The art of poetry has never been my strong suit. True poets in my estimation can convey a myriad of meanings through references to imagery, onomatopoeia and cadence.
Novelists too, possess this gift but convey imagery in a more direct manner. But for a few occasions in modern history (James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake springs to mind here) the novel has proved to be the most accessible form of literary communication for a popular audience.
My personal belief is that compared to the poem, the novel (at least in the modern era) is also the most powerful literary medium with which to make society reflect on its course and values. Poetry on the other hand has historically served as a means of maintaining the status quo or of recording events as they were imagined to have occurred. Consider The Illiad, The Odyssey and The Aeneid, poems that served to encourage passivity in the face of abstract divine forces and of temporal rulers. Also consider the Song of Roland which glorified the role of Charlemagne during the wars between the Franks and the Muslims over control of Northern Spain in the eighth century.
Where poetry has the edge over the novel is in the realm of public performance. Reading a novel encourages individual reflection. A poem, read aloud for an audience can convey enormous power and inspiration. Those who heard the Song of Roland when read aloud in the 12th century would have been no doubt been moved by the description of Roland’s death. The popularity of poetry slams today is testimony to the power of poetry when performed in front of a live audience.
Today, the most active form of poetry is the music lyric. When I was younger and still harboured ambitions to work as a musician, I provided many of the lyrics my band’s songs. At the time I did not see lyrics as true poetry but as a means of conveying feeling and arousing emotion within the listener. As with my novel and short story writing, my poems and lyrics were inspired by outrage or horror I perceived in the wider world. In the case of my poems, imagery plays a secondary role to emotion. More gifted poets and writers may scoff at this, however I have never claimed to be a poet or to have more than a passing interest in that craft. For me, the novel is paramount to my artistic endeavours.
Recently when looking through my old files I came across this little ditty I wrote in 2011. The motivation was the 2012 Republican Presidential Primary debates where there was strong representation from the Tea Party. I can recall being struck by the unreal atmosphere of the debates and the rhetoric of the candidates. The recurring themes of each candidate was a belief in abstract “free” market principles, Christianity, anti-government dogmatism and a profound disconnect with the needs of every day people. All of this was wrapped up in nationalist rhetoric and appeals to a fictional past and a deep misunderstanding of the US Constitution and the Founding Fathers.
I admit that later I breathed a sigh of relief when Barack Obama was re-elected. As centrist and amoral as Obama was when it came to domestic policy, drone strikes and escalating covert wars around the world, he possessed a certain sane personal decency, albeit one undermined by a stubborn belief in American Exceptionalism. Had Obama been active in a less necrotic and more representative democratic system he might have achieved some truly positive reforms. The key difference between the US Democratic Party and the Republican Party is one of direction: the Democrats are open to moderate conservative reforms while the Republicans are trying to turn the clock back to the 19th century in order to create a brand of American style fascism.
Today, the descendants of George W Bush’s Compassionate Conservatism are defunding Meals on Wheels, attacking healthcare for all citizens (especially women) and demonising immigrants and the poor. Nearly six years from when I penned the following poem, America’s Tumult vomited out the current Monster-in-Chief- and he has indeed arrived supported by an administration of zealots and liars.
As a historian, it is easy to see parallels between the US and the Roman Republic and later Roman Empire. The corruption in the modern US is blatant, the mysticism omnipresent and symptomatic of a society in decline, economically, militarily and more importantly morally.
Underpinning the decline are the quasi-religious beliefs in American Exceptionalism, Manifest Destiny and a necrotic Constitution, one that is no longer relevant in an era of executive orders, congressional deadlock and the JSOC. These myths, like the Roman Foundational Myths and the later justifications by the poet Virgil, are at the root of America’s decline. Whether that decline will decimate the rest of the world remains to be seen for as Plato wrote only the dead have seen the end of war.
DREAMS OF THE DAMNED
Copyright Chris O’Connell July 7th 2011
They come as would be Caesars out of Tumult and Decay,
Co-opting traditions and words of Sacred Myth.
Fed by the Faith of the fooled and the desperate,
All to assume a mantle of Honour that cloaks their
The Dream implodes for so baseless a fantasy,
Underlies the Founding, born not of Truth but of Myth,
Old Words cannot suffice, the Fathers have failed us.
Now lambs tremble with Remus; and Romulus rears
And strikes down his offspring; the children of New Rome.
Now convivial Alaric waits in the wings,
His smiling reason birthed in Blood and Gold,
Basking in the glow of Compassionate Cruelty
A corrupter to end the corruption of this Realm of the Guilty,
Yet still so corrupted by the Myth of the Father’s Words,
And dreams of the End and the coming Fire.
From the morass of Babylon to the Treacherous White Temple,
One Dysfunction under God so too the slaves are shackled,
And wed to the Manacles of their own Destruction by Rage.
So on churns the ferment, the foment of Tyranny,
Subtly seeking to bring the Collapse,
To the Blind and the Helpless in Messianic Pose,
From this Tumult and Decay a Monster will rise.