I am often inclined to think, all Sturgeonesque, that 90% of everything is crap, and that goes double for poetry. Which would mean, of course, that 180% of poetry is crap, which may be overstating the case somewhat, but that feels like a comfortable number to work with, so I’ll let it stand.
A case in point is this Harold Pinter poem rescued from a slightly-less-than-customarily-dumbass (at least recently) Metafilter thread. Harold Pinter is apparently some Poet of Significance, about whom I know very little, as I ain’t got me mucha that there book-larnin’. Anyway, have a read :

Here they go again,
The Yanks in their armoured parade
Chanting their ballads of joy
As they gallop across the big world
Praising America’s God.
The gutters are clogged with the dead
The ones who couldn’t join in
The others refusing to sing
The ones who are losing their voice
The ones who’ve forgotten the tune.
The riders have whips which cut.
Your head rolls onto the sand
Your head is a pool in the dirt
Your head is a stain in the dust
Your eyes have gone out and your nose
Sniffs only the pong of the dead
And all the dead air is alive
With the smell of America’s God.

Now, I don’t disagree with the sentiment expressed here, as you might guess. Yes, America and their God are doodyheads supreme, and a force for death and evil in the world today. That’s a given, isn’t it? And, hey, I like the loping metre – badum badumdum boop. It’s bouncy, yet martial! Just right, as Goldilocks might exclaim.
What amuses me is that this Great Author’s Poem falls in quality somewhere between lame old Satan-cheering Iron Maiden lyrics, say, and a quote from Cannibal Corpse [warning : rather icky, but may assist in understanding American culture] . You know, I wouldn’t take issue if Pinter’s tripe weren’t meant to be Art, High and Holy. No one listens to Cannibal Corpse (or at least, I wish no one did) expecting a literary artgasm, I don’t think. But oor Harold?
Well, stuff like “The riders have whips which cut. Your head rolls onto the sand Your head is a pool in the dirt Your head is a stain in the dust” goes quite nicely alongside other stuff like

Slaughtered enemies scattered
Trail of death they walked
Drenched in their own blood
A sound of thousands fills the sky
A death that comes so clear
When the rain of fire falls
Flames that will consume
A boiling death appear
The last second alive

Quick now, was that Harold, or the merry pranksters from Vomitory? And does it matter? Admittedly Mr Rundqvist, Vomitory’s wordsmith, has a few problems with getting those nice bumpedyboop rhythms going, and may in fact have a few problems with english as a second language, but I’m willing to bet there are a whole lot more people chanting his songs than dear old Harold’s.
Which may not be the point. You tell me. 250 words or less, due by Friday. Heh.
I wonder, as an aside, how many of the foolish young soldiers going to risk their lives for f–king nothing in Iraq listen, teeth gritted, to mutant scum like Cannibal Corpse and their grindcore ilk? That might be an interesting statistic.

Uncategorizable Crap, Uncrappy

Join the conversation! 8 Comments

  1. Cannibal Corpse? Maybe. Or maybe it’s less obvious:
    “Then we send a few guys downtown to rent all of the war movies they can get their hands on. For three days we sit in our rec room and drink beer and watch all of those damned movies. We concentrate on the Vietnam films because it’s the most recent war, and we rewind and review famous scenes – Robert Duvall and his helicopter gunships in Apocalypse Now; Willem Dafoe getting shot by a friendly and left on the battlefield in Platoon; Matthew Modine talking trash to a streetwalker in Full Metal Jacket.
    “There is talk that many Vietnam films are anti-war, that the message is war is inhumane and look what happens when you train young American men to fight and kill. But, actually, Vietnam war films are all pro-war, no matter what Kubrick or Coppola or Stone intended. Mr and Mrs Johnson in Omaha or San Francisco will watch the films and weep and decide war is inhumane and terrible, but Corporal Johnson at Camp Pendleton and Sergeant Johnson at Travis Air Force Base and Lance Corporal Swofford at Twentynine Palms Marine Corps Base watch the same films and are excited by them, because they celebrate the terrible and despicable beauty of their fighting skills.”
    Shades of that Chris Hedges interview.

  2. Or maybe it’s less obvious
    I know, Rory. It’s always less obvious. But subtlety just isn’t one of my top qualities, much as I try…

  3. If 180% of poetry is crap then 360% of critics who tar every part of a genre with the same brush have their heads stuck up their arses? Sorry to get riled at you in particular, but I’ve been meaning to get at this one for a while. There seems to be a meme travelling round the web at light-speed lately that poetry is irredeemable shite, and indeed much of it is. As someone who has dedicated a good part of my life both to the reading and the attempted writing of it though, I can’t help but be hurt by these outbursts, and in fact I’m finding it impossible to inspire myself to write lately (it is bloody, unforgiving, hard work), in the face of the fact that most people will just discount anything I write before they even bother to read it.
    “So what?”, I hear you all cry. Perhaps I’d better just go and sob into my beer instead, but it’s especially sad to see the death of something beloved, especially when I though that the net had potential as a medium for refreshing a dying art. I very much want to make you and all its other detractors see poetry the way I see it, but I think instead I’m like Canute here, getting my toes wet. The poetry you quote above is truly awful, by the way. Really badly poor. Can’t emphasize enough how much I despise it.

  4. Ah, but we love you for your bluntness, Stav.
    I agree that the Pinter poem is, erm, not the finest example of the form. (“Pong of the dead”?) But I’ll join you for that sobbing into a beer, Dan, even if my own efforts amount to no more than the slimmest of volumes. (Had a quick look at the stuff on walrus, by the way, and it looks good to me. Rotten luck about that grue.)

  5. Yeah, I didn’t mean my chicken lurve was diminished in any way. I’m just suffering from a general malaise, which was accidentally lanced by your words. I think I’m going to have to force myself to start writing again, just to bug you 😉
    (cheers Rory. I very much liked your dialect piece by the way, having snuck a sneaky glance)

  6. a meme travelling round the web at light-speed lately that poetry is irredeemable shite
    I don’t think all poetry is shite, dan, the 180% wisecrack aside.
    Sorry : I make these pronouncemens and forget that I know people who write poetry…
    But I’ve been grunting like a neanderthal about my partly-ficitious grudge against poetry since highschool, and that was a LONG time ago. I haven’t noticed any recent memetic poet-bashing recently, and if it’s out there, I apologize for ganging up on you lot.
    I like Bukowski. Does that count?

  7. Also, I think ‘pong of the dead’ is the generic name for the computer-based wargames they play at the Pentagon.
    ba-dump *tish*

  8. I like Bukowski. Does that count?
    That’s a free pass.

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