This prompt goes live on the day when Scotland asks – what are we for? What are we against?
So I thought we’d get topical for a moment. Watch this enlightening short video on Marxist politics (trust me…..) Now, ask yourself again – what exactly are you against?
This isn’t just something you dislike – chewing gum on pavements, reality TV – but something you really oppose. Something that offends you enough to send you to the barricades, or to take up arms, or write a stiff letter to the Giggleswick Herald. It might, in fact, be chewing gum on pavements. Or manicured grass. But it may be something much larger.
There is a fine tradition of ‘Against….’ poems. Like all traditions, it comes with pitfalls. Beware the ill-tempered rant, the immoderate polemic, the language of the pub bore. By all means rail against The Modern World or Traffic Wardens, but not predictably. What’s that you say – you’re against Death? Well, so is everyone else. Your take on it had better be fresh. In poetry as in politics, anger reduces an argument to bigotry or hyperbole. Keep your temper. State your case.
Think of something that hurts, or mystifies. Are you against loneliness, or marriage, or ice hockey? If you’re stuck, think of something you’re absolutely FOR, and look for its opposing number. If you love opera, write against jazz. If you love summer, write against winter. Enjoy a moment of perversity; think of something that everyone is for, and take up arms against it to write Against Travel or Against Motherhood and Apple Pie. You might write about someone else’s Against. My father was ‘against’ homosexuality. I was against him in that. Eileen Myles is against peanut butter.
For and against. Yes and no. It’s a simple, binary construct. Yes?
No. We are not simple, binary creatures: we are all about shades of maybe and perhaps. That may be where the interest of your poem lies. Is Fleur Adcock really Against Coupling [yes, we have had this one before]? Roddy Lumsden claims to be Against Naturism, but it looks as though he’s all for nakedness (and iambics). Leave room for ambiguity.
Our last poem this referendum week is a Gaelic one (translation underneath) from lively Hebridean, Aonghas MacNeacail. Good luck and great love to you, Scotland – whether you vote for or agin.