Holiday Poems, Holiday Joy?

This year, the first female British poet laureate wrote a Christmas poem for the Radio Times. It’s called “The Twelve Days of Christmas 2009,” but many of the people reading it are not chiming in with “Five go-old rings.”

That’s because Carol Ann Duffy’s poem is not your typical peace on earth, good will toward men Christmas jingle. Stanza nine (“nine ladies dancing”) includes the lines:

But the lady in the Detention Centre
does not dance.
But the honour killing lady does not dance.
But the drowned policeman’s lady
does not dance.
But the lady in the filthy hospital ward
does not dance.

…and so on. The poem is an indictment of contemporary world issues ranging from global warming to the financial crisis.

Duffy’s lack of Christmas cheer has drawn comments from many directions. The National in the UAE suggests that Duffy is following her predecessor, Andrew Motion, who veered away from the feel-good, laudatory poems of previous poet laureates. A writer for the U.K. Daily Mail says that, besides being depressing, it’s just bad poetry.

When Duffy was appointed, The Guardian called the post “poetry’s most prestigious job,” and Prime Minister Gordon Brown praised her ability to place “the whole range of human experiences into lines that capture the emotions perfectly.” Duffy herself said she wanted to see the role become “more people’s poet than monarch’s bard.”

If that is the foundation of “Twelve Days,” I think there is certainly validity in stepping away from role of poet-as-sycophant.

On the other hand, although poetry may be uniquely situated to call attention to social problems otherwise ignored or made commonplace, I wonder, in a world of newspapers only too ready to emphasize the tragic, is there not another role that poetry might play?

Perhaps I am biased, but while I value honest poetry that does not sugarcoat the world, I also value the ability of a poet to cast glimpses of what could be, as well as what, lamentably, is.

During the holiday season, when depression is already high, it seems there are two extremes it would be desirable to avoid: 1) creating unreal expectations and false happiness that only disappoint; but also, 2) refusing the possibility of real joy and hope by dwelling on only the ugly and the joyless.


5 Responses to Holiday Poems, Holiday Joy?

  1. […] link: Holiday Poems, Holiday Joy? « Literati in the World Tags: besides-being, duffy, feel, from-the-feel, national, Poems, predecessor, the-feel-good, […]

  2. sdcougar says:

    An inspirational story for Christmas Season:

  3. What’s up? I just wanted to tell you that I really appreciate your blog.

  4. richard says:

    DUDE THESE ARENT JOY POEMS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦

  5. richard says:

    Like I need one already written

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