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Friday, 14 November 2008

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.
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