August 21st, 2007

What About Poetry?

What about poetry? asks my friend goddlefrood

 Poetry is always with us but great poets are few and far between. Much of the 18th century was a great poet-free zone. There's Pope and after Pope no one of the first rank until the romantics. 

Was Gray a great poet? A minor poet who wrote one great poem, I think.

So the contemporary dearth of great poets doesn't necessarily mean that poetry is dead. 

To be a great poet you need  to get into the book of quotations,  to add something to the language,  to "purify the dialect of the tribe". The last British poet to achieve that was Larkin. The last American poet to do it was Ginsburg. 

There are those who say  the great poetry of our age is in our songs.  I'm not convinced.  Words for music are usually too loose to look well on the page. 

I adore Dylan. I think he's a great artist. I don't think he's a great poet.

Of course I may be overlooking someone. I've got to admit I don't read much contemporary poetry. Does anybody?

i used to be a reviewer. I gave it up because it was making me angry.

So many poems about what I did on my hols. So many poems about dying relatives.

The great poet of our age may not have been published yet, or not published prominently.  Blake, Dickinson, Hopkins all went unnoticed by their contemporaries. 

The first half of the 20th century was a great age for English language poetry- perhaps the greatest. How do you follow Yeats, Eliot, Auden et al?  It's as if everything that can be done has been done.  

There were over fifty years between the death of Pope and the publication of the Lyrical Ballads. That's how long it can take  a culture to recover from a golden age.

So, no, on reflection I don't think poetry is finished. A great poet will come along eventually. They always do.