Just some thoughts

At the Forward Poetry Prize readings this week, chair of judges Jeremy Paxman observed that poetry was mostly "irrelevant" to most peoples' lives. He also remarked that that, having ploughed through hundreds of collections as part of the judging process, the writing of poetry, at least, was in "good fettle" but the problem was the "reading" of the stuff.

I think he was making a fair point. As a graduate of a Creative Writing MA, I am one of thousands of aspiring writers who are processed through such courses, with dreams and ambitions, and some skills. While of course, there is much to learn from these courses (not least a sharpening of critical faculties) arguably one of their most important effects is to produce a fresh audience of what might be called 'deep readers'. People willing to give their time and attention. People willing to work at a poem with their selves, to give it time to breathe. In this sense, poetry has become a self-sufficient ecosystem, feeding itself (just), and long may it flourish for it is precious and vital.

J. Paxman (who incidentally was wearing distractingly bright red socks) is right though in economic terms - most poets are lucky to sell a few hundred books, receive some reviews in journals, mostly read by other poets, and Creative Writing professors, and then perhaps begin work on their next book.
Most poetry, it seems, is purchased by friends and families of the author, and other aspirant poets. So much poetry is only enjoyed by other poets. This is a loss as engaged, aware interesting people are missing out. Poetry makes life richer and sweeter, more musical. I know lots of friends, who are English graduates, who are afraid of poetry. They tell me they do not understand it. I don't really understand why they are put off. I tell them there is not a right answer; it is like art. Your own interpretation is valid in its own right. Just let the sounds of the words wash over you like song, that is enough. Or read deeper, thinking about every word and the white space around them. What the title really says. How the poem opens or closes itself. All these ways are valid and vital to reading too. It's not a religion or anything. You just have to give it your time and attention, like much that is worthwhile.

Will Self said recently the "extension of the human mind into the virtual inscape is already underway; people no longer depend on their own, personal and canonical memory to analyse and validate new information - they have outsourced such mental operations to algorithms..."
This is true. Our brains are changing...if I need to know the answer to something I go online without thinking. Perhaps I already knew the definition of a word, or a geographical location, but I google for the absolute to check before I check myself. I don't need to learn a poem by heart, because it is there at my fingertips.
We exist with less uncertainty. Our brains are in some senses becoming a meta-brain, and we must be aware of these semantic and synaptical shifts.  And ourselves as agents in a market, every click a footprint.

I know every generation harks on about technological advances and the death of culture. But such dependence on what Self calls "a monetised intellectual prosthesis" demands awareness and even restraint before we alight on the search bar for 'truth' in a fraction of seconds.

Anyway if you've got this far, it's worth reading this -



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