Poetry should be ignored. Like the interesting kid in the playground. Leave it alone. It’s quite happy playing by itself. If you want to join in, fine, it can be fun, but it can also be confusing, boring, troubling and upsetting. Which is why it’s generally, and at times best, just ignored.
Politics, while inhabited by similar deviants and devas that muddle and meddle with poetry, cannot be ignored. Politicians are just like poets. They are the same. They don’t do anything. They are utterly inactive. They make no contribution to the physical world. Watch any clip of a politician ‘doing their job’ and it’ll most likely show them standing around looking awkward and uncomfortable, shaking hands with someone they’d rather not talk to or desperately trying to sound sincere into a microphone. All of these things poets ‘do’. They play with words, they fabricate truth, they change their minds, they contradict themselves, they dislike each other. They may say they ‘admire’ or ‘respect’ one another, they may claim or cling to ‘integrity’ but essentially poets and politicians belong to the same elitist gang of self serving egoists. When they come knocking at your door with their little leaflets you will know what to do.
There is, though, a difference: Poetry is powerless, politics is dangerous. A politician’s words will close a hospital, drop a bomb or destroy a forrest. A poet’s words may unsettle a molecule, disturb a particle, flutter a fibre.
At the beginning of this year I started sending poems out as postcards (contradicting my thesis that poetry should be ignored, but then U-turns are a poet’s prerogative). I have an expanding list of recipients and on the day Theresa May called an election in the UK I decided that she needed a poem. I did send her a valentine’s day poem. She ignored it. I also thought, so he didn’t feel left out (or ignored), that Jeremy Corbyn should get one too. I had heard him read a poem at a memorial service so I knew he might be more responsive than his opposite.
On the day I came to send out last month’s batch at the postoffice I found, in amongst the stamps I’d bought, two large, colourful Mr Men stamps. These I felt were not appropriate to adorn postcards being sent to respected editors of longstanding periodicals or to persons in seats of learning or to leading lights of the literary establishment. Neither did they seem to suit the small collection of friends, enemies and ex-lovers who were also in receipt of a poem a month. But Mr Happy and Mr Tickle (for these were the two characters on the stamps) wouldn’t be out of place in parliament I thought. The choice was who should get who? One smug, hands behind back, smiling blindly, the other a risible baked bean man with wobbly arms. I thought Mr Tickle suited Jeremy better and I banged Mr Happy angrily on Theresa’s postcard. Neither seemed quite right. But that’s politics.
Essentially this is the choice we will face next month. Mr Tickle, although annoying, does appear to be going out of his way to try and make people’s lives better and quite frankly Mr Happy looks like he doesn’t give a damn. He’s just happy. I bet he’d still be smiling if the NHS was sold further into private ownership. I just don’t trust that iniquitous grin. Give me Mr Tickle any day. I’ll get back to you if either reply.
[If you’d like a poem on a postcard get one here: https://www.patreon.com/jannoble Poetry is free, stamps are not.]