On-line Poetry Tutorial No.37

Today we address one of the great poets of the 21st Century. The Suburbs was written in June 2008 and is the first of several poems that celebrate London, the birthplace of the poet, Seamus Furnace O'Hancott:

The Suburbs

The crooked lynch plays upon the pin
In the caustic cause of exhaled virginity,
And in Thornton Heath: death,
Save for the harrowing love of public personalities.
Nauseous waters swell and drain
The cow parsley on the cutting's edge
Soiled by the grimtious and petroleumed air,
In the super-factitious gloam of a late summer evening,
Glows in the subliminal breath of an apartment's light.

Here the poet evokes the atmosphere of a South London suburb, illustrating one of many miscellaneous influences on his life. In place of purity of lyric and intensity of the visionary tradition we find the drama of public responsibility and private desire (or disgust) that is central to his work and which is in the tradition of Virgil and beyond.

The poet writes of a landscape doomed to extinction by global climate change, a macrocosmic symbol of his own ageing and creaky body. What is there to look forward to in the "petroleumed air". Only more heat than light, he seems to say.

We have grown accustomed to the modernist idea that the task of the poet is to exercise the imagination to its utmost and that in doing so the act of writing becomes central to human experience. This poem eschews the subjective voice, the lone, superior song of the modern poet, set above the clamour of the 21st century world. This poem lacks the restrained and chastened intensity of his earlier poems about war and the chronic incompetence of the capitalist system that costs so much in lost time and opportunities for love. The writer is no longer happy in the role as poetic prophet to the English Left, mainly, perhaps, because there are no English left. Now he has embarked upon a new venture: a series of exploratory, gnomic voyages into the deep dark underbelly of the great cities where decay, grime and despair sit alongside flat-screen TVs that can access televised programmes from across the world and bring to the family hearth the intimate doings of Paris Hilton. Meanwhile, the natural world around him is choked and smothered by the by-products, excretions and detritus of man.

In his seminal work, What is the Point, the writer implicitly attacked the self-righteous priggishness, false assumptions and grand-standing among Western politicians. Now in disgust he has turned his attention away from the lies and distortions of the pseudo-religious and over-ambitious to tackle the results of many years of broken pledges and incompetent policies and the havoc these wreak upon innocent cities and their inhabitants. He is indeed in tune with the zeitgeist of the new century and is its foremost interpreter.