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John Manoochehri © 2004


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This poem was written as a combination of two slow formations of reluctant opinion. On the one side, as a persistent but irregular visitor to 'The Voice of the Turtle', an inner confusion and concern persists that I don't know who this website speaking to, nor upon whom the joke is. Is this socialism for the masses? Or just for the book-trained 'scholarship socialists' who write it? And what is the level of irony? Are we laughing at old-school socialisms (this seems pompous)? Or is it a way for post-socialists to laugh at the terrier-like persistency of their belief in social justice (this seems more benign)? Or is it just showing off? Actually I do want to know the answers here: I'm left, but not per se a socialist. Indeed, if I didn't feel that the scholarship socialists were so patronising (and not just to me), I might even learn to become a socialist.

Combining both of these two points, and leading to the second opinion-stream, I ask - what is so funny about the 'Mao of Pooh'?

In Nepal, where I have been working for six months, there is an active so- called Maoist movement, interfacing with not only ridiculously complex politics (monarchy, 'democratic' parties, goverment machinery), but with the super- complex and embedded caste and religious system. I feel pretty much as I understand the average Nepali to feel: something had to challenge the status quo of very corrupt, paternalistic 'democracy' - and the Maoists are recognised to have forced self-assessment on the part of the political players. Whether the Maoists themselves are any kind of answer was until a while back an open question, but it is rapidly closing to a 'no' as they fragment and harbour more and more free-riders who rip off, and sometimes terrorise, the villages. In sum, the Maoists have created the opportunity for useful change; but are now routinely seen as dangerous and crooked as the prevailing governing complex.

At the political level, the poem is a reflection of how the 90% of the country working at subsistence farming is probably, in my gathering assessment, just bewildered by the mainstream of politics (including of course development interventions) as it is by the ideological motivations of the more educated Maoists and the Maoist strategy on the ground. 'Children' is used a designation of anyone subject to the controlling manias of others; but also implies a kind of honesty and innocence that the other actors in this drama lack.

Anyway, after considering how they are defined by countervailing political forces (and finding those definitions pretty useless), and as both as a release from the irrelevant stuff pushed at them from all sides, and as a expression of their true interests, the children complete their 'pooja', their ritual prayers. As for thousands of years, this is a pious act, a psychological release, a cry for help, a cry of despair, a celebration, a habit, and more.

Book-trained socialists will recognise the voices and tactics of the Maoists. In the Maoist voice, however, I wanted to add a range of ambivalences: the high claims at variance with actual capacity, the threat and the perversity of violence against their putative support base, the peasants; and a sense of the unreality of the socialist goals in relation to the physical world (traditional socialism is generally hard to reconcile to environmental sustainability, and ignores the reality of Nepali geography particularly).

If the poem leaves anyone with a sense that whole populations can be entirely marginalised by the most intensive political processes (even ones featuring radical socialism); and/or if it leaves anyone with a sense that Maoism isn't just a historical artefact, and that the 'Mao of Pooh' is not funny, and that post-socialist websites by scholarship socialists are probably irrelevant to world's very poor - then I think I've not wasted my or your time.

At the poetical level, I am no poet, so this is hardly a quality item. But I sometimes enjoy fiddling. Generally, I think that metre is very overrated for modern, text-based poetry. Metre is, historically, a device for recited poetry, and used by modern poets either writing for work to be recited, or more usually to show off to fellow wordsmiths. So (apart from the fact that I don't write enough poetry to learn any metrical craft), the main sound devices in the poem are assonance, half-rhymes, and some alliteration; I rather think assonance is the most flexible and rangeful sound device in poetry anyway.

As interesting to me as sound techniques, for poetry designed to be read, is the visual ambiguity and multiple-readings allowed by punctuation and line- breaks; and the fact that tone of voice, crucial for precise meaning in English, is *not* carried in text, which allows more ambiguity. Obviously, beyond the sound and layout levels, standard devices (metaphor, references, register) are all important tools.




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