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Saturday, 13 June 2009

Sir Andrew Motion

Sir John Betjeman - it has a ring to it, and signalled an important establishment respect, even admiration. Now, the UK has Sir Andrew Motion, after the Queen has bestowed new honours, announced today. As the acceptable face of British mainstream poetry, Motion has excelled. His poetry extends and strengthens the line of new-Georgianism that Larkin returned to post-war. Sir Motion will hopefully continue to do good work on behalf of poetry, for years to come. Meanwhile, though, Eyewear feels that a gulf is opening, between the reality that is how poetry is read and written, and the false hopes and claims often made on its behalf by apologists everywhere.

I feel that poetry is actually in danger, from all sides - from both those who would make it entirely experiment-driven and Adornoesque in its austere claims and hermetic techniques - and those who think it can be a laugh-a-minute vaudeville act - comedy with rhyme basically. Poetry needs rigour, intelligence, a sense of form, and some sense of purpose - but also a sense of play, drama, and even popular emotional appeal - and it needs these human aspects combined. Poetry is a human art, not a science for robots designed for the surface of Mars. But humanity can be, at times, dull, stupid and vain, as well as arrogant, pretentious, and willfully-obscure. The human strain in poetry demands that poets write against the grain of the common denominator, as well as at times, for it.

I recently met with a ferociously smart young poet from America, completing a PhD there, who thought poems should be cerebral, serious - and could not be self-reflecting or emotive. That's one tradition, and one to be respected. But it cannot be all the story. Is Prynne the new Pound? Many in American universities now say so. The question becomes, is such a claim meaningful? How do we explain the gap between Motion and Prynne? Need we?
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