Thursday, January 17, 2008
I spend quite a lot of time listening to the Home Service as they used to call it, and in the mornings they have been airing the short-listed poets for the TS Eliot Prize. Now this being nearly the time when we remember Supperman , Robert Burns, and his amazing gift of tapping into the spirit and feelings of the common man in a highly accessible and humorous way, it led me to think about what seems to constitute good poetry today because, call me a philistine if you like, I’m buggered if I could understand much of what was being being read out. Of course, you need to look at the poems properly, on the page, but sad to say- and I repeat this is probably a reflection of my own stupidity- with some of them this does not seem to help much. Even Ian Duhig, an old friend and a man who helped fish me out of a canal in Galway City after an ill-fated encounter with the self-styled ‘Bard of Poteen’ at the Cuirt Literary Festival, seems to be operating for at least some of the time on strata pitched pretty high above my head. This leads me to think what is the point of writing the stuff if people can’t understand a word of it? The beauty of poetry is of course wordplay, association and image, but surely if it’s so multi-layered and arcane that you need a Doctorate to unravel it, we are saying that poetry is less an art form that the public can associate and empathise with and more an intellectual exercise restricted to and appreciated by a tiny minority. What seems disturbing is that the arbiters of what is counted ‘good’ poetry seem to be reinforcing this polarization.