In the White Goddess Robert Graves speaks about the poet's role in ancient wars. He tells how the poet belonging to each faction would go above the battlefield to observe together, and how they would write the deeds, losses, blood and truth of the day. How it could be only the eye of the poet which could be trusted with these 'truths' and the poets' conclusions would be accepted and the lands divided thusly. Poets have often found themselves in places where great changes are taking place, my own poetic hero Pablo Neruda was seriously considered as contender for president of Chile, before he stepped aside for Allende… And it also worth the other way round as people in power often turn to poetry, for why? I'd love to know your thoughts on this.
I am of the school that believes poetry is a natural part of life. In this part of the West there is a tendency to think of the arts as some kind of an add on to life. A nice thing if we had the time, 'Oh but we haven't got the time as we have to be serious about so many things and then there's the economy.' The arts are seen as pretty entertainments for the bourgeoisie, and unfortunately some poets haven't helped poetry by going along with this way of doing things. Current reviewing and 'tastemaking' practice has seen poetry become more driven by ego and strange ideas of self-gain than ever. Since when I wonder was there anything to be gained by being a poet except for the love of contributing to literature. Art is not just part of life - it is life. Poetry takes you right into the moment, or the scene, where life is not trapped like an insect in amber, but where it is a living spark kept just for the individual reader to encounter and live with for the rest of their lives.
Consider what is perhaps the greatest war poem Dulce et Decorum Est. We are right in the trenches with the soldiers. Owen's capacity to include us in the marching, the noise, the mud and the death, but more importantly the nature of that moment is the key. Not that all poetry should be death and war, but each moment does have its spark, and our lives and stories are important. It is far too easy to be the lesser poet like Sassoon, so able yet always somehow looking at his own reflection in the bayonet when describing a scene. Our feelings and thoughts are important, but remember how mind and feelings are often liars; they are conditional responses. Poetry when practiced as literature goes beyond the conditional into the human condition. Poetry must climb that hill, take us in to the deeds and the blood, the sex, the life, the death, the fragility of the moment, the questions, the taste, and brightness of the day, the darkness of the night and all the other things it can do, but no more add on to life. Look at the time. Look where we are, have we not had enough diversions? It is time for war poetry.
John Siddique is the author of Full Blood (Salt)