Friday, March 14, 2008

These be the verses

When I was less tall, I wrote poems. To the exclusion of much else, as I remember. In Junior School, whenever we were asked to do a piece of 'Creative Writing' (as opposed to...?), I asked if I could write a poem instead of the usual prose. Eventually, Miss Hards demanded that I actually produced something without line breaks, presumably to prove that I could.

Somehow the habit oozed away. I suspect this was something to do with my studying English literature at an advanced level; I was seized by the performance bug, and wrote to be heard not read. The criteria by which I judged my own stuff was set by the Liverpool Poets and the Beats, Cooper Clarke and Zephaniah and Joolz. I remember arguing that Gerard Manley Hopkins is a better poet than Tennyson, simply because his words have a better mouthfeel, like good wine or chocolate. In fact, I still believe that; in vain, as you might imagine. I didn't stop liking poems, but I convinced myself that I had a blind spot as to what 'good' poetry might be. As far as I remember, when I came to do my final exams, I tried my best to avoid anything with a hint of tum-ti-tum. By which point, I'd stopped writing the stuff as well.

So you might expect me to be a wee bit sniffy over the Guardian's attempt to define the seven of the greatest poets of the 20th century. Presumably they mean British poets, although two of them (Eliot, Plath) weren't born British, and two others (Auden, Heaney) elected to renounce Britishness. That quibble aside, I can't see that I'd have done it very differently; maybe to bring in Dylan Thomas at the expense of Sassoon. But I can't believe that anyone with more than a cursory knowledge of the subject would disagree too violently with the selection.

The question is whether this is necessarily good for poetry. The Observer's list of the world's 50 most powerful blogs seems to me utterly wrongheaded, in both content and concept, and apparently I'm not alone. But at least a real debate is provoked (which was presumably the real point); in the Eng Lit canon, debate isn't so much stifled, as redundant.

(Interesting response from Frances Leviston here.)

13 comments:

M.A.Peel said...

Drop Hughes, add Yeats.

Rimshot said...

Even if it's not 'good' for poetry (and I think it might be in some ways), it can't really hurt it any, so it can't be 'bad'.

St. Anthony said...

Yes, leaving out Yeats just looks wrong. But apart from that, I'm amazed they didn't make more efforts to placate the dread inclusive/multicultural Hydra-headed monster. And all the better for it.

Tim Footman said...

I presume Yeats has been disqualified for excess Irishness, Mangonel - Heaney's NI roots allow him to duck in under the wire.

I don't think it's bad for poetry at all, Rimshot. I think it reflects a very static critical canon, but doesn't necessarily reinforce it.

I agree, Anthony. Fond as I am of the mighty Zephaniah, he doesn't quite fit.

Mangonel said...

Hee hee! A namecheck and I didn't even comment! This blogging lark is EASY-PEASY.

Lemon squeezy.

Now there's potery for you.

Tim Footman said...

I'm so sorry, Mrs Peel and Mangonel. I'd just been looking at the comments for the previous thread, and had a bit of a senior moment. Maybe it's because you both begin with 'M'.

I think I need to sit down with a nice mug of Ovaltine.

rivergirlie said...

i can't be doing with these list thingies. it seems so bogus. i've just done a long q&a for waterstones which asked (among lots of other things) for my 'top 5 books of all time' are. needless to say, i immediately couldn't think of a single one. and then i started panicking about what the list would say about ME! anyway, i've gone for portentous with just a dash of redeeming self-irony.

i've never really got zephaniah, btw, but cooper clarke is god!

dh said...

See Tim if you'd kept up with the guitar practice you could have your poems covered by Amy Winehouse. I don't see my blog on that list. Maybe it has to do with traffic and topicality?

FirstNations said...

the title of this post frightened me. however, i managed to suck it up and found that reading the post relieved me of that initial dread...still, DON'T DO THAT TO ME AGAIN.

*itching*

Tim Footman said...

RG: It's a scientific fact that someone asked to list her five favourite books of all time will include at least three that you're *supposed* to like, one of which she hasn't read.

Maybe it has something to do with filling space, Dick.

Frightened, FN? I frightened the queen of the flying baby Jesus heads? YAY!

pleite said...

Do you mean Pam Ayres didn't even get a look in? It's elitism gone mad.

Christopher Campbell-Howes said...

Gerard Manley Hopkins: Nuits St Georges and Mme Floris?

Tennyson: Ch. Petrus and Leonidas?

Tim Footman said...

Pleite: If Ted Hughes had shagged Pam Ayres, how different the course of feminist literary studies might have been.

Christopher: Excellent! But where does that leave Mr Cooper Clarke? Mackesons and Hai Karate?