Poetry is Politics
Language is inevitably and unavoidably political. The process of creating language is the process of naming things, and with naming things comes power. Power structures are inherently political. The distinction between ‘cow’ and ‘beef’ demonstrates this. The poor and disenfranchised farmers, who spoke Old English, stuck with their word for the big lowing beast, while those who served it to the Norman conquerors had to use their French word. But the fact that the Anglo-Saxons called the beast a cow in the first place must have come from a power imbalance; the Angles, Saxons, Jutes, and Celts all had their own languages at one point. The fact that ‘cú’ is used, rather than ‘kyr’ or ‘bo’ or any of the alternatives empowers one subsection.
It is impossible to try and de-politicise the use of language. One crass (and multilingual) example is the UEFA Champions League theme music, the enthralling words of which are a mixture of French, German and English. This is clearly a political decision. For a pan-European event, it seems sensible to use multiple languages. However, the flaw is obvious; there are more than three languages in Europe. In fact, there are 11 Germanic languages alone. According to Wikipedia there are 42 languages with over a million speakers, and another 56 with fewer. So why choose these three languages for the anthem; they are not even the most commonly spoken languages in Europe. Russian and Italian both have more native speakers than English. So presumably the reason for using French, English and German is that the nations are the most influential in Europe and in UEFA. So again, it is political.
Visit one of the Autonomous Communities in Spain that is multilingual. Inspect the street signs. You will soon discover that the politics of language can be significant on the level of letters. In the Valencian Community, some signs refer, in Castilian, to ‘Jijona’. Others use Catalan and point instead to ‘Xixona’. What is remarkable is that almost every single sign, no matter what language it uses, has its ‘J’s replaced with ‘X’s, or vice versa. There are bilingual signs that have the both languages altered.
The politics of language underlie every single thing that is written down, including poetry. The poet can write about anything they want, but the politics will always be lingering like the invisible lice that live in your eyebrows. A poet should consider the politics behind their choice of words; the tone of a piece will be altered, depending on whether the poet uses Latinate words or playing with sentence structure, as in Milton’s Paradise Lost, or monosyllabic, guttural words, derived from the Anglo-Saxon. Using the vernacular rather than dictionary forms changes how a poem is read. Using archaisms change how the poem is read. All of these alterations have politics at their heart. By using heightened language, or in fact any language that doesn’t spill out of their mouths like albumen from a cracked egg, a poet is creating an indelible connection between themselves and poetic tradition, whether knowingly or otherwise. They are borrowing the credibility of O’Hara, Dickinson, Wordsworth, Blake, Shakespeare, Milton, Spenser, Donne, Ponge, Wyatt, Chaucer. If they eschew this connection, they are politically severing the ties between past and present.