Carol Rumens published an opinion blog on the Guardian today, that labelled the president-elect Michael D. Higgins's poetry as 'mad-dog-shite', on the strength of one poem: When Will My Time Come?
The provocativly titled blogpost, Michael D. Higgins is no Poet, read as if it had been dashed off in ten minutes, and ended:
The Northern Irish poets have a phrase for rubbish poetry. I first heard it from Longley himself, though I believe he said he got it from Frank Ormsby: mad-dog-shite. I'm afraid I think this is the category into which "When Will My Time Come" effortlessly slips. Whoops!The article drew many responses, the majority of which expressed disappointment with the author of the blog. This comment, one of the milder rebukes:
Mr Higgins isn't a particularly distinguished poet, agreed. Printing this bit of ill-written hit-and-run practical criticism, though, in the week after he has won a hard-fought election to be the head of state for his country, is mean-spirited and graceless of The Guardian.One poster reproduced a coarse bit of doggerel written by Rumens and in which the word 'cunt' appears, as an example of how easy it is to damn any poet on the strength of one poor example. It was immediately removed, as were many other posts far less sneery and unkind as her own.
The absurdity of the Guardian moderating policy was revealed when I posted two lines that were immediately removed, which pointed out a spelling mistake in Rumens' blogpost:
Brendan Kenneally is spelled wrongly, it is Kennelly.Also removed was this moderate comment:
A poor article.
One analysis of this short piece can posit that it’s fairly plain for an intelligent reader to grasp that the author of it was uninterested in undertaking any serious poetic inquiry into the merits, or otherwise, of this poem – weighing up all sides with thoughtful and mature consideration before delivering an opinion expressed in clear, concise and civil language – that engenders a healthy debate this forum claims as its sole focus; but rather, she had a visceral loathing of the poem in question (and possibly the author) to such an extent that she, essentially, in her haste to insult the poem with the most vulgar 'mad-dog-shite' epithet she thought permissible to publish, chose to dispense with the usual norms of serious critical behaviour.
The piece itself seems merely a knee-jerk desire to mock, goad, sneer and be disrespectful, by uttering the insult ‘mad-dog-shite’, upon which is hung and around which is framed, a flimsy psuedo-critical patter attempting, and failing, to pass itself off as the real thing, in order to justify what, if written on its own, would rightly lay itself open to a charge of being wholly offensive, uncalled for and, most importantly of all (for its author), unprofessional.
It’s the same impulse that motivates an imperial power wishing to exercise its full might upon an innocent other – to fabricate evidence in order to justify a pre-determined course of action, without which the naked unfairness and disproportionality of its actions are immediately and embarrassingly obvious to all rational observers.
The author of this piece, the theory goes, sought to indulge in a bout of boorish behaviour and loutishly did so under the cover of it being a valid ‘critical’ act of the responsible academic poet. It happens all the time. Great fun. And tellingly the blog author has absented herself from the debate she knew would occur and the tenor of which, one could guess – she misjudged. But the sign of healthy debate is allowing ourselves to look foolish now and again, and this author, to her credit, rarely slips up so fully and, in the grand scheme of reality, comedically.
In the trajectory of her career as a poetry journalist for this media organisation, this piece will be remembered more than most of her very many other, more thoughtful ones. Life goes on and we all learn from our mistakes. The tenor she sent into the world has been roundly returned and I am sure she will be cringing somewhat at the unflattering attention she has drawn to herself for all the wrong reasons; but when the dust settles I am sure most will recognise the inherently comedic nature of this minor spat between a poet and the public on whom she relies for validation.
Since the Julian Assange fiasco when the Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger and his brother-in-law and head investigative reporter David Leigh, were responsible for a cravenly hypocritical and dissembling editorial in which they sort to shift blame onto Assange for Leigh's mistake in publishing, contrary to all crytographical practice, the passphrase and salt that decrypted the Cablegate file, the true colours of the Guardian journalistic ethos has been plain for any intelligent reader to grasp. It is big on lipservice and moralising platitudes but when it comes down to brass tacks, they pull every underhanded stroke in the playbook to sideline, silence and smear anyone who counters their position. An ethos that trickles down to removing harmless poetry lovers with the insolence and gall to point out spelling mistakes on their book section.