The original article seems to perceive a division between contemporary poetry (free verse) and older poetry(rhythm and rhyme) that just doesn’t exist. There is no poet I know who does not have their favourites from the past. I myself would not want to live without Emily Dickinson, John Donne, John Clare, Keats, Blake and Edna St Vincent Millais. Performance poetry relies on rhythm and rhyme for some of its impact. Page poets see themselves as writing out of a tradition too, but taking it new places, as we have to. Shakespeare and his contemporaries experimented in their time, as we do in ours, as poetry, like all art forms, does not stand still. I wrote both formal verse and free verse depending on what the poem tells me when it starts to arrive. The gap between page poets and performance poets is diminshing too, as page poets can now actually perform!
It is a mistake to suppose that these events preclude older poetry anyway. Just last week I was hosting a reading at my local library by the lovely contemporary poet Angela France. A gentleman who had never been before wanted to read in the open floor section. He had brought no book, but I went into the poetry section, found a Bate’s edition of John Clare, and gave him the book to look at over the interval’s cuppa. He read two of Clare’s poems and loved his work, planning to read more. He had never heard of him before.
National Poetry Day makes a joyful noise about ALL poetry, perhaps even the dreadful. Ursula Fanthorpe ( much missed) wrote a poem about a man in the hospital waiting room reading poetry. On further enquiry, it was Patience Strong who this person said ‘kept him going’. She was humbled. Poetry has sometimes been accused of disappearing up its own backside, but this is more likely how it is mediated to people. When I was first teaching I was informed by my year 11 class that they couldn’t understand poetry, it was too hard, so I would have to translate it line by line. I scoffed, told them they could understand it perfectly – and guess what? They could! We did Sylvia Plath, Philip Larkin, Craig Raine – and they loved it all, to the disbelief of the other staff!
If Poetry had more support from the media, bookshops and the government, we could fill the country with it and make many people happy, comforted, moved and excited. The budget is shamefully low. And the Arts Council is losing funding, libraries are suffering cuts and no-one seems to realise that in thin times, we need the arts more than ever. I’d love to see everyone reading, writing, performing and listening to poetry. We’d be a happier nation.