Is Paxman right? Or Should Poetry Just Follow its Natural Course

-g emil reutter 

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Jerry Paxman, a judge for Britain’s Forward Prize for poetry said in a recent article at the Guardian “I think poetry has really rather connived at its own irrelevance and that shouldn’t happen, because it’s the most delightful thing,”  Paxman continued, “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.”  The full article appears here: http://www.theguardian.com/media/2014/jun/01/jeremy-paxman-poets-engage-ordinary-people-forward-prize

There has been much said and much written over the last two centuries about the relevance of poetry, yet it remains. Poets are the great observers of the world around us and while many don’t read poetry or attend poetry readings on a regular basis, most folks like to know there are poets around. While the Guardian article is Britain specific I believe it could apply to any nation. It seems to me that poets are the only one’s concerned about this for in the end poets write, it is what they do, relevant or not, sales or none, poetry is written. So we asked a few poets to let us know their thoughts on the matter..

DOUG HOLDERDoug Holder, Lecturer in Creative Writing at Endicott College and publisher of the Boston Small Press and Poetry Scene said: “Just because we are poets doesn’t mean we are not ordinary people. I for one am an everyday person who happens to write poetry. I write poems about life–the everyday stuff–love, loss, death the whole gamut. All poetry addresses this I think. That being said sometimes poetry that is being written today maybe too conceptual.

Holder believes in solid grounding, “You need to have some concrete detail. As William Carlos William said, and I paraphrase “Not in ideas, but things.” A poem must be grounded first–solid ground- and then you can float off after this point. Perhaps this would be a way to engage with more readers.”.

Holder may be right. Conceptual poetry may hurt poetry as a whole, grounded may be the way to go..

JC-Necklace2jpgPoet J.C. Todd viewed the article a bit differently. She takes issue with Paxman and his premise.  “Jeremy Paxman has the noun wrong. If there is a problem, it is not with poetry but with poets or, more likely, with publishers of poetry or, could the problem be with his taste as a reader. Blaming an art form? That’s a bit of fuzzy thinking since art is made by humans. Blame the humans–poets, publishers, readers? They are responding to culture. Blame the culture? You can see this is leading down a weedy garden path.”.

Todd also takes issue with Paxman as a judge and celebrity. “Paxman was reading poems as a judge, his primary motive to assign selective value instead of appreciating them or grappling with them. Could the process of choosing “the best” have tainted his engagement with the art? He was paid to judge and now he’s double-dipping making a celebrity or pundit of himself by blaming poetry. Oh, dear. And poetry, having no legal standing, can’t sue for defamation or libel or slander. The perfect victim and cause célèbre.”

So is Paxman the guy to take this position? Is Todd correct in her premise,” the problem lies with poets or more likely publishers of poetry, or, could the problem be with Paxman’s taste as a reader?”

 ???????????????????????????????Poet and Editor of The Fox Chase Review, Diane Sahms-Guarnieri agrees with Paxman on some points. “Poetry can appeal to all levels of life and should be read as widely as bestselling novels; and therefore poets writing poetry should not discount people, who are not poets, yet enjoy reading poetry.    Although poetry takes on numerous forms and voices (including but not limited to language, surrealism, experimental, and realism) there has always been a need for poetry that speaks directly to the masses, the everyday reader, and the “non-poets.”

Sahms-Guarnieri continues, “The problem is they’re so many cliques, factions, and élite groups of poets that demand that other poets (not in their group) write the way that they write.  These groups of poets truly believe that they hold the “truth” and poetry has to be written their way, as if the world of poetry exists just for them and those who drink with them from their “limited” well of water.”

She is concerned about the impact of this institutionalized exclusion and agrees with Paxman that poetry should relate to the people as a whole.  “ My friends, exclusion is  not what freedom of expression is all about, that is, you cannot and will not harness the muse into one little holding cell.  Poetry is by nature for everyone, from every walk of life, and the muse will always allow for variation and freedom.  Poems will always be written by and performed by many different poetic voices.   Poets should echo the human experience with poetry that relates to “all” people, touching and re-touching lives.”

Sahms-Guarnieri agrees  with Paxman that poetry should reach out beyond poets. Poetry written and read for the people as opposed to a select group of poets would seem to make sense. As she states, “poets write to “echo the human experience”, to touch all people.”

Frank WilsonPoet and publisher of Book Inq. , Frank Wilson believes Paxman’s premise is more applicable in the U.K. than in the U.S. “… where poetry seems to be flourishing at readings in bars, galleries and parks.” Wilson stated he was just finishing off reviews of three poetry collections, “They have much in common, but are still quite distinct.”

He points to the internet, “The internet abounds with poetry, and most of it is not at all academic. Some, I have no doubt, will have quite a long life.” 

Poets write poetry often without recognition or profit. Paraphrasing Stanley Kunitz, “poetry is the last uncorrupted art… there is no profit in it.” Commercialization as Paxman calls for is not the answer, it may be a very simple answer indeed, writing poetry people will read. Poetry rises and falls with the changing cultural ocean. It is as natural as the rising and setting of the sun. Let nature take its course, reach out to people, go out and write a poem.

Related post at FCR:  Poetry in Decline- Is a Revolution Needed?

g emil reutter 2-g emil reutter lives and writes in the Fox Chase neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pa. (USA) http://gereutter.wordpress.com/

 

5 responses to “Is Paxman right? Or Should Poetry Just Follow its Natural Course

  1. Poets spend too much time and effort writing for other poets, and at most local readings, reading to other poets. Poets, as a group, are NOT like ordinary people. If poets want to be relevant to and enjoyed by civilians, they need to spend more time and attention on true people’s poets, like Harry Chapin and Bob Dylan, and then they need to get out into the world and read to the kinds of folks who don’t ordinarily attend poetry readings or read literary journals.

  2. World culture, and the art, need a new global, universal vision of life on this planet. Gazing from the moon, we see one Earth, without borders, Mother Earth, her embrace encircling one people, humankind.

    The Parliament of Poets: An Epic Poem, takes place partly on the moon, at the Apollo 11 landing site, the Sea of Tranquility, a Journey toward healing the psyche of the planet.

    Apollo, the Greek god of poetry, calls all the poets of the nations, ancient and modern, East and West, to assemble on the moon to consult on the meaning of modernity. The Parliament of Poets sends the Persona on a Journey to the seven continents to learn from all of the spiritual and wisdom traditions of humankind. On Earth and on the moon, the poets teach him a new global, universal vision of life.

    http://earthrisepress.net/

    Much of the literary and academic world is closed off to the possibility…

    Frederick Glaysher

  3. Eileen Moeller

    Jeremy Paxman is a news anchor and talk show host on television, and apparently, now, a bit of a fascist.Poetry tribunals? What does he suggest we do with the poets who can’t fully explain their work? Should their notebooks be torn up and burned? Sounds a bit Oliver Cromwell to me. There are plenty of poets, both here and abroad who are writing accessibly.

  4. first, a decline in poetry sales from 2009 to 2013 may be more an economic indicator than a reflection of audience reaction. 2nd, i doubt paxman meant ‘inquisition’ in a punitive sense. he does, after all, express the opinion that ‘it would be a really illuminating experience for everybody’. does anyone doubt that few ppl have much grasp of how n why poets choose what to write about n how to express it?

    it seems to me that poets should aim for the same goal that stanislavsky set for theatre: to be entertaining n elevating.

    i think they can realize a big part of those ends if they try to do what william carlos williams meant by these lines from *january morning*:

    I wanted to write a poem
    that you would understand.
    For what good is it to me
    if you can’t understand it?
    But you got to try hard —

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