Saturday, May 17, 2008

Brian Fawcett (Part Seven)

Verna just picked up the line-up for Bard On The Beach yesterday. King Lear, Titus Andronicus (yikes!), The Tempest, and Twelfth Night. The latter I've seen quite few times, and Titus is a truly awful play, the critics' consensus worst by S (though he only penned half of it or so), but it's easy to sell to an audience waiting for the unintentional parental cannibal scene. Looks like the tragic Lear gets the nod, though we may see Tempest as well. We caught Timon Of Athens last year, and the production was excellent.


"And yes, this legacy of reconciling incomprehensible violence inflicted on the sensible innocent remains the problem of poets working today, even though the world condition that made English lyric verse what it has been since the Great War have not existed for any Westerners for more than 50 years. First, the military conflicts since 1945 in which North Americans & Western Euros have been involved have not more than nominally involved our educated classes. Not even the Second World War, with its vast increases in civilian casualties over the Great War, saw anything close to the same degree of violence directed at the young and the educated. Vietnam, the war that captured and to some extent created the social imagination of my generation, was a war to which America sent mostly black kids and rednecks to do the dying."-- Brian Fawcett.

This is an interesting point since there've been one or more wars waged for a greater period of recorded historical time than the total period of accumulated "peace". But one doesn't have to be on the front lines to write effectively on war (Shakespeare), or be a criminal to write a first-person narrative of a murderer (Dostoyevsky). Also, war can be approached more indirectly: time served away from the front; as a civilian digesting the news; and by surreal or metaphoric means where a specific war is not necessary for poetic creation. I also hasten to add that direct experience of war often doesn't necessarily result in better (grittier, more authentic) poetry: though I admire American poet Louis Simpson's work, I found it a tough slog getting through his WWII land-war verse. His front line position didn't enhance the vividness of his poetry, which is all that matters.

And of course it should go without saying that there are endless subjects fit for poetry that don't concern themselves with contemporary wars, or that may only employ war in an ancillary or background sense.


"Yet the same larks appear above the blighted landscape in the poems of my generation as could be seen in the poems of the British war poets, except that the hell beneath the wings of today’s poets consists of incitements to purchase goods, eat mediocre pre-processed foods, and suck up other entertainments of the disarticulation of the public realm."-- Brian Fawcett.

I find much to agree with in the above quote. It's just an expansion on the meaning of "war". Madison Avenue sending volleys through the airwaves.


"It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in the sense of beauty that is lyric poetry’s purest energy, but that I was suspicious of the darkness that placed it in chiaroscuro. What I perceived around me wasn’t so much dark as muddy. It held no residue of high explosives, and it did not stream with human blood and body parts. It was fouled with cigarette butts and the paper and Styrofoam debris of mass-produced hamburgers and milkshakes. My instinct was that such a world requires a catalogue less private and and idiosyncratic than Whitman’s body electric, and an emotional frame less prone to self-regard and sentimentality than Wilfred Owen’s pity"--Brian Fawcett.

More narrow definitions of what poetry "should" be.

Explosions and high rhetoric, personal shattering epiphanies and intense war drama are not the only moods and experiences of great canonical poetry.

I used to set these unaccepting strictures on poetic subject matter myself when I was in my twenties. How could Robert Frost write about couples drama and nature contemplation when Europe was in flames? I wondered, impatient. But Frost and others were writing of conflicts that could be seen as having a metaphysical structure much in tune with WWI. Journalism, reportage, direct engagement, aren't the only means of writing about seminal conflicts.

And again this equating of lyricism with beauty. Shelley wrote of oppressive governments as well as about skylarks.


Part Eight (and hopefully concluding) next time.

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