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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‘You may translate books of science exactly. You may also translate history, in so far as it is not embellished with oratory, which is poetical. Poetry, indeed, cannot be translated; and, therefore, it is the poets that preserve the languages; for we would not be at the trouble to learn a language, if we could have all that is written in it just as well in a translation. But as the beauties of poetry cannot be preserved in any language except that in which it was originally written, we learn the language.’ Johnson to Boswell, Life of Johnson
The idea of what poetry is still seems to be alive, then, but for the most part, the word poetry is seen and heard in a sporting vernacular, not in the artistic - at least in Australia. How did it happen that the word poetry got to be about everything but poetry?
Poets are not legislators, even unacknowledged ones. But if they can’t practise legislation, the bringing of law, they can practise jurisdiction, the speaking of right. Society doesn’t exist except as we make it; we are not atomised selves; the practice of speaking really changes the world as experienced.
It would be foolish to think that Domestic Violence ignores the past. Like most Irish writers, the poet is acutely aware of how intertwined past and present can be in Ireland, ‘as though the past could be present and memory itself / a Baltic honey’.
A thing made is a thing created. Kennard’s poems are hugely intelligent, sympathetic, and moving things, in free verse and prose. We love what we do not understand—the beloved, to begin with, the classics of literature, art, music, and philosophy, too.
He comes to bury Thatcher, not to praise her. The message implies that we should move on, but in many ways it seems like the poem is another elegy – not for Thatcher, but for the angry young man O’Brien was, and the old political discourse.
Hutchison wields total mastery over English (and Scots) and shows imaginative and moving use of it (of them), invention within a gamut of genres and subjects, emotional variety and depth, and unforgettable, inexhaustible words, phrases, images, stanzas, passages, and poems instant in their force and lasting in their significance.
What is striking is that these are, first and foremost, poems. The hip, modern references serve a decorative or contextual purpose, rather than stemming from the patronising notion that the reader couldn’t understand poetry unless it’s given a relevant twist.
Strip away the razzle dazzle, and what is left is a production stranded in its very own limbo. As Milton sagely observed, the mind is indeed capable of making a hell of heaven, a heaven of hell, but it is hard pushed to envisage either on this stage.