For the last two weeks we've been hiding out in a little, steep-sided valley on the Devon coast with no internet access and no mobile phone signal. I bought the Saturday Guardian, and settled down to read it in the sun outside our caravan in a state of prelapsarian bliss, recalling the days so long ago when I knew nothing about the byzantine complexities of the UK poetry scene.
In The Guardian, a mammoth review section looked at cinema, theatre, music, novels, biographies, histories - you name it. And poetry? Buried in the wad of pages, a single short column: Sean O'Brien reviewing a friend (Matthew Sweeney). And the review opens by considering Sweeney's place in "the English tradition". To your average person, happily ignorant of contemporary poetry, this whole situation could be misleading. As if poetry was emitted in slim volumes by a few poets striving to enter The Canon. This is how national newspapers, and the media in general, portrays poetry (when it's not being hailed as 'the new rock and roll'). Getting back from holiday, I came across a neat diagnosis of the problem on Todd Swift's blog:
"...poetry, rather than being seen as a process and a procedure, like "science", that has thousands of practitioners engaged in ongoing mutually-related work (a communal, progressive, and even Utopian model), is defined as an exclusive, minority exercise. This limits the sense of discovery and excitement actually connected to the art form that is poetry, and also minimises its daily relevance to most people... This dynamic, busy and engaged pursuit, by thousands of serious poets is not the truth about poetry that is told"
Read the whole blog entry here.
To my mind, as long as people continue to read poetry, there's no harm in as many people as possible writing it, or in the people reading it being poets themselves. That said, two weeks escape from the said communal activity to a peaceful seaside cove were very welcome.