Monday, 16 June 2014


Jason Guriel argues that poets need to start believing in the existence of real readers with real needs:
Poetry lacks a critical mass of readers who aren’t themselves also poets. In other words, most of the people who consume poetry are the ones producing the stuff. They can take for granted the needs of their audience because the audience is full of ringers—other poets!—who will applaud on principle or, at the very least, stay mum if the stuff’s no good. We depend on food critics to block the door to bad restaurants. We depend on movie critics to save us the money we might’ve otherwise wasted at the multiplex. But most of us aren’t restaurant owners or movie makers. So no one much wrings their hands over the way we talk about restaurants or movies. In the insular poetry world, we’re all over-invested. We tend to boo the few critics who, by delivering a tough review to one of us, put a pin to the collective delusion. You asked about literary community; that’s one use for it—policing how we talk. I try, then, to write for a reader who has no investment in poetry, who approaches books the way I approach movies or records: as a paying customer who wants to be entertained but who’s also demanding. If such a reader is a fantasy, it’s still one worth believing in.

1 comment:

Elie said...

I sniped at Guriel because his view as it was presented at the What We Talk About When We Talk About Poetry panel had another focus, besides writing for non-poets. He dismissed the English Lit cant about edifying verse, the unacknowledged legislators of the world, etc., without substantive reason.

I think Guriel's concerned that a lot of poetry's pricing itself out of a job, or it's too theoretically motivated to be readable for non-poets (or anyone), but that's not saying the same thing. Seems he wants to uncouple poetry from its associations of class pretension, by saying poetry ought to be more about entertainment. Fine. You don't have to also be flip about poetry's other formal merits. All other things being equal, video (for example) is more entertaining to most people than words on a page. You have to say why poetry is especially worthwhile, if you're going to evaluate it solely as a source of entertainment.

This excerpt on poetry for non-poets leaves out the part of the Poetry as Entertainment view that I object to.