Over the last few weeks I have been sharing the Parrot’s cage with him.
On finishing my version of John Skelton’s poem “Speak, Parrot” (see post below), I felt galvanised by it, amazed both to have come up with it (riding on Skelton’s shoulders, admittedly), and also at its topicality. It spoke for me and also – I thought – for the position which all of us are in at this election time, weighing up the sort of society we want to live in, the sort of people we want to be, and having some power to influence these things, this May, this week.
But since then, the venture seems to have gone rather flat in various ways. People I’ve shown it to, several of whom know me well and are friends, some also counsellors and therapists, have seemed actually almost disapproving of it.
I believe they thought that the anger that runs through the blood vessels of the poem would stop people listening to it properly. Really effective satire, they suggested, does not put anger to the fore, for anger usually just shuts people down, pushes them away. It’s wit and penetration that does the damage to the satire’s “object.” I needed more distance, my friends implied.
But also maybe they blanched a bit at what they saw and felt was in me, as if – through my anger – I had lost some balance or poise or centredness or true judgement, as if something outside me had taken me over.
Sobering and salutory feed-back. But still I believed enough in the poem, or was driven, to make real efforts over the next few days to send it out to anyone it might speak to, or be useful for, including politicians. Which door-bells to press, which addresses to click on ? Might not this strange poem about Parrot have some small part in helping to strengthen people’s resistance to, and rejection of, the whole present orchestration and evangelising of “Me n’ Mine,” this venomous constellation which has brought together Mammon and Hard Sell and incessant Spin and unscrupulous Lie, and done such vast harm to our Society’s bindings and to our children’s prospects ?
Might my darling Parrot in a cage even end up making the difference at this knife-edge teetering election, so finely poised, with so much resting on the result ? The election has immense implications for all of us, not just the most vulnerable. The Coalition Government’s treatment of the vulnerable and the stranger disgraces and threatens the integrity and humanity of us all.
So let a poem get up onto the hustings for a change ; let real words be uttered there, instead of the weary insult of yet more puerile slogans. Now’s the time and these words might even have some sort of influence on people, the minstrel’s words before battle.
But there was I, on the tips of all my toes, tensed up, desperate to find a platform for my words, a hall for my lyre to play in – and again nothing much happened. The wheels kept spinning, faster and faster. Twitter sang on, stream upon stream of it. Facebook comments piled in and then dropped out of sight almost immediately, everyone having their say and never really listening to anyone else. The Parrot fell flat again.
Was it my anger that was doing the damage ? Not so lucky. Of course it was just everyone’s lack of time. The original Skelton poem is very long indeed. My initial version was much reduced. The audio version had been reduced even more. But still it lasts 15 minutes and still people do not have that sort of time. (What sort of time do they have ? one might ask)
So I compromised yet further with a world which seems seriously in danger of squeezing its own life out of time. I minced my Parrot into a succession of momentary sound-bites on my new Face book page. Each morsel of words has its own picture of prison bars, taken in the lonely tower that honours William Tyndale, perhaps the greatest ever writer of English prose.
But what’s the point of the Parrot having liberty to speak, if no one has time to hear him ? After all that screwing up of his courage ? Silly old bird.
But now there is little more I can do and I have come to terms with the strong probability that the Parrot won’t be winning the election for Ed, after all, (though he may win a precious favour or two, in time).
And after all that fuss, I am left with some major question-marks about anger.
For I too, in the middle of it all, have worried for months about my fury and contempt for Cameron and his government, and fear of what he would get up to if given another chance. Is all that troubles me and makes me fear for our future, down to an individual, or individuals, or a particular government, so that life and hope would be restored to bright colours if only these failed pretenders were to be displaced ? Of course not. I know well that much of what appals me has far deeper roots and more complex elements, than these particular personalities, or policies, awful though they are. Awful though they are, they are just drops in the wave of which all of us are part.
And everyone seems so merely angry on all sides. All those dreadful comment streams in the press, beneath feature after feature. So am I just jumping into the anger pool ? Splash splash, all in it together ? Am I really just splashing about in a general anger pool, part of our common disarray and consternation and urge to lash out ?
I took my anger and the parrot to a vicar round the corner, representative of a faith whose membership does often display a very ambivalent attitude towards anger. In Christian terms, standing up for what is right is often associated with holy “meekness,” that bewildering business of “turning the other cheek.” So I waited for the vicar’s response with some concern.
To my relief and to some degree my astonishment, he welcomed the poem and found merit in it. His response reduced me to tears. Truth needs a voice and that voice is sometimes bound to be angry. He referred to the traders in the Temple. Go ahead, he said. Give voice. Parrot agreed. So did Skelton. There is a place for anger. It can belong. In fact, sometimes it must.
But still I think there are questions left hanging. Surely this force comes from a whole range of places, some entirely personal to me and fit for the analyst’s couch.
But also something else, even more difficult, in some ways. One of my friends suggested it. He had been quite strongly critical of the Parrot poem’s tone and surrender to anger. But then he took me by surprise by suddenly wondering aloud whether this wasn’t a concentration in one person of an anger that is general but essentially not articulated, whose real source cannot be recognised or made plain or brought to the surface or into circulation, maybe deprived of words by our general bewilderment, made all the greater by the spinning and the lying and the human urge to retreat from discomfort. “The best lack all conviction…etc” And, in a reaction that might almost be called chemical, I just rage in the crowd as it carries on cheering the naked head rude-boy, as if he were wearing robes of state. I am carrying and voicing not just my true seeing but the crowd’s as well, which it cannot acknowledge, to which it cannot be reconciled.
I do think my friend might just be right, or at least partly right. And what he is describing may be what pushes quite a lot of poetry into the world. The energetically unspoken can drive you crazy. So you speak the unspoken in the first place for your own sanity’s sake, seeking form for it. In the beginning was the Word.
Silly old bird, the Popinjay Royale.