The State of Poetry

So, sorry about the absence.  I was at the seaside.  No, really, I was. I’ll post a picture some time to prove it – you can see me wincing as the refreshing North Sea waves wash over my toes.

Did you celebrate National Poetry Day?  I did, quietly, by doing some work on a poem in the University Refectory in full view of students and staff – and not hiding it under pages of other stuff, as I usually do.  And I read Don Paterson’s Rain, which a kind relative had sent me as a belated birthday present, and which, by the time I got home, had won the Forward Prize.  And there seemed to be lots of pronouncements about the state of poetry in the media.  All the ones I heard were positive.

Twenty years ago, Agenda published an issue devoted to this very subject.  I found a copy of it (Volume 27 Number 3, if you want to track it down) at a  second-hand bookshop.  The editors sent various poets a letter, asking for up to 500 words on “…the current state and role of poetry in the UK and Ireland” and a sheet of quotations on the subject.  Here are some of the responses which have caught my eye so far:

George Barker:  … I have only one remark which is that I have been seeking far and wide for this fabulous mastodon and in several years only glimpsed it once and I think it was called a Tony Harrison.

Carol Rumens:  Poetry is close-looking….But a poet is not simply a camera or a microscope.  I think there is still too much ‘camera’ poetry being written in Britain (and, in the USA, perhaps not enough!)

Ted Hughes: “Every man skin his own skunk” (Sioux Proverb)

Ruth Silcock: … Poets used to be called makers and also prophets.  Seeing the homeless in cardboard boxes, watching the news on television, looking up at recent sunny skies, there seems to be a need for poets in the second of these two roles.

Iain Crichton Smith: … It seems to me that over the past number of years poetry has been progressively marginalised.

Elizabeth Jennings: … So much which arrives in one’s post and is seen in books and pamphlets is not poetry at all; it shows no craftsmanship and is written in what can only be called arbitrarily chopped-up prose. …

Interesting to think about; how many of these opinions are still held today?  All of them?  One or two?

I think I’m with Ted Hughes.

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One thought on “The State of Poetry

  1. msbaroque says:

    Oh, you are so gonna be linked! I wrote a post last week abut “when is it poetry and when is it prose” and this seems to feed right into it. I love the Barker quote. And the Hughes.

    I spent last week at an Arvon-based course on workshopping poetry workshops (at Lumb Bank; Ted came up a lot), and the subject of permission came up – as several participants seemed to have issues with that issue in their own writing – also in terms of “who are you to teach poetry to others” etc – & I think one thing that comes up out of that is this powerful fear of the validity of the content of our own brains. People were worried that they didn’t know as much as other people, or that they didn’t know the “right” stuff, as if life is a test and you’re trying to satisfy the exam board – but of course what you have to do is work with what you’ve got, which is your own take on the world.

    Ted’s quote is about just that. That’s the scary thing, I suppose. He was just so great.

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