Magazine article The Spectator

Proper Poems

Magazine article The Spectator

Proper Poems

Article excerpt

This magazine likes to look on the bright side of life. We are not filled with a raging sense that things are going to the dogs. The people seem richer than ever before. Food is, on the whole, pretty good. Thanks to the weak euro, wine seems very cheap. The Tories are up in the polls. As the public behold the desperate thrashings of Gordon Brown and Tony Blair, the scales are at last falling from their eyes. The government will either have to cut fuel duty within the next two months, or face the consequences. Perhaps, then, at this moderately consoling moment. we should consider some of the things our civilisation is losing, or which seem to be changing irreparably for the worse.

There is no one on the planet who can write a symphony in the manner of one of the great classical composers. We have simply lost the skill. When we look at the paintings of the Old Masters, we are as stunned and as ignorant as to how they were made as some Polynesian tribe finding a piece of the space shuttle on their island. But when future historians come to look at this cultural dark age, they may conclude that there is one art, whose practitioners used to be esteemed above all others, which has suffered the most cataclysmic collapse of all.

The problem is not that no one writes poetry. Everyone writes poetry, in fantastic quantities, as the letters editor of any newspaper or magazine will tell you. The trouble is that no one reads poetry anymore. That is why distinguished publishers such as OUP have given up the struggle to sell their slim volumes of verse, without any noticeable public convulsions. That is why this magazine decided, some years ago, to stop publishing poems, amid an outcry that was less than deafening. And the reason no one reads poetry any more, of course, is that none of it is any bloody good.

We are all interested in our own poems, just as we are interested in the smell of our own armpits, because they are uniquely redolent of ourselves. We are not, for converse reasons, much interested, as a rule, in the slapdash maunderings of other people. All sorts of reasons are usually given for this decline in quality and in aspiration: the influence of Eliot and Pound, the squeezing-out effect caused by pop music. It doesn't really matter what has caused the slow extinction of a major art form. The point is that it is time to call a halt.

As of this issue, The Spectator is reversing its anti-poetry policy. From today we have a new poetry editor. His name is Lloyd Evans. He has a beard. He knows his stuff. He has performed in pubs, but he knows the difference between a tribrach and a molossus, a sapphic and an alcaic. …

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