Was thumbing through the Copper Canyon edition of Dennis O’Driscoll’s vademecum Quote Poet Unquote: Contemporary Quotations on Poets and Poetry when I came across this: ‘Publishers should scrap the corrupt practice of solicited pre-publication blurbs, and the shot in the arm they provide to debutant writers who don’t deserve to be in print anyway.’ What a smarmy little prick, I thought, the smarmy little prick in question being me. I said that in 2004. It makes it sound as if I wanted to go around stopping them, perhaps by dropping in on them at home and talking them out of it. Let everyone publish and be damned, I’d say now instead.
I mention this because of a flapdoodle on Todd Swift’s site, in which Sean Bonney wondered aloud ‘if you [Todd Swift] are some kind of satirical fictional character, pompous, essentially dim, but in your imagination the James Bond of a poetry world that is simply too ungracious to recognise your genius…’ Todd Swift replied, as is his wont, by wondering why we can’t all get along, but also stated ‘It is true that Eyewear is a persona, and written as such… it seems odd for Bonney to miss out on the obvious – this blog is a text (indeed, intertextual) and full of shifting registers of discourse… Eyewear is a blog that questions the blog genre, and does so with wit and brio.’
So we write as personae, so what?, I wondered. What kind of a defence is using a persona when someone attacks us? What is being added to the argument? Can I now disown my 2004 self as a replicant persona rather than really me? I thought my 2004 soundbite was smarmy and pharisaical, and would think the same if I’d published it under the name Father Ignatius O’Gobshite or Brother Barney McKnowitall. A persona may help me articulate things I couldn’t otherwise write, but if I do say them and someone disagrees with me, can I pull my opinions back over the counter and say ‘It wasn’t me, it was just a persona’? That would be more than a little disingenuous.
I felt the same about John Osborne’s analysis of the attacks on Larkin in the book I discussed here. If we take Larkin’s little ditty ‘I want to see them starve, /the so-called working class’, sent in a letter to Robert Conquest, and retitle it ‘Portrait of a Fascist’, then sure, Lisa Jardine or Tom Paulin’s righteous indignation gets defused a little, but a corollary of this, on this logic, is that every time he speaks in verse, even in private, we are neutering Larkin’s right to express any kind of opinions, ever. And what if Tom Paulin’s attacks on Larkin are part of a carefully cultivated persona too? And in private Paulin is a fanatical Larkin fan? Is a persona capable of breaking the laws of libel? No one is anyone, no one thinks anything, no one is ever responsible for saying anything?
A person called me said the soundbite I started with in 2004. He can take the flack for it now because a person coincidentally also called me is attacking him for it now. It was a dickish thing to say. I love personae, and have long delighted in Pessoa, Kierkegaard and Flann O’Brien, but arguments can be real even if the people articulating them are not (and I’m far from convinced of my own reality). Persona should point us in the direction of, rather than away from, being able to have a real discussion, with real positions and consequences.
PS If anyone ever feels disagrees with me about this it was the small furry black creature over there eating the shoelace, not me.