Not Just For Poets Anymore

Today the Guardian published an article about the Forward Poetry Prize and  judge Jeremy Paxman. Paxman’s comments included the idea that poets need to “engage with ordinary people much more” (Quotation taken from the article).

No.

You’re reading the wrong stuff, Mr Paxman. Firstly, poetry’s not just read, it’s heard. I’m a written not a spoken word poet but I still love spoken word poetry. There are collections full of real life, real world, diverse and diverging ideas and interests and people. You just need to want to see them, and look for them.

The rest of the article is certainly worth reading and there is some very thoughtful and insightful commentary from Michael Symmons Roberts. Also there is a list of the prizes for this year so you know what to be looking out for.

[In a separate issue noted in the article, Paxman said that poets should explain why they chose to write on the subject and in the form that they did – and I’m all up for that but it seems a little self-centred, especially on a blog, but we might try it sometime!]

Poets are connected to the world and to the people in it. As poets we often hear that poetry is inclusive, or cut off from reality, or (as Paxman says) catering only to other poets. There are certainly ways to read more levels in poetry, things to look out for and learning to spot them is like learning to do a cryptic crossword. But that’s the same of anything. Noticing the hints dropped in a TV show that one minor character was the killer. Spotting the recurring themes in your favourite author’s series of novels. The more you consume something the more you understand it.

I think there is an element of laziness here as well on Mr Paxman’s part. Sure poetry may seem to be all one thing if you only look for it in one place. It’s everywhere. If you only look in the oatmeal section of the cereal aisle then you’ll never find the rice krispies. Or better yet, try something completely different – have muffins or crumpets or toast. Then you get to choose jam and marmalade. Oh, the choice is endless!

I’m also a little offended that Jeremy Paxman thinks that poets are so different from other people. We don’t all just wander through daffodils all day. We cook and eat, work and sleep, do the shopping and the laundry. Just because we see poetry in those things and write them down doesn’t separate us from anyone. What poetry does is connect us to new ideas, as with any sort of creative art, poetry is a way of seeing the world through another person’s eyes. Whether they are older, younger, a different race and gender, another nationality or faith. In short, poetry is not exclusive, unless you only look for poets who agree with you.

So I’m just going to pop a few links here to have a read through and see some other poems…

Brave New Voices Grand Slam Finals 2013 – four amazing women making everyone think, and yes, feel.

Here’s a poem by a three year old. Trying telling him he’s only writing for other poets.

Madwomen, a wonderful bilingual version of Gabriela Mistral’s Poetry

Girls Who Read. Again.

A picture of a poem from “I Love You Is Back” by Derrick C. Brown on Tumblr.

Another young poet showing poetry can be anywhere.

Universality in a poem by Albert Goldbarth

Here, Bullet by Brian Turner

V.

ps. Anyone who gets the NPH Tony’s reference in the title gets a gold star…

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7 thoughts on “Not Just For Poets Anymore

    1. Absolutely – and there is so much that can be done with all types of poetry. Endless possibilities.
      V.

  1. This is a great post; poets need to stick up for poetry as something that is fully engaged with life and reality rather than as this Ivory-Tower, elitist activity limited to the chosen few, which seems to be what Paxman is basically calling it.

    1. Absolutely. There was a lot wrong with what he said, but it was great to see other poets really sticking up for each other and the art itself. I think poetry is the most flexible thing – it can be very elitist in place but also very pure and passionate, something that everyone in the world can connect to. And that’s why I love it so much.
      V.

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