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Saturday, 16 May 2009

I've not done this before...

Tom Lubbock, writing in The Independent (friday 15 May 2009) returned to the age old topic of censorship in the arts. Well, in painting actually, discussing The Beheading of St John the Baptist (1450s) by Giovanni di Paolo, a Siennese artist. He wrote:

Films today come with censor's advice, declaring what they contain in terms of language, sex, nudity and violence, often registering fine gradations. Contains moderate language and one scene of moderate sexualised nudity. Contains strong language, sex references and brief bloody violence. Contains frequent moderate action violence. Contains strong language, sex references and nudity. Contains very strong language and strong bloody violence. Contains very strong bloody violence, medical gore and sustained terrorisation etc.

There is no censorship of paintings. If there were, what would it say? The old masters, when they occasionally added words, used the most decorous language, taken from the scriptures or the classics. When it comes to sex and nudity, there is plenty in post-Renaissance images, though how sexualised the nudity, how strong the sex is, can be uncertain. As for violence, in art from all ages it is frequently extreme. Paintings contain very strong bloody violence. In spite of our high expectations of high art, we can hardly fail to notice this – and even have qualms.

In fact, our objections to violence in art are resourceful. We worry in opposite ways. Sometimes it seems that the treatment of violence is too sensational, gruesome, relishing. Sometimes it seems too beautifying, formal, composed (this is a subtlety the film censors overlook. They never say: contains brief aestheticised violence.) Both attitudes have something heartless about them. One approach plays the violence up and the other plays it down. Both offer a wrong, though different, kind of enjoyment. And given that violence shouldn't be wholly excluded from art, but shouldn't be made too enjoyable either, it seems hard to get its treatment right.


Lubbock's thoughts on painting could be equally well applied to poetry or any of the arts, I suggest, and though they pertain to violence they could be made with few if any changes apropos blasphemy, for instance. I mention this for reasons that will become apparent, in connection with the death of James Kirkup on March 10, aged 91, a much underrated poet - or so many would maintain. Certainly, a neglected one. There is reason why this should be so - which again we will come to in the fullness of time.

The Haunted Lift by James Kirkup

On the ground floor
of this ultramodern
tower block

in the dead
middle
of the night

the lift doors
open, with a
clang.

Nobody enters,
and nobody
comes out.

In the dead
middle
of the night

the lift doors
close with a clang,
and the lift begins

to move
slowly
up. ..

with nobody in it,
nobody but
the ghost of a girl

who lived here once
on the thirteenth floor of
this ultramodern tower block.

One day, she went to play
in an old part of town,
and never came back..

She said she was just
going to the corner shop,
but she never came home.

Now her ghost

keeps pressing
in the dead

middle of the night
the button
for the thirteenth floor.

But when the door
opens with a clang
she cannot step out.

She gazes longingly
at the familiar landing,

but only for a moment. . .

then the lift doors
clang in her face
and her tears

silently flow
as the lift
in the dead

middle of the night
so soft and slow

carries her down again
down below,
far, far below

the ground
floor, where nobody
waits for the haunted lift

in the dead
middle
of the night.

Sometimes
on the thirteenth floor
her mother and father

with her photo
beside their bed
wake up

in the dead
middle of the night, and hear
the mysterious clanging

of closing lift doors,
and wonder
who it could be

in the dead
middle
of the night

using the lift
at such
an unearthly hour.

In this ultramodern
tower block
there is no thirteenth floor.

What bedevilled his career to a large extent was not poems like the one above, but the one for which he was most famous, or infamous, depending on your point of view: The Love that Dares to Speak Its Name. It is an account of the descent from the cross in which Christ, or at least the body of Christ, becomes the object of a gay centurion's worship. I can understand this giving offence. Some would have it banned. I dare say that had the beloved been the prophet Mohammed and not Christ, it would (effectively, at any rate)now be banned. But which position is right? Or neither? Should religious sensibilities at least be protected in some way? Should there be a censor's advice slip, the way surfers are warned that a site contains material they might find offensive? Even a health warning? Now I do the something that I have never done before: I publish a poem that I do not like. You have been warned!

The Love That Dares To Speak Its Name

As they took him from the cross
I, the centurion, took him in my arms-
the tough lean body
of a man no longer young,
beardless, breathless,
but well hung.

He was still warm.
While they prepared the tomb
I kept guard over him.
His mother and the Magdalen
had gone to fetch clean linen
to shroud his nakedness.

I was alone with him.
For the last time
I kissed his mouth. My tongue
found his, bitter with death.
I licked his wound-
the blood was harsh
For the last time
I laid my lips around the tip
of that great cock, the instrument
of our salvation, our eternal joy.
The shaft, still throbbed, anointed
with death's final ejaculation

I knew he'd had it off with other men-
with Herod's guards, with Pontius Pilate,
With John the Baptist, with Paul of Tarsus
with foxy Judas, a great kisser, with
the rest of the Twelve, together and apart.
He loved all men, body, soul and spirit. - even me.

So now I took off my uniform, and, naked,
lay together with him in his desolation,
caressing every shadow of his cooling flesh,
hugging him and trying to warm him back to life.
Slowly the fire in his thighs went out,
while I grew hotter with unearthly love.

It was the only way I knew to speak our love's proud name,
to tell him of my long devotion, my desire, my dread-
something we had never talked about. My spear, wet with blood,
his dear, broken body all open wounds,
and in each wound his side, his back,
his mouth - I came and came and came

as if each coming was my last.
And then the miracle possessed us.
I felt him enter into me, and fiercely spend
his spirit's final seed within my hole, my soul,
pulse upon pulse, unto the ends of the earth-
he crucified me with him into kingdom come.

-This is the passionate and blissful crucifixion
same-sex lovers suffer, patiently and gladly.
They inflict these loving injuries of joy and grace
one upon the other, till they dies of lust and pain
within the horny paradise of one another's limbs,
with one voice cry to heaven in a last divine release.

Then lie long together, peacefully entwined, with hope
of resurrection, as we did, on that green hill far away.
But before we rose again, they came and took him from me.
They knew not what we had done, but felt
no shame or anger. Rather they were glad for us,
and blessed us, as would he, who loved all men.

And after three long, lonely days, like years,
in which I roamed the gardens of my grief
seeking for him, my one friend who had gone from me,
he rose from sleep, at dawn, and showed himself to me before
all others. And took me to him with
the love that now forever dares to speak its name.


Kirkup's most recent collection was The Authentic Touch

40 comments:

Jim Murdoch said...

I was watching a little BBC programme this morning called 'Click' that deals with new technology and one of the items was about a new website, a kind of YouTV. The presenter explained that of course younger viewers should be monitored but if you didn't like something then move on. It's a simple statement but it really is the most common sense approach to the subject matter of censorship - censor yourself or don't if you don't care.

I read a bit of 'The Love That Dares To Speak Its Name' to see what the fuss was about but I never finished it. I got bored with it. It didn't offend me. It didn't interest me and so I moved on. I thought the other poem was much better too. There's not much that offends me these days. There are things that upset me but that's another thing.

I've just had a poem rejected by a magazine because one reading of it suggested rape. Unusually for me I reworked the offending lines and the poem was then rejected because the subsequent lines suggested masturbation or cutting which they could. I wrote back to the editor and pointed out that a poem is a collaborative work - I bring the words, you bring the thoughts. She was trying to protect her readers, which is commendable I suppose on one level, but I'd much rather they get treated as adults.

Michelle said...

I don't think this was written as an 'act of love'.....I don't like it either. Smacks of perversion, and I am not referring to the homosexuality.

Feels to me like has taken a universal symbol of love and equality and pissed on it.

It actually makes me feel sick.

Rachel Fox said...

I've never heard of this poet before or the poem you've posted.
I can see why a lot of Christians wouldn't like it...but you don't write a poem about Jesus' penis without knowing a lot of Christians won't like it. I don't think about Jesus much at all and I've certainly never thought about his penis before so this was a first for me.
It's an interesting post, Dave, though half of me wonders if the poet and poem are all part of an elaborate spoof to see how people will react...
x

Michelle said...

Oops, I forgot the other bit. Regardless of how it makes me feel, I don't believe in censorship. He had a right to write it and if I don't like it I don't have to read it do I :)

Leatherdykeuk said...

Bravely posted Dave.

I have no desire to see poetry censored -- nor do i agree with age-banding books. I read what I wanted to when I was a child and if I didn't like it I moved on.

Merisi said...

Censoring art is like trying to tame a tiger or other wild beast - a magnificent creature reduced to a sorry sight.

Thank you for this wonderful post,
I greatly enjoyed reading and reflecting upon it, especially the poems. Freedom of speech and free expression are the foundation of freedom to believe, to make us all free of persecution, if we are religious or not.

Dedene said...

A thought-provoking post. I'm against any censorship in the arts or wherever. I'm an adult, I can filter out the nastiness by myself, thank you.

Shadow said...

interesting post. but censorship. i don't know. will have to think more about it, since art is kinda 'specialised', not as ready available and in your face at movies and tv...

jinksy said...

If a heart is pure, no amount of external dross will currupt it. Enforced censorship is therefore unnecessary.

Dave King said...

Jim It's really good to have you back, Jim, and I hope you are fully recovered. Seems like you are from the thorough-going reply. Thanks a lot for that. yes, it was a pretty boring post, on the whole. I found it boring! I did read the whole of "the" poem, I felt duty bound, but not all in one go. Without doubt the sensible approach is to move on, but for some reason it does not always work out that way. There was a court action (Mary Whitehouse brought it, I believe) over this poem and the editor of Gay News, which published it, was fined and received a suspended jail sentence.

One point that struck me as I read it was that it was something that could possibly have occurred. A bit far fetched maybe, but possible. I could imagine it forming the basis of a novel. Not sure that that gets us any further forward though...

Michelle Me too, but it does raise issues that maybe society should think about. In that sense, what we make of it as a poem is irrelevent, perhaps - which I now see you have answered subsequently

Rachel I don't think there was any spoof about it. He did write some fine poems, none of which I could find to post, unfortunately. He was gay, you will not be surprised to learn - and he did suffer for having published this poem.

Leatherdykeuk Quite agree. I, too, read whatever I wanted as a child - sometimes to my gran's great distress - and I am sure I only gained from having done so. I think what I maybe should not have read I didn't understand, anyway.

Merisi Thanks for a very forthright comment. I do agree with the views you express.

Dedene Quite!

Shadow I see what you are getting at, but I'm not sure about that as an argument either for or against censorship.

Jinksy I agree with that so far as hearts that are fully-formed go - if I can put it that way - but what about the immature heart?

Derrick said...

Hi Dave,

I am against censorship. Reading parts of the poem did make me feel uncomfortable but that would have been the case even if it had had nothing to do with Jesus. But I don't believe anyone ought to have been prosecuted for it.

It's easy, however, to say "Don't look/read/watch" but the point about causing offence must be that by the time one reaches that stage, it is too late!

Mary Whitehouse's actions did more to bring "offensive" works to public notice than the originators ever could have hoped for!

Dave King said...

DerrickIt's not an easy read, certainly. I too felt uncomfortable, partly because I did not rate it very highly as art and partly because of my upbringing in the church. I found it difficult to distinguish between the two sources of distaste. Like you, I would still have been queasy about it if it had not been Jesus.

Helen said...

I was struck with how deeply personal and raw the author's emotions were .... how horribly painful to share a love 'that now forever dares to speak its name.'

I am against censoring of any form.

Heather said...

Thanks for visiting my blog and leaving your comment Dave. I always assume I'm being dense when things don't work out. I liked the first poem - so sad. The second one I found disturbing but maybe it was meant to be so. I can sympathise with the author - he must have suffered greatly himself. Words can be very tricky - a single sentence could be interpreted differently by different people.

The Weaver of Grass said...

All I can say Dave is that whenever I come to your site I can guarantee that there will be food for thought - and deep thought at that. I fervently do not believe in censorship. As several of the comments suggest - we don't have to read it, or look at it, do we?
However - on the point of violence in paintings - some of the old masters were (I was going to say past masters at....) showed blood and violence to a high degree - somehow that doesn't offend at all. Yet the photograph taken during the Vietnam war of the man being shot at point blank range is appalling. What makes it so - what is the difference? Is it that we can relate to the Vietnam war, whereas the other imagery is often centuries ago? I don't know - but it is a very interesting point you make.

Cecile/DreamCreateRepeat said...

Interesting post as usual! The second poem was obviously (to me) written to shock and offend, and it seems again (to me) to provoke thought and discussion. Since I like discussion and dislike censorship, I like the purpose of the poem if not the poem itself.

As to your comment, "it seems like something that might have happened," I would have to disagree. Romans in that time normally let Jews observe their religious ritual unless it directly subverted Roman rule.

Jewish death ritual stipulates that bodies are never left unguarded by fellow Jews (volunteers from the community called the "chevra kadisha") who prepare the body for burial and guard it from desecration.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bereavement_in_Judaism#Chevra_kadisha

The poet is free to imagine whatever he wants and thereby express his thoughts, but it is unlikely the Jewish community would have allowed even this complicated "trouble-maker's" body to be left outside of this important and ancient ritual.

Karen said...

Dave - I like the first and really dislike the second. I actually didn't finish it but scanned enough toward the end to know I found nothing to redeem it. (Forgive the bad pun - not intended but probably engendered by the subject.) My dislike has nothing to do with feelings about homosexuality but my feelings about Christ. Like Michelle, though, I don't favor censorship at all.

lakeviewer said...

Dave, this is brave of you, but it proved your point about censorship. Artists dare to speak the truth, regardless of who feels offended. Look at the situation with Obama talking at Notre Dame. We want so much to have a beautiful experience each and every time we view art, see a play. But, those pieces that shake our very core are most successful. That's how we change, by confronting what we hate.

Cloudia said...

What a privlege to join this thoughtful symposium, Dave.
Thanks for your visits to my blog. Aloha

Linda said...

I visited the National Art Gallery in Ottawa, Canada last summer and they had an exhibition about the rise of socialism in Europe before world war two. I found the galleries with Picasso, Dali and others that had pictures of dismembered bodies disturbing. The idea of the loss of individual rights and freedoms during this time made the art seem reactive and I understood why an artist would paint such horrific images. More disturbing were the German pastoral scenes of pinked cheeked family togetherness. These calm, beautiful and peaceful portraits did not make sense in a socialist dismembered world. Sounds of the Nazi war machines were playing while we walked through the pastoral scenes. Your blog reminded me.

Art Durkee said...

The problem is that "religious sensibilities" need to evolve along with the cultures they are embedded in, or they quickly become regressive and tyrannical rather than life-affirming and the touchstones of spirituality. There's a reason a great number of people have left behind the traditional organized religions they were brought up into by their families and tribes: they evolved faster than the culture and organization did. That many religious censors decry cultural evolution as not only blasphemy but inherently corrupt dramatically exemplifies how regressive they have indeed become. What was once a religion of love, forgiveness, and meeting the other as oneself, has become degraded, often enough, into a form of tyranny.

The artists are always on the edge of change, they almost always have been, even when they served their cultural heritage and moral standards. (One might think of Grünewald again, for example.) It's not that artists encourage or demand change, although some do, it's that they observe what's actually going on, and reflect upon it, and respond to it, and thereby exemplify in their art where they see the culture going. It's not that all artists are mavericks, though some are. It's that artists are observers, not ideologues.

To that end, I quite agree that Kirkup has been a neglected poet. But not only for this poem, but for doing what the honest, courageous poet must always do" speak the truth of what they've seen, and what they've experienced. (One might think of Wilfred Owen or of Cavafy as well, in this instance.)

As for Lubbock, his idea that there has never been censorship of paintings is laughable in the extreme. Ask any Medieval or Renaissance artist what the Church wanted them to paint, and how much trouble they would inevitably get into when they went their own way and followed their muses. (Think of Grünewald again; or da Vinci; or Caravaggio; to name only a few.)

His point about violence being openly depicted has merit, but it does redeem his incredible lack of insight into the history of painting, if he really believes what he says. Violence has always been more often depicted than sex: you've talked about that before here on your blog. And it's the fundamental ongoing argument in the US media, with regard to the Broadcast Code, which says that children can see bloody and violent murder depicted weekly on crime drama TV shows (CSI:New York is so graphic I usually can't watch it, and I'm the son of a surgeon!), while nudity and sexual situations are strictly controlled or outright forbidden. It seems incredibly naive to me on Lubbock's part if he actually is so unaware of the history of religion and culture as to be ignorant of why this is so. I am unimpressed. Perhaps this is why I'd rather read a poet than most critics, even if I disagree with them in the end.

Art Durkee said...

To the comments that regard this as a spoof, or are of the opinion that Kirkup is a fiction made up to make some kind of offensive joke:

Wow. Are we really that bloody ignorant? I guess we are.

I'm sorry. I'm irritable today. I've been dealing at every turn, today, and for the past few weeks, with this kind of critical opinionating based on total ignorance. In fact what Dave reports about Kirkup's poem regarding the lawsuit is essentially true; although there is much more to the case, all of which can be easily discovered by those not to lazy to do their own research.

Anyone who thinks that Kirkup is somehow a spoof or a fiction made up really needs to get out more. Sorry to offend, but that really needed to be said.

Why are we always so proud of our righteous indignation and our righteous ignorance? Especially with regard to what religious authority tells us to believe or think?

Don't you understand how that means the censors have already won, because they're implanted their code so far into you that you've already done their work for them?

If you are offended by a poem like Kirkup's on its own merits, out of your own informed and reasoned opinion, that is valid. But if it is merely based on received wisdom or cultural bias, then that makes my point for me about how religious authoritarianism is often regressive.

The lady in Red said...

Dear Dave, very nice and intriguing post.
Best wishes and have a nice Sunday,
Rosana

Dominic Rivron said...

James Kirkup also wrote this:

There is a new morning, and a new way,
When the heart wakes in the green
Meadow of its choice, and the feet stray
Securely on their new-found paths, unseen,
Unhindered in the certain light of day.

There is a new time, and a new word
That is the timeless dream of uncreated speech.
When the heart beats for the first time, like a bird
Battering the bright boughs of its tree; when each
To the other turns, all prayers are heard.

There is a new world, and a new man
Who walks amazed that he so long
Was blind, and dumb; he who now towards the sun
Lifts up a trustful face in skilful song,
And fears no more the darkness where his day began.

(from 6 poems to Jules Supervielle)

We have this poem hung on our kitchen wall. I love it, although I think it is a bad poem. All the Kirkup poems I've read (not many, I must admit) seem to engage me through what they have to say rather than as poems. The words seem to come too easily - yet what he has to say is, based on what I've read so far, worth reading.

Rachel Fox said...

There are an awful lot of writers out there. I don't see how we can have heard of all of them.

I was surprised I hadn't heard of this one (considering he's English, the trial etc.) and hence my comment about the spoof (I didn't really think it was!). I wasn't offended by the poem in the slightest but I am always interested in what other people write, the decisions they make, the situations they end up in as a result.

Maybe you've heard of every writer in the world Art but I haven't. Bully for you.

Andy Sewina said...

Hi Dave, I too, found this difficult to read, because of my upbringing, I guess.
I didn't think it would affect me, in my ripe old age, but it does/did.
His first poem, The Haunted Lift, on the other hand, I quite enjoyed.

Dave King said...

Helen I am sure you are right about that, though I must admit that it did not immediately strike me. Does that say anyhting about its value as a piece of art, I wonder?

Heather Yes, I too found it disturbing, I think from several causes, though I am still unable to untangle them to my satisfaction. The unreliabilty of words' meanings is well shown in Jim's comment, I think, it is a point well made, though. Thanks for the comment.

The Weaver of Grass I am again excercised by the contrast you draw out between the photograph and the painting. I have been led to think about this in the past, but have yet to resolve it in my mind. It may well have something to do with being able to relate, but there is also another unresolved question. I think: are we subconsciously putting ourselves in the place of the photographer and concerned that he (we) just got on with the job and did nothing about the ongoing atrocity - not that anything could have been done in all probability.

Cecil/DreamCreateRepeat Thanks for that. Yes, I think the Jewish observance is a telling point, though it might not have been known to Kirkup.

Karen I can relate to those feelings. I did experience them myself. It is so difficult to disentangle the different threads of feeling.

Lakeviewer That is absolutely the case, I think. thank you for making the point.

Cloudia Great to have you - and always a joy to visit yours. Thanks.

Linda That is a very perceptive analogy, I think. Thanks for it.

Art Thanks for that extremely well thought-through and cogently argued comment, with which I entirely agree. It reminded me of a passage by Seamus Heaney in praise of the poet Milosz in which he makes the point that he was able to portray his society as it had been, as it was and how it might become. There surely can't be any higher praise fopr an artist. Certainly I did not mean to suggest that Kirkup has been neglected solely - or even mainly - for this one poem, but that because of it his whole oeuvre has been neglected.

As to your second comment, the suspicion is, I think, not that Kirkup is a fiction, but that the poem is not sincere in that he wrote it precisely to shock and grab the attention of the public.


Lady in RedThanks very much.

Dominic Grateful thanks for that: I have come across it in the past, and did look for it for my post, but without success. You have made good its lack.

Rachel Thanks for that Rachel. These tricky things we call words, eh? Kirkup is certainly not one of the best known poets, and it's true: I have come across two that I had not known before this weekend.

Dave King said...

AndyYou are in good company, it's not an easy read by any means. Thanks for commenting.

Crafty Green Poet said...

I think that the controversial poem in a way follows on from a long tradition of almost sexual religious poetry - I'm thinking of some of the ecstatic spiritual poetry of female mystics (certainly some of St Theresa of Avila's writings on spirituality have been described as sexual metaphors). Kirkup made this more explicit and changed the implicit heterosexuality into explicit homosexuality. I don't like the poem, and I can see why it caused offence, but it is a real shame that that one poem and the surrounding libel suit etc defined Kirkup for most of his life.

Carl said...

Hi Dave,

For some reason my last few comments have not appeared.

Thank You once again for tackling a difficult topic in a good way. While I think this topic is above my intellectual playing field. I believe that not all art is for all people... but that the individual MUST be allowed to decide that for themselves. Censorship can start with the best intentions... but it invariably leads to thestiffling of ideas and open debate. People are as different as grains of sand so alike and yet so diferent anf it is the differences and contrasts that should be celebrated and bring us together. What makes mankind different ftom the animals is ideas and we should do everything possible to bring all ideas, not just the ones we think are good or right out to be discussed and debated. In trying to protect people from what we think is indecent we are forced to walk an ever narrower path with higher wall about us.

So bring on all the the art even if it may offend me. I am a better person for thinking about it and deciding for myself.

Dave - Once again thank You for making me think.
Carl

Sorlil said...

the poem reads like a big wind up - that rhyme on 'young' / 'well hung' made the poet in me groan!

I think it's just plain rubbish regardless of the fact it's about Jesus. I'm not a fan of censorship - all it does is create make a martyr out of something.

A Cuban In London said...

I read that poem by Kirkup many years ago and liked it. Why? The sheer chutzpah of it, the bare-faced cheekiness. There are no hang-ups in the poem. And why should there be? Christ does not belong only to Christians, but to us all, atheists and theists alike.

Your opening lines were ever so articulate. Visual art differs from motion pictures in that key word: motion. Once it moves, we tend to believe more in the object than if it was flat on a surface.

I have never condoned gratuitous attacks on religion, but do not like appeasement of it either. Religion is in the public arena, so for me, it is fair for people to joke and write about it. And as for a modicum of respect, it's all subjective. What offends me might not offend a religious person and viceversa.

Many thanks for the post. This was so good that I promise a return and expand on my points above. I think your blog is a gem, dave, I really do.

Greetings from London.

Adrian LaRoque said...

Provoking post Dave...congratulations!

Art Durkee said...

Rachel, sorry to offend. I read the comments but missed who wrote them.

No, I certainly don't claim to have read, or even heard of, all the poets in the world. There are too many. But being gay myself, I do notice LGBT poets, and I do notice that I seem to read a lot more poets in general than many others do (several factors for why that might be so, which are irrelevant at the moment). So, again, sorry to offend.

At the same time I won't apologize for reading a lot, and having encountered a large amount of poetry. Having the time to do it is of course one factor, and I have had that luxury at various times in my life.

And I'll say this: I understand very personally about how Kirkup might have felt when writing this poem, and even more how he might have felt coming under attack for it, and having had to defend it, and himself. I understand very clearly what it feels like to be rejected, as poet and person, for being Other, in this case, gay. I can relate to that because I share that experience. I can also relate to the exhaustion that constantly defending oneself can bring on. I spent a lot of years making myself less, so that people would like me, by hiding aspects of myself that might offend; in other words, a personal form of censorship. Living in the closet is a major form of censorship in itself; being in the closet as a poet only makes it worse. How can a poet tell the truth if he has to always censor his own true nature in defense against the attacks of others? It's quite a paradox, ennit?

I give Kirkup a large amount of credit for having the guts to present this poem, rather than keep it in the closet. (As has been pointed out, it does fall into a long tradition of erotic/mystical poetry; Whitman, Ginsberg, Adrienne Rich, May Sarton, and others have also written within that tradition, which is ongoing and alive, not only historical.)

I think this is precisely where the vatic or prophetic function of some poetry enters into the picture: telling the truth, even if it's not a popular truth, even if you get attacked for telling it, whether it's a personal truth alone, or a larger truth. There's where cultural change comes from, in part, as I tried to say before.

The issue of the quality of this particular poem in question is a separate issue from how people reacted against it, because of its content—which of course was, I think, Dave's point about censorship, which always focuses on interpretation rather than on quality of writing. As we all know, many better examples of writing have also been attacked for many of the same reasons.

I understand better, from your and Dave's comments, about the shock/fiction/spoof and sincerity question you guys were bringing up. I appreciate your clarifications. I can see how someone might have interpreted the poem that way, but I don't it was written to be that.

Anyway. I DID admit I was feeling irritable. :)

Rachel Fox said...

Yes, you did Art...no bad feelings! I think it was the 'ignorant' that hit me. I am ignorant about many things - that's one reason I read lots of the blogs and books I do (to learn more) - but then who isn't ignorant (in some area or other)? I've done quite a bit of reading (by average standards) and...well, been involved with gay people and gay culture (for want of a better word) quite a lot over the years. That's one reason I was surprised not to have heard of this man or the poem. And one reason why I wondered (just slightly) if there was something else afoot.

Now I know.

Good post from Dave as ever.
x

bridget o. said...

Please correct "finbal" to "final"! !"Finbal" appears in numerous postings of the poem on the web, and the error keeps being perpetuated. Ta.

A Cuban In London said...

True, bridget. It should be 'final'. I missed that, too. I read it as 'final', funny enough.

Greetings from London.

Dave King said...

Crafty Green Poet Interesting thought that it is on a continuum with writers such as StTheresa of Avila. I completely agree with your last observation. Thank you for the contribution. I shall try to follow it up.

Carl I. too, have had non-appearing comments. The web's black hole, no doubt. I think you have demonstrated conclusively that the subject is not above your intellectual playing field. Thank you for your comments.

SorlilYou are not the first to think it a wind up, but I really don't think it was, though I see why you groaned. I don't think it great art, by any means - which doesn't mean that it is not sincere art.

A Cuban in London Thanks for that. I must say that I didn't see the poem as an attack on religion, I saw it as a gay person's attempt to find a religious experience for himself.

Adrian Thanks for that.

bridget Will do. Missed it, I'm afraid.

Mark Kerstetter said...

The thread of comments that I have just read are all the evidence I need against censoring a poem like Kirkup's.

Dave King said...

MarkYes, pretty conclusive, were they not?