Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Like Buses

There was an interesting article in the Guardian about the "health" of poetry recently, by Anne-Marie Fyfe. It was interesting partly for the names mentioned - some of whom I've heard of and some of whom I've not, but also for the fact that a lot of names were missed out. There's an awful lot of poetry about at the moment. It didn't, for instance, include the names of Annie Clarkson and Eleanor Rees, two recent first collections I've particularly liked. And that's just for starters. The number of poets around is ever increasing: how does anyone keep up?

The fact that there's so much new writing out there can only be a good thing. It would be dreadful if there were only a few names in the "promising" pile; where would the next generation come from otherwise? But the fact that there's a lot of them also brings up its own problems: how do you judge who will be lasting? Some people worry a lot about this; but I can't say it bothers me that much. The poet who worries too much about his or her posthumous reputation is the poet who ends up writing nothing at all. All you can do is listen to the voice(s) of the world around you and attempt to write down, as clearly as possible, what it is saying. Poets who thought they would be remembered forever are long-forgotten (Nahum Tate, Colley Cibber anyone?)

In fact, I'd venture to say that the more you look to your posthumous reputation, the less likely you are to have one. Frank O'Hara had a very casual attitude to publication and wrote about the things that were happening "now", though the "now" he wrote about is over forty years old. And people still read him. Shakespeare wrote for the audience in the stalls and in the pit, not for posterity; he had a keen eye on the box office and never let an idea of "greatness" stop him from being popular. Nevertheless, with his language and his stretching of the iambic line almost to breaking point, he was one of the most innovative writers of his day.

Still, as Ron Silliman is often pointing out, there are now many more poets out there than there ever used to be, and there's no way that any reader can get round them all. Just keeping up with the local scene here in Manchester is quite exhausting, and I don't think I've begun to manage that. So if somebody mentions a name I should have read, or heard, and I look blank, don't worry. There'll be another 3 poets coming up behind that one.


Kevin Doran said...

For an article that was supposed to be about new, present-day poets, it talked a lot about times passed; then did what it was meant to be doing/trying to do in list form, tacked on to the end of the pointless and badly structured article as though it were an afterthought. Also, i think there are people worth mentioning outside of those publishing books. Taking a solely book-centred approach rendered the article instantly inaccurate, other obvious biases aside.

Rachel Fox said...

One of the things I like about blogs is that reading a blog about an article from the paper press can give as much (and more) as reading the original article. I don't read 'The Guardian' just now...no particular reason...but I enjoyed your piece...and agreed with it pretty much. And look at the time (and paper) I saved!

The Editors said...

A friend of a friend was doing some research on the poetry market (if there is such a thing) about six months ago. I think it was for ACE, but the inside nature of the information meant I only got one piece of information, out of context.

The key statistic was that there are roughly 2.2million people in the UK who consider themselves writers of poetry. Punchline: only 900,000 who confessed to buying books of poetry.

As the research was ongoing, I couldn't get a clearer picture of whether those books were contemporary, or how many people source their poetry from libraries.

Still, given the increasing opportunities for new poets to get published with small presses, I'd suppose their chances of being read by someone must be on the increase, right? Even if you yourself can't be responsible for reading them all on your own.