Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Appallingly literal

I always rather liked Ruth Padel's poetry columns in The Independent. I didn't always agree with her interpretations, but at least that's what they were - interpretations, based on a close reading of the poem. At the very least, they sent you away with some ideas about the piece that hadn't occurred to you before, to adopt or reject at your leisure. They didn't waste too much time telling you about what the poem said, or what effect it might be intended to have on you - they just got straight on with telling how she thought the poet went about achieving that effect.

Unfortunately, this regular poetry column in The Times, by Frieda Hughes, misses the mark entirely. It seems to be a very literal retelling of the content, without ever going into the mechanics and magic of the poetry. I struggle to see what the reader gains from it that they couldn't get from just reading the poem carefully a couple of times. If you've seen it on a regular basis, you'll know that this is pretty much par for the course, and not a one-off. Shame, because there's little enough space given over to poetry in newspapers as it is. A missed opportunity.


Anonymous said...

Matt - Rob is about to reignite this debate over at Surroundings, but essentially I see almost everything FH has done as trading on her name(s) rather than her merit; I appeared in First Pressings (Faber) with her, and it was interesting to see how Sarah Hall and Jacob Polley had to wait for years after that anthology before publication, but FH's work was snapped up straight away by a major house. I'm afraid I'm with Todd Swift when it comes to his views as to who gets what, and why in modern poetry - and I often cite you as an excellent writer who has yet to have the attention they deserve. JW

BW said...

Matt – I agree entirely: that Wordsworth analysis was painfully poor. But, you know what the solution is, don't you? Write the poetry columns in the national newspapers yourself, or rue another missed opportunity.
Mike W (first-time-commenter)

Matt Merritt said...

That's very kind of you, James, and I could and do say the same thing about you. I certainly think this is one of those cases where what Todd says does apply.
What baffles me most, though, is why no one at The Times has had a quiet word with her and asked her to do what she's being paid for.
Unless, of course, this what they want, which is probably even more depressing.
Thanks too, Mike. I wouldn't pretend to have the expertise to do such a thing, but there are an awful lot of poets out there, with less illustrious names, who I think would do a better job.