Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Some Thoughts On Dissent

As a Quaker, I'm a member of one of the more well-known Dissenting churches in the country. Dissenters are people who disagree, who refuse to toe the Established Church line, who seek their own interpretations of belief and scriptures and creeds; and Quakers have managed for over 400 years without the usual paraphernalia of creeds and dogmatic statements because they believe in direct access to the spiritual, not through ritual, priesthoods or rules.

So it is with my approach to poetry: and with my approach to the poetry I read. I've just started, for instance, to get my head around the multi-faceted world of Maggie O'Sullivan's poetry. Now there is a poet who dissents from the mainstream of British poetry in ways that probably ensure that she will never be part of any establishment. Blakean and wild, it's also as far from being academic as it's possible for a poet to be. Not that she isn't supremely intelligent, but this is not poetry that displays its cleverness. Like all the best dissenters, she doesn't spend too much time arguing against the establishment; she merely gets on with the job of providing an alternative space for the autocthonous speech of her own vision.

The same is true of poets like Michael Haslam and Geraldine Monk, and the best of the non-mainstream seems to me to have this sense of providing a space for vision and alternative ways of seeing that are excluded from the tidied-up social verse of the mainstream. John Ashbery once said of Frank O'Hara that he didn't so much as protest against the establishment as ignore it. I'm not sure that's entirely possible; but I can see that would be an attractive thing to do.

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