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by Zettel 

Posted: 26 February 2017
Word Count: 319

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All the world’s become a narrative
A place of stories not things
Opinions not facts
Prejudice on wings
Myth is now our refuge
from the fear hard truth brings
Wishes not hopes
Desire not aspiration
Feeling unchecked by thought
Vicarious pain
Spectated suffering too
To see is to be
To watch is to do

Growth is the story
told without shame
double or quits with the earth
but someone’s skimming the maths
in a zero sum game
Musical chairs where
Banks hold the chairs
and markets the tune
we circle in hope
with no one to blame
The honest granite of work
the truth of the real
once our salvation
that had roots limits checks to desire
respect for the common weal
shared worth to admire
is now plastic phantasy
shaped by our whim at our will
The new reality leaves many behind
in our self-absorbed selfish solitude
out of sight out of mind.
The rigour of a real world
that must first be obeyed
before it can be changed
submits to fashioned narrative
a purpose built on magic dreams
to wish is to do
and death now passes away
into an endless sleep
War is over there not here
a gruesome calculus
where thousands balance one
and market forces rule
a false imperative where pious greed
trumps honest need
selfishness is good the way to go
economics tells us so
Yet imagination’s flights
are launched from
the ordinary the everyday
and fantasy is rooted in
the mundane certainty
of the commonplace
Our wildest dreams
need stable things
that can be true or false
not just what they seem

Truth is fiction’s friend.
the story can transcend
and lift the spirits high
myth and poetry too
but there is no narrative in the news
except the stories that we choose
Fake news we shout as people die
too weak afraid and lazy
to call a lie a lie

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Comments by other Members

James Graham at 20:43 on 27 February 2017  Report this post
Zettel, I’ve read this poem several times since you posted it, but don’t yet feel I fully understand it. Some stanzas more than others elicit an immediate response: yes, I believe that to be true. For example, the second:

To see is to be
To watch is to do

these lines especially being surely the most concise possible expression of the idea that we are too often content to be passive spectators. ‘Spectated suffering too’ – we place a value on having merely seen, for example, refugee children in a brief item on TV news; but there is no value in having watched it unless we find ways of acting on it, even by talking constructively about it, or writing about it, or supporting an organisation such as Amnesty International which calls on governments to treat refugees humanely and find ways of providing them with means to rebuild their lives.
There are other illuminating lines which register with me almost at once, but I’ll return to these in a future comment (very soon). I’ll try also to get a more general grasp of the argument you are making. Some poems take time.

James Graham at 20:35 on 01 March 2017  Report this post
All this is one reader’s response; another reader might see more in this poem than I do. This is my best effort to see the poem as a whole, to understand the broad statement it makes. If we compare its beginning with its end:
All the world’s become a narrative
Truth is fiction’s friend.
the story can transcend
and lift the spirits high
we see that there are two kinds of narrative. There are pervasive narratives that find their way into our everyday lives – I’m not sure if you mean those constructed by the media and by politicians, corporate leaders and others, but that’s what I take from it – and there are truly meaningful narratives, which are those rooted in the creative imagination. It follows from this that the title is deliberately ambiguous: ‘Narrative’ refers to both false and authentic narratives.
Assuming this is the general drift of the poem, there are still passages that leave me quite puzzled, so that I fail to see their relevance to the broad theme. For example, what do you mean by: ‘The honest granite of work…is now a plastic paradise’? The rest of this stanza doesn’t throw any more light on it: in the context of work, in what sense does ‘the new reality’ allow ‘no check to our self-absorbed selfish solitude’?
But to counterbalance all this, here’s another part of the poem which has me nodding vigorously in recognition. It’s the whole of the last two stanzas, but especially the closing lines:

False news we shout as people die
Too weak afraid and lazy
To call a lie a lie

These lines urge us to be active members of society, to escape from passivity and exercise independent thought and judgement – to make our voices heard, challenging the narratives we are fed. This is well worth saying, and you say it with real conviction.

Zettel at 01:50 on 05 March 2017  Report this post

I have tried a few times now to respond to your entirely legitimate questions about this poem. However each time I drift into long Philosophical arguments of the kind that have occurred regarding previous ‘philosophical’ poems of mine and which not only became embarrassingly long but also seemed to be way OTT simply as a response to a short poem. If such long-winded response is necessary then the poem is by definition a failure, because it should be more accessible in itself than in any explanation one may give of it.
However, I am more than content with your usual insightful response because it is clear that the main issues I am trying to express in this poem are at least possible to identify; even if how they shall be understood is more opaque, even obscure. Your agreement and identification with some of the issues is very welcome and encouraging.

In essence we are supposedly in a 'Post-truth' era: yet it is no harder now to establish the verifiable and verified truth of events in the world, than it has ever been. It was always hard. The crucial difference is the lack of respect for this that far too many people in public life, especially Politicians, now display. we don't have a crisis of truth - we have a crisis of truthfulness. Truth is a quality of the external world and belongs to no one: truthfulness is a choice we make and for which we should be judged and held to account.

Philosophically, unless most people, most of the time told the truth; used words in the same way; our ability to communicate would gradually diminish and atrophy. We can't define just how common lying, dissembling, spinning etc has to be before our ability to say anything that is generally acceptd is compromised any more than we can say how many forged banknotes could be introduced into circulation before the whole currency has been compromised so far as to become worthless.

The truthful, honest use of language is a form of commitment between people: upon it depends the critical idea that it matters what we say; what we say not only commits us to how we act but also what we say next. Donald Turmp is only the latest charlatan to ignore this commitment and manipulate it for his own purposes.  Orwell graphically warned us of this years ago and the Nazis demonstrated how comprehensively and effectively our ability to hear and communicate the truth could be subverted.

There are no 'narratives' out there to be discovered. All 'narratives are interpretations of events that we construct. As such narratives can be constructed to illuminate and inform; or equally to deceive, confuse and undermine.

The stanza on work probably needs redoing or dropping.  The thought was that work used to put us into direct contact with the real world and force us to come to terms with it if we were to achieve results: this is easier to establish with the traditional occupations like farming, fishing, steel, mining, etc etc. Work was an essential part of how one provided for ones family and contributed to society.  Industry took physical things in the world, transformed them through action and then sold the result for a profit. An economy that can be rooted in the real world like this makes sense to me. Making money out of money seems to me delusional and how super high speed computers making billions out of millionsof nano-second transaction between the setting of a share price and its public posting just seems to me to be hopelessly parasitic.  We seem to have developed an immensely powerful system for producing an almost infinite supply of things no one want or needs; yet can't find the resources to improve the basic lives of desperate ordinary people. Remove the contribution to the common weal that work has always represented and what does it mean to belong to a society?

I'm really waffling now: so I'll leave it. One doesn't always know quite what one means with every aspect of a poem - that's one of the differences I guess between prose and poetry; mere comunication and Art. Rightly or wrongly therefore the poem has to stand in its own right. I am encouraged that you have picked up on many of the things I was trying to express and must put down to my failure - the bits that evoke no echo.

As ever thanks for the time and trouble you invariably take with this and the respect it demostartes for the effort put in to trying to express something, however imperfectly.




Cliff Hanger at 19:10 on 08 March 2017  Report this post

We don't have a crisis of truth, we have a crisis of truthfulness

I think that's the idea you need to tease out and strengthen in this piece, Zettel. Stories and narratives are an essential part of being human (surely that's what makes us write poetry in the first place). I think what you are really saying is that liars are in the ascendency and our complacency in accepting this situation makes us complicit. Although a life without imagination, wild dreams, stories and fantasy isn't worth it. Come back if I am wrong here.  

The last stanza is very strong and impactful. 

If this were my piece, I'd be tempted to either rejig or completely cut stanzas two, three and four. I love the next part. I think if you do that, it might produce a more progressive argument that would resonate with the reader more easily.

Please feel free to disagree with all of the above.

Hope this helps and that you will post a development or revision because I think it's worth taking further.


James Graham at 20:34 on 08 March 2017  Report this post
Zettel, I don’t mind how long your replies are – except it takes me longer to get back to you! These are important matters and this has been a very interesting discussion. From your explanation I see what you are saying about work, and fully agree with it. Any work which involves producing something out of raw materials, or harvesting natural resources, is rooted in reality, and I absolutely agree that the ‘work’ of the financial conjurers turning millions into billions is, as you say, ‘delusional’, as well as ‘parasitic’. But I feel a coherent articulation of these ideas doesn’t quite emerge from the third stanza of the poem, probably because it’s just too difficult to say it all in seven lines. You might consider writing at greater length about the work of the engineer and the ‘work’ of the speculator.
Still on real work that makes sense, my father worked on a country estate, and part of his work was to look after the woodland areas. In the school holidays I used to ‘help’ him. Sometimes he would be felling a tree and sawing it up into logs; I would help by loading the logs on to a pony-cart. At other times he would be planting trees, and I would sort of help with that. But I remember that even as a child I understood that for every tree you cut down you must plant at least one to replace it. That’s real work. Nowadays those woods are sadly neglected; there’s a new, very wealthy, owner of the estate – who may well be one of those money-manipulators. From what I’ve seen, he has clearly lost touch with the real world of trees, meadows, and hedgerows.
Your ideas about our ‘crisis of truthfulness’ are very convincing too. I believe we are in such a crisis, not nearly as malign as that of the Nazi era, but comparable. You’re made aware of it when, say, an A&E consultant says his staff are grossly overworked and patients are being neglected, and then a politician tells us there’s no crisis, or it’s merely a matter of efficiency. But the grand master of untruthfulness is Trump. However, I think we may be closer to a truth: it seems very likely that Trump and his associates did conspire with Russian agents to influence the Presidential election, just as Nixon and Kissinger sabotaged Lyndon Johnson’s peace initiative with North Vietnam during the1968 Presidential campaign. We have a narrative here that’s well grounded in reality.
To return to your poem – after several detours – I have found after a few re-readings that I understand it better. That is, even setting aside your prose explanations. In particular, I found it seemed clearer, and seemed to have better continuity, without the third stanza. It would be hard to rework the stanza, as seven lines (less than 50 words) would be too limiting. Best to leave it out, and let the rest of the poem make its statement.

Cliff Hanger at 20:45 on 08 March 2017  Report this post

Yes. Cutting 2, 3 and 4 might be rather swingeing. As James says you can lose 3 and the poem really works well then.


Zettel at 13:20 on 10 March 2017  Report this post
Thanks all. I have thought about your many comments and thanks for them.

When anyone recommends you remove something, edit, cut, distil: they are almost always right.

Perversely however I have added: simply because I took on board your comments that certain ideas I didn't want to lose were too sketched-in.

Not sure if it works but some of your concerns are addressed - to the better for the poem it seems to me.



James Graham at 20:01 on 11 March 2017  Report this post
It was wise in this case to add rather than subtract. Your new stanza, with its striking imagery of musical chairs, helps throw light on the ‘work’ stanza. These are excellent lines:
Musical chairs where
Banks hold the chairs
and markets the tune
we circle in hope
with no one to blame
In today’s society we seem to be playing a game. Games are a kind of pretence or make-believe, which in ordinary traditional games is harmless but in this game seems quite sinister and malign. It’s controlled and manipulated by the banks, corporations and dealers in futures, derivatives, equity swaps and other magic tricks. We are drawn into this game without knowing the rules. We hope to win – material success perhaps, or a modest living made through very fulfilling work – but we could be true winners only if we were to find ourselves living in a society massively more democratic than any that has existed up to now, especially one in which ‘we, the people’ control the world’s resources and the means of production. In your words, a society which is founded on ‘respect for the common weal’.
This could become a dissertation, so I won’t go on. It’s my reading of those lines, echoes of which are found elsewhere in the poem. This stanza does support the ‘work’ stanza, because there’s now a sharp contrast when we come to the lines
The honest granite of work
the truth of the real
– far from the world of those games of control and subordination. The difference between the real, with which we are in danger of losing touch, and the specious narratives which surround us, is reinforced in these lines:
The rigour of a real world
that must first be obeyed
before it can be changed
submits to fashioned narrative
a purpose built on magic dreams
Well, there it is. Most readers would probably find ‘Narrative’ a demanding poem, but it’s a matter of getting the brain into gear and thinking it through. It’s worth it.

Zettel at 11:14 on 12 March 2017  Report this post
Thanks James. 



Cliff Hanger at 13:20 on 12 March 2017  Report this post

This might be of interest.


They're running a competition for entry into an anthology entitled Poets Meet Politics.


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