Poetry Politic: The Power of You, Squared

April 12th, 2013 by


Not So Popular are starting a response to the arts cuts: This Is What Happens When You Cut the Arts. We want to know if this matters to you. This is why it matters to us:

You’re standing in the middle of a city centre and a newspaper catches your eye. It’s got another really annoying headline, more cuts and more jobs gone and more messages subtly saying you should get out of the arts. What’s the point? There’s not even that much money in it, anyway…

This really pisses you off. You’re trying your best in this world to have a streak of creativity, to try and avoid stagnating in the 9-5 in this ‘aspiration nation’ and so you start jumping up and down, really frustrated. You’re flinging your arms about and trying to get people to listen. Because, they really should care – they really should be looking harder at what’s happening right on our streets.

But people are giving you a wide berth. Some think you’re preaching and flinch away, they can’t really make out what you’re saying and now it’s started to rain, so you really do look strange.

So you go away and start talking. You gather as many people together as possible and you all start shouting the same thing, waving your hands about, suddenly it’s a protest!

But, as we saw with the student and welfare protests in 2010, speaking out can still fail. Government’s can ignore the unified calls – but the comfort comes from finding that unit, that community. Suddenly, you’re not flailing about in the rain alone  and you still have a power, the power to create…

In reality, news about the arts cuts isn’t on the front page. The effects of the cuts probably won’t be keenly felt by the big industries for a few more years when we start noticing that we’re onto Die Hard 32 or the Terminator has risen yet again.

But as a young person on the grass roots, the arts cuts are a disaster. Cutting welfare and raising university fees has also bled into the arts cuts – suddenly you have no money to hone your skills and art becomes elite, sagging, saturated with only one type of voice. A form of censorship takes place, you struggle but you can’t get angry about it constructively.

People won’t stop creating, if anything in times of austerity there can be a wealth of responses – but whose going to hear you if you have no money to put on a show?

Poetry collectives and spoken word are sensitive areas for funding. Publishing in print is even more sensitive. But poetry and print are imperative to politics – we need words to be spoken (loud) and recorded. Channelling anger into words, as a response to the larger political picture, can gather you up and make you want to respond.

Poetry is political. Even the chirruping of Wordsworth is steeped in a battle, an attempt to regain individual equality and move attention from the empirical rationality he saw embodied in the city to a freer, unmarked land of the country. Poetry, like politics, wants to move you, sway you to its way of thinking. The rhetorical techniques take you on a journey; the words want to incite you and to stir in you a response.

And politics doesn’t just come from the Commons and Lords. Politics is infused in poetry – the gestures it makes towards contemporary society.

The voices that rang out from the trenches of WW1 might not have explicitly targeted the establishment – instead the stench of death, the isolation and sheer terror rang through the verses. And those emotions were linked to the political choices, helped stir responses in the general public and start the cogs turning.

When Adrienne Rich in her poem ‘What Kind of Times Are These‘ says it is “necessary/ To talk about trees”, she lets a stone fall in the silence afterwards. Rich isn’t talking about trees anymore than Wordsworth is. She’s pointing us into the direction of our thoughts. She wonders why she’s telling us anything at all, if she won’t go into detail – but the point is she’s sparking off intrigue, laying out a subtle road for us to place our own fears onto – giving us room to wonder, what kind of times are these? Poetry lets us make autonomous choices, to read into it what we will, to nudge us from a creative into a political space.

So the arts cuts have hit, even after protest. That’s happened. What needs to happen now is a gesture, a nudge. The creative has to get political. So it’s probably time for the power of you, squared. Making one voice many. Not waging a silent grievance in the rain but actually searching for the us, the majority and say: we are the majority, we care, we don’t want art to be for a few, we see how the cuts effect the whole, we have something to say.

We need spoken word to speak up; to join up the dots between why the cuts matter and creating the art that responds.

If you have a response and would like to submit to our print issue, website or be involved in our event please email: notsopopular@rocketmail.com