Following our coverage of the Forward Poetry Prize, and discussions on poetry at the Culture Wars forum and Battle of Ideas festival in London, Culture Wars is soliciting further articles about contemporary poetry and its place in the broader culture, with a view to expanding and improving our coverage of poetry.
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Vivid scattergun readings by Sinclair and Moore, whose striking first-person narrative was a moving insight into the tragedy of the story, compellingly transported the audience to Clare’s countryside. What the ensuing witch-hanging-blackface-jig-metal-pounding lacked in consistency or subtlety, it made up for in genuine lunacy.
The music’s emotional ebbs, together with the projection of Jack Wake-Walker’s beautiful shots of the Thames and of crossing cranes against the sky, seemed to be redeeming the presence of The Restructure; they opposed the most human to the least soulful.
It was a shame we didn’t see the Shirleys again, as their upskittling shenanigans had us laughing, then in true Brecht/Frisch style, asking ‘Why are we laughing at this; and why are we laughing at it here?’ They made us uncomfortable. Shouldn’t we feel uncomfortable? Isn’t that, to some extent, the point?
Are the implications of the poem that going out with a bread-knife is as much a desperate act as calculated violence? This is where Duffy takes the cultural risk, where poetry becomes dangerous, unflinching.
There is still a place for the Poet Laureate in our society. Poetry makes the transition from something private to something that can be appreciated more widely when it strikes, like that errant ‘sun-shaft’, upon emotions and experiences that are in some sense universal, or in other words, human.
This human failure to connect is one of Kennard’s recurring motifs. His poems are filled with jokes which do not have the desired effect: either because the listener is over-literal (the hyper-intelligent Wolf, a returning character from the last collection), humourless (the jaded, post-ironic artist girlfriend in ‘A Sure-Fire Sign’) or because the signification system has collapsed so far in his absurdist universe that even those laughing aren’t sure.
Adam Foulds’ new novel recounts the life, loves and madness of John Clare, poster-boy poet of romantic environmentalists and it-once-was Englanders. Can we bracket him so easily and read him as nothing more than a lament for a natural world destroyed in front of his eyes? Or does his life and poetry tell us something more important about civilisation than it does about nature?
Seen through the poems, President Obama is emphatically not a blank screen. He has come to represent the possibility of American redemption, the possibility of reclaiming the moral high ground— and he is valued by people, and poets, as a way to elevate their own views by associating them with him.
So many factors: if a performer plays a poet who reads a poem, he is firstly performing a poet, then performing a poet’s voice, all this before the actual poem. To deliver the poem then, even if he just ‘reads’ , it would be a performance regardless of how pared down a delivery it is.
The merit of this event, and more generally of the London Word Festival, lies first of all in providing a platform for the sort of literary enterprise that would otherwise remain untried or unnoticed.
Philip Larkin rarely gave readings of his poems. Asked why in an interview with the Paris Review [PDF], he explained that to hear a poem as opposed to reading it on the page means that, for better or worse, the speaker will interpose their personality between poem and audience, obscuring, maligning and interfering with the poem itself.
For me, the city of Florence means the Renaissance. For Simon Barraclough, it means Hannibal. In his debut collection, Los Alamos Mon Amour, culture as we know it has been annihilated by an atom bomb, specifically one designed at the eponymous US laboratory.