Thursday, May 2, 2013

Bunting on the Poet and Politics

Asked to contribute a poem for a special issue of "Poetry" to be about the Vietnam war,  Bunting, conscientious objector in the First World War, Intelligence officer in the Second, post-war diplomat replied:  

Poetry does not seem to me to have any business with politics. Whatever thoughts the war in Vietnam puts into my head, they are not such as could well be expressed in any kind of verse.

Everything that happens is of ‘global importance’. The follies of the United States are not more global than those of any other country, not excepting North Vietnam. Military follies are not more disastrous than economic, social, moral or literary follies.  So Long as Europe and America agree to worship 
Mammon all the disasters will get worse steadily, and the deadliest ones are slower and make fewer headlines than a war.

There’s not a soul who cares twopence what I or any other poet thinks about the war, Nixon, Wallace, marijuana, pills, oil spills, detergent advertisements or the fog from Gary. We are experts on nothing but arrangements and patterns of vowels and consonants, and every time we shout about  something else we increase the contempt the public has for us. We are entitled to the same voice as anybody else with the vote. To claim more is arrogant.

So I won’t be contributing to your special issue.

Poetry, Vol. 120, No. 6 (Sep., 1972), pp. 361-365