Figurative language can be a con — a way of having it both ways. I don’t mean an ambiguity that suits a fencesitter, but both ways in terms of ‘artistic integrity’ and making a political stand about an issue. As if the two are mutually exclusive. There needs to be a para-figurative language that denotes specifically without ambiguity (which I usually aim for in a poem!) in terms of tone and aim of critique, but that also allows for a flexibility in range of ‘message’, effect, and, indeed, affect. Somewhere between agitprop and the tone poem.
Here’s an example... The poem below is an out-and-out attack on GM crops which the latest government (a right-wing government) has imposed on the people of Western Australia. A ramping-up of larger-scale GM canola trials. They’ve been going on small-scale around here for years. GM culture has infiltrated in so many ways. Lies about ‘feeding the world’, when in fact the GM companies mean lining their own pockets, don’t wash, I’m afraid. That GM crops contaminate non-GM crops, and the non-GM environment at large, is well attested.
I have always found it somewhat ironic that some scientists accuse the anti-GM activists of defending organics as an act of class sabotage — claiming that organic food is a trendy middle-class fad irrelevant to the real world of commercial and mass cropping to feed ‘the masses’. I feel everyone has the right to clean, unadulterated and non-GM food. The ironies multiply if one considers the middle-class privilege and appendages (cars, televisions, playrooms full of fads, conference dinners...) enjoyed by so many of these scientists themselves. Actually, scientists often consider themselves a class apart. What’s more, the damage inflicted by their monocultures is visible and obvious. Something isn’t working. Greed, government and corporate power, profit-taking even outside the Gordon Gekko realms, is part of it.
Gene patenting isn’t altruism; it’s research grants, jobs, kudos, flat-screen televisions and snappy four-wheel drives for inner-city driving (sorry, plus the odd drive out to check field trials). I rant because I want to indicate the passion behind writing the following poem. I mean business. I am being critical. However, I do believe in exchange and conversation, and have conversed with many a GM scientist about these issues. Of course, they can send plenty of criticism back my way as well, and I take that on board. So, though I am certain in my opposition and criticism, for this opposition to work in poetic form, it must let the language ironise somewhat my own certainties. To ‘lose’ the poem in vagaries would be against the aim, but to damn and leave no room for figurative language to take the reader elsewhere, to allow an escape or points of entry that are about their own way of seeing, I might as well not bother with using poetry at all.
Thus, I have written this in what I am calling a para-figurative mode (a poor coinage, but a pragmatic one), even if it tilts closer to the agitprop than the metaphoric. Main thing is, the figurative (however slight here!) works like a sheet anchor, dragging the bottom rather than holding the boat firmly in place. The ownership of ‘plenty’ is one that allows me to use this technology (the Net) in the comfort of a private (if shared) dwelling, with land around me that state law says is protected from trespass. Thus the ‘para’. It’s not a desirable state, but a critique of the certainties of agitprop. I have plenty, compared to many. I still believe in the dissolution of the state, in the absence of government, in the value of community consensus, in veganism, in pacifism, in a non-GM organic world, in the conservation of flora and fauna and so on. But I have plenty, and that needs challenging. (I will add a second poem beneath this to illustrate a more figurative version of the 'para-figurative' political poem.)
In anticipation of the moratorium
being lifted, farmers and their families
(because it’s school holidays),
fly east to witness the first GM canola crops
planted for commercial gain in Australia.
The families follow the GM farmer (and the farmer
of GM) and snack in tents on not-yet-GM food.
This is the science that will feed the world.
And this is our ‘proficy’. It’s technology,
like your kids’ Playstations
or the GPS in your four-wheel drive.
Food technology is stimulating.
The company supplies the seed
and a compatible herbicide; soon they’ll meet
our needs for frost and even drought-
resistant strains. A company for the times.
Canola will thrive in dust. We’ll feed the world
(if they can pay). It’s scare tactics
when they rave about grain alcohol fuels
leaving Haitians feeding their kids
cookies baked out of mud and salt.
Enjoy the new science of the new
Western World: internationalist,
profit spread through ‘starving
countries’ where GM companies
have subsidiaries, outlets, local
scientists, shining offices, advertising
agencies, military affiliations,
farmers willing to feed us all. Back
in the West, spread the word,
let the kids brag about it at school,
topdress, lead the people to plenty.
Malherbe’s Genetic Modifications: A Classicist Doctrine
Hey, I just heard the CEO of Monsanto
make odes out of genetic modification:
in steel rooms new crops make new promises,
their rules unclear, though we know
what he means, making doctrine
out of old-school plants, growth
pushed to the cultivatable limits.
Classical rules arise out of what’s planted.
Farmers feeding profits,
engineers of rhyme and reason,
seeds and flowers inspiration
without imagination. Same locally,
though subtextual: wheedling
away in the background, test sites
embedded in crops, ribboned
and star-picketed. In the East,
the moratorium has been lifted,
and the West itches to follow suit.
Hunger doesn’t have eternity,
and the body is a laboratory.
Clear as a world without imagery,
yellow canola fields effuse bienséance.
Direction as generic as pollen,
as seed in seed banks, as tailor-
made poisons in realms of poison
and lip-service; if you examine
the lubricity of canola seed, traipse
from one paddock to another,
it spreads its signature,