Wednesday, September 20, 2006
John Wilding, The Bridge to Obscurity
The defining condition of poetry in Britain today, if this is any indication, is status anxiety. What is the status of poetry? Who reads and values it? Who dismisses it, and why? If the better-known faces of British poetry are published by large commercial presses (Picador, Faber, Cape), heavily marketed, and prone to being awarded prizes, they at least (in contrast to the more rarefied world of US poetry) stay true to an ideal of 'retaining a contract with ordinary readers [...] which keeps [poetry] at the heart of literary culture.' In spite of this, and a defiant reclamation of the label 'mainstream', acceptance remains hard to come by. A writer born in Liverpool could not read his work there without 'risk[ing] having my head twisted off at the gristle [...] Poetry is still a kind of backwater.' Academics and other critical nay-sayers are having none of this 'mainstream' poetry business either, dismissing it as 'hopelessly in thrall to a long-discredited lyric "I"'. A first step towards overcoming the marginalisation of mainstream poetry in Britain today is this academic conference in Oxford.