CHRIS HISLOP reviews Frederick Glaysher’s epic poem THE PARLIAMENT OF POETS

The Moon has oft served as a potent metaphor: from Shakespeare’s maddening orb as it comes nearer the earth to Milton’s apparent queen, its magical and mystical energies interweave the work of many a poet who has probably penned his pieces by her light. But just as that light is but a reflection of the Sun, the Moon’s influence is given poetic licence to obscure and deceive – and there’s more than a teaspoon of that in Frederick Glaysher’s epic poem The Parliament of Poets.

The plot follows a poet (presumably Glaysher himself, hinted at in the title of “Persona”), taken magically to the Moon, where a collection of the world’s greatest poets have assembled a parliament to consult on the “meaning of modernity”. What this turns out to be, by and large, is a dismissal of the modern age and an attempt to merge the sciences and the humanities to reach a greater understanding of the human condition – Glaysher certainly doesn’t aim low.

But his first instinct (and raison d’etre, it seems) is a rather large stumbling block. Through a number of forewords and prefaces, before even attempting the piece, it becomes clear that Glaysher is fighting a conceptual war. The poem is written in reaction to the Moon landing and a piece in the Detroit News that pompously decreed that “it was not necessary to send poets” – which, for some reason, enraged the young Glaysher so much that, 30 years after the fact, he penned this piece.

But why? What is his argument? That poetry and the arts have stopped being a part of scientific discourse? I can’t really believe that there was a time, up until 1969, when the arts and the sciences worked together in harmony, and that the sharp impact of modernity split them asunder – if so, my history textbooks have a lot to answer for!

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Glaysher’s conflict becomes clearer as you read on – he is denouncing modernity because modernity has denounced him. A “prefatory ode” is far more enlightening than the rest of the piece – a bitter little poem directed at “the Right Honourable Patron, or Corporate Sponsor, Who Never Materialised” complains at the condescension and lack of attention he has received, describing this “literary period” as indifferent and bemoaning the non-existence of modern patronage.

And that tone infects the piece – modern artists are “poetasters”, mere pretenders who put poetry and literature into disrepute. The sneer is almost palpable – and it’s a shame, because the poetry and language is rather beautiful. Glaysher has grasped epic poetry’s rhythms and cadences, favouring an iambic meter to create a pleasant, rolling pace to the piece. It waxes a little too lyrical more often than not, with a particular image being laboured on a fraction too long, but it’s really very readable.

But that doesn’t excuse the end result: a rather pompous piece where a poet is taken around the world by various poetic numinaries and gains a greater insight into equality. The plea for world peace at the end is ardent but hardly insightful. Fundamentally, this is a piece that levels a quixotic lance at the perceived giants of technology, money and progress (particularly ironic considering the poet’s spirit-guide-cum-psychopomp is none other than Cervantes) without realising that they’re just windmills: the giants are only in his own mind.

Also, on a potential sidebar – it’s not modernity or a disconnect between the arts and sciences that has changed: patronage has. The days of approaching rich men, cap in hand, to ask them to sponsor the arts is still here, it just uses different devices: Kickstarter, public arts subsidy, charitable statuses… the list is endless. Sitting in your ivory tower bemoaning that fact that there isn’t enough money or that it’s not going to you is never going to strike me as anything more than churlish – go out there and fight for it and make good art (to quote Neil Gaiman).

Anyway, back to The Parliament of Poets: I can’t honestly recommend it. Occultists and lovers of epic poetry may take something away from this, but its core message doesn’t strike much of a chord and Glaysher’s dismissive attitude is, frankly, a little galling.

If you would like to read THE PARLIAMENT OF POETS, follow THIS LINK.