Thursday, October 19, 2006

Not Liking Auden

I had an intriguing conversation with Peter Sansom yesterday, in which we covered many subjects. I'd met him in Manchester after he'd been to a meeting with primary school teachers. We went for a cup of tea and chatted while he waited for his train to Sheffield.

The most interesting, however, was when we started talking about the famous poets we didn't like. We both agreed we didn't like Glynn Maxwell's poetry, but I said that I didn't like Auden much and he said he did.

Auden? I don't like Auden? But surely he's one of the major British poets of the 20th Century? Yes, he is, and no doubt a great one, but I just can't read him...

This isn't about whether they are "good" or "bad" poets. I can recognise Auden as a good poet - but for some reason, I just don't like his poems. Maybe it's that feel schoolmarmish to me - I don't really know. I'd make an exception for Funeral Blues but only because I have a rather shameful love for Four Weddings & a Funeral. I've had the same problem with Olson from another perspective - great poet, but it just doesn't work for me.

Admitting you don't like someone that everyone else thinks is great feels like letting out a great secret. It feels slightly sinful to not like a poet with the reputation of Auden; like saying you don't like Shakespeare (I do, actually.) But I think it's good to let these things out of the bag. Great cultural icons sometimes seem to be beyond criticism, and little old me couldn't possibly measure up to them. Well, maybe I can't be as skillful a poet as Auden undoubtedly was, but that doesn't mean I have to pretend to like something I don't.

So I'm coming out of the closet: I don't like Auden. I do like MacNeice, however. Louis MacNeice was, for me, the best of that bunch. I could happily take his poems with me to a desert island and spend my time reading them.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Library day

I went up to sunny Preston this weekend, where there was a networking day for writers and librarians. I got there late, due to not sleeping well the previous night; but apart from some introductory remarks, I don't seem to have missed much.

It was good to realise that there are people in libraries trying to promote writing and reading, even within budget constraints. I met people from Wigan, Bolton, Bury, Tameside, Cheshire and other parts of the North-West - as well as a few writers I've never met before. And someone I've met before that I'd forgotten I'd met. Apologies to her - I seem to have senior moments with gay abandon these days.

We came up with some nice ideas - including one for a kind of poetry tribute band - called perhaps "Huge Ted?" - to read favourite poems by other writers. Poetry's often put on a pedestal in many ordinary readers' minds - one it doesn't have for poets themselves - and they feel scared by it. Breaking down those barriers is always difficult, challenging and necessary. I'll have to follow up some of these contacts, do some kind of project - especially with my new book coming out, these contacts are invaluable.

Libraries have always been tremendously important for me - sources of good books, information, even computors these days. And records, CDs etc. It seems that some libraries at least are trying their best to encourage new readers and bring people into the sometimes imposing buildings that a lot of libraries still seem. I'm in one now - an elegant Edwardian local library that is both well-preserved and well-used.

I should have taken some books - unfortunately, out in a rush and all that, they stayed at home, apart from my reading copu.