This article caught my eye the other day, another discussion about poets, poetry, and audience–specifically, is poetry a marginalized art form because poets are largely snobbish and write to impress each other, rather than writing towards a broad audience? It’s an interesting debate–if I was forced to pick a side, I’d have to go with Wordsworth, but I’ve lived in a rural community far too long to idealize and romanticize “ordinary” folks. When Barack Obama let loose with his “cling to the guns and religion” bowling alley gaffe he did so 45 miles from my home, and while the defiant outrage was predictable, those of us who live in but are not of rural culture knew exactly what Obama meant.
When I write a poem, it’s not for the guys I talk to down at the Small Engine Repair Shop, no matter how much I like them. I don’t even mention that I write poetry, but if I did I’m confident that the response would be a smile and a nod–they don’t know a damn thing about poetry, and don’t care, and might screw their faces up all baffled-like while ribbing me some, but they wouldn’t crack a hard, hurtful joke about it if they saw it meant something to me. By the same token, I don’t write poetry for any of the dozen or so English faculty I’m friends with, because I know that some of them would look at me like Coleridge peering over the tip of his nose at those “clowns and shepherds,” even as they smiled indulgently. The input I’d expect would be like that granted to a child up to his elbows in finger paints.
And that’s cool. I get it.
So who do I write for: people like me. People who know a little bit about poetry, who don’t necessarily feel the desire to push boundaries or populate new territory. I appreciate those who do, but I have no scholarly impulse, nor any external pressure (publish or perish!). A younger, more serious writer confided in me that she avoided poetry because she “didn’t know all the rules,” and I had to laugh because my recurrent mantra is “learning the rules is important so you’re vaguely aware of all the rules you’re breaking when you actually write.” She seemed a little disappointed in my response, but there it is: forms can be interesting, but hard and fast rules are like brush strokes, I think–tools to employ when one is doing one’s own thing.
Which is why I’m writing on WordPress and not in The New Yorker, I suppose.
Friday 6 June 2014
Howard Jacobson in THE INDEPENDENT
Why should poets engage with ‘ordinary people’? They don’t exist.
Ordinary is just the word we use for the less intellectually sophisticated.
“The best part of human language, properly so called, is derived from reflection on the acts of the mind itself.” So wrote Coleridge in the great 17th chapter of Biographia Literaria that deals with his friend Wordsworth’s argument that the proper diction for poetry consisted in language taken from the mouths of men in real life, under the influence of natural feelings. The language, in Wordsworth’s own words, of men “in low and rustic life… because in that condition our feelings coexist in a state of greater simplicity… are more easily comprehended and more durable”. Tosh, said Coleridge. CLICK BELOW TO READ ON……