Broken promises

I was reading in The Oldie the other day that Kingsley Amis’s most dreaded phrase in the English language was ‘Red or white?’.

While that interrogative certainly gives me the chills, my two pet peeves are 1). the question, usually posed to poets by non-poets: ‘Are you still writing poetry / still scribbling your little verses?’ and 2) – which is my cardinal peeve – the use of the unutterably trite phrase ‘shows promise’ in any review of any poetry collection or pamphlet.

Not only is ‘shows promise’ a supra-hackneyed formula, it is also extremely patronising. What it panders to is the heirarchical stratification of poetry and poets, from the A list to the Z list. A reviewer would never dream, for instance, of describing a first collection of poems as such from a young poet if they were published by a presitigious press. However, if the poet and publication in question is rather more unsung or obscure then the application of ‘shows promise’ becomes de rigueur.

Shows promise of what, I wonder? A promising young poet who will settle their bar tab? If the poet thinks enough of their work to put it out there in the public domain, and a publisher agrees, then we can presume they don’t consider it jejune or juvenile. Nothing is worse than working on a suite of poems for a year, two years or more and then having some mealy-mouthed reviewer say it ‘shows promise’.

I for one promise never to write that in any of my reviews!

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