We Asked – Where Have All the Poets Gone? TLS Joins the Search.

In Poetry Matters, as you may know,  we’ve been trying to spark some discussion across the poetry community about its apparent detachment from the unprecedented issues of social, political and economic degeneration all around us.

Could it be something to do with poetry’s widespread relocation to the university campus and ubiquitous ‘creative writing schools‘?

This was one hypothesis we had discussed in ‘ The Silence of the Poets ‘ quoting Dana Gioia’s chastening conclusion for the US:

“In social terms the identification of poet with teacher is now complete.

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Who Owns The Language ? Poet Harrison Repeats the Question

In his review of Tony Harrison’s ‘Collected Poems’, Gregory Dowling* sees Harrison’s poem “On Not Being Milton ” (from which see below) as “ suggesting a parallel between the northern poet raising his voice and the Luddite rebellion, in which the weavers smashed the new frames that were putting them out of work with sledge-hammers, known as ‘Enochs’.

‘Each swung cast-iron Enoch of Leeds stress
Clangs a forged music on the frames of Art,
The looms of owned language smashed apart..’

He suggests that the underlying thesis of this sequence of poems is to assert that it is by ‘owning’ the language that the ‘ ruling classes ’ have managed to maintain their social supremacy; so Harrison has taken up the task of speaking for those who cannot speak for themselves – “bringing the voices of the northern working classes into the classical forms of English poetry…”

Whether this justifies Dowling’s “ poetry as class-warfare” rhetoric is for discussion, but it is certainly the case that, for Harrison, poetry is a ‘job’, a ‘craft’, linked with and on behalf of his community – precisely that poetry of involvement that I have been talking about, and missing, in the context of other, more current social and economic disintegration. Continue Reading »

Muse of Fire meets Society of Poets
PublishedJanuary 16, 2013 CategoryArts Social Action

Muse of Fire meets Society of Poets

Frederic Raphael’s review ( TLS December 2012 ) of ‘The Richard Burton Diaries’ ( editor Chris Williams, Yale University Press ) popped through my letter box at about the same time as my Winter helping of ‘Poetry Review’ and ‘Poetry News’ from my friends of the Poetry Society. Both brought welcome promise of enjoyment

Why, then, should the uninhibited soundings-off of a long dead, larger-than-life, mid-20th century thespian have locked on more immediately to what I and many others see as issues still critical to contemporary poetry, than the very latest Poetry News and impressive show-pieces from its leading professional Society ? Continue Reading »

The Poet as Critic and Mentor …
PublishedDecember 10, 2012 CategoryArts Social Action

The Poet as Critic and Mentor …

Dana Gioia is one of the greatest poets of his generation, distinguished translator and librettist, and astute contributor to the national Arts  scene in the United States, through his two terms as Chairman of the Federal Endowment for the Arts. One great legacy is the lively revival of poetry-speaking in US schools. He is no stranger to the UK poetry scene.

We met through the pages of Fortune magazine, when I found myself the British outsider among a small group of so-called ‘Business Poets’ then writing in the US where Dana had managed to combine the Vice Presidency ( Marketing ) of a General Foods product, with the publication ( 1986  Graywolf Press ) of his first collection ‘ Daily Horoscope’, with a second ( 1991 Peterloo Poets ) ‘ The Gods of Winter ‘, on the way. Continue Reading »

On The Silence of the Poets
PublishedSeptember 13, 2012 CategoryArts Social Action

On The Silence of the Poets

Given the etiquette and conventions surrounding a Poet Laureate, it was refreshing to see Carol Ann Duffy both capturing the ‘gold, silver or bronze’ mood of the recent Olympics, but also risking a tilt in the direction of some bigger, tougher contemporary realities ….

Translating the British, 2012

A summer of rain, then a gap in the clouds
and The Queen jumped from the sky
to the cheering crowds.

  We speak Shakespeare here,
a hundred tongues, one voiced; […]
we say we want to be who we truly are,
now, we roar it.

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Poetry and the Business Life
PublishedJune 10, 2012 CategoryArts Social Action

Poetry and the Business Life

‘The Poetry of Business Life’, I wrote in the preface to my 1994 anthology , is more than a title. It is an assertion and a challenge. ‘The Poetry of Love’ would have no such implication, since Love is fully legitimate territory for poets. Pets and Politics also qualify. So what was so different about Business?

In a few short subsequent years, poets have been pushing through the breached ramparts of the work place and the office into this wider world. Continue Reading »

Poets, Playwrights and the Critics’ Nod
PublishedApril 3, 2012 CategoryArts Social Action

Poets, Playwrights and the Critics’ Nod

In one of the many obituaries and tributes to the great American poet and feminist Adrienne Rich, who died this week, Mary Rourke reminded us in the Los Angeles Times of how Rich had come of age during the social upheavals of the 1960s and 70s, and was best known as an advocate of women’s rights, which she explored in both poetry and prose.

“ But she also passionately addressed the anti-war movement and wrote of the marginalised and underprivileged. Continue Reading »

Where Have All The Poets Gone?
PublishedMay 18, 2011 CategoryArts Social Action

Where Have All The Poets Gone?

In ‘Poetry Matters’ I’m planning to provoke some dialogue on what’s actually going on in the fields of verse and poetry, and where it’s all going. What’s it for, these days? And where’s it kept, now that we’re ‘kindling’ our books and the poet elites seem to be on an endless circuit of ‘literary festivals’ and teaching ‘creative writing courses’? Unless, of course, they’re into ‘performance poetry’ battling it out nightly with the karaoke.


Whatever happened to Wordsworth’s ‘ emotion recollected in tranquility’ or ‘the breath and finer spirit of all knowledge’? Continue Reading »