Friday, 23 November 2018

Is contemporary poetry in "a rotten state"?

Late to the party with this, but apparently novelist Rose Tremain thinks modern poetry is crap, while poet Robin Robertson finds himself sitting in the appalled middle ground, between the polar opposites of "light verse" or "incomprehensible".

Well, you can have fun arguing about whether or not they're right, but it's the way the subject is approached that bugs me. With Tremain, it's the "Let's dare to say it out loud". She sounds like one of those middle-aged men who 'dare' to be politically incorrect, but of course she's not saying anything daring at all, just using the platform afforded her by a national newspaper to trot out the same sort of thing Jeremy Paxman and Stephen Fry have done in the past. And of course, she doesn't mention any of the poets she does approve of, whether contemporary or from the past, or indeed any of the contemporary poets that she has read to form such an opinion. So, all things considered, a pretty pointless comment.

In Robertson's case, it's the implication that the "middle" in which he finds himself is somehow the squeezed, obscured, ignored part of the poetry world, rather than the largest sector, and the one that encompasses the larger presses and the bulk of the media coverage. It's dominated, of course, by middle-aged white men like Robertson writing largely mainstream poetry (and I speak as a middle-aged white man writing mainstream poetry). What's the problem with hearing some different voices?

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