language is not a pure instrument

JP O'Malley: Do you believe in the role of the poet as a political activist?

Jorie Graham: There are many ways to be ‘political’ in a culture. The way poetry uses language, for example, is, to my mind, by nature political. Poets, throughout cultures, have felt the most basic obligation to revivify their language, rid it of stale metaphors, clichés, ready-made phrases — which are of course ready-made ideas — as well as prior uses which attach to words systems of belief that need to be jostled, to put it politely. Part of this impulse (which is also a basic artistic necessity) is political. Language is not a pure instrument. It is used by many forces before a poet picks up a pen. It is used to sell programs, objects, ideas — to propagandize, to create artificial desire, or, in the mouths of some politicians, to hollow out meaning, to lie — especially in those places where the euphemism conceals corruption and violence. Walk into any supermarket and look at the words on the labels of packages. What are they selling you? Or turn on the news — what are they selling you? And the words they are using: what are they doing to those words, your words?

- Jorie Graham, in interview with JP O'Malley over at The Spectator. You can read the whole thing here.

1 comment:

Joseph Duemer said...

An American poet walking around Hanoi, Vietnam today, the thought occurred to me: I don't believe in purity. Clarity, yes, but purity no.