James Scully  





page 32 · spring 2012 · communist review

Mike Quille Lead


ON THIS OCCASION I am giving the whole column over to reviews of two exciting recent poetry anthologies.




(Smokestack Books, 2011, 224 pp, pbk.

£8.95. ISBN” 978-0-9564175-8-9)



Poetic Diction


Certain words are not fit

for poetry.


Boss, for instance.

Our better verse

you may observe

has no boss in it.


The best, in fact

the most refined

has eliminated jobs

strikes & lock-outs


not to mention unemployment.


Naturally there are no classes.

Rather, no ruling

and no working.

Just, on occasion, a middle

or an English.


It follows there is

no exploitation

no struggle

no poverty

no racist taunts

or murders, and

no injustice


because there is no


only psychology

begging questions, and

trees, menstrual blood (it’s

OK it’s animal nature)

with a few obscenities

classical compositions

dewy or sweaty

love, but not often


mystery, fantasy, myth

an insane asylum,

victims without victimizers

as in slabs of veal,

and a little peace


there is peace

in poetry, the

pie in the sky

of this vocabulary


which you can bet your bottom

dollar does not include

the resilience of

less than poetic people

nor their intelligence

seeing through

the culture police.


This is why no one


poetry anymore—


its world is one

nobody lives in, not even

poets who close their eyes

to speak


       The last Soul Food presented a Marxist approach to understanding and appreciating poetry. It explained its historical origins, and how, as a particularly powerful kind of language, it served the social, collective and

co-operative needs and purposes of the human societies in which it evolved. And it showed how the development of class-based societies leads poets (and critics and readers) into a conflicted, sometimes agonized, spectrum of choices about poetry (its purpose, its audience, its meaning) and about where they locate their writing and reading in a oppressive and exploitative society.

         Some writers (and readers) tend to reject engagement with history, with the material realities of working class life, and with political action to educate, agitate, and change the world. Their writing revolves around a template of individualist lyrics, springing from a self-absorbed, solipsistic aesthetic. Their poems are often framed self-referentially, in their voice and assumed audience, as though they were just speaking to themselves in musing, meditative solitude.  

       Critics and readers, for their part, also tend to look for these qualities in poetry (and the other arts) and value them. These writers, critics and readers, will often ignore, deny or question the value of an engaged, political poetry. This forged consensus (in both senses) is dominant in our culture, and forms part of the ideological apparatus of capitalist societies. In such a spiritually hostile environment, artistic practice and consumption tends to become depoliticized, escapist, and unreal. There is “no boss in it”, as Scully says in the poem presented above; it “has eliminated jobs / strikes & lock-outs // not to mention unemployment”.

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