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Books

Poets against progress

16 December 2011

12:33 PM

16 December 2011

12:33 PM

The TS Eliot Prize hedge-fund furore has been making headlines for more than a week. Even the Spectator has devoted space to the controversy caused by John Kinsella and Alice Oswald, whose motives were
initially unclear. Kinsella has since taken to the pages of the New Statesman to explain
himself. He says that he has spent ‘life enjoying the sublimity of a golden wheatcrop on the verge of harvest’. He opposes the ‘colonising culture’ of harvest and husbandry.
Poetry is an ‘active entity’ that should ‘work against violence’. He has embarked on a campaign of ‘linguistic disobedience’ against the ‘scourge of
salinity’ and the other ‘damages’ caused by the need to feed 7 billion souls and counting. 

The climax of his exposition is the claim: ‘I once literally (if temporarily) stopped bulldozers knocking down bushland for a development while reading out poems.’ He does not say which
poems, but imagine the scene:     

I wandered lonely as a cloud,
Declaiming poems, tall and proud.
But at my back I began to hear
Two JCBs rumbling near.
They bore teeth on seeing their prey.
I read some more, to make ‘em pay.
And if I die think only this of me:
‘Twas all to save some godforsaken tree.

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