Many people, perhaps some poets themselves, consider poetry, what it has to say, and the way it says it, to be irrelevant. Poets are sometimes chided, more often than not from within their own community, for not tackling say, big political issues of the day.
But I think that poetry has its sights on long term relevance. Whereas in the banking community the blind pursuit of short-term profit outweighed everything else, which eventually led to the 2008 financial collapse, huge PPI fines, the Libor rate fixing débâcle and its like, and the subsequent dire (collateral damage) consequences for the wider world, poets look to the long-term, and different values altogether.
When I woke the other morning the first things I heard about were the brutal eviction from a plane of a man who had a valid ticket, but had to be ejected because of the incompetence and greed of the airline, the same airline that spends a large amount of money in advertising trying to convince people that the said airline really cares about them.
Where do I start to express the various items of news about the American president who, for example, appears to be about to ensure American companies who have been hiding large amounts of money from the tax man by keeping it overseas, will be able to repatriate it at a lower than expected rate of tax. This from the man who was supposed to be a champion of the little man against elites.
Uber, the taxi company, were in the news again because yet another of it's executives has resigned, and although she wouldn't give a reason why, it is not hard to suspect that she may be another executive who finds Uber's behaviour so objectionable she can't stomach it any more.
The airline is getting its comeuppance, as is Uber who appear to be in all sorts of trouble, and President Trump has failed so far to do most of the things he said he would do, so he is not proving very successful. That is all well and good, and perhaps reason for some optimism.
But what is really needed is something more than prevention, and punishment of ills when they happen. Which is where poetry comes in. We need alternatives. Poetry has two great strengths to my mind:
1/ It is done for the love of language and the truth that can be expressed using language, without any expectation of personal gain. No greed is involved. Getting rich writing poetry is as near to impossibility as it is possible to get
2/ It can be beautiful, can benefit its readers with a moment of loveliness and worthwhile thought in a frequently ugly and thoughtless world (as described above).
I therefore offer poetry as a revolutionary beacon of beauty and truth in an ugly world, and that, among other things, is desperately needed. It won't change things on its own, of course, but if people stop making things for the reasons I have just given, expressing as far as is possible, higher thoughts and feelings, we will be in even more trouble than we are already.
One of the things that poetry does well is to join up dots in a way that is unexpected. Some poet somewhere might spot the relevance for example, of the apparent irrelevance of Easter Island to Donald Trump's environmental policies. Although there were various reasons for the demise of the civilization that created the huge stone images on the island, a significant factor was the deforestation (much of it due to the resources used to erect the stone images) that made it impossible to sustain previous population levels. If one squinted slightly, I wonder whether one of the overblown stone faces might bear a resemblance to President Trump. I couldn't say, but perhaps there is a poem in it.
Then there is the humble bee, with industrious habits you would have thought might appeal to the president. I can't say precisely what effect his environmental policies will have on bees, but the current problems these hard-working insects face is well known, and their decline may be a result of man's environmental mismanagement, so it would seem to be a good time to invest more in environmental matters, not less. Not to mention climate-change of course. However, I am sure the president may feel he has so many more pressing matters, that bees are irrelevant, what possible relevance can the efficient pollination of crops have anyway.
Then there is education, there are many people advocating strict relevance in that field, relevance that is to producing graduates who might say, be useful to the needs of the economy. Perhaps some of them might even be bankers. Goodness knows, we need them to continue the good work the last lot started. It would of course be relevant to produce graduates with a working knowledge of the Chinese language, to help promote our trade with the Chinese in the post-brexit world, but entirely irrelevant to produce people well-versed in ancient Chinese thought. What earthly use would it be to have people versed in Chuang Tzu's response to Hui Tzu's alleged comment that “Your teachings are of no practical use”, to which it is said Chuang Tzu responded “Only those who already know the value of the useless can be talked to about the useful. This earth we walk upon is of vast extent, yet in order to walk a man uses no more of it than the soles of his two feet will cover. But suppose one cut away the ground around his feet till one reached the Yellow Springs,1 would his patches of ground still be of any use to him for walking? Hui Tzu said, “They would be of no use.” Chuang Tzu said, “So then the usefulness of the useless is evident.”
Think about it if you are listening Donald old chap, and anyone else that thinks they know what is relevant and what is not.
1. Yellow Springs = The world of the dead.