National Poetry Day
Motion, Andrew, The Independent (London, England)
Poetry is a uniquely private form. It creates a world that is memorable and therefore portable, a world where language can generate an endless sense of newness. This idea of memorability lurks in all the famous definitions of the art form - "the best words in the best order" - suggesting that we carry poetry through our lives, calling it up at moments when the need arises. Traditionally, these moments are the emotionally demanding crises at the centre of our existence: when someone we love dies, when we fall in love, when we go to war, when we are away from home and missing it. Poetry perennially proves its value by speaking to us then. It's like a frame in which we put ourselves and become the picture.
However, we are living in a period of poetry in which interest in narrative techniques, in anecdotal writing, in direct political comment, are peculiarly developed. Even though the modernists in general, and TS Eliot in particular, are under fire at the moment, we have to acknowledge that this change has a lot to do with them. The changes that they wrought in English poetry are permanent and unassailable. "The Waste Land" was not just a poem that turned conventional ideas of pastoral on their head, it made room for material that had traditionally been the prerogative of fiction. Shelf space was made for everything, from soda water to suspenders.
More recent poets - Auden, MacNeice, Larkin - continued to expand our sense of what can be included in a poem: the detritus of recognisably contemporary life. The notion that poetry might exist primarily to help us endure our existence has been diversified. Poetry rinses out and makes us see the familiar world more clearly. Inevitably, this has meant that poets have had to devise a language that is flexible enough to accommodate clutter, language that is both urgent and personal but not specifically reserved for poetry. To that extent, the walls between poetry and prose - and between poetry and song lyrics - have crumbled. In the past few years, poetry's profile in our culture has become significantly higher. …