Review

The Hatred of Poetry and Social Realism, and the Love of the Poetry of Social Realism

I have just read The Hatred of Poetry by Ben Lerner. Lerner’s thesis is that poetry is hated because it can never live up to its ultimate aim of conveying the universal truth. “Poetry isn’t hard, it’s impossible.” It is impossible for a poet to translate their thoughts into a poem that achieves universality. In the words of Socrates, “Of that place beyond the heavens none of our earthly poets has yet sung, and none shall sing worthily.”

Lerner uses the cliché of the creative dream where you have some kind of enlightened idea, only to see it dissolve when you wake. “In a dream your verses can defeat time, your words can shake off the history of their usage, you can represent what can’t be represented.” But then life gets in the way, with its ‘inflexible laws and logic.” And so he concludes: “Thus, the poet is a tragic figure. The poem is always a record of failure.”

He ends the book quite cheekily and somewhat grandly with, “All I ask the haters – and I, too, am one – is that they strive to perfect their contempt, even consider bring it to bear on poems, where it will be deepened, not dispelled, and where, by creating a place for possibility and present absences – like unheard melodies, it might come to resemble love.” It is essentially that comment you got from that teacher you were sure hated you; “not good enough, try harder.”

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Charity*

Putting aside my initial reaction that Lerner should maybe lower his expectations a little, I feel there are comparisons in his argument to the ideals behind social realism and portrayals of the working classes. Social Realism began as a movement of artists and photographers in the early 1900s (peaking in the 1920s & 30s); it was a counter to the idealistic and one sided bourgeois depictions of life at the end of the 19th century. It was hugely important and is one of the lesser regarded aspects of modernity. It exposed the harsh realities of working class life with endemic poverty and consequent poor health and high rates of mortality. It challenged the aesthetic in order to change the system. You could argue that the New Deal and the Welfare State were positive policy reactions to the exposure of social realism. (more…)

Poetry Books and Pamphlets

Books and Pamphlets I Have Bought and Nearly Read

I have been feeling a little overwhelmed by the number of poetry books and pamphlets out there and the pressure to keep up with them both for the site and for my own learning as a poet. At the moment I don’t really have a sense of how they fit together or what I have learned from them. So I thought the first thing to do was to make a basic list of the publications I have (although there may be others scattered around the house). This isn’t a review, it is a simple list from which I hope to get a sense of how they relate to each other in terms of style and themes. I would love to hear of books/pamphlets you might think I will be interested in reading.

telling talesThe List

Patience Agbabi, Blood Monochrome (Canongate, 2008)
Patience Agbabi, Telling Tales (Canongate, 2014)
kithRaymond Antrobus, Shapes and Disfigurements (Burning Eye, 2012)
Simon Armitage, Paper Aeroplanes (Faber, 2014)
Jo Bell, Kith (Nine Arches Press, 2015)
Jo Bell, Navigation (Moormaid Press, 2014)
Emily Berry, Dear Boy (Faber, 2013) (more…)

The Poetry of Working Class Lives: Opening a Door to a More Inclusive Poetics

The Poetry of Working Class Lives: Opening a Door to a More Inclusive Poetics. By Peter Raynard for New Generation to Next Generation 2014: Three Decades of British and Irish Poetry, conference at the Institute of English Studies, London. March 13th 2015

Introduction

Poetry is not the inconsolable wail of the only child. It can be the hum of the neighbourly voices in the meeting hall. To be welcomed in, all you need to do is open the door.”

These are the closing words from Fiona Sampson’s book on contemporary poetry: Beyond the Lyric. But the challenge facing any poetics of inclusion, is how to get people to open the door in the first place. However, as the Warwick commission report on the Arts recently showed, it is not only a problem for poetry.

Poetry and Working Class Lives

I came to focus on the poetry of the working class lives in two ways. Firstly, when I started writing poetry as a dare by taking a module run by Malika Booker as part of an MA in Creative Writing; she showed us poems from William Blake, to Martin Espada, Jacob Sam-La Rose, Inua Ellams, and Karen McCarthy Woolf.

trainspottingThe second entry point was a dissatisfaction in the way in which the working classes were portrayed in the media and arts: in novels, plays, TV programmes and films, stories involving working class people are portrayed as ‘horror stories’ or ‘fairy tales’; The most billy eliottcommon depictions are the lumpen, feckless, racist and criminal underclass of ‘Shameless’, ‘This is England’ ‘Trainspotting’ and ‘Lionel Asbo’, complemented by the narratives of escape via the salvation of a supposed middle-class life such as with ‘Educating Rita’ and ‘Billy Elliot’. (more…)

Poems of Working Class Lives – 2004 Generation Poets

Following on from my previous post on working class poems by a selection of the 1994 Generation Poets, is the second instalment as part of my paper for the upcoming Institute of English Studies conference on March 13th-14th in London.

Below are ten poems from the 2004 alumni of New Generation Poets, that have been selected in terms of whether I could find a relevant poem online or not.

2004 Generation Poets

Patience Agbabi, The Devil in Cardiff. I could have taken a number from the wonderful reworking of Chaucer, in Telling Tales, but here is the lovable rogue Robbo, who previously appeared on the site.
…non-stop to Hell! Dying for a pint, he is./Only serve tea down there, and bloody biscuits …/Bitter for me … He’ll be back here/in less than a month, though, bet you a fiver,/they’ll be beggin’ him to go./Get an ASBO from Hell, Robbo.’

Paul Farley, Depot. A magical, mysterious place where the objects of the street are housed (dustcarts, lampposts) and where street cleaners know more than you might imagine.
Here are the bays, where dustcarts spend their evenings,/where grit summers, dreaming of Januaries,/and barriers mesh, likes deckchairs off-season.’ (more…)

Poems of Working Class Lives by the New and Next Generation Poets

As part of this project I seem to be developing, I will be giving a paper at the Institute of English Studies conference: “New to Next Generation 2014: Three Decades of British and Irish Poetry” on March 13th (come along). I am on a panel entitled Promoting an Inclusive Poetics (I should be careful what I wish for). So as part of developing the paper, I thought I better get to know who the ‘Generation’ poets are.

I have featured four of the Generation Poets on the site so far – from 2014: Hannah Lowe, Kei Miller and Helen Mort; and one from 2004, Patience Agbabi. None from 1994 as yet.

In line with my belief that all poets have written a poem of working class lives, I am going through the poems (at least the ones that are available online at this stage) of each Generation poet to find out if there is any truth to my belief. So this first instalment is a selection from the 1994 ‘New’ Generation – I have looked at eleven of them so far, there are others such as Don Paterson and Kathleen Jamie I know I will find poems from, but there are still a few that I haven’t found one for (e.g. Glyn Maxwell, Lavinia Greenlaw), though I haven’t lost hope.

1994

Moniza Alvi: The Country at My Shoulder is about Moniza’s country of origin, Pakistan, the poverty and gender divide there and how it weighs heavily on her identity.
the women stone-breakers chip away/at boulders, dirt on their bright hems./They await the men and the trucks….I try to shake the dust from the country,/smooth it with my hands.’

Simon Armitage: Clown Punk is very much a poem about identity, of how for some it changes, whereas others may believe it remains the same as exemplified in fading tattoos.
don’t laugh: every pixel of that man’s skin,/is shot through with indelible ink;/as he steps out at the traffic lights/think what he’ll look like in thirty years time.’ (more…)

Book Review: The Hundred Years’ War: Modern War Poems edited by Neil Astley

modern war poems‘There is nothing one man will not do to another.’ (The Visitor, Carolyn Forché)

On 7th January 1915 the war in Europe was at a stalemate. Soldiers were still dying for an unknown cause but the papers in the UK at least, were headlined with floods that covered much of the country. On the following day, the future UK Prime Minister David Lloyd George, in response to the war not ‘being over by Christmas’, said that half a million new volunteers should not be ‘thrown away in futile enterprises’ and by ‘this intermittent flinging …. against impregnable positions’.

‘Tumbling over hills, likes waves of the sea/Staggering on, attracted magnetically by Death.’ (At the Beginning of the War, Peter Baum, 1915) (more…)