Poet Panic!!!

A review of Jerome Stueart’s “Why the Poets were Banned from the City” in The Angels of Our Better Beasts (ChiZine Publications, 2016)By Derek Newman-Stille

Literature has often been regarded as dangerous, perceived as a potential spark for revolution. It is one of the reasons why books have been banned by groups that sought to prevent access to information. 

Jerome Stueart’s “Why the Poets were Banned from the City” explores a society where a conservative group has outlawed literature and any exploration of the imaginative. This society only allows artists to exist for the production of advertisements, the creation of content that drives the economy. Literature unconnected to capitalism, that doesn’t immediately result in the sale of something else is perceived as threatening by this society because it evokes feelings in the audience without giving them a capitalist outlet for them to express their emotions. 

Stueart brings attention to the relationship between consumption and art in a capitalistic society, evoking the dangerous way that we tend to entwine art and product. But, he also brings attention to the way that literature is frequently associated with threat, the attempts by groups in power to silence literature that evokes emotional needs and the desire for change. 

In Stueart’s narrative, imaginative literature has been banned because it is believed to be threatening, causing people to become emotional and act out. Although imaginative art has been banned, a father discovers a fragment of a poem by Emily Dickinson in his daughter’s hands in the tub that she drowned herself in and begins a new vendetta against poets, perceiving them as creating dangerous literature that causes children to feel too much. This father and the society that empowered him to view literature as a threat is reminiscent of the Satanic Panic of the 1980s where conservative groups tried to suggest that creative games like Dungeons and Dragons were causing mayhem and danger amongst young adults. This rhetoric has frequently been trotted out to try to advocate for the banning of books, cancelling of television shows, and censoring of films, so it is still something that regularly surfaces, often accompanied by the rhetoric of “but what about the children”. The banning of creative works tends to come from a perception of children as blank slates waiting to be filled and forever at threat of being contaminated. Stueart’s narrative explores a society in which this rhetoric is pushed to the next level, where all of society is perceived to be at threat from creative works and the only people who are allowed to read them are artists, but only to fuel their imagination for writing advertisements. 

Stueart invites us to consider the ramifications of a society that perceives of art as threat, and reminds us that we are a thin page turn away from that society and should be vigilant of the banning of creative works. This society becomes a people without metaphors, a people who feel a need to act out in some way when experiencing emotion, and a people that have been detached from their history, their stories, their ways of understanding themselves and others.

To discover more about Angels of Our Better Beasts, visit http://chizinepub.com/the-angels-of-our-better-beasts/

To find out more about Jerome Stueart, visit https://jeromestueart.com

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