Politics and Poetry: two views
by Chris Norris
They ask me: why the antique style?
Why have them rhyme and scan?
Why fiddle while Rome burns, or while
Our lives go down the pan?
It’s rough-house stuff, the stuff we need,
Red-hot with scorn and rage,
Not stuff for owlish types to read
Off some age-yellowed page.
Just cut the crap, let feeling loose,
And let those bastards know
Their fancy ways will be no use
When us lot run the show.
We’ll stuff their art-forms up their arse,
Run riot with their rhymes,
And turn their tragedies to farce
As suits these squalid times.
Just drop the archaisms, drop
The Pope-and-Dryden bit;
They’ll let you take a gentle pop
But never score a hit.
So stick with us, let form go hang,
Jump up and grab the mike;
That way you’ll get the biggest bang
And give us what we like.
* * * * *
Point taken, but one thing you’ve missed,
You lords of verse misrule,
Is how the canny formalist
Stays hot while staying cool.
It’s rhyme and meter, they’re the way
Verse-satire takes its aim,
Like cross-hair sights whose sharp display
Shows where to fix the blame.
All well and good, your scatter-shot,
One hit will up your score
But more than likely see you pot
A good half-dozen more.
With formal verse you’re set to strike
Just how and whom you will,
Your techniques honed word-perfect like
A skilled machinist’s drill.
You fix your sights, then make your choice:
Which set-up works the best?
What meter, rhyme-scheme, tone of voice,
Which vices duly stressed?
That’s how you channel and contain
The wish to knock them dead;
By letting satire take the strain,
Not kicks aimed boot-to-head.
Christopher Norris is Distinguished Research Professor in Philosophy at the University of Cardiff. He is the author of more than thirty books on aspects of philosophy, politics, literature, the history of ideas, and music.