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The Poet as Civil Servant

If you are not familiar with Patrick Kurp’s excellent Anecdotal Evidence blog, you should be. Every weekday he looks at a passage, a writer, or both, and offers a short reflection or association that is consistently interesting and a great way to start your morning or lunch hour.

Yesterday, he highlighted a couple of remarks from the late Irish poet Dennis O’Driscoll, who worked in the Dublin tax office most of his life and wrote poetry on the side. “I have always regarded myself,” O’Driscoll wrote in his essay “Sing for the Taxman,” “as a civil servant rather than a ‘poet’ or ‘artist’—words I would find embarrassing and presumptuous to ascribe to myself.”  Elsewhere:

My belief is that if you look after the language, then the politics will look after itself. If you take the care and trouble to represent things precisely as you perceive them, literally and imaginatively, you will have discharged any obligation to society which you may have. To arrogate to yourself some larger role as seer or clairvoyant is to succumb to a deluded megalomania of a kind which is endemic in the literary world.

Kurp quips: “No utopian blather, just uncommon common sense from an unlikely source—a poet.” Yes. May more poets devote themselves to clarity, precision, beauty, and forget about being or becoming a Poet, as hard as that might be; and may more critics give the work of the O’Driscolls of the world the attention that work deserves.

about the author

Micah Mattix is the literary editor of The American Conservative and an associate professor of English at Regent University.  His work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, National Review, The Weekly Standard, Pleiades, The Washington Times, and many other publications. His latest book is The Soul Is a Stranger in this World: Essays on Poets and Poetry (Cascade). Follow him on Twitter.

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