Saturday, October 15, 2011

poetry leaves its sleeves rolled down

Basil Bunting's poem below follows up on Oscar Wilde's assertion that "All art is quite useless". But where Wilde would decree that that was the glory and significance of art--that humans have a need for beauty and harmony in order to engage the sense that would other would be limited to the drudgery of foraging and merely getting by--Bunting plants us smack in the middle of a rant by corporate head for whom profit is the end all and be all. Bunting's little survey of the others in the room outlines their hobbies as well as their useful , real world skills, with the emphasis being toward those paper shuffling tasks that can bring a pay check. 
The one being addressed, the poet, Bunting himself we imagine, is seen as having no marketable abilities, nothing that can benefit an employer, nothing that can make a dollar in the marketplace. Poetry is confusing, nasty, incoherent, a self indulgence, and the poet who takes himself or herself seriously is an unfinished citizen, barely human to any niche-ready degree. Bunting's satire is full of the harrumphing wind-baggism of the Babbits of the world who, again in Wilde's phrasing, "know the cost of everything and the value of nothing".

What The Chairman Told Tom
by Basil Bunting
Poetry? It's a hobby.
I run model trains.
Mr Shaw there breeds pigeons.

It's not work. You dont sweat.
Nobody pays for it.
 could advertise soap. 

Art, that's opera; or repertory -
The Desert Song.
Nancy was in the chorus.

But to ask for twelve pounds a week -
married, aren't you? -
you've got a nerve.

How could I look a bus conductor
in the face
if I paid you twelve pounds?

Who says it's poetry, anyhow?
My ten year old
can do it
 and rhyme. 

I get three thousand and expenses,
a car, vouchers,
but I'm an accountant.

They do what I tell them,
my company.
What do
 you do? 

Nasty little words, nasty long words,
it's unhealthy.
I want to wash when I meet a poet.

They're Reds, addicts,
all delinquents.
What you write is rot.

Mr Hines says so, and he's a shcoolteacher,
he ought to know.
Go and find

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