Monday, 2 June 2014

Paxman and poetry

I've been rather tardy at updating here recently, but I'm determined to get back to it. Hopefully, the next few weeks on here will be largely celebratory (new Lee Harwood book, Mark Burnhope interview, Prole, Conor Jameson's new book), but let's get started with a good old-fashioned poetry dust-up.

Jeremy Paxman, one of the judges of the Forward Prize this year, has ventured the opinion that poets should start engaging with 'ordinary people'. On Facebook and Twitter, this has provoked a good deal of talk, some of which, as Jo Bell and Katy Evans-Bush have pointed out, does seem to rather back up his point. Why should it really be such a problem to have a 'non-poet' talking about poetry?

My main argument with it, I think, is not with the problem that Paxman identifies, but the reasons he suggests for that. I don't think it has a huge amount to do with the accessibility of the actual poems, with the often false separation of poetry into 'easy' and 'difficult' camps. I think it's more to do with another kind of accessibility, with the fact that it's hard to encounter poetry casually, these days. The odd newspaper or magazine publishes the odd occasional poem, and there are projects such as Poems On The Underground that attempt to get poetry in front of the public as they go about their everyday business, but frankly, there's not enough of it. When it does appear on TV or radio, it's generally in a niche of its own, rather than alongside other artforms.

I do have a slight problem with the whole idea of 'ordinary people', 'non-poets' and so on - aren't poets ordinary people, then? But that might be down to the way the papers have presented this. Paxman has obviously been asked to stir up interest in the Prize shortlist, and he's done it. In that respect, kudos to him. At least poetry's getting talked about on the news.

The one shame is that it's overshadowed the actual shortlist - scroll down to the bottom of that Guardian article to see it.

1 comment:

Frances said...

Good point Matt. In terms of 'accessibility' Paxman's name is by far the most widely known out of the judges. Comments made by any of the other judges would not have got front page on The Guardian no way.