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.