|Talking to Paxman about poetry
||[Jun. 3rd, 2014|09:21 pm]
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).