On Flags

Suzanne Buffam

copyright ©2010 Suzanne Buffam

Few things are more stirring
Than a flag in the wind.
A problem of asethetics vs. ethics.
All morning I study
A tea towel drying on the line.
A flag without a country
Is like desire without an end.

Notes on the Poem

As we've discovered previously with Suzanne Buffam's work in her 2011 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlisted work The Irrationalist, she can charm and challenge readers with just a few well-chosen words and well-crafted lines. Let's examine how she does that again in "On Flags", from the suite of intriguing observations she labels as "Little Commentaries." That very first line is a zinger ... "Few things are more stirring" ... its zinginess not fully comprehended until you read the second line: "Than a flag in the wind." The word "stirring" is slyly editorial. Is a flag something that rouses one emotionally, or is it just a scrap of fabric, flapping in the breeze? That Buffam segues briskly to contemplation of a tea towel ... well, that might be our answer. In just a few crisp lines, Buffam scrutinizes the potency of flags as symbols, whether or not she or you feel such symbolism is meaningful, relevant, overstated or even jingoistic. That she equates it with a humble household item is irreverent, also intimate, but simultaneously broadens out to the political, as "desire without an end" could be interpreted as personal or collective yearning. We are starkly and tellingly reminded of the power of flags with fresh, shocking immediacy, as nations support nations with colours of a flag. It is stirring ... vraiment.

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