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Neither a Borrower

It is hard being a British librarian. One has to lend, as often as not, mediocre rubbish to semi-literate readers who prefer pap to Pope. The year's most borrowed listings are out, and reveal a top 100 riddled with pulp fiction too bland even to deserve that B-side accolade. The top poetry book? Well it comes from faux-genius S. Fry, who is neither a poet or a critic, but a celebrity whose main message is to argue against vers libre, 100 years too late. In fiction, it is an American crime writer who has a Fordist production line to pump out his books so cheap they should be recalled as unsafe at any speed of reading. Literacy is so often extolled as a virtue that we often forget that reading badly can also mean reading unwisely. At least they only borrow bad books and not buy them.


Poetry Pleases! said…
Dear Todd

My mother was a librarian and she was always dismayed by the public's lack of literary taste. I very nearly bought Fry's 'The Ode Less Travelled' in a Waterstone's '3 for 2' deal. As I was walking up to the cash desk to pay I spotted another book I wanted to read more (at the time) and replaced the Fry. It's a decision I have always regretted. I must lay my hands on a copy sometime.

Best wishes from Simon
Jane Holland said…
Dear Todd, don't be such a literary snob. I love pulp, I thrive on genre, and only people with little or no experience of them could imagine that these books are not extremely hard to write well. The best genre fiction is not rubbish, it is merely DIFFERENT from the sort of books you believe the masses ought to be reading for their better education.

Happily, I am not foolish enough to think I know what other people ought to be reading. Nor am I so steeped in my own superiority that I imagine millions of people worldwide are making some kind of calamitous mistake by buying and borrowing these books. We can't all enjoy tofu and rice wine. Some of us just want a pie and a pint, and such choices are entirely up to us.

Poetry only appeals to the few. Thank goodness. Let's keep it that way. And books that do what they say on the tin are invaluable. Hurray for genre fiction!

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With the death of the poetic genius John Ashbery, whose poems, translations, and criticism made him, to my mind, the most influential American poet since TS Eliot, 21st century poetry is moving into less certain territory.

Over the past few years, we have lost most of the truly great of our era: Edwin Morgan, Gunn, Hill, Heaney and Walcott, to name just five.  There are many more, of course. This is news too sad and deep to fathom this week.  I will write more perhaps later. 

I had a letter from Ashbery on my wall, and it inspired me daily.  He gave me advice for my PhD. He said kind things about a poetry book of mine.

He was a force for good serious play in poetry, and his appeal great. So many people I know and admire are at a loss this week because of his death. It is no consolation at present to think of the many thousands of living poets, just right now. But impressively, and even oddly, poetry itself seems to keep flowing.