On Poetry

Blue Bank by Penny Broadhurst

In ‘The Soul of Man Under Socialism’, Oscar Wilde celebrates the fact that poetry is not read by the public. For if they did read it they might attempt to influence it and, to meet the requirements of the public, “the artist would have to do violence to his temperament, would have to write not for the artistic joy of writing, but for the amusement of half-educated people, and so would have to supress his individualism, forget his culture, annihilate his style, and surrender everything that is valuable in him”

On 8 mile high, Penny Broadhurst explicitly rails against such high-minded seclusion, asserting that “art is communication . . . I want to speak to the people and I want to kick arse.” With such an attitude, it is deeply mystifying as to why she should chose poetry(!) as her medium. Surely nothing is more alienating to the 21st century mind (sic) than poetry. The question is: why does it alienate?

Perhaps it’s because poetry, after Romanticism, became inextricably bound in the popular imagination to the self-indulgent, to the introspective and to the futile dramatizations of the self. When the poet became ‘sensitive’ s/he lost all authority. When pale-skinned schoolboys and schoolgirls with gothic tendencies took over the poetry racket, the game was lost.

As the “arse-kicking” opener to Blue Bank shows, Ms. Broadhurst seemingly disdains such cliches: her “inspiration is Eminem and Dolly Parton.” And yet, the next poem includes lines melancholy lines about “thickening, black mucus lungs, viscous”. Vacillating between introspective and in-yer-face, Blue Bank is an uncomfortable listen. The former are embarrassingly descriptive of personal ailments (Scabby Queen) and the latter media cliches (chavs etc). The musical accompaniment is inventive and astute, never sounding amateurish, but one longs for some consistency.

Maybe my problem is that I don’t like contemporary poetry. I tend to agree with Peacock’s The Four Age of Poetry. From Shakespeare to Pope to Keats to Eliot to Empson to Larkin, the well of poetry has been drying out and getting more stagnant. Most intelligent animals now get their sustenance elsewhere (pop lyrics, poetic prose, photography), leaving only the weak and atavistic with poetry. There is massive amounts of hypocrisy that surrounding it. Nobody, or almost nobody, reads it. People like the idea of reading it, it still carries a certain kudos in some areas, but I find it difficult to recall the last time a poem has escaped the confines of the books pages and accompanied an intelligent thought. The least efficient way to spend money is to spend other people’s money on other people. All those awards and grants in the poetry world epitomise this inefficiency.

As far as I can see, the criteria for poetry rests on either the modernist ideas of form, beauty, aesthetics etc. or folky ideas of traditional culture, memorable songs etc. Neither of these things have much weight in modern culture, so the poet is left isolated. And, whilst self-pleasure has its place, I’d rather not read it, especially not in sentences that don’t have the good grace to reach the end of the page.