Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Poetical prisoners


A recently published book, The Stalin Epigram, and a recently released film, Little Ashes, remind poets that poetry did matter, in that poets were seen as significant characters in the political discourse of a country. This is, no doubt, still true today in repressive regimes. But we, I think, have lost much in the way of poets as mattering to politics and society.

The book is about the Russian poet Osip Mandelstam (1891-1938) and his suppression by Stalin. The film is about, in part, the Spanish poet Federico García Lorca (1898-1936), whose poetry was suppressed by the Franco regime after his death (although the connection of his death with politics is muddled). Two poets with overlapping life-spans, each playing a historical role in their own countries.

Some say if you have an opinion (especially of a political nature) then write a letter to the editor or an op-ed column, not a poem. After all, how many poems with a "point" do you see on op-ed pages in place of prose?

But this is a loss, I think, both to poetry and society. Maybe I should have written a poem instead.