Friday, 13 February 2009

Poetry Matters (2): Poetry or Prose?

I am not renowned for my astute political insights (the understatement of 2009), but a column in today's Guardian set me thinking. It hangs on a statement from the former Governor of New York, Mario Cuoma, in relation to the recent inauguration of President Barack Obama. Do we all agree that poetry is the perfect vehicle for a campaign; but that once the campaign has been won, a ruler should revert to prose?

In the make-believe (or sometimes quasi-reality) world of literature, can we think of cultures that adopted poetry as their language of state or power? Homer comes to mind, but do the ring-cycle formularies of the bard have any 'linguistic' bearing on the Mediterranean world he was 'writing' about? Items like the tablets of Linear B are functional and hardly 'poetic' in the sense I have in mind.

Abraham Lincoln scholar, Ronald C. White Jr, believes that there is a connection between US Presidents and poetry: 'Our best speakers have an ear for poetry. Lincoln loved to read Robert Burns, Lord Byron, Shakespeare.' (UCLA Today).

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