A Dirt Laureate?


“The poet”, Rollo May writes, “is a menace to conformity. We cannot escape our anxiety over the fact that the artists are the possible destroyers of our nicely ordered systems. For the creative impulse is the speaking of the voice and the expressing of the forms of the preconscious and unconscious; and this is, by its very nature, a treat to rationality and external control. So the dogmatists try to take over the artist, the Capitalist tries to take over the artist by buying him, and the Church, in certain periods, harnessed him to prescribed subjects and methods.”

I wonder which domination systems, which monarchies, governments, Churches, would be brave enough to employ a ‘dirt laureate.’

History has seen the rise of the position of Poet Laureate – someone to fashion words to massage the ego, to glorify and ensure that on all occasions there is pomp and affirmation of the present system. All is settled. All is good.

A ‘dirt laureate’ – I suppose the court jester is the closest thing we’ve ever had – would be employed to deliberately subvert, criticize, throw dirt at official policy. To speak the foul truth and be the challenging ‘no’ to the maul of ‘yes-men’ that surround our leaders… and the fictions I build around myself.


5 responses to “A Dirt Laureate?”

  1. Steve Waling

    My problem with this “poet as non-conformist” idea is that it still buys into the idea of the artist as big Romantic individualistic hero, standing somehow outside of society rather than within it, commenting from the sidelines as it were. I’m a poet myself, but I don’t feel like a big Romantic hero, I feel like I’m trying to understand what’s going on in the world around me. I’m in the world, right up to the top of my head.

  2. I’d agree that that’s often a problem with artists – a grandiouse pretension about the power of their message. However, that wasn’t really the image I was aiming at. A much quieter, more involved role… Not so much individualistic hero or dramatic non-conformist, but someone close to the reins who can really speak the difficult truth. Poets – I guess they used to be called prophets – should, I feel, be welcomed closer than they are. It is the total rejection by a system in love with positivity and spin that perhaps forces them into the romantic role you outline.

  3. I have been reading The Prophetic Imagination (Walter Brueggemann), and his thoughts on the prophetic task are much in the same veins as May’s thoughts on the artist’s task (I think “prophet” is maybe a better word than “artist,” in general).
    Your dirt laureate idea is fascinating. I wonder, though, if the fact that the laureate would be paid to throw dirt would eventually cause less dirt to be thrown. If the organization hires a prophet to be a dirt laureate, then said prophet has a vested interest in the survival of said organization. I wonder if that would unintentionally “take the edge off” the prophecies/dirt-slinging sessions. I can’t think of a “staff prophet” in the Old Testament who didn’t simply parrot the party-line, so to speak. Am I missing someone?
    I wonder if, because of our fallenness (finding security in a paycheck), prophetic voices will always tend to come from the margins.

  4. Agreed Ben – they would clearly need to be out of the pockets of the people they were critiquing, and you allusion to the OT false prophets is a good one.
    Perhaps it would simply have to be an agreement that the space would be given for the critique to happen… The joke is that this is probably meant to be the role of the official oppostion, but they are so ineffectual at the moment that it never happens.
    I’m reminded of the passage in the book about the dirty carnival that the priests used to have to go through – a public debasing to put them back in their place. Might be a good idea to re-introduce it!

  5. “art is the extension of the power of rites and ceremonies to unite (people), through a shared celebration, to all incidents and scenes of life… art also renders (people) aware of their union with one another in origin and destiny.”
    (john dewey)
    “art (is) not an amusement, a superfluity, frivolity… it is an essential human function.”
    (benedetto groce and sally morgan)