April 9, 2006

Poets for the unmourned dead... with a political agenda.

An Amsterdam project:
Frank Starik leads a group of Amsterdam poets engaged in a highly unusual civic project -- attending the funerals of the city's unmourned dead and remembering them at the graveside with a specially-composed poem.

It spares people the indignity of a funeral without mourners, says Starik, a gaunt figure in a black jacket with an air of the Romantic poet about him.

"I want to give them back a life, a history," he said.

Amsterdam social services bury some 250 people a year, about 15 of whom leave no trace of relatives or friends. In such cases, the poets are called in....

Starik acknowledges there is a political aspect to the work.

"Part of the hidden agenda of this is that we have a very right-wing government, who are against foreigners, Muslims, and who are trying to reconstruct a society we had 50 years ago."

"This is not such a nice, tolerant country any more."

For migrants or asylum-seekers who die alone, the funerals are a chance to give them back their humanity and to consider their individual hopes and experiences in a climate contriving to demonise them and view them as a single mass, Starik says.

Dutch society is still reeling from the murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh by a Dutch-Moroccan Islamist militant in 2004 which provoked an anti-Muslim backlash.

The murder of anti-immigration populist Pim Fortuyn in 2002 also saw mainstream political parties move to occupy his ground.
So a depressed loner commits commits suicide and a friendless woman succumbs to old age, and you, you sensitive poet, show up to use their funerals as a political platform against the people who are outraged by the murder of Theo van Gogh?

26 comments:

Palladian said...

"I want to give them back a life, a history," he said."

Oh thanks. I never met you in my life, but thanks for giving me a "history". I would so pay to have one of these unmourned dead pull a Carrie on these sensitive, politically engaged "poets"...

FXKLM said...

Part of the hidden agenda of this is that we have a very right-wing government, who are against foreigners, Muslims, and who are trying to reconstruct a society we had 50 years ago.

So instead he sides with the foreigners who are trying to reconstruct a society we had 1000 years ago.

ignacio said...

Witness the poseur.

Joan said...

I'm struggling with the concept of giving something to the dead, specifically the unmourned dead. The dead are gone, they don't need us anymore, and for the subjects here, there aren't even any living friends or family who would be consoled by the gift of a poem.

It's the living that these oh-so-concerned poets should be more worried about. It's so much easier to give to the dead, they'll never tell you what you to do with your manufactured "histories".

You have to love this guy, having identified a "hidden agenda" so horrible that he is compelled to fight it... by composing poetry for dead people. He must be a member of the reality-based community.

SippicanCottage said...
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Balfegor said...

I'm struggling with the concept of giving something to the dead, specifically the unmourned dead. The dead are gone, they don't need us anymore, and for the subjects here, there aren't even any living friends or family who would be consoled by the gift of a poem.

That doesn't mean one shouldn't try to honour them in death, though. He may be exploiting their deaths to make a shallow political point, but the impulse to give some homour even to those people who die in unglamourous circumstances is a good one, I think, and a worthy one. There's no one in particular who will be consoled, but there is some sense in which memorialising otherwise-anonymous deaths is offered up to all of us collectively as a kind of consolation, as an affirmation of the worth of human life, even at its meanest.

Ara said...

Here's a guy trying to give some respect to the people that society has forgotten or even actively damaged. I don't see how not being anti-immigration or anti-Muslim means you support murders. Strange.

Palladian said...

"Here's a guy trying to give some respect to the people that society has forgotten or even actively damaged."

Sounds more like a guy trying to give himself some publicity. If you want to honor the dead with a tasteful poem, fine, I love that. But leave the damned blinkered political crap for the poetry "slam". Politicising funerals- isn't that what Fred Phelps does?

Ann Althouse said...

Ara: Did you read the article? What do you think came first, his political agenda or his desire to mourn the dead?

I was ready to respect the project of poetry for the unmourned dead, but halfway through the article, I saw what was really going on here and was appalled. Look carefully, and make the right judgment. You may disagree with me, but read the article carefully and think clearly first.

dave said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Nim said...

Well, the only mention of "Theo van Gogh" is made by the article author, and not by the single (out of 15, supposedly) person involved in the project.

And the examples cited by the interviewee have nothing to do with Islam or any political or religious affiliation. But, since they protest the rise of anti-Muslim prejudice in their society, everyone involved has a craven political agenda, and is being dishonest with the rest of what they say.

Right.

" One man, a stowaway, was found dead on arrival from Africa, crushed by the heavy doors of the ferry in which he had hidden. He had a small knapsack on his back with food and medication to see him through to the new life he hoped for abroad.

Starik began the graveside recitals at the end of 2002 and since then he and other poets have attended more than 50 funerals. He hopes the network of poets can one day cover the whole country.

The initial idea, Starik said, came from witnessing changing attitudes to death and funeral lore, and the fear that the burials of the lonely might seem all the more dismal.

"There was a time when death was looked upon in a very instrumental way. That has changed in the last decades particularly with the number of people dying young of AIDS. They knew death was coming and wanted new rituals," he said.
"

Clearly, these are craven Muslim-partisan hypocrites looking for publicity, who have been doing what they've been doing for 4 years, just on the off chance that one of them might be interviewed, so that the writer (and not the interviewee) could mention Theo van Gogh.

AnnieAngel said...

I don't get what the big deal is? And I don't get why I'm being compared to the person who runs this blog?

I don't know who you are, Althouse lady, but you've riled the right people so you must be ok. :)

LDM said...

Could'st I liken thee to a rose
when thou had'st hair imbedded in thine nose
and gooey jam between'st thy toes?
N'er to praise where naught but fungus now slowly grows
the Lonely Donut Man (LDM)

slickvguy said...

This is a very poorly written article, and I believe that's why it's been misinterpreted.

Sure, this poseur is a goof. (And may I ask what the OTHER parts of the hidden agenda are (since he said that this is "a PART" of the hidden agenda)?

But I think the key phrase is For migrants or asylum-seekers who die alone, the funerals are a chance to give them back their humanity

So unless I'm misreading it, it's not politicizing the funeral of "a depressed loner" or a "friendless woman". It's explicitly for a migrant or asylum-seeker (read: Muslim), because the guy thinks that they aren't being treated properly. While I'd probably disagree with him, it makes his actions and the story not as bad as the first/quick take.

Tim said...

Hmmm. This may have started out with the best of intentions and then spun out as the ever-so-sensitive poet responded to sadness of people dying alone, unwanted; or maybe this was his deal all along. Or maybe the reporter/editor goosed him for their own purpose - who really knows? What we really know, however, is that while modern "poetry" and poets need politics, politics surely has no possible use for poets.

SteveR said...

Well I liked this

Eleanor Rigby died in the church and was buried along with her name
Nobody came
Father McKenzie wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave
No one was saved

All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?

Korla said...

We all die alone.

Cat said...

I get so irritated when people call Pim Fortyn right wing or anti-immigration because he raised the alarm about people not assimilating and accepting Holland's liberal standards. As a gay man, he saw the anti-gay, anti-woman (thosewearing skirts, blouses, heels, make-up)immigrants as a threat to their open society. And he was right. Other than asking to close the flood gates on immigration a bit and pushing for assimilation (or at least respect for the Dutch way) the guy was a liberal.

Tristram said...

Hmm...Orson Scott Card at the conculsion of 'Ender's Game' introduced the concept of Speakers for the Dead. A person that gives an essentially honest and unbiased testimony of the departed. Not necessarily pleasant, but provided a great deal of closure.

The idea is intriguing, but in the real world, the execution seems to be lacking. Or at least the honesty and respect.

SippicanCottage said...
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rj said...

I guess eveything has an agenda...even death. While it should go without mention that funerals are for the living, does that mean the living 'exploit' the dead? In that sense they are the perfect victum. It is I think sad if this person is motivated to honor only these particular dead because of a perceived wrong done them while alive. I am reminded of a story about those who have taken it upon themselves to give a proper burial to all unclaimed bodies from the morgue in Baghdad. Do they have an agenda? I don't know, but I care that they do it.

REN said...

Tristram,

Interesting comment, Orson Scott Card did write some provative material relating to this idea. In the sequel novel to Ender's Game "Speaker for the Dead" OSC writes something else very fitting:

"No human being, when you understand his desires , is worthless. No one's life is nothing. Even the most evil of Men and Women, if you understand their hearts, had some generous act them redeems them, at least a little, from their sins."

The problem that I have with a poet telling the life of an unknown immigrant is that they had almost NO information to really tell a complete, or even partial, story from.

Note, the full article adds this tidbit:

"Usually only scant details are available to the poet about the individual, sometimes not even a name. Starik believes that if you know too much about someone it becomes harder to compose."

Well, it's 'harder' because then you have to try to be more truthful, accurate and honest. The SCANT details leave the door wide open for these poets (with an admitted collective interest, NIM) to openly editorialize their fiction.

I'm all for these poets fighting the political issues in Amsterdam, but not by using dead people, who may have had NO relating thoughts or opinions on the matter. When anti-war activists use dead soldiers to send there messages, without even knowing what those same soldiers thought of the war themselves, it makes me furious. If they want to use soldiers who DID openly stand against the war, FINE, but they better be KNOW that's the truth of the story!

My thoughts on the matter go both ways, no matter what the political position. Truth is truth and fair is fair.

M. Simon said...

I worry about the Dead a lot since Jerry is gone. It is just a matter of time for the rest.

Not that Dead?

Well, never mind.

L. Ron Halfelven said...

I share your confusion, M.S. I spent most of Card's book wondering why the so-called Speaker for the Dead never once said "far out, man".

Veeshir said...

I can understand why he's upset about all those poor Muslims.

Holland is the most aggressively tolerant country you can imagine. You can do anything you want, as long as you don't bother other people. If you act intolerantly, they will correct you immediately and firmly. As if talking to a small child. And harsher if you don't act sufficiently regretful.

I was in Amsterdam a little over a month ago and in 1993 before that. I was curious to see what changes had occured. The only one I saw was that the pastry shops were all owned by Muslims and they now had actually edible food, instead of just great pastries. Gyro, shwarma, falafel. They even had decent pizza!
In other words, IMO, the fall of Tolerant Holland is way premature.

They are tough people. You don't mess with them. If you don't, they leave you totally alone. If you mess with them, they come down hard. We left our hotel room door open one day and got hollered at over it by the staff for 3 days.

Aggressively Tolerant and not weak at all.

They have a huge Christmas tree, 30+ feet, every year in the Central Square. On New Year's Eve the whole town starts shooting fireworks at each other, the next morning there was about 1.5 inches of expended fireworks paper on every, horizontal surface, seriously.
At some point in the night, it was a blur, they set fire to the tree. I'm talking a huge crowd (hundreds? thousands?) set were trying to throw refrigerator-sized, burning boxes up into the branches of the tree. As I was watching this dumbfounded, I saw that I was next to a cop car. The cop looked over at the rioters with a bored expression and then faced front again.

However, you mess with other people, you will regret it. They don't mess around.

JackTanner said...

What the mourning poets really need is a job.