Given the recent furor over the Oxford professor of poetry post, not to mention the hefty sums handed out to A.F. Moritz and C.D. Wright at the Griffin Poetry Prize ceremony last week, it might seem counterintuitive to argue that people feel antipathetic toward what Chaucer called “the craft so long to lerne.” But that’s precisely what Harry Eyres did in this weekend’s Financial Times online.
Beginning with the notion that the recent controversy in Britain exemplifies “much more nervousness and discomfort about the cardinal art form than genuine understanding and love,” Eyres goes on:
It might be better to ask ourselves why, on the whole, we hate poetry “ that is to say why we ruthlessly marginalise it and exile it to a cold place of almost total neglect “ than to utter dishonest platitudes about how great it is.
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Poetry is up against it in all sorts of ways. Unlike video games, reality television, amateur dance troupes, it is not a cultural phenomenon that is generally welcomed into people’s lives. But what could it do for us, if we would allow it?
What indeed? In response, Quillblog would like to direct Eyres’s attention to the words of James Wood, the critic for The New Yorker, and not exactly a literary slouch, who had this to say at the Griffin awards last week:
Poetry waves a flower in the face of a highly utilitarian age. That great secular hybrid, pragmatic evolutionary psychology and neuro-aesthetics, is busy telling us that art is a slightly puzzling evolutionary superfluity. Art is defended as cognitive play, crucial for the evolutionary development of homo sapiens. Art, for such people, must always somehow be justified. But poetry sings the song of itself, and offers a musical gratuity. Just as no one should have to justify, in pragmatic terms, playing the piano or listening to Bach, so no one should have to justify reading Keats or Wallace Stevens. And I am not making the weak case that poetry evades or exceeds such pragmatic cost-counting, but that it challenges such utilitarianism, makes it doubt itself. It faces down the enemy.
Even when the enemy surfaces in a respected British tabloid.