Sunday, June 10, 2012

They Do the Poetry Police in Different Voices


I recently posted a quotation from Jeanette Winterson's new book which included the following:

.. when people say that poetry is a luxury, or an option, or for the middle classes, or that it shouldn't be read in school because it is irrelevant, or any of the strange and stupid things that are said about poetry and its place in our lives, I suspect that the people doing the saying have had things pretty easy.  

However, J.C., in the June 1, 2012, issue of the TLS, did not admire this quite so much; he wrote:

Few things are stranger than this.  Many folk feel poetry is not for them, but we can't recall ever hearing it described as a luxury, or "an option" - except by someone indulging the luxury of coming over all embattled.  People don't speak like that.  The poetry police does exist - its membership is made up of poets, seeking to police the "bad" poetry of others.  Those who say "strange and stupid things" about poetry tend to be critics.  We would be "happy" if in a "normal" world, people cared enough about language to justify ferocity.

Q.E.D.?

Pictured: some police.

2 comments:

Henry Gould said...

I'm tired of hearing people - from various fields & walks of life - talking about "caring enough... to justify ferocity". I'm tired of people exalting & justifying ferocity, period. This is more along the lines of what I like with regard to "caring about language" : http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/09/world/asia/formidable-pakistan-school-losing-its-founder.html?_r=1&ref=todayspaper

T.R. Hummer said...

It seems to me that people have the frame of reference wrong, and/or employ the wrong metaphors in thinking about the cultural situation of poetry. Poetry is not an "item," and so cannot be a luxury. It is more like a medicine than it is like a mink coat: it is there for those who need it; those who don't will ignore it. That is not an elitist situation, but a pragmatic one. No one says penicillin is a luxury item because it is not used by everyone all the time (like flour).