On New Year's Eve I spent hours in the kitchen preparing heaps of food. Like a lot of people I work much better in the kitchen with music or radio to keep me company and one thing I listened to the other day was Radio 4's Woman's Hour (I listen to it about four times a year...usually in the holidays). I managed to hit their end of the year poetry round-up special and you can hear it here until the morning of 7th January or thereabouts (if you're somewhere where the BBC i-player is accessible that is...).
It's a great programme – interviews with Jen Hadfield, Carol Ann Duffy, Sharon Olds and Alice Oswald as well as a few words on Elizabeth Alexander's Obama inauguration poem, a fair chunk of Sylvia Plath, a note about the Ruth Padel Oxford business...all this plus in-studio guests Fiona Sampson and Sarah Churchwell. It was all good stuff (though I especially enjoyed the Olds section and the contributions from Churchwell...I must be in an American mood just now).
Here's a quote or two from the programme...taken completely out of context, of course, and with punctuation put in by me (i.e. a bit slapdash – apologies to these no doubt highly professional women of perfect punctuation).
Carol Ann Duffy
“Poetry for me is a secular prayer”
“I do see poetry as a kind of music”
Fiona Sampson (editor of 'Poetry Review') on the subject of women critics/reviewers:
“Certainly there is a problem for women critics...that is to say there aren't many women critics in poetry and whether that's because criticism is somehow assumed to be macho and destructive (whereas in fact of course close reading can be extremely nurturing), or whether it's because critical practice is seen as somehow geeky and anoraky and sort of the engine room rather than the elegant liner of the beautifully finished creative task, or whether it's because there is quite a problem with women's authority (which I suggest is probably closer to the truth) or whether, fourthly, women are still more likely to multi-task and when they do actually have time away from earning their living and looking after the kids they want to be writing their own poems...for one reason or another at the moment, in the middle generation, there aren't many women critics.”
That last one...it's interesting. I studied literature (not English Lit as it happens but it easily could have been) and I remember at uni thinking how life-draining lit crit was (particularly at that time – the late 1980s). I hated it because it seemed to me so often to be either deathly dull or overwhelmingly, and quite unnecessarily, overcomplicated and it quite likely put me off hanging around in literature at that time. Years later and back involved with the work of words, I do, every now and again, write about other poets' work on here but I couldn't be further from a person who wants to be a critic (and I suppose I am loosely of that 'middle generation' Sampson mentions...). I know reviews can be interesting and worthwhile (sometimes...maybe...) but it does often feel like life's too short to wade through...well, an ocean of them to find out for sure. Plus...so often I feel that poetry doesn't really need reviews (or it shouldn't). A good poem is its own review...isn't it? That's one of the things I like about it (it can cut out the middle man, if you like).
It's worth listening to the whole programme if you can.
5 hours ago