The Art and Design of a Politician's Poetry in Motion; Prof Roshan Doug Analyses the Importance of Language in Poetry and Politics in View of Yesterday's National Poetry Day, the Inauguration of a New Birmingham Poet Laureate and the Forthcoming Birmingham Book Festival

The Birmingham Post (England), October 10, 2003 | Go to article overview

The Art and Design of a Politician's Poetry in Motion; Prof Roshan Doug Analyses the Importance of Language in Poetry and Politics in View of Yesterday's National Poetry Day, the Inauguration of a New Birmingham Poet Laureate and the Forthcoming Birmingham Book Festival


Byline: Prof Roshan Doug

My, oh, my! Hasn't language been the operative word in the last few weeks, from the highly publicised enquiry lead by Lord Hutton into the death of Dr Kelly, the role of the Government and the BBC in that fatality, to Ian Duncan-Smith's grand finale speech yesterday at the Conservative Party conference in Blackpool. No, I jest. I'm sure his speech has had all the trappings and finer touches of neuro surgery because let's face, if it doesn't go down very well (and only the next few days will tell), IDS will have to fight off a lethal rebellion which even the body-building giant Arnold Schwarzenegger would find difficult to quash.

And this is my very point. The use of language is important; in fact it's paramount in the world of politics. The choice of English, the diction and its power to move people, plays an essential role among politicians because it enables them to define their substance. Or not, as the case maybe.

For politicians the careful selection of vocabulary and its use enables them to create a veil of ambiguity and ambivalence.

And it is this, the written or verbal expressions of their undertakings, their promises, their priorities, that we turn to when shooting them down. And they know this.

So they exercise equivocal commitments littered with ifs and buts which can mean whatever you want them to mean. In fact, IDS's speech contains a variety of interpretations, layers of meaning, depending on who's listening to it or interpreting it.

And for politicians that is an important aspect. Their speeches can't be crystal clear because that would (for the media at least) act as a rope with which they could be hanged in the future.

For politicians, clarity is synonymous with stupidity. So they rely on all the devices that poets use in their poetry.

Essentially, politicians have to design the speech in such a way that they resonate in the mind of the listener.

It's just what poets try to do.

For instance, not only do politicians have to make their speech ambiguous (clouding the degree of emphasis of their undertaking), but, at the same time, they also have to litter it with smiles, metaphors and conceit so that we can engage with it. …

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