"Ponderynge together yestardayes promise, and two-dayes doyng"
(Hall's Chronicle - 1548)


"Goronigl gwyr yr Ynys" (Lewis Glyn Cothi - 1450)

Friday, 19 March 2010

Poetry, Poets & Versifiers






“There have been many most excellent poets, that never versified, and now swarm many versifiers that need never answer to the name of poets.”
Sir Philip Sidney



Is this too harsh a judgement? In these days of creative writing workshops, poetry as therapy, verse and worse at the service of pop songs, advertising jingles and greetings cards, we inhabit a world that Sidney could not have imagined. His swarming versifiers did not stoop so low. And yet he would not admit them to the Republic of Letters. What should our standards be?

Theories have abounded, prescriptions have been pronounced and accusations both of elitism and of intellectual snobbery fired off in various directions. But poetry is a craft practised out of necessity rather than for profit of either monetary or any other kind. (I nearly said ‘rather than for reasons of vanity’ but that would be a claim too far). I say it is a craft. Not an indulgence. Not an effusion. Not a cleverness of expression.

Sometimes it is a craft with a subtlety in its expression that may not be obvious to all its readers. Poets have often feared the reader who cannot fully appreciate the work produced, or even been afraid that their true readers may not exist. If so, who do they write for? Must they be also educators, instructing their readers in the appropriate skills of interpretation? Some have thought so.

Shall I promise you, dear reader, nothing but the best quality here? Of course. You deserve nothing less. And be sure that you will always get what you deserve.

2 comments:

Adam said...

Ouch. That is a toughie. As I approach my 50s I am only beginning to suspect I might understand what constitutes poetry before I die. I can recognise it far more easily than define it (though that may in part be the result of an over liberal 70's education that refused to define it in anyway, so presented me with Dylan Thomas{poet} and some of the most appalling pose-posing-as-free-verse in the same lesson)... and I'm damned if I can write it :-)

Though poetry (and art and music) as therapy I will defend (but not inflict).

The search for quality... isn't that what drove Pirzig mad in the end?

Greg said...

I think the implication of Sidney's comment is not so much concerned with quality ( as important as this is) as what is and is not poetry. This suggests that there might be good and bad poetry as well as good and bad stuff (here designated as 'verse') which is only masquerading as being poetry. Which probably makes it even more of a toughie! Enough, indeed, to drive anyone mad.