Art by Ed Kuris
In anticipation of the Poetry Month coming up, i began to look for some non-political poems. My quest soon became similar to fishing for a rare fish in the ocean of plastics and indigestible sea creatures. Based on what i found, here, still a bit fuzzy, is the inventory of my fishing expedition. You are welcome to check it out, and add to it if you like.
Poetry is the most practiced form of writing across cultures. It can be said that in a gathering of ten authors, eight-and-a-half may be poets where one can be a fiction writer and the remaining ‘half’ could be the writers of non-fiction. I write poems too, and I just love the way this form of writing morphs into song, spoken word, slam, rap and drama. Reading, more so hearing, poetry is one of the luxuries I often enjoy. So, barring all my favorite poets, here’s what i found.
A number of poets write what my colleague Sana Janjua calls Tourism Poetry where the beauty of a place, often ‘foreign’ and ‘exotic’ to the poet, is expressed in detail without including the people of that place. This is how we are taught to look at the world, as a tourist attraction where local, often under-privileged, people are themselves a part of that attraction or a distraction or just irrelevant to the purpose of travel or creating a poem about nature. If i’m not mistaken, it is a political standpoint; in fact, a colonial political standpoint.
Then we have The Ethnic Flagship poetry that explores, in case of South Asia for example, myths of spirituality and mysticism of the ‘East’, and in doing so affirms the Western readers’ historical/generational experience of colonization of that east, and in most instances, the poet stands with their historic/generational colonizers by looking at and presenting their own culture of origin in the ways the colonizers did, and they still do.
The Sufi Sphinx poems take this a step further by offering tons of usable mysticism with solutions such as ‘self-correction’ and/or ‘self-annihilation’ to decidedly take the reader’s and the poet’s attention away from actual problems and their possible solutions. This saves both from stumbling into uncomfortable territories, for example, into the possibility of systemic in-equity as one of the causes of human dis-content.
A large proportion of diasporic poets are Homeland Wailers writing poem after poem on the pain of separation from their homeland while saying nothing much about the conditions of the society they live in or the one they wail about. It appears as if the main issue is the pain of migration or of the time passed (especially their youth where many, mostly male, poets get fixated), not why it occurred or how situation in the present may be less than desirable in both the ‘home’ and ‘abroad’ countries.
There are ample Lego Party poems where each poem is a puzzle or a puzzling game created by the Settler poet or poets as a delightful exploration into the art and craft of poetry that does not require or encourage critical thinking, positioning poetry as a worthy distraction from personal and societal burdens of the past and the present.
Promptesque, the thriving domain of Lego Party poets, provides training for emerging writers to be able to write a poem on a given word/words or terms, songs or paintings, within a given amount of time. The emphasis on craft continues at the expense of theme/content as the fetish of government-funded prompt-poetry grows.
Dutiful includes poetry prompted by catastrophic events or by certain violations of human rights such as violence against women, that is devoid of any deeper understanding of the issue, and so, it rhymes a dogmatic sermon in support of the ‘official’, often incorrect and misleading, version of the tragic event. As well, such poems appear to have been written to provide evidence that the writer is ‘with it’, aware, and a sensitive human being.
Then, we have a whole range of Kithartica where this art form is used to loadshed some of the poet’s emotional baggage, and employed as a tool for the healing of the self.
I am not against any of it. In fact, we all use all these forms as we continue to work with our favored ways of saying different things. My problem is with stopping short, not acknowledging the politics of it, and then, misrepresenting it as ‘non-political’ art.
Stopping short where one minor ‘fact’ or outcome is taken and presented as the whole; and where the ‘whole’ is hidden by a tiny, often irrelevant, detail. Example: ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ is sometimes presented as the cause for the failure of a relationship. Yes, in certain cases, it may be part of the mix, but it never can be the reason. Relationships fail because two people may have diverse perspectives or different goals in life, they may not have synergy, they may come from diverse cultural backgrounds or from different class/privilege spectrum, they may have varying sexual orientation or sexuality, there could be emotional/psychological/sexual/physical abuse, some control issues perhaps, or any other combination but it’s definitely not because ‘familiarity breeds contempt’. This method of creating and spreading Nonsense-Wisdom, like many other such constructions, not only stops short of the actual issue but it also leads to depressive, even oppressive, outlook. In this case, for example, it means that all our relationships are doomed to breed contempt just because they would require for us to become familiar with each other. So then, stopping short is not an innocent act of personal choice, it’s a conscious standpoint obliterating reality to safeguard the value systems that serve interests of certain people or groups of people.
In a similar way, the discussion to determine if someone’s art is political or not is a misleading detail manufactured to hide the truth of the entrenched politicalness of pro-system art; to validate the lie that there is some art or literature that is not ‘political’ that there is ‘non-political’ art. Among other things, this helps to avoid answering some important questions such as ‘since we all write political stuff so is this the politics I want to perpetuate’ or ‘what is the politics of my poems?’ It is such a taboo that poets may be willing to meet to discuss the poetics of their poetry but never its politics.
Art is created from the experience we as individuals receive from all direct or indirect interaction with our environment. It is the re-emergence of parts of this continuing experience where all our interactions, passive or active, conscious or unconscious, past or present, manifest the culture and politics that we practice in order to live our lives; it is inside us and it surrounds us yet it remains unacknowledged by most of us. Perhaps this is, in part, because we relate to politics or we are ‘taught’ to relate to politics as something that stands outside of our personal lives; something that isn’t an intrinsic part of our public/private selves but perhaps a tool to organize, arrange and safeguard the larger ‘worldly’ things around and outside of us. In reality, art is born out of a symbiotic embrace with politics; inescapable. Even when we think that a poem, novel, song, video, film, painting is not ‘political’, it may be highly so.
Take for example, any of the stock romance novels, a form of literature we believe is a non-political escape/entertainment/comfort reading- or we think that because it is escape/entertainment/comfort reading so it is non-political, and add to it the fact that a large portion of art created in the world is a ‘copy/paste’ operation that continues to reproduce itself in novels, films, paintings, music and drama. This ‘mainstream’, ‘entertainment’, ‘commercial’ art, the so-called ‘non-political’ art is political inside and out. In it, everything systemic including current myths about race, class, caste, religion, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, ability not only abound but are affirmed; problems are viewed from one of the few peepholes provided by the prevalent political value systems; and, the proposed solutions perpetuate and protect the existing unfair/unequal political, economic and social structures. This is not non-political art but the art of bountiful ignorance.
The writers and artists who do not readily accept the myths projected by systems and their mouthpiece multinational media and arts organizations as truths, and the ones who do not acknowledge their prize-winners and scholars as icons and experts, may see images of our societies different from the ones offered; this when expressed in art is than classified as ‘political’. Another myth, a half truth, created to hide the political nature of pro-system art and literature.
So why are we so naive as to be misled by such tactics? Perhaps because we are part of the interest groups who need to distort this issue. Salvation Army founder William Booth once said: “a philanthropic body cannot afford to alienate the class which supports it”. Booth was humble when he limited his thoughts to just ‘philanthropic’ bodies. He could have easily lodged it as a universal truth that it is, that a ‘body’ cannot afford to alienate the class that supports it or ‘nobody’ can afford to alienate the class that supports it or ‘only nobody’ can afford to alienate the class that supports it.
I see that ‘nobody’ is a cool space for me.