Monday, 6 August 2007

Poetry matters

Hmmmm...the poetry world is a strange one. Ever since I started thinking about getting poems out of my notebook and into the rest of the world I have been having problems with the more or less accepted way of doing things for unknown poets (once you're in any way famous the rules change and you can do anything you like). It goes like this - option (a) - you write tricky, clever, wordy, deep, highly worked poems that in truth very few people can make head, tail or left leg of and you send them to literary magazines that nobody reads except poets, academics and poetry magazine editors, you get a CV, a reputation (if you're lucky) and book published by a small publisher and then you teach lots of creative writing classes (to make more poets like you) and complain about how the rest of the world doesn't appreciate real poetry. Or there's option (b) - you write snappy, funny, maybe rude, maybe rhyming poems and you perform them live (because nobody wants to read stuff like that) and you drag yourself to slams and open mics and perform them to lots of other poets and their long suffering loved ones and you get a CV, a reputation (if you're lucky) and a job on the radio now and again and then you teach lots of performing workshops (to make more poets like you...except you're not allowed to call yourself a poet - you're a performance poet and not very serious after all).

Now some might say (be quiet Noel) that this is simplifying things (albeit using lots of very long rambling sentences). Maybe you know lots of people who have managed to sneak between the options and be allowed to be just poets (not literary poets or performance poets). You might say who gives a damn. And I know in the great scheme of things (war, famine etc) it's not exactly up there with the world's great problems...but it bugs me. Bugs me quite a lot some days.

It bugs me that the so-called literary magazines think their poetry is better just because it's harder to understand. That if you're not in exactly the place they expect to find you that you must be crap, unimaginative, more a performer than a writer. It bugs me that most of the best poets wrote quite a lot of really simple things (that's how they got popular - people could understand them!) and that they wrote the stuff these magazines tell you not to write - ie. personal poems, funny poems, weird poems, poems people can understand. If Philip Larkin were trying to get 'This be the verse' published today he wouldn't stand a chance. And Robert Frost, love, 'could you work on the metaphors a bit more - they're so obvious'.

I don't know why I still send poems to the poetry magazines. Partly because I have had the odd bit of success here and there. Partly because the more people tell me 'no' the more I say 'why not - why does it only have to be one way?' Partly because I get such good reactions from other people (ordinary people...non-poetry executives). But maybe I will give up soon enough and concentrate on getting the poems out and about in all the other ways - the postcards, the website, the performing (well...some of it ...I can live without poetry slams I think). Then there'll be no more letters (like today's) telling me my poems are 'too personal'. I am a lot more thickskinned than I was it doesn't upset me the way it used to. I am fairly bloody-minded and sure I am right. And anyway, Wendy Cope has already answered that particular criticism years ago in her poem 'Manifesto' - 'And if some bloodless literary fart/Says that it's all too personal, I'll spit/And write the poems that will win your heart.'

I do it my own way. What other way is there?

p.s Watched 'I heart huckabees' last night. It was fantastic. 'Rock, you rock' indeed.

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