In Reoccupying Auden Country, an article by Alan Morrison published in the International Times and which touches on many of the issues recently discussed in the pages of the Morning Star, he offers an answer which interrogates the question in a useful way.
Morrison points out that whenever this question is put, either by canonised saints of the left like Eagleton or Pilger or - far less satisfactorily - by poetry magazines like Poetry Review, there is an assumption that the question really is "Why don't the established poets of the Guardian, the big imprints and the prize shortlists write any decent political poetry in a time like ours of profound political upheaval?"
In other words, political poetry is being written. It's just that we don't always get to hear about it.
When it does appear, these outlets and public poetry voices ignore it because they aren't writing it themselves and they haven't stamped its visa.
When there's a call for more political poetry, the answer that invariably comes back is the traditional one that, in Auden's famous words, "poetry makes nothing happen."
It's a thought that chimes in with the dominant view that it is a form of bad taste, that it will almost certainly be tonally "strident" or formally "doggerel" or morally "posturing."
Proper poetry, this argument runs, survives in the valley of its making - it is itself and obeys only the laws of poetry, cherishing its aesthetic freedom, untainted by the partisan and tendentious.
Tell that to Milton, Marvell, Blake, Tony Harrison, Liu Xiaobo, Yannis Ritsos et al.
Obviously no-one wants to read crudely buttonholing, head-banging doggerel, especially if it lacks any stylistic or poetic interest, but it seems to me that there are two kinds of political poetry - the upfront and the indirect.
The upfront is clear. It hits you directly and its political message is unambiguous and forceful.
I have written such poetry myself and I see nothing wrong with being explicit in this way. After all, classic love poetry is often just as direct.
By indirect I mean a political poem that may not seem at first sight to be about an explicit contemporary issue, but in a more subtle way may expose the abuse of power or prejudice or make its point through an original or interesting metaphor.
But the objection in some quarters to political poetry, which pretends to be about its aesthetics, is really objecting to its message.
But there are other ways of writing political poetry, more subtle engagements than the direct polemic, vital as that is.
And here I agree with Eagleton, quoted by Morrison, when he says: "For almost the first time in two centuries there is no eminent British poet prepared to question the foundations of the Western way of life."
I think Geoffrey Hill thinks he is, but unfortunately we can't understand him.
We are still allowed to smile approval at Shelley's assertion that poets are the unacknowledged legislators of mankind.
We could argue about what that phrase signifies, but let's say it means that they have something to say that is valuable and that may change society in the longer term.
In advocating less in-your-face, direct polemical engagement with immediate political realities, the Poetry Review and poetry prize ceremony crowds will breathe a sigh of relief and feel able to relax again.
They will be much happier with a kind of writing that is not politically partisan, that is challenging the political framework they themselves are quite happy to work inside.
But this broader work of engaging with the deepest springs of contemporary society and culture and attempting to criticise it, change it, rebuild it, is a task every bit as important as the lively topical broadside.
It may do more long-term good. We need it, but it does not seem to be forthcoming, unless I am falling into the same trap as the Guardian/New Statesman seers who don't see enough of what is already here.
Nicholas Murray is a freelance author and journalist based in Wales and London. Born in Liverpool, he is the author of several literary biographies and two collections of poems. He is a regular contributor of poems, essays and reviews to a wide range of newspapers and literary magazines and is also a tutor in biography and creative non-fiction at the City Literary Institute in London. He runs a small poetry imprint, Rack Press and writes the Bibliophilicblogger literary blog where a version of this article first appeared.
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