by F.R. Scott, edited by Gary Geddes
A code of laws
On this beggar's hand.
My small coin
The harsh sentence.
I know we did F. R. Scott in the not-so-distant past, but thanks to the magic of anthologies we are revisiting him. Yay! Scott once wrote that poetry is "the making of something new and true" and "an exploring of the frontiers inside and outside the world of man [....] a kind of umbilical contemplation." The connections among things, hidden and otherwise, are of particular importance to Scott. In the poem above, for example, Scott suggests that poverty is created by our political system, and that when we do the very human act of attempting to help a person in need, we are in reality reifying the system itself -- we prove that we are willing to step in and take the reins and we remove the demand from the system itself. To Scott, this idea is the worst form of complacency because it allows the system to continue on unhalted, when really we need to dismantle social orders and rebuild a socialist state.
New times were coming, according to Scott, and such new times accordingly required new music. As he writes in "Overture," "This is an hour / Of new beginnings, concepts warring for power, / Decay of systems -- the tissue of art is torn / With overtures of an era being born." Social changes are tearing the world apart -- this is from 1936, where answers to the depression cycled between absolute socialism and absolute market control. There is a violent image here of the world battling between forces, and it is poetry that must begin anew to tell the stories of a troubled time. Old forms lose their relevancy, and new forms must emerge. We are on the cusp, in this poem, of a "world crescendo" -- the world is about to hit a fever pitch, and the results will be earth-shattering.
If this is the future, what of the past? In "Laurentian Shield," Scott ignores the reality of native populations on the land in order to create an empty landscape that he describes as "Inarticulate, arctic, / Not written on by history, empty as paper." It is only through human history, then, that we give meaning to nature. Scott's overarching view is a humanist one; that is, development that harnesses human ingenuity is progressive. As long as advancement is human-oriented and socially just, it is movement forward. As Scott believes, "The future of man is my heaven."