Sunday, March 7, 2010
Poets and Legislators
Over dinner this evening, some friends and I were discussing politics: international, national, provincial, local – at every level. Somehow I must have been more eloquent or persuasive than usual. I was challenged, “If you’ve got so many brilliant ideas, why don’t you run for office and do something with them?” And then followed the reference that made me stop to think a little deeper than usual. “After all, didn’t some English poet say you guys are the unacknowledged legislators of the world?”
Oh yes. Shelley’s remark at the end of his ‘A Defence of Poetry’ taken out of context again, and misrepresented. How could anyone take that term seriously? Poets don’t make rules; they’re more likely to break rules.
Even when poets had standing with the chiefs of a tribe or head of a community, they acted as advisers, never as lawgivers. Even today, with the new trend to ‘poets laureate’ any advice they are asked to give has nothing to do with the formulation of laws, only with what may make politicians look good to their constituents. The stuff of poetry, the words and ideas, are only fans and feathers misdirecting attention from the naked dance of money. For most of the time.
That’s the reason I always give, and have for a long time. What I really mean is that I can’t see my words and ideas attracting enough financial support to gain office. And furthermore, words and ideas mean nothing against cash and reputation. Personally, I can neither sell my visions nor prostitute myself.
That doesn’t mean that poets are useless. Poets are idealists, dreamers, seers. More than any others they can imagine what can and should be. The problem, as always, is to persuade the knowledgeable legislators to seek their advice and try to make it reality.