The Redress of Poetry

Posted: February 6, 2011 in Uncategorized

I’ve been reading Seamus Heaney’s Book of Oxford Lectures The Redress of Poetry pub. Faber, 1995.  Presumptuous though it might be for a mere amateur versifier to disagree with so eminent a writer, I have to take issue with his castigation of Dylan  Thomas ‘s A Winter’s  Tale, to be found on pps 135-137

Summarised, Heaney finds that this poem is crafted too consciously, full of linguistic tricks, too softly contoured … the verbal equivalent of a Disney fantasia.  He demands less art and more matter.   He also levies this criticism at a number of other poets.

I respectfully postulate that it is precisely this art, craft, call it what you will, that distinguishes poetry from prose.  We’ve all read poems in which the basic skills of metre are lacking; where the choice of words is mundane.  I don’t want to read poetry that has flowed out un-filtered by craft, however passionate it might be.  The choice of one word over another for reasons of beauty, relevance, rhythm, or even humour, requires knowledge and judgement.

            I may be misjudging him, but the whole of the essay on Dylan Thomas decries what he calls “linguistic body-building, flexing and profiling…”   The real crux, for me, is the excess of academic nit-picking and the absence of sheer enjoyment of reading poetry.  Vive la difference, vive variety:   Thomas/ Hughes, Wendy Cope/  Duffy.  There is room for all kinds of poetry, but please, let it be properly crafted, excised of the extraneous and the self-indulgent, edited down to the glorious essentials of language.

I was writing this in bed this morning, and lo and behold, this afternoon, Dick wrote a diatribe on his fabulous blog  which touched on many of the same points.  I hope you will read it.

  1. D’accord! I love it–miserable old bat??? I don’t think so.

  2. Dick Jones says:

    As with RJC above, singing from the same hymn-sheet, Viv. I’ve not read his dissing of DT, but by your account SM seems to be confusing personal taste and objective discernment. There is undoubtedly an element within Thomas’ writing that suggests sometimes a straining for effect over an aiming for clarity (he did say, after all, “When in doubt, confuse the buggers”!), but his place in the pantheon is so firm that not even the mighty Seamas Heaney can unseat him.

    • vivinfrance says:

      I have a sneaking feeling that Heaney’s tongue was tucked in his cheek, he was simply grinding his own axe to stir up a reaction in the students for whom the lecture was originally designed. I still don’t agree with him but I’ve cooled down since writing the rant.

  3. RJ Clarken says:

    My friend, you are singing to the choir, indeed. I am in agreement with you on this rant.

    “But the real crux, for me, is the excess of academic nit-picking and the absence of sheer enjoyment of reading poetry. ”

    That says it all.

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