Monday, 30 January 2006

Goodwin Predicts Bad Days For Poetry Ahead

Another day, another trumped up British media scare-story about the death of poetry...

Cue Fry's "arse-dribble" claim; cue BBC lit-star Daisy Goodwin's well-meaning lament for the decline of poetry...

(as banal a debate as the one about Rimbaud lampooned in Haneke's masterpiece, Cache, where Georges, the TV producer and host for a French culture show cuts and edits deep opinion for shallow times. )

This most recent anti-poetry-virus started yesterday, as reported in The Observer, which claimed Goodwin had expressed fear that poetry's demise was, like global warming, an inevitable disaster - soon poetry would be as obscure and eccentrically-loved as "Morris dancing". Today it was on the BBC's famous Today radio broadcast at breakfast, and the usual emails came in to the show, denouncing poetry as useless twaddle.

Why all the anxiety? Because sales figures show only about 800,000 poetry books sold each year in the UK, compared to 45 million for other books (such as novels, cook books, bibles, etc). Hmm.

Isn't this in fact a startlingly positive development? How about the headline: Poetry Sales In UK Almost Million Per Year? As a genre, poetry seems to be selling incredibly well.

Of course, sales figures don't tell the whole story, even in terms of readership - since many poetry books are borrowed from libraries, or passed down, or acquired second-hand - or, horrors! - found on the Internet.

The fact is, and I have said this before, the UK Media doesn't know what to do with poetry. They keep hearing it is immensely popular at a grasroots level (see Turnbull's performance work, all the readings, E-Magazines, awards, etc.) but then send out jaded prose-types to cover the story, and all they want to do is belittle the wonder.

It is deeply ironic, and sad, that, whereas the British media basically collaborated like Vichy turncoats to make the Potter phenomenon occur, they can't collude to generate the same wide-eyed feel-good buzz about poetry. Perhaps because poetry is what the media is not: deep, complex, and resistant to the cheery sound-bite.

No, I am afraid the news isn't good for the BBC - when it is long forgotten, poetry will still be around, in some form or another. The reason? Poetry is not just about distibution systems or technology - it flows through all cultures and time - it is part of the very way that humans interact with language, themselves, and natural, timeless experiences, such as death, love, birth, the seasons.

Morris dancing? Not bloody likely.
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