Thursday, 7 October 2010

Give Hughes and Heaney a rest

It's National Poetry Day, and there are dozens of events happening all over the country. But as ever, celebrations of poetry are somewhat marred by a rigid conservatism that wastes all the biggest opportunities - a failure of nerve and imagination at the highest levels. The New Statesman has published a lost Ted Hughes poem about the night Sylvia Plath died. The kind of interest this sort of coverage looks to arouse is the same that Heat aims for when it prints pictures of gaunt celebrities sans make-up - an almost scavenger-like fascination with the pain of public figures.

Then there's the news that Seamus Heaney has won the Forward Prize. The shortlist this year for best collection could hardly have been more of an exercise in reinforcing the current hierarchy (it also included the editors of Poetry Review and Cape and one of Heaney's former pupils) and so Heaney winning is the logical conclusion of this exercise. Rather than use the prize as a way of celebrating and nourishing the genuine diversity and range of British poetry, all that is going on here is the cementing of a contrived narrative for the benefit of the 'confused' consumer and future historians. What is any art, after all, without giants - however cynically constructed?

Don't bother with the New Statesman. Don't buy Heaney's book. Go to any one of the innumerable small events taking place today and next week and throughout the year and so on. Go to a library and get out a bunch of books by poets you've never heard of before. Discover and celebrate your own heroes.


Helen Beaton said...

Three cheers for polemics!

Did you know W H Davies used to throw darts at a portrait of Walter de la Mare because he was so disgusted at how famous he was? There might be a lot to be said for creating dartboards with pictures of poets... . Not us, of course. Other poets.

Having said which, polemics are actually good for the people who get ranted against because it proves just how Significant they are.

I listened to Melvyn Bragg reading the last lines from the unknown Hughes poem in the car this morning on the Today programme. I was not overwhelmed, but I did rather like the way the male presenter said, in a state of overwhelm-ment, 'Crumbs'.

Crumbs? I like that response to a peak experience.

Anonymous said...

Heaney should be given a pen, dumped in a pit, buried in excrement, and be asked to dig his way out*.

*figuratively speaking