Saturday, 3 May 2014

Politics: bringing out the worst verse

It’s election time in Greece again (oh, joy!) – and that means an explosion of bad poetry.

Let me explain. Or try to, as well as anyone who grew up and cut their political teeth in a country where politics and poetry had about as much in common as a McDonalds Happy Meal and foie gras with shaved black truffles.

Unlike in the UK, where most political party names pretty much describe what they’re about (or at least where they’ve come from), there’s a growing trend in Greece to get lyrical in a bid to woo the voters. Disenchantment with the old guard parties is almost certainly behind this but, seriously, do they REALLY think that slapping a pretty name on an old box of horse manure will make it stink any less?

This month will see voters trotting off to the polling booths for both local council and Euro-elections. And they will be faced with a list of party names that would look more at home on the contents page of an anthology of 19th century verse (and I’m talking about the worst kind of sentimental Victorian verse here) than on the list of candidates shouting “Pick me! Pick me!” when you head for that little curtained booth to make your choice.

We’re talking about the kind of names and awful imagery that would have even my inner pathetic poet squirming in her seat. Tell a lie, it would have her 15-year-old self (complete with literary pretensions and dreadful allegories) wincing in embarrassment.

For the Euro elections, Greek voters will get to choose candidates from 46 different parties. Take your pick from (among others): Society; the Equality, Pace & Friendship Party; National Dawn; The River; Golden Dawn;  Bridges Creation Again; Freedom; The Olive Tree; The Youth Party; Drachma; European Free Alliance-Rainbow; Plan B; Greek European Citizens; New Greece; and more….

Some of them sound lovely, don’t they? Even idyllic. Trouble is, most give no indication of what they’re actually all about.

If I didn’t know better, I’d  be lured by the glowing new tomorrow promised by the name ‘Golden Dawn’. Fortunately, I DO know that it is a far right wing, ultra-nationalist movement that stands for pretty much everything I abhor.

Likewise, you’d never guess from the rural imagery summoned up by the name 'The Olive Tree' that it’s actually a pseudonym of the old PASOK party, not so long ago the ruling party but now struggling with a measly 3-4% support from the most die-hard supporters.

And as for 'The River', I’m still trying to work out what they’re trying to tell us with that name, let alone what they’re actually all about…

Politics is a product and the rules of marketing apply to it just as they do to soap powder that washes your smalls “Whiter than white!” (whatever that means) or miracle creams that erase wrinkles and cellulite from middle-aged eyes and thighs (they don’t, believe me. I’ve checked). And just like the supermarket or the cosmetic counter, the political arena applies more than its fair share of alluring but ultimately cynical ploys to get us to buy their particular product. 

Claims of “NEW!” and ‘IMPROVED!!” versions of what we know from way back simply don’t cut it in these days of mass disillusionment and disappointment at the political mainstream’s failure to deliver in its promises and help ordinary people in tough times. So, the political hypesters and spin doctors have turned to their High School poetry books for inspiration.

I really wish they hadn’t.

I like a bit of good poetry. But even more, when I’m being asked to buy something, I really like to know that the product does what it says on the box. I don’t want a would-be politico vying for my X to woo me with lyrical images of sun-kissed daybreaks and bubbling streams. I want them to tell me what they stand for, what they propose and how they plan to deliver on their promises.

If your poetry’s really good - even better if it’s raw, real and in-your-face like the very best slam poetry performances - I will probably sit up and pay attention. But if I have to take a seminar to analyse “what is the poet trying to tell us?”, please don’t expect me to vote for you. 

Just remember what the American poet Robert Frost (himself a great one for waxing lyrical about nature) said:
"Poetry is about the grief.
Politics is about the grievance."

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