Saturday, April 30, 2005

The curse of public poetry

Wales now has a national poet - Gwyneth Lewis (see ). In a way, this is only fitting, since the tradition of eisteddfod competitions and Welsh language teaching means that there is much more down-to-earth, anyone-can-do-it attitude that prevails in, say, England, where to say you are a poet is to label yourself immediately as either a teenager, an English student, or a pensioner with time on their hands. Personally, I think the pendulum has swing too far towards the demystification and deskilling of poetry, mainly through the emphasis of poetry as self-expression rather than communication, which means that you can't say a poem is no good because that is an assault on the writer, even if it is no good. Good poetry is supposed to be hard to do!

But aside from that, it goes with the job of public poet to write poems about public events. This rarely results in good work. Gwyneth Lewis' poem on the triumph of the Wales rugby team (scroll down to the bottom of the page to see it) is a case in point. Even though this was an event in which she no doubt shared the euphoria of the best result in a generation, poetically it is er...awkward, possibly because she was wary of appearing "too clever" or "too hard", so she chucked some rhymes in here and there.

Andrew Motion has similar problems as Poet Laureate.

Fundamentally, though, I think that they find it hard to get excited about many of their topics, as indeed any sane person would. Even if you decide you do have to write a poem about an event, you do need the space to decide what to say, which may not be entirely positive and celebratory: see my Millenium poem.


Elijah said...

read the post on Canada's Poet Laureate at my blog[poet but doesnt know it]..Hilarious!

lets swap a link!
get some more traffic

martin said...

George Bowering doesn't upset the pattern: here's an excerpt:

Yes, there were people
hid books
behind false walls
pages closed on words

whose worth measured even
with death, the prize for
their discovery.

These people are heroic,
some police,
terrorising mortals for their pleasure

at the pleasure of religion.