Should Writers Be Political?

A little while back I came across a post entitled “Are Writers Allowed To Express Political Opinions”, https://ryanlanz.com/2017/12/01/are-writers-allowed-to-express-political-opinions/. Before proceeding further, I would like to make it clear that in a free society writers (along with the rest of the population) have an absolute right to voice their views. I have always voted and will continue to do so as to complain and not to vote is, in my view at best risible and at worst smacks of hypocrisy. However the point of this post is to examine whether it is wise for writers to express political opinions.

I recall attending a poetry reading, during the course of which one of the performers regaled the audience with a poem lauding the virtues of a former British prime minister. As a point of information, my view of the PM in question is that their period in office saw both positive and negative measures taken by the administrations in question. However the poem’s uncritical lauding of the politician and its blatant political purpose made me squirm. I suspect that I was far from being alone in my feeling of relief when this piece of propaganda was at an end.

Political poetry need not, however have one squirming in one’s seat. Take, for example the 17th-century “Vicar of Bray which begins thus:

“1. In good King Charles’ golden time, when loyalty no harm meant,
A zealous high churchman was I, and so I gained preferment.
To teach my flock, I never missed: Kings are by God appointed
And damned are those who dare resist or touch the Lord’s annointed.

(Chorus):

And this be law, that I’ll maintain until my dying day, sir
That whatsoever king may reign, Still I’ll be the Vicar of Bray, sir. …”. (http://www.britainexpress.com/attraction-articles.htm?article=29).

In the above poem, we are treated to a wonderful description of a vicar who will change his principles in whatever way will advance his survival in the living of Bray. The man has no loyalty whatsoever other than to himself. The poem manages to be both bitingly funny and to attack political opportunism at the same time.

One does not, in my view need to agree with the sentiments being expressed to find poetry that expresses political views interesting and/or amusing. Take, for example Hilaire Belloc’s “On A Great Election”:

“The accursed power which stands on privilege
(And goes with women, and champagne, and bridge)
Broke—and democracy resumed her reign
(Which goes with bridge, and women, and champagne)”.

Although I think that Belloc’s view is overly cynical, his poem does, none the less strike a chord with me and brings a smile to my face, which is a key factor in any good poem (that it resonates with the reader).

As for my own work, anyone who reads my poetry will, I believe gain a view as regards my political outlook. Be wary though my dear reader for my tongue is sometimes firmly implanted in my cheek!

In conclusion, writers do, of course have a perfect right to express political views. However few people like a didact and much of the best political poetry contains an element of satire. Orwell’s “Animal Farm, Animal Farm, never through me shall you come to harm” causes the reader to wince and is intended to do so, for Orwell is satirising the sloganeering of the Communist left. Orwell’s quote is, in my opinion far superior to the poem regarding a former British Prime Minister, which I was forced to sit through during a poetry reading some time ago.

Kevin

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