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Monday, 16 September 2013

CLAIM LESS FOR POETRY?

I am tired of reading books about poetry that talk about how it changes lives, raises the hair on the back of the neck, cures cancer, and basically gives us healthier, more glowing skin.  If poetry had one tenth of the impact on the common reader that it is claimed to, poetry would outsell pornography, video games, and alcohol.  But it doesn't.  Chess books and books on pottery sell better.  Poems on the underground, and in the classroom, have not led to a massive eruption of poetically-improved humans.  Indeed, the efficacy of poetry has long been a myth.  Poems, except to poets, are a rather dull affair.  They sit there on the page like a lump of cold meat.  Poets love poems, because poets understand the vivacity of the processes that lead to a poem's making.  But a poem on a page does not immediately jump up like a clever frog and dance with a top hat and cane.  Poems are often remote, and indifferent, objects.  Their technological prowess is equivalent to that of the gramophone.  We have moved on.  Perhaps.  Or perhaps humans have fallen from a state where they can hear the music of the gods.  I always thought that a poem was the best of civilisation - the best of music, word, thought, in one compressed space.  And yet, who is moved these days by philosophy or theology either?  Poetry is a great art, but poems are speaking, too often, in a dead language, to most people out there; we need to claim less for our poems, and slowly teach others to hear that they are.
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