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Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Barker Bites

Sebastian Barker, who was editor of The London Magazine over 34 issues for six years, before the Arts Council cut its funding, has had a potent, and pointed, letter published in the latest issue of The Rialto, Number 64, one of the UK's leading poetry magazines. Barker argues that "the Arts Council has lost its way", because it seems to be, in his view, run by "blindfolded" civil servants and co., with little or no appreciation for poetic history. He also condemns "some of those in our prize culture (cabals awarding themselves the prizes), who by this means bring about a degradation of talent." Eyewear thinks this is perceptive. There's been a bottleneck at the top of the prize structure recently, in Britain, which is not accurately reflective of the broad and deep poetic talent at work currently in the UK.

Michael Mackmin (the editor of the magazine) observes in the same issue, "when I saw that the Scottish Laureate Edwin Morgan was on the shortlist [for the TS Eliot Prize] I did more than half hope that the TS Eliot judges might give him the money - a very useful recognition of his long lifetime cheering poetry along."

It is almost a scandal that a great and needful genius such as Morgan was deprived of the Eliot award (though he has since won the biggest Scottish book award for the same book). Poets need to become aware that more and more public scrutiny (especially when public money is at stake) will be directed on them, so that, at all times, their ethical, and critical, faculties must rise to the occasion.

Eyewear is sometimes thought of as beyond the pale - outragously commenting on things best left unsaid. But poetry is not a family secret that has to be kept in the attic. It is a public art, and needs to be upstanding and transparent about its business. When poet-editors with the integrity, and talent, of Barker, and Mackmin begin to write like this, it may be time for other brave people to speak out. To change things.
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