The HyperTexts

Poetry, Politics, and All That Jizz

by Philip Quinlan

As something (only something) of a poet (not Poet) and editor (not Editor) I must confess to a dislike of poems which have [political] designs on me. When I read such poetry it feels rather as if I’m being mugged by a dandy armed with an ostrich feather. Poetry, for me, is at its most effective when it is affective and when it deals with individual experience, even if that experience is inevitably shaped to some extent by politics.


But even more than I dislike politics in poetry, I dislike politics about poetry. So many of the endless storms in the teacup of po-ville (as elsewhere) are political, and politics these days seem to be more about what (or who) one stands against than what (or who) one stands for.


Do I contradict myself? Not really. I didn’t say ‘I stand against’ politics in or about poetry, only that I dislike it. I opined rather than Opining. Opining (with a capital ‘O’) brooks no dissent. No one who Opines is likely to be persuaded by another who Opines to the contrary; hence the same old arguments (need we list them?) continue to simmer and occasionally flare up.


As an editor, I freely confess that my judgements about submissions are made on the totally unscientific basis of personal predilection, unjustified aesthetic prejudice and sheer whimsy. I like verbal ‘music’ and somewhat heightened language, and I’m also, as it happens, a sucker for the non-linear, non-literal or fanciful, rather than the gritty, ‘real’ or quotidian. But I don’t offer either prescriptions or proscriptions, since what I really want is to be surprised.


As a poet, I stay rather on the edge of things. It is the pleasure of writing which primarily concerns me, and I’m not much for following rules. What I write is to the taste of a very few, whose opinion I value, and it is always gratifying to be published simply because rejection is the norm. So I’m in no position to say how ‘good’ or ‘worthy’ a poem is, still less what is or isn’t poetry to begin with (in any rule-bound, technical sense).


‘Jizz’ is a wonderful word with two meanings, one of which applies to politics, so far as I’m concerned; the other applies to poetry in the sense that if it looks like a poem, talks like a poem, and walks like a poem, it probably is some sort of a poem at the very least. Whether I’ll care for it much is something else, and that won’t depend on its compliance with (or defiance of) some rigid set of rules, but rather a loose set of criteria:


·       Is it surprising? If so, I'm for it.

·       Does it look as if care was taken? If so, I'm for it.

·       Does it make me feel something? If so, I'm for it.

·       Am I convinced it needs to be the way it is? If so, I'm for it.

·       Most importantly: when I get to the end (assuming I do), do I want to read it again? If so, I'm for it.


and I apply it to my own small efforts as much as anyone else’s. In truth, very little poetry (of the significant amount which I have written or read) gets past even this simple test, but I can spot a ‘winner’ in an instant, the same way a twitcher can identify a bird at a distance: by its jizz. Politics and rules be damned.


Philip Quinlan


Angle Journal of Poetry in English

The HyperTexts