Gerry Potter-Poet posted his poem “Why I’m a Socialist (First Draft)” on Facebook recently, and it turned up on my own News Feed page via a link, from a Facebook Friend of a Facebook Friend. It had already attracted a good deal of Facebook comments and “Likes”, and more have been added since. With the poet’s permission, I’m reprinting the poem itself as well as the comments, exactly as they appeared on Facebook, preserving the original spelling and punctuation, which are sometimes in “first draft” form, or Facebook style. I’m doing this partly because I feel the poem itself is a quite powerful and thought-provoking piece of writing, and partly because the exchanges of comments raise a wide range of issues which I think will be of interest to a lot of people. There’s the question of form as opposed to content, for instance, and the wider question of how different people may look for quite different things in a poem – and, the question of how even people who may be looking for the same things may end up seeing different things. After a while the dialogue degenerates into some quite entertaining exchanges of insults, but it picks up again after that to make useful points about what, and how, poets (or any writers) can learn from criticism. Note that the poet himself, wisely, keeps out of this discussion. I’ll add my own comments at the end. First, read the poem.

Why I'm a Socialist [first draft]


by Gerry Potter-Poet

posted on Facebook on Sunday, October 17, 2010 at 10:03pm.


Because there is a better way

A safer way to touch and cradle humanity

Because understanding starts with understanding

And understanding that is just the start.

Because caring is intellectual

Not the inefectual nonsense demeaned by

Right-wing amoral propagandering

Meandering fiscal drivel driven by market forces

Apocalyptic horses

Pounding down and out at the worst of our fears.

Im a socialist because there are always years

Ready for a redder dawn

Ears born to listen to wider concerns

Yearning to sort it out.

Because caring means fighting back

Caring means taking stock and sticking at fighting that good fight

Knocking out the Thatcherists

And the worst exesses of materialism

And yes I said Thatcherists

Because no matter what Blair did or said

Its never stopped being Thatcherism.

The bankers took her brains

And the bankers took her soul

The bankers lick thier lips

And her sulpher stinking hole.

They said they were our friends

They would lend us time and money

That when they took contoll

It would all be sunny on the surface

I'm a socialist because bankers created our debt-bed

And not the National Health Service.

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You can hear the poet reading this out himself on a Youtube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rbJESI8dXxQ

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Facebook comments:

Ron Scowcroft and 29 others like this..

Connor Kelly yeeeoooo!! More revolutionary rhymes!


Sunday at 10:07pm John G.Hall please come read read this at Beatification if poss :-) jgh

Sunday at 10:12pm Ushiku Indigo Angel Crisafulli This is brilliant Gerry... Herbert Read would be proud :) x

Sunday at 10:33pm via Facebook Mobile Sarah Maclennan It never stopped being Thatcherism - excellent line! ( it never stopped being greed?)

Sunday at 10:49pm Annie Wallace Superb. Simply superb.

Sunday at 10:56pm Sean McEvoy Wow! Simply Wow!

Sunday at 11:46pm Steve Garside this poem could go on to be a redder brick road...

Yesterday at 7:27am Robert Mackle Star Trek is socialist so only 300 years to wait.

23 hours ago Puppywolf Poetry I wonder if there's room for a niche poetry anthology called "Why Socialism isn't dead"?

23 hours ago Cathy Bryant Love, love, love this. Especially '...market forces
Apocalyptic horses'
though so many parts work. Socialism needs this sort of poetic voice. And Puppywolf, a socialist anthology would be wonderful.

23 hours ago Ushiku Indigo Angel Crisafulli Definitely I think us poets could put together a nice anarcho-socialist anthology :)

23 hours ago via Facebook Mobile Gary Riff-Raff Fuckin' A1 top-flight one-from-the-heart tell-it-like-it-is nail-your-colours-to-the-mast irrefutable come-what-may-able dead-centred bulls-eye. If Michelangelo had been a graffiti artist, that would be up on the Sistine ceiling.

23 hours ago Nas Director dude this is amazing....your words are the heartbeat of a disenfranchised generation.

17 hours ago Ian Clayton i've just been to talk to a group of young film makers on a course at york st john university. i showed them the film i made with arthur scargill, during questions at the end one lad said "didn't it occur to you to interview people from the other side of the argument." i told him that the other view point gets enough time on tv as it is.

17 hours ago Julie Hesmondhalgh Love this Gerry. Fucking hell, we have got to wake up now and fight for real. My brother said yesterday that our kids will one day say to us "What did YOU do when they were cutting all the public services?"

15 hours ago Robert Keegan Walker What's wrong with you people?

14 hours ago Poetess Maria Brilliant Gerry, I also agree on the line 'It never stopped being Thatcherism' so true, a call to arms yet in a compassionate way. Send this to the emergency verse book i think he is still in process of editing and raising funds for the book, this would be amazing for it http://www.therecusant.org.uk/

13 hours ago Julie Hesmondhalgh What do you mean Robert?

13 hours ago Cathy Crabb Go on Gerry! I like it all but 'debt-bed' the most. X

13 hours ago Ron Scowcroft Thatcher said Socialism was an alien ideology - tell that to the roots of the Labour movement early last century. Went to Robert (Tressel) Noonan's grave in Walton - recommend everyone rereads 'The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. Cameron and co have been waiting to dismantle the welfare state - and to scapegoat Labour not the banks. Tressel covers it all. Best wishes.

10 hours ago Robert Keegan Walker It's not good, that's my problem. And it's heavy, and clunky, and self-rightious and it has a bunch of light-weights agreeing with the politics when that's not the point. It's a poem, and it doesn't work, regardless of content

9 hours ago Poetess Maria Hmm lightweights? If you had an ounce of intelligence or decency then you'd offer constructive criticism not insults, what purpose does that serve? Does it help an artist grow? NO of course not. All art is subjective what appeals to one may not to another, that doesn't mean it doesn't work, it just doesn't work for you.

8 hours ago Robert Keegan Walker Criticism is a private thing; if he wants it, I'll be happy to message him. Compliments however, are very public, which, is more kind of the point. And saying 'it doesn't work' IS constructive. What isn't constructive is reflex-response praise; 19 comments and 29 'likes' go unchecked without someone pointing out this poem's obvious problems. I can see many, without an ounce of intelligence.

2 hours ago Cathy Crabb And yet, I still like it. No...I love it. I'm in love with the poem.

Yesterday at 10:29am Julie Hesmondhalgh Ok Robert. Fair enough if you have problems with the poem; it is only a first draft, and I was responding to it as a kind of call-to-arms, something to stir the heart...which is the kind of art I like. I genuinely didn't understand what your point was. Peace.

23 hours ago Ron Scowcroft Lightweight? I agree with the sentiments in this - and if it gets performance space, all the better.

19 hours ago Robert Keegan Walker Exactly, we all agree with the sentiments, thus, it is a good poem? No.

16 hours ago Gary Riff-Raff I do like Robert's feisty non-conformism against the rest of the thread above - there should be more of that on facebook. It's usually me in that lonely position!

It's just that personally I find high aesthetic value beyond the irrefutabl...e heart of the poem. I have this thing about simplicity in aesthetics: I believe in its wisdom and its facility in fluency, so what we get in the sounds of the syllables in that poem is a clear mountain stream running all the way to a home truth that (I'm guessing) millions of nobodies are aching to hear.

Repetition - or echo, to get slightly fancy about it - in passing "understanding" from line to line, for instance, is part of the poem's strategy to keep simple and stay fluent... Except it's not a strategy - the design is intuitive and the honesty of the poem depends on that at its core. In that respect it's akin to the author's Introduction in ADULT ENTERTAINMENT, where you;ll find stand-alone statements such as this one: "Everybody should have a garden."
What we have in this aesthetic is a reaction to spin-doctors and sophistry in politics and scholarship that now dictate elections and every kind of campaign to persuade you of this and that. What I find refreshing in this deliberate naivete of simplicity is that it's not just a manifesto for socialism: it's a manifesto for simplicity.

For transparency.

The risk the author takes is that we have lived in a culture without honesty for so long that many will now equate simplicity with rubbish and naivete with stupidity. But it's still the only antidote in town. The man Potter knows that jkust as the man Vonnegut knew it - and Vonnegut was another author who caught hell for saying things like this:

"Complexity is a way of pretending to know more than you do."

The problem is, I have now buggered up the author's intentions by explaining!

But I think it's healthy enough to have a dissenting voice to break up all the conformism. Any decent debate can stand that. And it gives me a tea-break!

16 hours ago Gary Riff-Raff I better correct that quotation above fast!

"I believe everybody should have a garden."

It's a manifesto of beliefs, where "I believe" is passed from one sentence to another like an inheritance - a rare example of a socialist passing on an in...heritance.

16 hours ago Robert Keegan Walker Firstly, saying 'non-conformism' makes it sound like I'm taking a standpoint in relation to the response; I'm not. I take a standpoint for the poem from the poem, and a standpoint for the response from the response. To even use that term, a...nd so flippantly, feels like your attempting to prescribe me with some teenage rebelious streak that isn't there.

And on the explanation all I can say is, complexity is a way of pretending to know more than we do. Let me keep it simple.

1) The poem offends my intelligence and is extremely self-satisfied. It's a sermon and an poorly toned one,considering the subject matter.

2) The response is absurd, it's a all wrapped up in the content. Same problem people had to 'Last Letter' by Ted Hughes. Which is another bad poem.

3)Your 'explanation' falls apart in it's argument because your point is about signified simplicity, and then goes on to read into the poem layers that aren't there. The form and tone isn't dictated by a reaction to spin doctors (which is quite the leap) it's dictated by it's ease to write and, I imagine, it's intention to be performed. And a political/economic poem about an economic idea that leaves millions starving and is destroying the planet, isn't exactly approached best with snide word-play and sticking-it to them bad, bad blues.

It's ill-concieved and ill-executed. Go on a march you lot.

15 hours ago Gary Riff-Raff See, Rob, you blow it when you hold fast to the statement that you are reacting to the poem, not to the thread. Scroll up to your first comment in this thread. Then look at other comments added later, with reference to "19 comments and 29 ...'likes' " and, elsehwree again, "a bunch of light-weights." Then scroll back down to your last intervention, where you say, "Go on, march you lot." All of those comments - and I do mean all of them - react to the thread and not the poem. And so to then claim, Rob, that you are not "taking a standpoint in relation to the response" is one of two things: 1) Dishonest or 2) Literally ignorant, as in unself-aware.

And that's where we part company as dissenters. You see, when I rail against a thread, I don't start by bullshitting and/or lying about my position or my motivation. All the proof that you reacted to the thread is right there, so you make a buffoon of yourself, Robert - forgive me - a braying ass, if you will, or even if you won't, by denying what is there for all to read in the thread.

The rest of what you said would be thrown out of any university as "polemic," of course.

I feel you just blew it, Rob. I mean your credibility, man, your integrity - you blew it beyond any sense in correcting the rest of what you said - the false polarities you frame in order to discredit - the utter lack of a question mark anywhere in there that suggests no room for an enquiring mind, that suggests a flibbertygibbet who seems to have All the answers he could possibly need (he could possibly neeeeeeeed), and that seems more "self-satisfied" to me than the poem you disparage with precisely that word - hell yes, the rest of the rant feels like a nervous system in need of seconal, Rob, not reasoned argument. Seconal, that's my prescription. If you want me to respond to the rest, well, I'm afraid I'm going to have to charge you 40 quid an hour - that's what I get paid for puttiing undergraduates like you straight, Rob.

Oops, a faux pas!

13 hours ago Martin Farrell me thinks robert keegan walker is talking out of his arse....peace..and love..x

12 hours ago Robert Keegan Walker This isn't even about the poem or the responses anymore. That whole post Garry is just an attack.

My opinion of the poem is based on the poem. My opinion of the response is based on the response to the poem; which I consider bad. My opinion ...of the poem isn't informed by the response, but my opinion of the poem informs my view of the response. Believe it or not, call me mad, but I read the poem before the responses. There's two issues, one is the poem, one is the response.

How's is that difficult? And what a sophist you are!

'I feel you just blew it. your credibility. your integrity. you're an 'undergraduate' a braying ass, bullshitting, Dishonest, Literally ignorant. I prescribe seconal, flibbertygibbet'

I have

'no room for an enquiring mind- all the answers'

and yet you say

'If you want me to respond to the rest, well, I'm afraid I'm going to have to charge you 40 quid an hour - that's what I get paid for puttiing undergraduates like you STRAIGHT'

'oops, a faux pas!'?

That's just about the most manipulative piece of writing I've seen today. And more, a fucking shitty way to speak to someone, being so consistently patronising while feigning politness.

If Gerry wants to know why I dislike the poem in more detail he's welcome to message me. If he wants any actual feedback.

And to Gary. Your 'explination' is absurd. Your superior attitude stinks and your manipulative approach lacks any integrity.

And so, I would say it is you who is 'unself-aware'. You didn't even address any of the points I made against your previous post, choosing instead to construct a cloaked ad hominem against my previous posts, without making any distinction between which points were aimed at the poem and which were aimed at the responses.

Really, really simple this time. Really simple. You, are, a, pompous, bellend!

12 hours ago Steffeny McGiffen Robert, as a fellow poet, would you mind if I asked you what sort of changes you would make to the poem? I have some ideas myself, especially around the ending, where it falls into form and then a little out again, whilst retaining a rhythm that is just perhaps not fully realised...?

11 hours ago Gary Riff-Raff Robert! Go to your room!

11 hours ago Gary Riff-Raff There is another vital question to all writers as a side issue here - about how a writer should respond to criticism - which is way overdue in writers' communities on f/b.

Distinctions between 'positive' and 'negative' criticism are silly ...and precious, I always think. Specific criticism is all that counts. Here's the attitude to criticism that I decided to take years ago:

Give me what you've got, specifically. And never ever defend your piece of writing.

Right after a critic has made a critical point, I say "What else?" and then, "And what else?" taking everything he's specifically got to say...and then I decide whether I can use the points.

Strangely, the person around these parts who comes closest to my attitude to criticism is a poet whose tastes differ wildly from mine, Dominic Berry. Look at his threads - there's a good way to handle criticism. The humility required is not a deference to any person but a humility to the Art itself.

Typical example: a critic says 'I'd replace that...with this..." I may not agree with the replacement, but the criticism points to a shortcoming that needs attending to, and so I find a third way that is neither the critic's choice nor my own original construction - so the critic in that case DID help the piece to be 'even' better, and I am overjoyed!

If a critic tells me "It's rubbish," there's nothing I can use there, but when he says "It's rubbish because..." I'll keep an ear out in case he says something I can nick and use (and bop him later). Utterly mercenary is the way to be, and all it calls for is a certain attitude.

The attitude: I place my Art above my ego, to love the art of writing so much that I'll put my ego in service to it and take on board anything from anywhere that makes the work better.

If I want to be the best that I can be in my field, I MUST kick my ego out of the way and love the Art above all else.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how I became the greatest writer in the world, in the wooooorrrrlld!

There is a whole other question that Gerry and I have batted around for years, and that's the (de)merit in making revisions at al, as opposed to keeping faith with the spontaneous original draft. Gerry likes to say I thrash a piece within an inch of its life - which kinda makes me feel, well, sexy all over, strangely.

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There may be more comments by now. If it’s still up the thread is at:
http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/note.php?note_id=446094578073&comments

 

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The contributors to this debate make their points clearly enough maybe, and this doesn’t really need more explanation. Just a few things:

As this poem shows, and as the comments show, poetry can intervene in public debates, in a way that sometimes isn’t too different from the way journalism can, or for that matter the way an argument in a seminar room or a pub can. But often, poetry does it differently: it makes its unique contributions from an imaginative and emotional level, rather than on a rational one. That’s not to say it can’t combine both. But it is perhaps to say that the more debateable or rational parts – the parts that can be discussed, and agreed or disagreed with – are often not the most important part of the poem. In this case, for instance, that point about Blairism being still Thatcherism. I don’t mean that I don’t agree with it – I think it’s generally true – I just mean that it’s a point that could be made equally well in a piece of journalism, or in a seminar, or in a pub, as in a poem. But the emotional force that comes through this piece is something that, perhaps, couldn’t be made in any other form than poetry.

Yes, what matters is whether the poem “works” – whether the words, the form, the style, the voice, makes you feel something, gets your imagination going. Sometimes that can happen even if a poem “says” (on the surface) something you don’t agree with: if it can make you experience how it feels to be in a certain situation, or a particular frame of mind. And yes, of course, what “works” for one reader may not work for another. That’s true even of readers who are used to poetry: people who are in the habit of reading it, who’ve been following it for years perhaps, who may have been through the literary educational mill, who are very familiar with poetry and with critical debate. And it’s even more true of new readers, who are not used to reading poetry. And one of the huge problems which modern poetry has is simply that: most people aren’t used to it. It’s not on the telly; it hardly has much foothold on Radio 4 even. Many poets, and I suspect Gerry is one of them, aren’t content with writing for a small, specialist, literary circle (note that I don’t say “elite”: I think the idea that literary people are an “elite” is totally out of date): they want to write more publicly, about issues that more people are concerned with, in a way that engages people imaginatively and emotionally. That doesn’t mean debasing the art or craft of writing poetry, though it may mean not wanting to draw attention to the craft and form of the poem. It can take just as much craft and skill to make a poem that moves a wider readership, as it does to make a poem that impresses the Formalists and the Practical Criticism brigade. Or more, even. Some poets can do both. Look at Tony Harrison for instance.

Yes, when a reader (any reader) says a poem “doesn’t work”, that really only means that it doesn’t work for him or her: it might still work for someone else. That seems so obvious that it shouldn’t be worth saying. If it does so often need saying, it’s because there are still people about with that old Leavisite belief that their own views, attitudes, tastes, insights – and those of their own circle – are genuinely superior to everybody else’s, and somehow more important and more valuable than everybody else’s. Some people actually imagine their comments are worth £40 an hour. I get paid for teaching too, but teaching poetry is about helping people to articulate their own ideas, in a wide range of ways, and to grow their ideas by interacting with a range of other ideas. It isn't about "putting people straight".

As for “Criticism is a private thing” – well, no, it isn’t. If a poem or any other text is sent to you privately – whether you’re a teacher or a literary agent or just a friend – then your feedback might well be confidential. But if a piece is published, whether on paper or on the internet, then it’s public, and anybody can comment on it publicly. Writers who can’t take criticism shouldn’t publish. They should know that anybody’s critical response, whether it’s just gushing fan mail and applause or whether it’s just nasty invective, is just that – one person’s response, and someone else might respond completely differently. Mr Riff-Raff, at the end of this thread, gives an excellent account of how writers can learn from criticism. In my opinion. Which is to say, it’s an account that works for me.

 

Michael Bruce

October 2010

 

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