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A New Waste Land, By Michael Horovitz
From bad to verse: a poetic rant about Blair, Bush and the evil politicians do
Thursday 20 March 2008
Michael Horovitz is a firebrand of a performance poet, now approaching his 73rd year, who believes in love, peace, universal harmony and the redistribution of wealth just as quickly as possible. He is proud to align himself with a line of vatic poets who fought for justice and peace on earth, including William Blake – and, of course, his old friend Allen Ginsberg.
Horovitz's new book-length poem, the longest he has ever self-published, purports to be some kind of an extension of TS Eliot's Waste Land, but it is not really a sequel, for various reasons.
Though Eliot's vision is just as desolate as Horovitz's, it is a much more fragmentary overview, which manages from first to last to maintain a kind of lofty, cerebral distance from its subject matter. Horovitz, on the other hand, is always in the thick of things, throwing out hammer blows left and right. He is more a satirist than anything else, and this book is much more like Pope's Dunciad than Eliot's Waste Land. Except that Horovitz doesn't write in strict measures – his is a kind of free-flowing, free-flying free verse of a William Carlos Williams-ish kind, which sometimes modulates into concrete poetry, soaring and flowing and looping all over the place.
What exactly is Horovitz getting so exercised about? Politicians, and the evil that they do. And one in particular: B Liar, the Big Blurr, Tony Bonehead. He hates Blair, and everything that Blair and Dubbya ever stood for: their lies, their compromises, their filthy, filthy wars. Horovitz rants on about Blair until he is blue in the face. And, after more than 200 pages of the poem, he gives us a further 200-odd pages of dense notes. In spite of the fact that we agree with much of it, it becomes tedious in the extreme to hear him bellowing on at us.
The poem, on the other hand, is much more agreeable, because it has the capacity to reinvent itself. Sometimes it works like good rap lyrics; and, in the loveliest section of all, "A Little Kite Music", it brings over the feel of London workers – all those "underslept worry-frayed faces" – much better, and more convincingly, than Eliot ever did. But he does bang on. Someone needs to say: it's terrible that politicians are such compromised beings, but humans are fundamentally not good, and universal harmony may not be on the agenda for that very reason.
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