Tuesday, 26 June 2007

The Status of Poetry

The status of poetry has changed much over the ages, from its high rank of old as divinely-inspired speech and a repository of wisdom, to its broadly-viewed standing of today as a diversion of little consequence, seen often rightly as the dreary output of effete pretenders and vapid yappers, such that:
An announcement that a poetry-reading is about to take place will empty a room quicker than a water-cannon. [1]
This decline of status is owed mostly, I believe, to the pragmatic and popular age in which we live, which rates utility above all and which deems poetry an undisciplined art to which anyone may turn a free hand.
Parents who notice that their boy intends to be a poet should thrash him until he gives up his versifying — or until he becomes a real poet. [2]
As with all things, if poetry is to be worthwhile, a little discipline and drilling — Zucht und Züchtung — wouldn’t go amiss.
[1] David Stove, “The Oracles and their Cessation: A Tribute to Julian Jaynes”, Cricket versus Republicanism (Sydney: Quakers Hill Press, 1995), p.127.
[2] G.C. Lichtenberg, quoted by Carl Brinitzer, A Reasonable Rebel: Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, tr., B. Smith (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1960), p.107.


Karna O'Dea said...

Didn't Stove make the first remark? You have the attribution wrong.


Deogolwulf said...

Oh dear. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

All is not lost. At my theatre group we have a members' night every month, one of which is entitled "£1 a poem" with all proceeds going to charity. There is a surprisingly large turnout each year, although it must be admitted that as amateur thesps, any chance of a 'performance' is not to be missed!

As for "a little discipline and drilling", when it comes to the correct delivery of iambic pentameters in my Shakespeare productions, I suspect that my actors refer to me behind my back as 'Sergeant-Major' Duff (amongst other things). Certainly the language of instruction is more Aldershot than Academe!

Anonymous said...

Ah, David, do you know the story of someone recommending Shakespeare to Duke Ellington. The great man takes a look and announces "5 beats to the line".

Anonymous said...

I wonder if he added, "And it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing".