Mule in the Well

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Neither poetry nor poetry criticism exists in a vacuum, and so cannot be separated from the nexus of the writer's individual experiences, culture, value systems, material circumstances, political beliefs, and so on. Though certain ultra-leftist critics in Ireland have on occasion sought to portray me as being somehow against political poetry, or of having an anti-political agenda in The Burning Bush , this is simply not the case. To attempt to define poetry as some free-floating, nebulous quantity 'art for art's sake' , unanchored from the concerns of the real world, would be ludicrous.

And anyone who's ever read the magazine will know that there's always been a certain amount of overtly political stuff in there.

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A problem with political poetry, though, is that it seems to me to be very difficult to actually write a successful political poem, particularly when dealing with specific topical issues. Certainly it can be done, and has been done well, but there is the all-too-common danger of descending into mere sloganeering or propaganda.

Many poets in the small press scene do fall into this trap. Let me just say first of all, as I've said elsewhere, that I make absolutely no prescriptions or proscriptions in regard to subject matter. Write what you want! However, some of the political poets I've come across in Galway, through editing the magazine or whatever, tend to see the value of a poem chiefly in its content.


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Poetry for these people is often just a vehicle by which they put forward their opinions or ideology. Having something 'meaningful' to say is the key thing, which can then be chopped up into verse lines and, presto, you're a poet. I'm sure I must be over-simplifying matters, but at times this does appear to be the case. But is poetry really 'about' its subject matter? Yes and no. Of course if you're going to set something down in a poem this implies that there's some particular thing or idea you want to express.

Poetry, like any art, is communication. No one is disputing this point. But as it is poetry, it is also inherently about form.

Herbert Marcuse - Art as Revolutionary Weapon (1970)

This needs to be understood. Otherwise it is merely being made to function like prose, the workaday prose of journalism, of textbooks, etc. There are ways of conveying meaning aside from blunt statement. So in this sense, poetry is also about language - it is an intensified form of language, or maybe its quintessence. Both sides of the fish are decorated in silver and orange Punin papers, Harry Ransom Center. The fish was a gift from the famous Soviet avant-garde artist, Vladimir Tatlin , to his friend, the art historian Nikolai Punin.

The two men worked together at The Museum of Painterly Culture in Petrograd in the early s just after the Russian Revolution when the diary was written. Punin worked in the Department of General Ideology and Tatlin was producing an experimental play by the poet Velimer Khlebnikov , another friend and collaborator in the circle of Russian revolutionary, avant-garde artists.

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For Punin, Tatlin represented a particular quality of Russian art that made it surpass the latest Cubist innovations in painting coming from France. The lack of a Renaissance tradition of perspectivalism , according to Punin, also gave the Russian avant-garde a much freer relationship to space.

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The icon was both a work of art and an object for everyday use. The Fishmonger, by Vladimir Tatlin, via Wikiart.


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During his tenure there, he authored several documents outlining his general program for the role of material culture in the USSR. He created it for display in the showroom of the Section for Material Culture and the designs were also shown at the Exhibition of Petrograd Artists of All Tendencies.

Art and Revolution in 1960s Japan

The fish is an important indication of a close personal and professional relationship between the artist, Vladimir Tatlin, and his admiring critic, Nikolai Punin, and it represents the ways that Tatlin and Punin tried to outline a new revolutionary program for art. It also is an example of that very revolutionary impulse in that it is an object to be contemplated for its aesthetic beauty and also to be used for a utilitarian purpose as a bookmark.

This little fish offers a window onto the theories of the period of the Russian Revolution, when people sought to rethink the entire Western European model of not only aesthetics but also society.