Friday, August 31, 2007

Ask them what they are: they say Poet


I am always shy of calling myself a poet and I wonder much at those young men and sometimes those old men who boldly declare their poeticality. If you ask them what they are, they say: Poet.

There is, of course, a poetic movement which sees poetry materialistically. The writers of this school see no transcendent nature in the poet; they are practical chaps, excellent technicians. But somehow or other I have a belief in poetry as a mystical thing, and a dangerous thing.

A man (I am thinking of myself) innocently dabbles in words and rhymes and finds that it is his life. Versing activity leads him away from the paths of conventional unhappiness. For reasons that I have never been able to explain, the making of verses has changed the course of one man’s destiny. I could have been as happily unhappy as the ordinary countryman in Ireland. I might have stayed at the same moral age all my life. Instead of that, poetry made me a sort of outcast. And I was abnormally normal...

I suppose when I come to think of it, if I had a stronger character, I might have done well enough for myself. But there was some kink in me, put there by Verse...

In 1942, I wrote The Great Hunger. Shortly after it was published a couple of hefty lads came to my lonely shieling on Pembroke Road. One of them had a copy of the poem behind his back. He brought it to the front and he asked me, `Did you write that?’ He was a policeman. It may seem shocking to the devotee of liberalism if I say that the police were right. For a poet in his true detachment is impervious to policemen ... The Great Hunger is concerned with the woes of the poor. A true poet is selfish and implacable. A poet merely states the position and does not care whether his words change anything or not. The Great Hunger is tragedy and Tragedy is underdeveloped Comedy, not fully born. Had I stuck to the tragic thing in The Great Hunger I would have found many powerful friends.

But I lost my messianic compulsion. I sat on the bank of the Grand Canal in the summer of 1955 and let the water lap idly on the shores of my mind. My purpose in life was to have no purpose.
 -- Patrick Kavanagh

Imagine anybody who writes "Poetry" (or should I say "Verse?") now saying such things!

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