Degree of Famousness etc
A few years back, Don Paterson was warning everyone that contemporary British poetry was under threat. Not from the usual enemies, philistines in government or chain bookshops, but from two groups of poets: populists and elitists. According to his 2004 anthology, New British Poetry, populists are well-intentioned souls who bring poetry to factories, schools or prisons, ‘via some patronising mediation, some strategy intended to make it “easier”: a visit from a performance poet, or a themed workshop, or a poster campaign with the dumbest, shortest poem the committee can find, set in 50-point bold’. His T.S. Eliot Lecture that year widened the definition to include chicken-soup anthologisers, Harold Pinter’s righteously angry protest verse, and any poetic therapist who mistakes ‘the jargon of self-help’ for the tough process of writing. By trying to make poetry ‘accessible’, the popularisers flatter the poet into thinking deep feelings are poetry, and flatter the audience into applauding only what they already know, reducing the art to ‘straight-faced recognition comedy’.
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[*] Oxford, 280 pp., £60, August 2012, 978 0 19 965700 1.