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Has British Poetry Been Destroyed By The Mediascape?

Reading the latest Forward anthology of best poems, etc, of new British poetry, a terrible thought suddenly hit me - the aesthetics of the 30-second TV advertisement had become the default lyric position of 75% of all contemporary mainstream British verse. The style - speedy syntax, clever image, cunning set-up, perfectly amicable and yet "fresh" pay-off, and overall sense of accessible, pleasing, upbeat zest, yet with some edgy topicality - it's all TV, mate. I know, because I was a TV writer. I understand this machine-tooled, gleaming perfection - it is the popular product that Adorno warned us of. Readers of Eyewear know I still enjoy high-quality pop stuff - but I also know its place, its contexts. I resist some guilty pleasures. Poetry needs, at times, to yield fewer of its mysteries at a first Palin-wink. Ambiguity, complexity, obscurity, difficulty - these were not just the rallying cry of modern poets for the fun of it - they were elements of a strategy of resistance - resistance to the near-total reification of people as souls, and minds - and to the collapse of some civilising presence in history, be that God, or traditions that were the less-fragmented aspects of warlike capitalism. Anyway, British poetry is exceptionally well-made and entertaining currently - and is reaching a pinnacle of professional excellence that is almost frightening. It took a terrible machine to elect Obama - one that spent millions upon millions - oodles. Poetry may have the best of values at its heart, but needs to retain some of the texture and roughening pleasures of the less-glossy, the less-perfected, the less-selling thing. Poetry needs to be less about quality, and more about something stranger, and more disconcerting. Reading Lynette Roberts again last night, the beauty of her difficulty, allied to an ordered emotionality, was striking - here was a poet who could use words, but also treat them with caution.


*New* british poetry has been coming out for the last 80 years and more, with each generation going to change the world, but the problem i think it has, is that it has traditionally been little more than an extension of the oxbridge common rooms.

Until very recently, to be considerted a top flight British poet, or rather, to get the plum numbers subsidised by the state (and it is still true today) where one writes their earliest juvenelia, counts more than talent, which puts they that didn't attend oxo at a clear disadvanatge.

It is a pied system whereby a miniscule and very priviliged 1% get to feel they are the automatic reps of 100% of British poetry.

The whole career trajectory, win the Newdigate, go the Florio, and then a number off one of the old college mob, so a far disproportionate number of this crew, get to feel superior.

This is histoprical, as these colleges where set up in Tudor times and at that point the thrusting neouveau courtiers, like Jack and Vera of Coronation Street, were not happy with the York Stone agate and rock-bed of their native poetic, so decided to delude themselves by appropriating Hesiod's version of Greek myth and having that as the basis myth of their own, modern English, which has run fopr 500 years only, a very short time in the history of Poetry.

The whole state there is based on one woman Windsor, having a half a page of distraction until you get to her real name, and all this Excellent, Highness, born with clear advantage and new Labour (yeah right) fairness and equality for all, total and equitable level playing field of opportunity, unless yr name is Windsor and then the rules do not count - is mirrored in the class system and the way language is used by the subject-citizens to self-police, on behalf o0f a few million and billionaire, originally German dynastic families who have a ridiculous amount of privilige in relation to everyone else.

So we have a set up were people willingly refer to themself as *lower* middle, class. The toffs don't have this original sin caper going on, but the reverse, a sense of automatic entitlement, just because of who they are and the society reflects this.

What happens is they leave oxo all bright eyed, uber-confident and slowly turn to spent grumps, like Mandy, as they have far more confidence than ability. They are led to beleive they're gonna be the next Mathew Arnold and so do not develop as a poet did in tgher origi9nal bardic system, of which all this mob know next to nothing about as they are under the mass delusion that Greek myth is their first and only one.

The most celeverest and successful classicist to come out of Oxford was Robert Gravesm who wrote 140 books and was an expert translator of ancient Greek and Latin, and he rejected the Hesiod, Homer poetic as a Mycenaean interpolation which occurred circa 1500BC, transplanted on the *unimpravable original* Poetic demonstarted in Minoan civilisation which was an entirely mercantile one that ran for over twice as long as the warring Mycenaean.

And so at the fall of Greek civilisation into the Greek Dark Ages of 1100 - 800 BC, due to the new iron age, the original chthonic female deities that ran back to the old stone age and only got displaced by the reletively new male pamntheon 800 years before Hesiod and Homer - had been excised from the picture, which was more female, matrilineal succession and 50/50 equality between men and women. We can infer this because of Minoan frescoe shows the genders emngaging in the same sports, it had no warrior caste, a civilisation of trading and Faith, with by far - from statuary evidence - female goddesses and/or priestesses officiating the religion.

So by the time Homer comes, all he has known for the last 800 years is war, and the first Golden Age of man in Hesiods Works and Days, which details five ages as his history of humanity - it is not illogical to assume this time when the gods and people lived in harmony, was Minoan civilisation from a nearly a millenium before he lived. And these Greek fellas with their erastes and eremenos, and *intellectual homesexuality* Graves levels at them, because they rejected anything magical and the earliest purest Poetic, for their version of 6C BC reason - were only human, and they did not have the information technologies we have, and the whole of English modern poetry, its myth, rests on Hesiod and Homer, and if we can go further back and prove to our own satisfaction that these felleas had it wrong, then that's that tradition a load of hooey.

And the Amergin text first translated in 1983 which i discovered three years back, the Erynn Rowan Laurie version, has the same 50/50 narrative linguistic dna structure of the *unimprovable original* in the Graves model, and that i have been slung out of every Poetry place going for airing it, only affirms

1 - i am onto something

2 - that the fairness and equality gig, means fair and equal unless you look like being better and then we exclude you and try to keep you out the frame.
Steven Waling said…
I like that idea that poetry has to be less about "quality" and it reminds me of what I really like about, not just the poets of the '40's like Roberts and Nicholas Moore, but the best of English non-mainstreamers, like Geraldine Monk or David Annwyn. So much poetry is so darned polished.

Thanks for this post.
Curiosa said…
It needs to be less about 'polish' I think is the idea, rather than 'quality'. It depends on your polish and what you're polishing, but quality should always be there - otherwise you're polishing turds.

I think I feel much the same with a lot of 'fashionable' poetry about at the moment. So much effort-ful verve, visual brashness, upbeat wit and other easy TV junk. And, as with any junk-food, high-sugar diet, eventually exhausting and generally un-nourishing...

It has its place in a varied diet, don't get me wrong, but much of it seems so pointless, or to be missing the point - leaving one with a 'yeah, but so what?' - and a sense of something having been avoided rather than explored.

You long for something with a bit of rough-age... a bit of sustaining meat-and-two-veg intelligent ambiguity, complexity, tension - something that feels more relevant - rather than clever-clever panache that generally misses a point... something a bit more grown-up, maybe.

Something perhaps moving, rather than just entertaining... can't remember the last time I went to a poetry reading and actually felt 'moved'... rather than vaguely entertained, I mean...

But this is all a bit 'general'.

Hmm... 'moved' and 'roughage' in close proximity... puts one in mind of bowels...

And then we're back to turds...
Roddy said…
I know neither of you guys is likely to climb down and actually drop some names, but having read both your long posts on this, and being quite up on my poetry, as you know, I'm still baffled as to which UK poets and even broadly what sort of poems you are branding as slick, polished and junky. Ultimately, unless you home in a little, it sounds like you're just sounding off and, of course, everyone in notoriously paranoid Poetry UK will assume you are talking about them.
Todd Swift said…
Roddy, always a treat when you drop by - thanks. Yes, you do know a lot about poetry. My point was precisely not to name names (I don't like the bloodsport aspect of some poetry criticism), but to alert readers to an emerging stylistic tendency for the entire period. I don't think "junky" is the right word, though - I like "junky" - that implies kitsch, or something not-quite-right. Anyway, if you want an example with a name attached, the Paterson poem, with its stylistic Muldoonianism, was precisely the sort of clever hi-jinks one associates with the creatives who do the BA or Guinness adverts on the telly. Armitage, too, tends to write a really high concept poem. They're like pitches for movies, or, indeed, glossy, brilliant commercials or interstitials (like the BBC uses before the evening news). I happen to write like this myself from time to time, it wasn't a holier than thou fingerpointing, it was a concern about the temptations of some surface style, over more textured, opaque language. Poets sell poetry so poorly, there is a natural urge to embed marketing within the DNA of the form or content of the poem itself.
Curiosa said…
Very true, Roddy, and you certainly do know a thing or two, monsieur -- but not sure what you mean by climb down -- you flatter me to think I am up anywhere if you were meaning me! Unless you mean my own arse -- in which case I may well be. Although maybe you didn't mean me... anyway...

It is all a little general, though, I agree. However, I have an instinctive (paranoid?!) aversion to talking about 'individuals' and 'names' as this is all part of the same problem. It is a little too celebrity culture. People talk about liking so-and-so and not liking so-and-so other whereas, generally, it's obviously better to talk about individual poems within collections and what I like or do not like about them... beyond that it swiftly becomes meaningless... yes, some sensibilities will generally suit your own, others not, but I would not like to say I DO NOT LIKE X -- as this would be misrepresentative. All have good and bad (but, yes, some have more bad/good than others).

This could all be so much paranoid avoidance myself, however, and perhaps may be to do with not feeling quite authoratitive enough to throw critical weight around too much just yet, but I do genuinely believe that it is redundant to talk about 'people' or 'names' rather than (or at least without locating it in terms of) individual poems... and therefore is best avoided. I was just articulating a general sense that is perhaps as much to do with me as the poetry 'out there'.

Would be much better to sit down in a pub with a few collections and do it that way -- so lets sometime! Or a proper essay/blog post somewhere. Something like that -- but not space here.

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