Sunday, 19 May 2019

THE PUBLIC FACE OF POETRY

The waiting is over: Simon Armitage has been named the next poet laureate. 

He is a Radio 4 kind of poet - interesting, widely acceptable, not too radical.  He knew and admired the work of Ted Hughes - a link with a previous laureate.  Imtiaz Dharker is reported to have turned down the post, stating the need to concentrate on her own work.  It would have been great to have someone who describes herself as a 'Pakistani Scottish Calvinist Muslim' to follow Carol Ann Duffy, the first woman laureate ever (since the post was officially established in 1668).  But it was not to be.  We are back to the traditional white male poet laureate - but at least he is from Yorkshire!

A very different kind of public poetry is described by Andy Croft in the current issue of PN Review.  He recalls attending the Al-Marbed International Poetry Festival in Iraq in 2016: 'I have never seen so many people at a poetry festival, so many television cameras - or so many Kalashnikovs' (security was tight).  Poetry is important in many parts of the Middle East.  Croft goes on to write 'The idea of a publicly-owned, serious and shared poetic tradition clearly persists across all classes in Arab culture' and poetry's historical role in that culture is 'to say in memorable ways those things which society needs to hear and remember'.

Perhaps the more public bardic tradition of poetry lives on in Britain in the office of National Poet of Wales (currently Ifor ap Glyn) and the Scots Makar (Jackie Kay).

He closes this paragraph with the statement 'It is only in mass literate societies that poetry becomes diminished in importance and seriousness.'  I feel this needs a Discuss at the end, but it is thought-provoking.  Most UK publishing is in the hands of big business with commercial interests paramount.  PR rather than poetry is what gets noticed.

Yet the majority of poetry books in Britain are published by small presses without the resources to indulge in big PR efforts or compete for literary prizes (which can leave a publisher out of pocket).  Andy Croft is a publisher himself (he runs the small press Smokestack books).  His article is well-worth reading.

Sometimes I think that writing poetry is a bit like playing in a string quartet - not many people will listen but I enjoy doing it.  Pass the cello, please!

Andy Croft's article 'Stripped Naked by the Flames' is in the current PN Review issue 247 and can be read on line on the PN Review website  https://www.pnreview.co.uk/cgi-bin/scribe?item_id=10493

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