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shewhomust

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Talking to Paxman about poetry [Jun. 3rd, 2014|09:21 pm]
shewhomust
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Jeremy Paxman, who works hard at his abrasive persona, says poetry has "connived at its own irrelevance". At present, it seems, poets write mainly for other poets, and they should aim to engage more with ordinary people.

Fortunately, he has a suggestion of how to improve matters. They say that if you have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail; if you are an interviewer, every solution is liable to look like an inquisition, and sure enough:
Paxman called for an "inquisition" in which "poets [would be] called to account for their poetry", appearing before a panel of the public where they would have to "explain why they chose to write about the particular subject they wrote about, and why they chose the particular form and language, idiom, the rest of it, because it would be a really illuminating experience for everybody".
What a pity this would only apply to living poets: I'd pay good money to see Paxman grilling T.S. Eliot about The Waste Land.

I was at a poetry reading last night, as it happens, and one at which perhaps one in three of the capacity audience were poets - and that's just the ones I recognised. This was an extreme example, but in the north east, at least, it's usual to meet poets at each other's events: they read each other, they support each other, they publish each other. It's like any literary genre: the people who read it are the people who write it, and who care about it. Complaining that poets write for each other is like complaining that SF writers write for each other: who else should they write for? They write for people who enjoy the same stuff and recognise the same themes and allusions.

Last night's readers weren't obscure or difficult, anyway: they were all very accessible (possibly too much so for the rarified heights of the Forward Prize). Sylvia Forrest's poems were memories of a long-ago childhood (I can't find an example online, but here's one of her poems, not entirely dissimilar). Alistair Robinson's set was pure stand-up, but here's a more serious poem from him, and a newspaper piece about his new book (it has a puffin on the cover!). And I may have memtioned Ellen Phethean before: her new collection is called Portrait of the Quince as an Older Woman (and here's the title poem).
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: la_marquise_de_
2014-06-03 09:52 pm (UTC)
It never ceases to amaze me how media figures take it on themselves to pronounce on all sorts of things in which they re not even remotely well-informed. And while there are dead poets I'd like to see Paxo'ed (Byron and Pound, in particular), he really has failed to get that literature is a conversation, that writers respond to each other.
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[User Picture]From: shewhomust
2014-06-04 10:25 am (UTC)
I should have said, he was speaking as one of the judges for the Forward prize - the organisers had presumably invited him to take this on in the hopes of stirring up precisely this sort of discussion. And he did say nice things about some of what he'd read, as a judge -

But yes, I did feel that what he was missing was the element of conversation. And you know, that writers are entitled to ask readers to meet them half way. Speaking as an 'ordinary person', I don't expect to turn up at a football match (or indeed a political interview) and immediately grasp what is going on!
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[User Picture]From: veronica_milvus
2014-06-03 10:19 pm (UTC)
Oh, there was a time when poets actually were inquizzed regularly. They call it "interviewing" and arts programmes and broadsheet newspapers used to do it reasonably regularly. Hardly happens any more. The media has caused a lot of the alienation.

Edited at 2014-06-03 10:19 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: shewhomust
2014-06-04 10:26 am (UTC)
Heh. As a poet I was talking to at the gig said, "isn't that what critics are for?"
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[User Picture]From: vschanoes
2014-06-03 10:38 pm (UTC)
Whenever people say that poetry is "irrelevant," I think back to the year my best friend died, when we were both 25. It was the lowest, most painful point in my life. For about nine or twelve months following, all I read, over and over again, was Donald Hall's Without. Everything else seemed pointless.
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[User Picture]From: shewhomust
2014-06-04 10:37 am (UTC)
I think he was saying that poetry has been 'relevant' and should be 'relevanr', but that much of what was being written now isn't. Which overlooks the fact that relevance is as subjective a criterion as any other.
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[User Picture]From: vschanoes
2014-06-04 12:39 pm (UTC)
And also...how much of any art form is "relevant," and, as you say, to whom? I mean, is sculpture relevant? What percentage of it?
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[User Picture]From: shewhomust
2014-06-05 05:19 pm (UTC)
And, since this is the field in which Paxman is eminent, how relevant is political analysis and commentary to 'ordinary people'?
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[User Picture]From: davesmusictank
2014-06-03 11:11 pm (UTC)
I saw this and was aghast. I really do not know what platform Paxo is coming from? He seems to be so misinformed on poets and how they play with language and turn it into something so marvelous. WHY DO SOME MEDIA CELEBS PONTIFICATE ON SUBJECTS THEY KNOW LITTLE ABOUT AMAZES ME.
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[User Picture]From: shewhomust
2014-06-04 10:40 am (UTC)
Well, as I said to la_marquise_de_ above, he was invited by the Forward prize people, presumably in the hope he would do just this - and he did, in the same speech, praise the shortlisted works. So you have to read it as being about 'some poets' - but of course what gets reported is the generalisation!
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