and how much will they need to adapt and to change to meet our moral concerns. Heath, it seems, worked from the other way round – you create the world from out of your ideas. Here’s Mount:

…he espoused ideas with a passion he scarcely ever showed in human relations.

Ideas first. Life second. How often did we see that in the 20th century? There was something in its very nature that encouraged this – the machine age, bureaucracy; the symbolic and abstracted world of business and the media; and the collapse of the old theologies… here’s a multi-volume intellectual history waiting to be written.

But if the ideas are wrong, or the power is lacking: your piano is carried out of the door. Mozart is verboten in The Oakdale Working Men’s Club.

That fixed, and somewhat bloated, quality (those big ideas – United Europe or the large counties that came out of local authority reform) is reflected in his features, somewhat immovable and stolid. And then we have the aloofness of the mandarin – Heath had the mindset and talent of a high bureaucrat. Those need little compartments, those ordered hierarchies… all too rational.

How Can You Forget?

Pearl Buck. Do you remember her….

She turned the Chinese into American Protestants:

[They were] pragmatic, materialistic, ‘instinctively democratic’…. ‘persevering, ‘practical’, ‘hardworking’.

Her father was a missionary who failed to found a congregation – the review contains a wonderful image of him handing out English language leaflets to passers-by who only knew Mandarin.

His daughter, on the other hand, converted the Americans! Although for her the tract of choice was the best seller.

The two extremes of cultural exchange, both either misunderstand or misrepresent the host culture.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

The Uncertainty of the Poet

Overloaded with words and sentences. Weak to begin with you see it bend and fold, you watch it slither off the wall. De Chirico lies on the floor! The Death of God scrawled across the white pages of the gallery. The curator, his front teeth gone, shouts triumphant, and shakes his fist at the poet; in pieces amongst the coloured scraps, the ribbons of yesterday’s Art Forum. He has an audience, and he talks and gesticulates about existential choices and the nuclear threat; of Language and Silence. Its God’s last laugh to the mad man raving in the market place…

Changes

One of the incidental pleasures of second hand bookshops is the conversation – yours or other peoples.

Monday, 19 July 2010

London

The Return

See, they return; ah, see the tentative
____Movements, and the slow feet,
____The trouble in the pace and the uncertain
____Wavering!
See, they return, one, and by one,
With fear, as half-awakened;
As if the snow should hesitate
And murmur in the wind,
==============and half-turn back;
These were the ‘Wing’d-with-Awe’,
______________Inviolable.

Gods of the wingèd shoe!
With them the silver hounds,
______________sniffing the trace of air!

Haie! Haie!
_____These were the swift to harry;
These were the keen-scented;
These were the souls of blood.

Slow on the leash,
______________pallid the leash-men!

Short Sighted

We talk and argue, sometimes we write, often we blog; but always we act as if our ideas were universal. That we can see the whole world from our living room, rather than just a mean little garden with its poor gate.

In the last post I talked about work. Following the usual pattern I made some assumptions about its nature, assuming them to apply to everyone. I then argued that we need to change the nature of this work, to make it more creative and stimulating.

Is this really the case? G.S. Fraser, in his short study on Ezra Pound, and paraphrasing the ideas of Hannah Arendt, has a different view:

Labour must always be the condition of the broad mass of men… in daily labour, the labouring man exhausts himself, and temporarily renews himself and us; he provides himself and us with, say, coal, bread, transport, milk, heat, light, water. Man as animal laborans produces no permanent memorial of himself; he produces what he, and we daily consume in order to keep ourselves alive; daily, he exhausts himself, renews himself, dies and is reborn, according toe natural rhythms of life…. he works… because he must eat, not for the work’s sake; often he likes monotonous work that lets him daydream.

Although Arendt believed that man was not “fully human” until he rose “above [this] condition.”

Fraser then goes on to give Arendt’s three other categories of activity: making (artist/craftsman); acting (politician/soldier); and contemplation (the priest).

Am I merely stating the artist or craftsman’s point of view? This seems possible, though Arendt’s dismissal of the Labourer (he must rise above it) suggests she believed more, if not all, of the population were capable of achieving work that gives satisfaction.

The dilemma of the idealist, or political reformer: how far can you change human behaviour, through a transformation of the culture, or how much do you give in to present facts, to today’s conditions. This will depend on each person’s personality, but maybe we should always err on the side of optimism – to give us the strength to strive to change our circumstances. After all, what would an English peasant in the 14th century have said, if you told him that in the future his kin would have hot running water, old age pensions, and holidays on the continent?

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Monday, 12 July 2010

Pile it On

Should work carry a health warning?

…what I’m saying is that our characteristic assumption that pleasure in work, pride in work, is either unrelated to or negatively related to the value of the output is related to a particular stage of social history, namely capitalism, in which human beings are tools of production. It is by no means necessarily true. For example, if you look at the many interviews with workers on assembly lines… that have been done by industrial psychologists, you find that one of the things they complain about over and over again is the fact that their work simply can’t be well done; the fact that the assembly line goes through so fast that they can’t do their work properly. I just happened to look recently at a study of longevity in some journal of gerontology which tried to trace the factors that you could use to predict longevity – you know, cigarette-smoking and drinking, genetic factors – everything was looked at. It turned out in fact that the highest predictor, the most successful predictor, was job satisfaction. (Noam Chomsky)

Yes, if you want to keep the pension bill down, increase those boring jobs!

In so many ways this position feels old fashioned, though Chomsky was only speaking in 1976. Since then we have seen the financialization of the economy, the rise of free market ideology, and the monopoly of consumerism – now we are shoppers before we are citizens. The Obama election was the apotheosis of this historical trend, beating Apple for the best advertising campaign of the year. Politicians can be marketed like products because it is the latter that forms the ground bass to our lives: we see the world through Toyotas and Rice Krispies; inevitably our values and our preferences are coloured (increasingly, perhaps, formed) by them.

We want cash, and thus we accept the shoddiness of our jobs; their lack of meaning and purpose. We resign ourselves to being bored and oppressed; for we have little fight to change the nature of our work. A view encouraged by the growth of enormous organisations, which reduce the status and power of the employee; reinforced by the decline of the unions. Because it appears nothing can be done, we sacrifice job satisfaction for greater consumption. And if the research above is still correct, we are killing ourselves for wide-screen TVs and the latest iPhone.

To do a good job! It suggests there’s a need inside us to shape and control our activities. Not unrelated, perhaps, to the need to interpret and fix our environment, so as to live and breathe. Eg. if we perceived the world as a chaotic mishmash we could not even cross the road, for the first car would kill us - we would have no idea what a car was, and the damage it can do. Is job satisfaction analogous to the achievements of the artist or craftsman? And that need to make an object, and the resultant buzz; of achievement; of a glory in the things we do; of the wonder in the creation of the unexpected and the satisfaction in its completion? All speculation, of course. But whatever the reason, we should encourage it; we should include the necessity of job satisfaction in a political programme to change our economy.

Although the piece feels old-fashioned, it has strong echoes of today – too many things to be done too quickly. This organisational trend has extended from the assembly line to the office. With the growth of computers and the email the office has become a factory, and the pressures to do always more have increased… It is not just offices. Diane Ravitch talks of how in America the new foundations that look to run schools remove older teachers and replace them with twenty-somethings, just out of university – working them to excess, ensuring burn out after 10 or so years.

We all are dissatisfied now.

Up the 1970s there was still a hope, perhaps even the expectation in some circles, that technology would reduce the working day, automate the repetitive tasks, thus freeing up labour either to be more creative, or to provide leisure time to develop wider interests. Like the typewriter, these views seem to belong to a by-gone age. Can we reclaim them?

Be Individuals!

In the previous post I discussed Alex de Waal’s powerful analysis of Western attempts at state building in the Third World. The stark dichotomy it outlined suggests something far more universal: the struggle between two types of society, or two modes of thinking, which have developed since the advent of the modern world.

In Language and Solitude Gellner sums up these two strands of thought. His description deserves to be quoted at length:

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Remove the Tribes

Someone writes a piece. It’s powerful and full of insight; this person knows their subject. Because of its depth it grasps the core issues, elucidates the central concerns of the topic, and thus the analysis reaches far wider, touching our own lives and understanding; its ideas have universal application.

This is Alex de Waal’s article in the LRB, which discusses the recent attempts by the UN, or more particularly the West, to create sustainable states in the Third World. He describes the worldview of the people inside these organisations:

International state-builders begin with a blueprint of what a modern country ought to look like… The economists and political scientists who advise international institutions argue that no country should follow its own unique rules, and human rights advocates insist there should be no second-best solutions for countries just because they are poor and war torn…

[They] ignore vernacular politics, to the detriment of the countries they leave at the end of their contracts. From within the UN compound or behind the embassy walls, forces such as kinship and patron-client networks are readily denigrated as ‘tribalism’ or ‘corruption’.

However

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Norwich

It's all Nonsense!

A respectable professor builds his great pyramid. Then the robbers come to raid it.

Gun Fight at the ABC

Quick to the draw!
Suspended
Shoots Direct down

Supine silent on the Old Road…

Comatose hits Bathsheba
Entwined now with Six Shot,
Smithereens her last friend.

Resurrection cites Comeback

An old tank firing Peace.
And Beneficence arrives!
In clouds of parachutes

Direct now walks again….

And three amigos
Alphabets in their holsters
Control the town

___Joint Waif
____Civil Unity
_____The poet Dorn.

They Didn't Speak for Years

A millennium apart, and yet they speak to each other, easily:

… the mastery of the poems lies more in their form that in any particular statement they make, for they are quintessential Sung: rather than portray insight, they enact it. (David Hinton)

The beauty of Claude’s work is not be sought primarily in his drawing; it is not a beauty of expressive parts but the beauty of a whole… It is the unity and not the content that affects us. (Roger Fry)

Throughout his book Fry divides painters into those that support his aesthetic vision, and those that don’t – between those artists who seek to create the art object, with its unity and internal coherence; and those that seek to imitate the real world. Thus Dürer is downgraded, though his virtuosity is recognised, while El Greco and Giotto are for Fry the examples of artistic genius. Claude has many faults , and is probably not as great as Dürer, but he has in compensation the gift of structural unity.

Yet.

Everywhere Bureaucrats

Creeping along the pavements, peering into our gardens, emptying our rubbish bins. Can you smell it? That stench of rotting cod and tuna it leaves on the grass… And then one day you catch, you see, as he turns the corner; just a glimpse: its Leonid Brezhnev! Amongst the rags and bags, those scraps of imperial decline.

A while ago I expressed the view that we were turning into the Soviet Union, middle era Brezhnev. It elicited some wild comment – a Texan, no doubt, exercising his personal liberty with a colt 45. Nevertheless, was I so wrong? When other people start having the same idea…

Monday, 5 July 2010

Cley Next The Sea

Art Versus Life

In his classic Vision and Design Roger Fry argues there is no necessary connection between art and its historical period; and the idea ‘of art as crystallised history’, a kind of documentary record, is a mistaken one, which belongs only to those without aesthetic feeling. Of course there are occasions when art can be in tune with its time; but art cannot be reduced to a historical symbol; for this is to ignore its very nature, its power and wealth.

This view is part of his wider attempt to separate art from life; to see art as an autonomous realm, with its own rules and motivations, its own existence; and not as a mere imitation, of nature and of the human world.

To prove his point he gives a number of examples that, because they are weak, are hard to accept as evidence:

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Let It All Out

What does one make of Freud? Enormous impact, voluminous writing, some penetrating observations mixed up with much nonsense. Compare him with Nietzsche and Marx he now appears a minor figure, more important for his influence on the culture, that the quality of his thought.

In The Interpretation of Dreams Freud quotes Friedrich Schiller:

Great was His Heavenly Happiness

The warm untroubled voice floated upon the air, and it was all part of the silence as he was part of it. Suddenly, as the voice rose, soft, dreaming, gentle, he knew that it would come floating to him from the hidden leaves and his peace was shattered. What was happening to him? Something stirred in his breast. Something dark, something unbearable and dreadful pushed in his bosom, and like a great weed it floated, rocked… it was warm, stifling. He tried to struggle to tear at it, and at the same moment – all was over. Deep, deep, he sank into the silence, staring at the tree and waiting for the voice that come floating, falling, until he felt himself enfolded. (Katherine Mansfield, Escape)

Compare with Saint Teresa of Avila:

[p]ain was so great that it made moan, and yet so surpassing the sweetness of this excessive pain that I could not wish to be rid of it (Robert Irwin, TLS 18/06/2010)

In the short story a moment of revelation, of escape, from a difficult wife, becomes a mystical experience; caught exactly by the Saint, hundreds of years before.

Something similar occurs in creative thought. That sense of unease as the words bubble and germinate; before and they run and fall, and scamper across the page. That delicious moment when the artist loses himself. Mystical bliss! And no doubt the origin of Breton’s fascination with the creative act and automatic writing – always keep to the creation’s source; hold on to that luxurious feeling! But creation is not art; just as a child is not an adult. After the legs have parted and the words popped out, the mind must start its work; to tailor and shape, to mould those images into mature form.

What is interesting in all these cases is the pain; suggesting some unbalancing of the body and the mind, a kind of birth – thus the old metaphors. But perhaps we need a qualification to that old wisdom. Is it possible that our bodies actually give birth to our ideas, and our art; that these are physical things, just like the foetus, and as they grow they prod and kick, and push their way out…

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Is There Beauty in Hegel?

It goes wherever it goes, like a noble sage,
Fills grasses and trees with lovely sounds.

How strange. A wise man as musician and artist. Being no classicist I can only guess; but in ancient history wisdom appears to have been linked to rhetoric and poetry; and it was often written in the latter. It was accepted, or so it appears, that in Greece wisdom had an aesthetic quality…

Norwich

She Says, Says She

The landlady’s eyes popped. ‘Well, I should, Miss Moss,’ said she, ‘and that’s how it is. And I’ll trouble you to open it, if you please. Many is the lady in my place as would have done if for you and have been within her rights. For things can’t go like this, Miss Moss, no indeed they can’t. What with week in week out and first you’ve got it and then you haven’t, and then it’s another letter lost in the post or another manager down at Brighton but will be back on Tuesday for certain – I’m fair sick and tired and I won’t stand it no more. Why should I, Miss Moss, I ask you, at a time like this, with prices flying up in the air and my poor dear lad in France? My sister Eliza was only saying to me yesterday – “Minnie,” she says, “you’re too soft-hearted. You could have let that room time and time again,” says she, “and if people won’t look after themselves in times like these, nobody else will, “ she says. “She may have had a college eddication and sung in West End concerts,” says she, “but if your Lizzie says what’s true,” she says, “and she’s washing her own wovens and drying them on the towel rail, it’s easy to see where’s the finger’s pointing. And it’s high time you had done with it, “ says she.’

The entire story of Pictures told in one paragraph: the bald narrative and its nuances of class and respectability.

The speech is wonderfully demotic, though only a writer could concoct it: the balance of the phrases, its rhythm, is too smooth and artful for real speech. For example, the punctuation point, Miss Moss, with one phrase - I should Miss Moss - repeated twice, and all in the first half of the paragraph. Here she is talking directly at Ada, giving her the facts; emphasizing her respectability (scornfully of course), but contrasting it with her own honour (she doesn’t open other people’s letters; and doesn’t miss bills or tell lies). And then she leaves a rhetorical question – in mid-flow! – to make Ada feel guilty, or to raise her own anger?

When we don’t like someone we don’t just remember the facts. Oh no! We judge them too: all so high-falutin’ when she’s no better than me. However, it’s not so easy to say these things – they’re subjective, open to doubt and rude. What to do? You get your anger up. And perhaps you get Eliza to say them for you: she says, says she! (the use of these words is the real poetry in this piece.) The second half of the paragraph is dominated by these phrases; harsh full stops that hit Miss Moss again and again – irritating, they sound like wasps buzzing around the bedroom. How Mrs Pine let’s her have it! But of course, these are not her views, only her sister’s now far away! However, there is a danger with this approach. Because you pretend they are not your views, they lack some bite, there is some distance to them…

And Ada’s response?

Miss Moss gave no sign of having heard this. She sat up in bed, tore open her letter, and read:

Dear Ingeborg

Two poets, one very famous, the other little known. An evening reading and discussing their correspondence. In the reading there is equality between the two; in the discussion there is only poet. Inevitable given their coverage in the English world.

EVERY DAY
War is not declared any more,
but simply continued. The terrible
is an everyday thing. The hero
stays far from battles. The weakling
is moved into the firing lines.
The uniform of the day is patience,
its decoration the shabby star
of hope above the heart.

It is conferred
when nothing more happens,
when the drumfire stops,
when the enemy has become invisible,
and the shadow of eternal armament
darkens the sky.

It is conferred
for the deserting of flags,
for courage in the face of friends,
for the betrayal of despicable secrets
and disregard
of all commands.


A citizens war; the first and most brutal of the 20th century. When I first read the poem I thought the hero referred to the politicians and leaders, turned into warriors by radio and newsprint; the weaklings the drafted civilians. Of course I was wrong, though reflecting the actuality of our wars now, and their presentation – Bush against Saddam, Obama against the Taliban. Before the invasion of Iraq Saddam proposed a duel with Bush. Scoffed at, of course, a throwback to older medieval battles where the kings did actually fight. However, was it so wrong? Reducing the killing to a single man it was a humanitarian gesture…

The poem plays on the image of the soldier, with turns of phrase reversing the usual associations – the fighter is the weakling; the citizen the fighter; the hero the one who maintains hope (in a warm human life), and acts upon it. Though the last two stanzas suggests the language of the drill yard: the same word is repeated at the start of three lines, suggesting an order, a peremptory shove (go on, act! act! act!). In a war all is corrupted, even the best in us, is this what these two words say?

Just a Poet

He wanted to be perfect, because he survived; because he was the dead’s monument? To fulfil the lost life and genius of a devastated community; the unbearable guilt of never being good enough…