From the poetic to the prosaic
Madam, – Enda O’Doherty’s subtle article (Arts, August 12th) encapsulates the unease felt by some regarding the speech to announce the appointment of Harry Clifton as Ireland Professor of Poetry. Brian Cowen’s words inadvertently set poets scuttling to a diametrically opposed position, as illustrated by Harry Clifton’s response. Both men said something commendable in very different ways, yet both managed to leave me with a sense of disquiet, a sense that both poet and politician owe it to themselves and to Irish people to speak without bluster over the complexities of their positions. The role of poets should be respected, but the attempts of politicians to root out the rot and restore order in the State are equally worthy.
Did not WB Yeats involve himself in a practical sense with the shaping and making of this State? Did he not also make it his poetic business to comment on it in his work instead of sitting back and saying a clever and polite nothing? There is nothing wrong with this and as far as I know Yeats was not so much “harvardised” as involved.
But in the interview in question we had a spectacle of opposites, with politicians at one end (the Huckster Corner), and poets at the other (lily-fingered crathurs who must not on any account be bothered by anything beyond the creative act). Perhaps it’s time for the word-wizards to speak more clearly. Within or without the arts, we all amount to more than world brands and ivory towers pitted against one another.
Finally, giving what O’Doherty calls the gift of his or her person “to the commonality” and leaving just one foot off the ground is all very well for poets, provided our politicians are equally prepared to raise one in the air in response! – Yours, etc,