Thursday, November 30, 2006

A generous instinct

"I've begun to think that [public performance of poetry] forges an unnaturally close relationship between you and the work," he says. "It is important that the work leaves the house and makes its way in the world. But when you read this stuff you have to take responsibility for it in a way that you don't want. The work isn't you. It's supposed to proceed from a more generous instinct than that."
He being Don Paterson in a recent Guardian feature. And so proceeds blogging on poetry too. Mark Thwaite uses the same quotation introducing the Birmingham poet Roy Fisher to a larger audience during his weeklong residence on the Journal of the Poetry Foundation. See also the following day's discussion of the poetry of Tomas Tranströmer in light of Richard Dawkins' latest wrongheadedness.


  1. forges an unnaturally close relationship between you and the work

    mmmh, sure make me think that's why I don't like reading my own work, but what would naturally close be?

    religion is suggested, and then... poetry as the secular religion without the religious piety and cant, just the rites and performances...

    I think its called sport.

  2. Anonymous1:16 am

    Hi Steve. I've long appreciated your uncompromising stance towards literature and those forms of writing which attempt to pass for literature. But I have to say that in quoting without comment a poet whose work reads like a versified Nick Hornby you're giving undue heed to someone whose voice is already bruited too widely. Paterson is an aesthetically ultra-conservative mandarin whose fear of those whom he broadly tars with the epithet 'postmoderns' is only a problem for the rest of us because of his position as editor of one of the biggest poetry lists in Britain. Turning the volume down on his pronouncements would be a considerable act of justice towards those forms of poetry which are not born of a desire to please the 'average' broadsheet reader. Anyway keep up the good work.

  3. Well I didn't expect the Spanish Inquisition!

    I've not read anything by Paterson but his comments seem worth repeating when most broadsheet coverage is Plath v Hughes or Roger McGough v "the purists".

    So whose voices does the volume need turning up on?

  4. Anonymous10:38 am

    Hi Steve, hi "anonymous",

    Steve -- thanks for the link to my residence at the Poetry Foundation.

    Paterson is the poetry editor for Picador (they are a decent publisher, but their poetry list is pretty small these days) and he certainly does seem to be very conservative. His Picador list is very dull, too, but I quoted him -- like I'm sure you did Steve -- because the relationship and tensions between a writer and their work is a fascinating subject. And I think he most certainly does have a point here with regard to poetry and performance.

  5. Anonymous11:16 am

    Hi Steve, Mark

    Apologies if I seemed bombastic in my last comment, no offense was meant to either of you, and of course you're perfectly entitled to reproduce a quote you deem to have some value. Mark, you're right that the Picador list is small, I should have clarified that by 'one of the biggest' I meant one whose publications enjoy more than their fair share of reviews, publicity etc when contrasted with the output of more adventurous houses, and that this is thanks to a populist, lowest-common-denominator philosophy and the backing of a large firm like Macmillan.

    If you're interested, btw, I highly recommend - a collection of readings by a diverse range of the best poets writing in our isles.

    Sorry for banging on so.



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