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Friday, 3 June 2011

Are All Poetry Cuts Bad?

Tonight the great and the good of British Poetry will read, hosted by Carol Ann Duffy, Poet Laureate, to protest the cuts to arts funding in the UK.  I won't be there.  Pardon my French, but why shouldn't poetry also face its share of cuts during an austere time?  Many poets I know (including myself) are from relatively wealthy backgrounds or have jobs; many poetry publishers are connected to successful larger publishing houses; it is true that the cuts may lead to the closure of a few good smaller presses - but poets need to get a grip, I think.

There are parts of society that need money far more.  So long as education and the NHS are facing massive cuts, I for one cannot march demanding more money for poetry.  Uniquely among the arts, poetry is almost free to write.  All one needs is a pencil and paper.  Also, like never before, publication is basically free, too.  Blogs are free, and e-books very cheap.  What is really being protested is the cutting of the old-style establishment vision of British poetry, based around a "Book Society", and small print-based presses, that mainly published and supported a certain kind of poetry.

British poets and publishers, except for Salt, have been behind the global trend.  Poetry needs to move more to the digital realm, adopt new models of publication, and embrace increasing openness.  Don't misread this post: if there was money to pay for free tuition for all students, and money to sustain the NHS, and money to move us onto a green economy, then yes, I'd say shower the poets with cash. But until then, we shall have to go it a little more on our own.  Like Eliot and Auden and H.D. did.
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