Saturday, 18 October 2008
William Carlos Williams and Sarah Palin as Mark Anthony
So doom and gloom on the financial front stumbles on and the word 'global recession' is now said in less than hushed tones. Unemployment figures rise, two million possible by Christmas, the Dickensian figure of Christmas yet to come, unfurling its cloak to show the unemployed hanging from the material. Of course we have been here before, people older than I will have been here in far darker economic times. My grandfather was unemployed in the thirties and took on a variety of grim, dangerous and ill paid jobs just to keep the family going. I find it strange that people think that the need to have more than one job or career in a lifetime is something new. There has always been the need to change jobs and be flexible not only in what you are prepared to accept but what you are prepared to exist on financially for the working classes.
I was reading a William Carlos Williams poetry collection the other day and was struck by how much his poem The Yachts is relevant now albeit the metaphor may be reapplied to the banking system as well these days. Williams wrote it of course to point out that capitalism was at the expense of the small men who worked to fuel it and were the first to suffer when rough times came. Not much change there then. We, English Tax Payers, own shares in a few banks these days but it doesn’t help much if your job is going down the toilet, your fuel bills are astronomical and your house is about to be repossessed. As we are all feeling victims of something, we all need someone to be the whipping boy when things are going badly. It helps somewhat if the whipping boys really do exist and deserve the whipping but whilst blame might make us feel better ( those greedy bankers being sacked, named and shamed etc) we all know they will be unlikely to bear the brunt of the economic consequences of their actions. There may be the need for a little down-sizing, retirement a little earlier than expected, the use of savings set aside for a rainy day, a stock portfolio worth only the paper it is written on but nothing too drastic. In terms of the Williams poem these men have a fully equipped life-boat, thermally insulated survival gear and probably GPS equipment that might lead to them being picked up by some other yacht albeit smaller or steered in part by the government, the most trusted of captains in a storm some might say. The rest of us have to rely on the ability to swim in tempestuous cold water. I could meander along in this yacht race in a storm metaphor for hours. Even the United States with a Republican Government aat the helm is at present hauling in its big free market economy sails and using the engine of socialist mechanisms to save the boat.
Enough of the yacht thing I could start to see prophetic messages from beyond the grave in the poem but then poetry is often an ‘out of time’ rather than out of body experience. It can be not only universal but for all times. Some work is of its context, both historically, socially but great writing speaks to time itself. I’m sure Tony Blair may have thought of Hamlet’s soliloquy, ‘To be or not to be’ when the invasion of Iraq was being planned. Then maybe some of our leaders are not so deeply immersed in literature as others. Churchill cribbed from Henry V to write great rallying speeches, Martin Luther from the rolling cadences of the Old Testament. I detect more than a little knowledge of the great dramatic speeches in plays in Obama’s addresses. I am struggling to see that in Sarah Palin’s speeches. Of course unwittingly she (or of course her script writers) are drawing on Mark Anthony's speech in Julius Caesar, damning and sneering at Brutus /Obama by ironic faint praise and threading it through with insidiuos claims of lack of patriotism. Meanwhile she ensures all and sundry know their credentials as everyman/woman, someone who is in touch with how the mob think and act. She ensures that people recall that Bush/Caesar/the Republican party wasn’t all bad, they brought prosperity in the past, they were there in their time of greatest need ( 9/11), upheld the honour of the state against foul would be usurpers (terrorists).
I am sure someone will have told Palin to play up her common side as we all like someone like ourselves. Personally I want someone less common than myself. I want someone cleverer, more agile-minded, stronger, more wise and compassionate than myself to run the country. I would make a lousy job of running a country you may want to bond with someone like you but being lead by them is an entirely different prospect but perhaps many voters are too narcissistic to go beyond this approach.
Click on this link for a bit of fun (well not that funny if she does become Vice president). Make sure you click on various objects in the room to get full value for money out of the link.( Thanks to Anne for telling me about it)
If you want to see a rather good video of William Carlos Williams' famous poem about the plums you can find it here. It is the second of three poetry films by Matthew MacFadyen. Sonnet 29 is worth a watch as well. Nothing startlingly innovative but just quietly doing the job of making you listen to the words afresh.