Sunday, February 07, 2010

Poetry reading: Patrick Jones, 4/2/2010

Patrick Jones is not T S Eliot, nor was meant to be.  His forebears are the punk poets and ranters of the early 80s, bringing a passion a political agenda to their poetry, more suited, as Patrick said, to the pub than the National Library of Wales.  There is little room for nuance in his work: his views are clear on his ex-partner (bad), current partner (good), religion (bad), tolerance (good)  and Tony Blair (bad).  One of the problems with this black-and-white approach is that if you don't agree with his stance there is little to enjoy in his words.  Technically, he relies mainly on repetition and alliteration to elevate his words above prose.  He has a tendency to use out-dated rhetoric - when he argues that we close hospitals but pay for wars, he echoes the Thatcherite era of major cuts in public services.  Whatever New Labour has been guilty of (discuss), it must be admitted that the only reason it has closed hospitals is to open new PFI-financed ones down the road, and while this may not have been perfect it is not the attack on people's welfare he implies.  His best poem by far was a simple, quiet poem about his father's shed, that managed to illuminate the man and the poet's relationship to him, in a moving way.  As he rightly says, we modern fathers have done lots of things better than our elders, but we haven't got sheds.

His poetry collection Darkness Is Where the Stars Are  achieved notoriety on publication as a result of extreme Christians (an oxymoron, as Patrick said) protesting against blasphemy.  He noted the thorny question about freedom of speech; to me the best position is that people can say what they like, as long as their audience can say what they like too.  The audience at the Library reading was good-natured and mainly positive, responding with greater warmth to the personal poems and story-telling than to the polemic.  Poetry with strong politics is hard to get right, and it may be that his views (however strongly expressed) are no more coherent than mine, or anyone's.  If he wants to say that Wales has a moral duty to welcome and care for refugees from torture and repression in their homeland, which needs little argument, does that not also imply endorsement of intervention in their homelands to protect the whole population?  In which case shouldn't he be supporting action in Afghanistan?  I don't have any simple answers, but then I don't make my political musings the core of my poetry.

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