"I think poetry has really rather connived at its own irrelevance and that shouldn’t happen, because it’s the most delightful thing," said Paxman. "It seems to me very often that poets now seem to be talking to other poets and that is not talking to people as a whole."
His words come as official figures show a decline in poetry sales. Five years ago, in 2009, sales of poetry stood at £8.4m. By 2013, they had fallen to £7.8m, according to Nielsen BookScan.
Michael Symmons Roberts, a poet who has both won and judged the Forward prize, said that Paxman’s proclamation was “not without foundation in terms of the symptoms – it would be stupid for poets to say poetry is as dominant as the novel” – but he disagreed with Paxman’s diagnosis.
"Poetry doesn’t have the currency in our culture that novels and films have – people who would be embarrassed not to have read the latest Julian Barnes or Martin Amis are not the slightest bit embarrassed not to have read the latest John Burnside or Carol Ann Duffy. But I don’t believe it’s quite good enough to say this is a problem of poets and poetry – it’s far more complex," said Roberts.”
Paxman is also quoted as saying that poetry should “aim to engage with ordinary people much more”. Surely, the notion of whether poetry engages adequately with “ordinary people” depends on the poetry you’re actually considering? Maybe what’s required here is a spotlight on engaging, challenging work that engages with the kind of ordinary people Paxman is referring to? That such work exists is not the question, rather where it can be found, and how it is celebrated/valued, particularly in relation to other works. Which essentially reduces to the question: who determines what “poetry” is, or more accurately, who determines which (of the various different forms of) poetry receives accolades and prestige?
“The written word is weak. Many people prefer life to it. Life gets your blood going, and it smells…”
- Annie Dillard (via John Estes)
“Nature is full of branches because if you want to be close to a lot of space with minimal increase…”
Nature is full of branches because if you want to be close to a lot of space with minimal increase in your own volume, your best bet is a structure that forks and sub-forks. This is how birds make wings: they send out a bone with a little quick tissue and feather roots, and from them grow rachis, and from them grow barbs, and from them grow barbules, and from them grow barbicels, between which the gaps are so small that air doesn’t bother trying to get through, and the bird has made something the shape of an airfoil without having to fill it with heavy meat. Branching is also how plants fill out their space in the air to collect sunlight and CO2, and underground to find solid nutrients. The structures of your nervous, respiratory, and circulatory systems are similarly manifold.
But the principle is deeper than life itself. It’s how rivers work: though we don’t ascribe intent, a river needs to approach every part of its basin in the sense that erosion will make it grow streams and rivulets until it does. It doesn’t even have to be water. Fluid dynamicists use the phrase viscous fingering to describe this kind of structure in their domain.
In fact, apparently in some sense it might be deeper than physics, because – assuming MLC is true – the Mandelbrot, a piece of abstract math, has some desire-less need to connect its infinite brood.”
This isn’t “poetry”. And yet it is. New definition: poetry = an indeterminable number of ways to pay attention to and fall in love with the world and all it’s truths, half-truths and lies.
BH: None. Should sounds like eating vegetables. I'm sorry— I sort of criticised your question there. But I don't like should. I'm guessing that your question has to do, in part, with poetry's diminished status in our culture. I certainly wish poetry still didn't seem so strange to people. Which is weird, given that, if people write, they're more likely to write poetry than anything else, in my experience. With that in mind, I think poetry is an every-day thing for many.
The winner of last night’s ZAP! Slam, São Paulo, as part of the FLUPP literary festival. In the third and final round, he performed a piece that consisted of two and a half minutes of silence, and a line that said something about how we are all mute in some way or another. I didn’t get a precise translation. Take note: there’s an art to holding your ground against expectation for two and a half minutes when every other piece before yours has put forward some kind of passionate exclamation. He approached the mic and backed away, toyed with us just enough so we didn’t question that it was all leading to something, and finally delivered. In conversation after the set, he called it a Kamikaze slam poem. For sure… but what a way to kill a slam, to subvert the form… #vscocam
Nicholas Bate consistently brings the good. If I had a fantasy faculty for a professional development programme for creatives, he’d be a first draft pick every time.
“I contribute in a variety of ways (if we must derive value from the idea of contributions): I have a…”
Dear poet: read the linked article immediately. Dear people who aren’t poets: please do the same. It certainly reminds me of a few too many conversations I’ve experienced. “So you’re a poet, eh?” they say with the kind of casual sneer reserved for someone who’s said they’ve just seen a unicorn…
Mr. Steidl, you scheduled this interview at 11 o’clock on a Sunday morning. Do you always work on weekends?
Yes on Saturdays and Sundays. Those are the only days in the week where I can work concentrated on concepts for books, I can do my drawings for book covers and book design. I don’t have to open my mouth, I am silent, I listen to the radio, classical music, and I do just what I want.
Do you ever take time off or is the printing process such a passion for you that you don’t need to?
I am of course not risking my health and my physical power just for printing jobs and without six and a half hours of sleep at night I am of no use the next day, but actually throughout the year I don’t need vacations or days off. I have the privilege that I spend the day doing whatever I want. That keeps you fresher. It is more a question of discipline and something that you have to learn. Since I have been working for 45 years, I have learned to be disciplined.
Hvísl - Whispers of Iceland (by schundoe)
An interactive Art Book; by Bertrand Lanthiez & Chloé Curé
This, where text = poetry. Ambient supporting audio and imagery alongside. Could be rendered as an app, but the tactility of the book, the idea of book as artefact that offers unfussy multimedia interactivity… yes.
“Often my subjects are the simplest things in the world: joy, family, the weather, houses, streets….”
- Zadie Smith— Storytelling Is A Magical, Ruthless Discipline (via TheLi.st
“English Literature A Level concentrates only on literature (the clue is in the title). The English…”
- Letter to The Sunday Times in support of A Level English Language and Literature via English & Media Centre
“so you have to live the poem with your whole mind and body. This is why performance poetry has had…”
- Why performance is the embodiment of poetry— Michael Rosen (via The Guardian)
“Whatever pain you suffer, after you have observed it, after you have imagined its shape and taste…”
- Cindy Clem— Darkly Devotions | [PANK]
- Want to know more about Burn After Reading? BAR Poet Greer Dewdney is interviewed by The Little Owl— Page vs Stage Poetry | The Little Owl
“This is a page-by-page interactive companion to Khaled Hosseini’s And the Mountains Echoed. Explore…”
Mmm. Something to consider for the next collection?
Hm. Not so sure about the interface. Looks a bit mid-00s flat interactive multimedia environment for my tastes, though that’s perhaps unfair of me to say without having actually seen it pixel for pixel. Nonetheless, I’m interested in finding out more…
“As Johnson describes it, the spark file is “a single document where I keep all my hunches: ideas for…”
Yes. There’s a point at which tweaking your writing workflow moves away from productive adjustments and more into self-stimulating abstraction. After all, the simplest way to get writing done is take pen and paper, apply backside to seat and write. Right?
While that’s true, tools and methods can most definitely impact on your process in positive ways. It’s a bad habit of mine— constantly migrating through systems and apps— but it’s largely rewarding. Most recently, I’ve been writing in FoldingText (using pre-release v2 version of the app). As a tool, it lends itself to just about anything I do with text, whether that’s writing poems, drafting blog posts, capturing ideas for workshop plans, taking down minutes for meetings or managing projects. And because it works with plain text files, it’s infinitely portable. Although there’s no close equivalent for FoldingText for iOS, I can open the same files on my iPad or iPhone and still get writing/work done.
Sometimes it’s the simple things that make all the difference…
Following up from yesterday’s frenetic buzz around the OCR / English and Media Centre’s proposed English Language and Literature A/AS level syllabus. It was reported that a senior DfE source denounced the syllabus as "rubbish in place of a proper A-level". Sophie B Lovett, quoted above, puts forward a solid defence…
Woke up this morning to find Mention1 buzzing with notifications, all pointing towards a new A/AS level English Literature and Language syllabus, and the fact that my work has been included. Happy joy.2
This, at 6.30am, followed shortly after by an invitation to speak on a BBC London breakfast show just after 8. The interview was brief, and to be frank, I misread it. I was hoping I’d get an opportunity to mention some of the work that’s happening in the UK with poetry where it meets young people at the moment— I wanted to mention the Spoken Word Educators project at least. If I had time, I may have referenced the Barbican Young Poets, Burn After Reading, the Roundhouse Poets, Stratford East Young Poets (Kat Francois), the Spoke Word Cup (via Apples & Snakes), the Spoke Young Poet Laureate programme, the Upward Bound SLAM initiative, the Ark Academy SLAM programme; and further afield— Young Identity (Manchester), the Wordsmith Awards (Manchester), Leeds Young Authors, Write Down Speak Up (Birmingham), Mouthy Poets (Nottingham), BeatRoots (Birmingham) and all the other transformative youth-facing work that’s happening in Newcastle, Bristol, Cambridge, Southampton and across the country. I’d have celebrated how, while poetry seems to escape its niches and confines to enjoy a cyclical boost of appreciation and popularity in mainstream consciousness (every 5-7 years or so), it really does feel as if there’s some fantastic sustained work happening “on the ground” to ensure that a wider body of people will have a broader appreciation of the value and relevance of poetry in the future, and that while that’s not without it’s dangers (poetry vs spoken word: discuss), it’s largely a good thing. I would have probably referenced the work that’s happening in the US through programmes like Brave New Voices and how, while that kind of national youth poetry movement serves as an inspiration, we have a distinctly contemporary British voice (with all its constituent facets and identities rolled in) that we can claim as our own.
As it happened, I got to say a few words about how chuffed I am about being selected, and was asked to read a short poem, which I managed to get just over halfway through before it was time to move on to the next item. Hm.
Regardless, it was nice to be asked to say a few words, however short the time may have been. I’m still unsure as to exactly how I’m represented in the selected texts, whether it’s a poem, selection of poems or collection, and it appears that at the moment, the syllabus that’s being spoken of is still awaiting OFQUAL accreditation, due to be considered next month. Suffice to say, fingers crossed…
"You will be born. You will grow up. You will love. You will lose. You will die. You won’t even really enjoy the process very much."
And I’m thinking of how this could be a poem in action… wherein the emotional freight is delivered through the interaction with the mechanisms of the experience…