MR. A hasn't so much as glanced at a poetry book since English classes. He learned to appreciate some of those poets (ah, Philip Larkin!) but since no one has taught him to appreciate any others since then, and since he's incapable of getting to grips with anything without the guidance of an authority figure or received opinion, he lives by the creed that nothing beyond what he was taught can possibly be of import or interest. After all, if Simon Armitage (who?) or Paul Muldoon (que?) were any good, surely Jeremy Clarkson would have said so.
MR. B has a vague awareness that some black youths - probably the same ones who ride around on BMX bikes, right? - read something called 'slam poetry', and is under the impression that this is what's become of the whole scene, thanks to a succession of politically correct governments showering these drug dealing, ghetto-blasting street urchins with free cash. He knows that slam poetry kind of sounds a bit like hip hop and isn't sure why anyone even makes a distinction - after all, it's all about uzis and bitches, isn't it? Edgar Allen Wordsworth and T. S. Betjeman must be turning in their graves at what's become of their art!
MR. C doesn't really like any poetry, or read any, but is firmly of the opinion that British poetry has gone to the dogs since the poets 'stopped rhyming'. The fact that poets still rhyme all the time is irrelevant - after all, it's not as if he could identify a sonnet, or even a couplet, that didn't start 'O!' or contain three words with an extra 'e' on the end. Any poetry that doesn't lend itself to being read out in an RP accent by a bellowing thespian might as well be cut up prose.
You can see examples of these and more in the comments section of this Guardian article, which is about the new Bloodaxe anthology, Ten. After you've skimmed through them, it's worth reading W. N. Herbert's excellent response. Both follow these comments by Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt regarding Arts Council funding:
"The debate has got to move on from the kind of box-ticking targets approach that says that in return for your grant from the Arts Council, you will get so many people from particular ethnic or social backgrounds."
Now, I do think there are flaws in the Arts Council's current approach. It's not right, for instance, that the three main UK poetry publishers are handed huge amounts of money each year to publish the same lists while publishers that regularly take on new poets - poets that need much heavier promotion for their books to break even - seemingly have to fight for the scraps.
But the phrase 'box ticking' is, in this instance and nearly every other instance it's used, a shorthand for positive discrimination, ie. making an effort to make sure Britain's cultural and ethnic minorities are proportionally represented in a particular area, rather than sitting back and leaving it entirely up to them to beat the odds and right the imbalance that sees white, middle class males dominate almost every area of eminence in this country through a self-sustaining system of covert cultural protectionism and ignorance. So whenever box-ticking or positive discrimination is mentioned - let alone defended - it seems to draw in a bitter, bigoted crowd, spouting off about this supposed onslaught of free passes handed to ethnic minorities (but which, strangely, never seem to be reflected in who actually gets all the powerful jobs).
Since the article is also about poetry - something else that the same people purposefully avoid understanding or engaging with sensibly because of their own profound sense of inadequacy - the idiocy attraction is squared. Hence the arrival of the rogues gallery listed above and what Herbert rightly dubs "a kind of hyper-philistinism".
I'd like to make it clear at this point that Kirsty and I have never even applied for Arts Council funding, and run all our projects off the back of the jobs we do full time. Part of me does feel that anyone should be able to do this, but on the other hand, I can't deny that it hobbles us somewhat. We can't pay contributors. We haven't been able to set any production/release dates in stone (because you just don't know how much work will get in the way). We can't afford to hire any help with basic admin tasks. We can only afford minimal promotion/publicity (which, ironically, on a large scale, adds to the ignorance which sees people making such ludicrous statements as "the last `modern` poet who was of any worth was Larkin", because our chances of getting our work noticed by such closet dwellers is nil). That the Arts Council exists at all, of course, is testament to the fact that our society recognises that art makes a serious positive social contribution without being a viable business. It takes a special kind of pigheadedness to insist that art is only worthwhile if it makes money, or that the sort that doesn't make money is in no way held back by its practitioners having to find some other means of income. The principle, if not the reality, of an Arts Council is sound, and the same can be said of positive discrimination.
I'd also like to make clear that there's nothing wrong with not liking or understanding poetry. We can fail to understand it in the same way people fail to understand, say, computer games, or astrophysics, or maritime law. We all have our areas of ignorance that we're entirely comfortable with. You don't need to have a grasp of everything. It's not even possible.
But what typifies the kind of comments you'll find on that Guardian thread is a self-centeredness bordering on solipsism - the assumption that: "If I don't understand something, it's not worth understanding. If I haven't heard of something, it can't possibly be noteworthy." I can't put it better than Herbert:
"Whether it’s rhyming in poetry, dressing nicely for the theatre, clapping or not clapping at the right moment in the concert hall, or knowing what you like when confronted by ‘modern’ art (anything in the last hundred years being out of bounds), this is all about behaviour and not content, about etiquette masquerading as principle, about received opinion over original thinking."