Stormy weather for poetry

May 26, 2009

let the storm wash the plates

We’re in the midst of a great poetry season on the BBC, but what is really making the headlines? The lives of poets: first of all, betting on the laureateship, and now the murky dealings around the post of Professor of Poetry at Oxford. How many column inches have been devoted, over the past five years, to the actual poems of Carol Ann Duffy or Ruth Padel?

The Independent used to carry a column by Padel discussing one contemporary or classic poem in depth, and that did poetry a great service; Duffy has edited the Daily Mirror’s poetry corner. The Herald carries its daily poem; The Scotsman has dropped from poem of the week to poem of the month. Coming across poems by chance – as in the Poems on the Underground in London, which have been running for decades and are much treasured – seems to me the best way to put poetry in front of people. We want poets on the radio and in the press as a matter of course, not because they’re competing or seasonal but because they’re writing poems that will provoke, amuse, charm.

And we’d like these poems and poets to appear without the media asking every time whether poetry is still read or valued. Of course it is! You’d hardly know it, so few poetry books are reviewed or discussed outside literary magazines, with the honourable exception of the Guardian; recitals are reviewed, but not poetry events. Let’s move the focus off the personalities and on to the poems. As Ezra Pound said, ‘literature is news that stays news’.

~ Robyn

5 Responses to “Stormy weather for poetry”

  1. Quite right.

    While gossip *can* be mildly entertaining, it’s not good when it’s the whole focus.

  2. hugh mcmillan Says:

    Aye in an ideal world. Finding the personality more interesting than the poems ia a time-honoured pursuit however, and if poets act like they’re in a very public soap opera, with character assassination, sexual intrigue, ex-boyfriends sticking the boot in, disgrace, resignations and so on, it’s hardly surprising that’s that’s what’s picked up on. Look at the bright side. A lot more people know who Ruth Padel is now.

    • spl5 Says:

      You obviously have a point Hugh. But do the headlines mean that people are turning to the lines of poetry? Unquantifiable of course, but doubtful. Just because I glancingly read that Katie Price and Peter Andre have split up, and even if I possess a heightened awareness of her love life, it doesn’t mean I’m going to rush out and buy her ‘auto’biography. And that logic is rather depressing.

  3. hugh mcmillan Says:

    Why should the headlines turn people to poetry? Do poets really want the general public to read their poems? Or do they want to exist in a hermetic little world where they can all think how clever they are? I think it’s patronising to suggest that people have turned away from proper intellectual pursuits like poetry because our culture has somehow become degraded. Poets are culpable- they make their work incoherent, or encrypted. Why has contemporary poetry become a minority interest? Ask the minority.

  4. […] Ruth Padel was brought for the first time to one visitor’s attention by the recent press machinations. We assembled a pile of titles and an easy chair and left her to it. She deemed them excellent. We hoped that would happen. […]

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