Bringing poetry back to politics

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A frequent criticism of our political leaders is that they don't provide a bigger narrative, a deeper story that might give some sense of meaning, inspiration and direction to the populace.

An example of this sort of critique came from Paul Keating last week when interviewed about his recently published book, After Words, by Paul Kelly in The Australian. 'The failure of the Rudd and Gillard administrations,' he said, 'is the lack of an over-arching story, the lack of a compelling story.'

According to Eureka Street poetry editor Philip Harvey, it is the work of poets to delve into this deeper territory, and poetry provides perhaps the best means to explore and express deeper questions.

Harvey spoke with Eureka Street TV as part of a special series of conversations to mark the 20th anniversary of the journal. As well as being interviewed, he also read some of the best poems that have appeared recently in Eureka Street.

The recording took place at the Carmelite Library in the Melbourne suburb of Middle Park, a special theological library dedicated to study and research in the areas of spirituality and mysticism, and its extensive collection is unique within Australia. Harvey is the librarian there.

With his palpable love of books, writing, spirituality and religion, Harvey is at home in this environment. These qualities were nurtured by his childhood growing up in an Anglican vicarage.

He was born in Bendigo in 1955, the son of an Anglican priest. His family later moved to Melbourne. Though he was raised in the Anglo-Catholic tradition, he has written that he has a 'broad ecumenical understanding and appreciation of Christianity that is very inclusive about what is valid and possible'.

He studied Pure English at the University of Melbourne under eminent poets Vincent Buckley, Chris Wallace-Crabbe and Peter Steele, gaining a BA with Honours. He went on to study librarianship with a graduate diploma from the State College of Victoria.

Most of his working life has been spent in libraries. For the last four years he has been President of the Australian and New Zealand Theological Library Association.

But poetry is his first love. Since his teens he has been an avid reader and writer of poetry, and his work has been published widely both in Australia and overseas. 


Peter KirkwoodPeter Kirkwood is a freelance writer and video consultant with a master's degree from the Sydney College of Divinity. 


Topic tags: Peter Kirkwood, Philip Harvey, poetry

 

 

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This response may seem too cute, but poetry never left politics, just as Harvey recognises that politics never left poetry. All political discourse is poetic, patterned, formalised and formularised, versified. All politicians rise and fall by the aesthetic texture of what they say as much as its logic and reference.

Mr Speaker, Mr Speaker.

We have this assumption that poetry is good, but anyone who has edited a journal like Eureka St will know that is not true. Sure, some political discourse is ugly; some of it is clunky; some of it is evil -- but that is no less true of the poetry we recognise as such.

Now if no fayre creature followeth me,
it is on account of Pity.
It is on account that Pity forbideth them slaye.
Tom Clark | 04 November 2011


I really enjoyed listening to Philip Harvey speak about the importance of poetry in our lives (also his reading). I've been published in Eureka Street twice now (2008 & 2011) and appreciate the focus and especially the longevity of this opportunity.
Thank you!
Helen Hagemann | 04 November 2011


I really enjoyed listening to Philip Harvey speak about the importance of poetry in our lives (also his reading). I've been published in Eureka Street twice now (2008 & 2011) and appreciate the focus and especially the longevity of this opportunity.
Thank you!
Helen Hagemann | 05 November 2011


Thank you so much for this. My own years of work on Rainer Maria Rilke convinced me that poetry can articulate and affirm our deepest longings and that without that intense allusive "language" - and even more what it evokes - we almost literally lose our ground. Doesn't apply to all poetry of course and perhaps not even to most, but when poetry does pierce our defences and re-cast our inner vision it's a glorious thing!
Stephanie Dowrick | 15 November 2011


It was very cool to see your face, Philip. That library looks great; you are very lucky to work there. I would have loved to hear about the pure humour and joy of word-play a little more. But that's just me!
Penelope Cottier | 15 November 2011


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