poetry is peculiarly good at contradicting

The poetic word always seems to matter more under oppression than threat. Their fellow-citizens look to the poets to be of present help. The grave and dangerous responsibilities that poets under a dictatorship have to bear do at least bring with them a corroboration of the value of their efforts. Much less, if any, such corroboration is forthcoming in Britain. Poets in Britain are free to write more or less what they like, chiefly because no one in power cares a tuppence what they write. This freedom, certainly a great benefit, does carry with it the risk of pointlessness and irresponsibility. Some poets, from certain groups in British society, may indeed feel there are issues so urgent that have no option but to address them, almost to the exclusion of all others. They may indeed feel their subjects are ‘forced upon them’. But many, perhaps most, don’t feel that, and they risk slipping into the limbo of personal malaise and language games. Dictated to them or not, there is in fact a large and various social obligation on poets in Britain today. Day in day out, the language of our managers and leaders cries out to be contradicted. Poetry is peculiarly good at contradicting. The exact shape and practice of contradiction will have to be devised in every new case, by every poet again and again. Agility is necessary.

- David Constantine, from his essay "Use and Ornament" in A Living Language, part of the Newcastle/Bloodaxe Poetry Lectures series.

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