Campaigning in Poetry, Governing in Prose… – Slugger O’Toole
Campaign in poetry, rule in prose. The phrase attributed to New York Governor Mario Cuomo might make you wonder why successive governments haven’t always been as arts-friendly as they could be. Could it be that they don’t want any more militants?
The dictionary defines a poem as being characterized by words chosen for their sound, suggestive power and meaning and is even described in an episode of Peppa Pig as a magical way of using words that puts an image in your mind. Yes, of course, I watched Peppa. Given the program’s recent rise in political parlance, how could I not? While prose is distinguished from poetry by its lack of marked metrical structure, language in its ordinary form. Some might say sound bites against the dull talk of facts and evidence or the wishful thinking of dreams contained and held back by the language of possibility on a page of reality.
I have a background in local government, a place of precedence, protocol and procedure, all grounded in the political decision-making of those elected to serve. We often criticize them, but they are the ones who had the courage to place their heads above the parapet or on a lamp post, some even ending up on a bonfire, driven to do so mainly because they wanted to make a difference. in their community.
The effects of images and emotions evoked on the campaign trail and in acceptance speeches are altered, sometimes redacted, by the logistics of converting them into policies that bring meaningful and constructive change. Think of the architect imagining your hopes and dreams, then consider budget constraints, building permits, contractors and subcontractors, earthworks, complaining neighbors, environmental issues. If left unmanaged, design can evolve away from customer expectations because few of us can offer a blank check. If the devil really is in the details, how many want to hear it on our doorsteps or read it in campaign leaflets?
So are we expecting too much from our politicians? Do we prefer poetry, catchy sound bites or are we ready for chapter and verse? I recently joined a writing group, as I discovered that poetry harbored my emotions after my father died. We’ve seen a resurgence in poetry during the pandemic as we struggle to express our feelings, and it’s no coincidence that poetry is often part of a funeral service. But the reality, the prose, is to sit down with a loved one, to make end-of-life decisions, to register a death, to arrange a funeral, to carry out wishes, and to manage all the family and family perspectives and the fallout that often ensues. The politics of life.
Poetry can help us give it meaning, capture an aspiration, grab attention and focus minds. But taking action requires the diligence of a novelist who will painstakingly research, rewrite, and sit at his desk, day after day, until he succeeds. And the reader must commit to a longer-term relationship and trust that the novel lives up to the expectations raised by the cover.
We need both. At least I do. But there aren’t many that can offer both. And, perhaps we elect poets hoping their chapters of governance will build our dreams and if they fail, ending up in muddy puddles of prose, we imagine them, fairly or not, with their snouts in the trough of personal interest.
Let’s be honest, politics is not Party – look what I did there? But, of course, you did. A quote attributed to Julia Child who a party without cake is just a meeting may be dusted off for explanatory purposes in the days and weeks to come. And many of us will remember office parties where we wondered if someone might lose their job, but a year later?
With all the sticks, stones and weasel words of playground politics, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised at the references to children’s television heroes when speaking to business leaders. But, unfortunately, I can only go back and hope that Romper is on the watch list because we need Do-Bees. And if you’re from the same vintage as me, you’ll remember it Pop go weasel was replaced as generic, and I don’t believe they even voted on it!
Karen Mooney lives in Moira and after a long career in local government, she moved from writing memos to writing poems and lyrics. You can follow her on Twitter. Penned In, a poetry pamphlet co-written during the pandemic with Gaynor Kane, was published by The Hedgehog Poetry Press with sales supporting Action Cancer.