Of course, quitting poetry has nothing to do with stopping writing poetry, but everything to do with opting out of the hideous adversarial rat-race that poetry, as a marketable commodity, has become.
I don’t do social media – this, in fact, is my only tokenistic concession to the idea that poets need to have an online presence. (And recently I’ve toyed with deleting it in toto).
Recently I posted a blog about how I’d noticed that young people were echoing speech patterns that made them seem much older. Apparently this was reposted on Facebook by a friend and it provoked a bit of a negative response in the poetry ‘community’ – my first taste of being berated by the Facebook poetry ‘arbiters of taste’, some of whom were from my own publishing stable.
There-in lies the rub – see, the poetry world face-to-face is such a nice and supportive place, but it’s profoundly Janus-faced. Behind the scenes, people are getting verbally assassinated on a regular basis, and it’s mostly to do with who’s in and who’s out, who’s flavour of the month, and who’s inedible. The poetry world is a hail-fellow-well-met, fair-weather-friend realm. While you’re in, you could get away with publishing a shopping list and no-one would blink an eye, but when you’re out, nothing it seems will break through the barriers erected. And poets while they are in fashion are largely untouchable – they surround themselves with a clique of followers who will echo their opinions. The problem is, most of these followers are desperate aspirants hoping to end up in the same position. It’s an ugly symbiotic/parasitic quid pro quo thing.
That’s why I enjoyed Toby Martinez de las Rivas’s frank interview in the latest issue of The Dark Horse. As a garlanded, if (unnecessarily) controversial, Faber poet, it’s refreshing to hear him say that: An unfortunate truth about writing is that getting work published is often about being in the right place at the right time. So much of success in the poetry world now depends upon synchronicity – having the right face and back-story to fit. When I consider all of the poets I most admire, they were all people who largely shunned this limelight, though some had a chance at it.
I love reading and writing poetry, but I hate the nastily competitive, two-faced venture it’s become. We should be in thrall to the poem, not the poet and it’s such a shame we can’t see that. The poetry world really treats certain members who it thinks are of no or little use as lepers and that’s a far cry from Hamish Henderson’s idea that poetry and freedom ‘become the people’.
When I say ‘quitting poetry’ I mean eschewing the modern conception of what a poet is or should be. As far as I can see, the poet is merely the person who writes the poem, and they are only as good as the poem they are writing. It’s got nothing to do with awards or all of those silly distractions. Why lionise them beyond their latest poem?